Sunday, February 26, 2012

History for Amnesiacs: The Auto Bailout


The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better. -- Mitt Romney
Romney's assertion that the government shouldn't have bailed out GM and Chrysler has received a lot of press due to the Michigan primary this week. It deserves some attention, not because this is a policy that Romney would follow as president, but in the catalog of "Dumb things that pandering candidates say."

I won't refute this at length because it doesn't deserve it. Romney suggests that the governments didn't need to provide bailout money, that other (unnamed) investors would have stepped, but that the Democrats made a sweetheart deal with the UAW (auto workers union), which is a big union contributor for the Democrats.

This story contains plausible elements. Maybe there were potential investors. Maybe the Democrats were happy to cut a favorable deal for the union--that part sounds very plausible.

But the truth is quite different, and Romney conveniently manages to ignore it in favor of Republican talking points that have practically become dogma. The most important point is that there were no other investors. If the government hadn't stepped in, GM and Chrysler would have been liquidated, along with possibly a million jobs.


History of Republican Talking Points about the Bailout

The GOP's first position on the bailout was claiming that Obama was going to nationalize GM and Chrysler and put government bureaucrats in charge. When business leaders were hired, the story morphed: Obama was going to trample on bondholders' rights. Bondholders conceivably had the right to liquidate the companies and try to get as much money as possible by selling off the parts.

This story contained some truth. If jobs were saved, Obama would happily see the bondholders take less. The story also hides something that the GOP hoped for--a greatly weakened UAW. One problem with this viewpoint is that it's clearly unfriendly to regular workers, so the GOP has softened it. It's not just the bondholders that were abused, but also regular people who had settlements from GM or Chrysler for injuries caused by autos.

The latest conservative story jettisons the concerns of bondholders. The government should have butted out, let the bankruptcy process work, and the industry would have survived in good shape. Instead, Obama thrust the government into the bankruptcy to deliver the goods to his union cronies.

It's true that the union ended up with the better deal in the bankruptcy. The UAW now has a major stake in Chrysler and responsibility for retiree health benefits. Perhaps it now has sufficient incentive to be careful with money, since it isn't all "other people's money."

Which Side Are You On?

It's hard for me to be as angry with UAW as their severest critics are. The press is incredibly split on the auto bailout. You won't hear this kind of rhetoric in the MSM:
[The] legal rep of Chrsyler investor Perella Weinberg, reminds that then-Auto Czar Rattner warned that unless they accepted Obama's UAW Bailout they would come "under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight." -- Henry Payne, Detroit News
This split makes it hard for me to feel sure I can decipher the truth, but here goes my best guess:
  • GM and Chrysler would have been liquidated without the government bailouts that permitted them to keep operating. This would have resulted in even larger job losses at a time when the economy was hemorraghing jobs.
  • Bondholders, some of whom speculated on distressed bonds, were going to take a big hit one way or another. It wouldn't have been for the greater good for them to have a richer settlement at the price of so many jobs.
  • The UAW got a better deal due to the friendly Democratic administration than it would have otherwise.
  • The conservative press complains that the government edged out private capital, but doesn't say who. They also say it was a give-away to the UAW, but they don't point to which provisions of the deal were egregious. I smell some weakness to their argument.
What really drove the GOP to oppose the auto bailout? Did they really want all those jobs to disappear? No, they probably didn't. But they hate the UAW so much that they would have added an extra million people to the unemployment rolls to cripple a major union backer of the Democratic party. And it's clear that the Democrats were willing to risk a great deal of taxpayer money to back a deal that kept the UAW in place. But on the whole, it was a deal that saved jobs and forced enough reform that Chrysler and GM have a promising future. It was worth it.


Sources:
Update 6/8/15. The GOP still can't admit they were wrong. Here's a good summary--shorter than mine, but from a professional source.

Update 3/12/16. I'm still arguing with people on the net about this. One, a real weirdo who has some interesting sources, pointed me to this article by a corporate restructuring consultant. My argument with the commenter was how much credit Romney deserves for the preservation of the car companies through bankruptcy. I don't give him a lot of credit because:

  • Restructuring was necessary, and everyone knew it.
  • Bankruptcy was one way to restructure. Many resisted, but it's not as though Romney was the only or main proponent.
  • Romney was vague on how to keep the car companies going during the restructuring, and that funding (the bailout) was absolutely necessary too.
This article shows some of the context of the discussions. The bailout money was filibustered, but Bush gave them some TARP money to keep going. I tried to find out if Romney supported a bailout. He clearly was against a 'blank check' which was never going to happen anyway. The best evidence I found showing support is this video clip. Romney was strong on bankruptcy, and vague on funding. It was the same in the other cases, such as his op-ed. It's quite a stretch for anyone to claim Romney saved the auto industry. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Political Lie Machine: Wanting Parallel Marriage Law

"Gay marriage advocates are not advocating equal access to civil marriage as it has been historically defined by statute, they are advocating the creation of a parallel institution of gay marriage." - Atlantic comment
My impression is that this comment is wrong, and that, in fact, few changes are needed to permit same sex marriage. But rather than assuming this was true, I wanted to check by looking at the Maryland law that passed on 2/23/12.

The total bill (House Bill 438) is 6 pages long. Reading every word was tedious but not time-consuming.

 Relatives You Cannot Marry
The first 1.5 pages are a summary and some boilerplate. The next 3 pages are double-spaced changes to the existing law. For example, the law no longer says:
A man may not marry his:
(i) grandfather’s wife;
(ii) wife’s grandmother; . . .
Now it says:
AN INDIVIDUAL may not marry THE INDIVIDUAL’S:
(I) GRANDPARENT’S SPOUSE;
(II) SPOUSE’S GRANDPARENT;  . . .
 Exemption Clauses
The next page contains the guarantees that religious organization do not have to perform or otherwise support such weddings and have a religious exemption from providing insurance benefits. The final half page postpones the effective date of the legislation to allow a referendum on the issue this year if enough signatures are collected.

*************************************************************
So changing the law takes about 6 pages. This hardly sounds like a "parallel institution" especially considering that the Maryland Family Law code consists of 15 chapters (titles). The marriage title consists of 18 sections. Allowing people of the same sex to marry hasn't required much change to the law.

So I'm calling bullshit on the claim of a parallel institution. It's the same institution.

 
Already gender-neutral



Extra: The Maryland code also says this:
(1) The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shall provide to each clerk: 
(i) birth control information; and 
(ii) a list of the family planning clinics located in the county where the license is issued.
Luckily in Maryland, you don't need to take out a different license to have a procreating or a non-procreating or a not-yet-procreating marriage. Just pick up the pamphlets from the clerk and get thee to the family planning clinic if thou so desires.

Update 2/25/12. I should have done a better job of analyzing the claim that "gay marriage advocates" want a parallel institution. It's a pretty fake argument, since many gay men and lesbians have said that they don't want to settle for a second-class, separate-but-equal arrangement.

No, it's the traditionalists who might want that:
  • The first preference (for at least some of them) would be a return to the closet. 
  • The second choice is no legal validation for same-sex relationships. 
  • The third choice is separate-and-different "civil unions." 
So it is people who are against same-sex marriage who want the parallel institution. Why would they want a separate institution? Because it is an abomination that people participating in those kinds of sex acts should want to be married or should be considered married. It's a vile misuse and destruction of the sacred rite of marriage.

This is my analysis of the anti-gay-marriage position. I hope I haven't misrepresented this position, which is easy to do since I disagree so strenuously. Here are some recent opinions gathered from the web:
"The practice of homosexuality is an abomination according to God's word. Gay marriage a matter of fairness? I don't think so! It is wrong because God's word says it is wrong. That includes the New Testament's Romans 1:23-32 which says that man on man sex and woman on woman sex is wrong. We can't vote in something that goes against God's word and expect His favor on this nation. . . Martin O'Malley and his wife are willing to overlook God's word in their support of this abomination which is an insult to a God who has given them much in this life. . . You know what happens to people who do that? Have you met any Amorites or Jebusites lately?" -- Letter to the Baltimore Sun, 2/3/12
"People that are gay, know in their heart of hearts, that what they are doing is not right, Just like a majority of people know that having sex with their parent or child is unacceptable. They are forcing the majority of us to accept their immoral behavior to assuage the [their] feelings of guilt and that what they are doing is okay because it is for “love” When I see those hypocrite “Priests or Rabbis” performing those so called “marriage ceremonies” , it is sickening as in those religions, it clearly says it is immoral and an abomination to g-d." -- Comment on CBS NewYork, 7/25/11
Of course, it's easy to find these kinds of statement when you use the terms 'sacred rite of marriage gay abomination' in a Google search. Maybe I've constructed a straw man, but I don't think so. I think this truly represents what a large number of gay marriage opponents think.

A short natural history of marriage

Gay marriage is probably going to be an issue in politics this year. So I'll try to do a public service (or disservice) by writing a bit more about it.

 Marriage, Ordained or Customary?
As a scientist, I see marriage not as a sacrament created by God, but as a group of ethnic customs. The Bible gives insight into ancient Hebrew marriage customs, including the bride price, multiple wives, handmaidens standing in for barren wives, widows required to marry a brother-in-law, and concubines.

Luckily, marriage customs have progressed. I agree with those who say that the traditional purpose of marriage is to conceive, bear, and raise children. But marriage has more purposes than just that. Love, mutual help, and companionship have also been reasons for marrying or staying married even if there were no children. Abraham kept his barren wife Sarah because he loved her so much. Only after 24 years did Sarah bear a child, Isaac.

Most of our customs come from Europe since most of our ethnic stock is European. Arranged marriage became less common in Europe sooner than other regions, and the dowry was more frequent than selling a daughter for a price. Widows and widowers marrying was common, not to have more children, but to share the work of the household and have the benefits of the close, personal, and special relationship of husband and wife.

Marriage without Reproduction
I reject that all marriages must follow the format of reproductive marriages-a man and a woman of childbearing age. We have found that marriage is beneficial for other reasons too, and I don't see why the benefit shouldn't be extended as a right to same-sex couples. I do mean a right, just as most of us have assumed that we could marry without excessive state interference.

The main reason I hold this view is that I don't have any religious or prejudicial grounds for objecting to homosexual orientation or acts. I used to think homosexuality was wrong, but after shedding my learned prejudice, I couldn't find anything intrinsically wrong in it. But more than that, I realized that many homosexuals have the same depth of love that I have. We are different, but not so different. Instead, I feel so much commonality. We share the knowledge of life and love. I wish Santorum and others could see this.

Groom's family bearing gifts come to negotiate a bride price.


Extra: A different but also short history of marriage.

Unequal marriage

When I got married 30 years ago, it was called a mixed marriage because my sweetheart and I had different religions. My heart sank when I heard people say that, as though it was the most salient aspect of our marriage. I don't think I ever asked anyone not to say that. But it felt as though mine was labeled a second-class marriage.

I forgot about it for years. It's no wonder with jobs and children and relocation and mortgage payments and all the usual accoutrements of middle-class life. A few months ago I remembered. Somehow, I hadn't had a mixed marriage, I'd just had a marriage.

Now I conscientiously avoid the terms "mixed marriage," "interracial marriage," "second marriage," or "gay marriage." I think people would like their marriages respected as full-fledged marriage, not hyphenated less-than-desirable marriages. I love being married, and I want others to have the same chance at happiness.



Extras
An infectious video of an Indian man singing about his joy at getting married to a woman he loves (a "love marriage") rather than an arranged marriage. Don't miss it.

"It's very dear to me the issue of gay marriage, or, as I like to call it: "marriage" You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn't gay park it." -- Liz Feldman on a famous sign

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spending and the danger in a positive-feedback loop

I don't know where I read this idea originally, perhaps The Economist. There is a major problem in spending financed by borrowing. In most spending, you have to work hard for the money, so you balance the pleasure of spending with the pain of earning. But with borrowed money, the connection to the pain or hard labor is lost, so you spend more freely.

With governments, the pleasure is giving constituents what they want without the constituents paying directly. But the pain comes in the form of taxes. With borrowing, the pain of taxes is reduced, so the pleasure of government spending is left without enough balance. Because the pain is artificially reduced, the demand for government spending swells.  With swelling demand, the government tries to borrow even more. That again reduces the pain of taxes to support the spending, the people get their pleasure (services) without the full pain, and they want even more.

This is a positive feedback loop, which is an extremely dangerous thing in nature. It's at the heart of the atomic bomb, the mood disorder of mania, and financial bubbles. It is inherently unstable because ramping up during iteration after iteration causes the system to use up its resources very fast.
 Positive Feedback Loop = Unrestrained Demand = Bubble

Most of nature runs on negative feedback loops, which keep systems stable. Spending with the necessity of earning or taxing is in this category. We've been in a positive feedback loop in our government spending for too long. We need to get back to the more natural and more sustainable situation where we have equal part pain for our governmental pleasures.


Negative Feedback Loop = Balanced = Stable
Substitute "taxes" for "energy prices."
For "slower growth," think "slower growth of government spending."


The elusive core of Mitt Romney

This is based on a funny post by Conor Friedersdorf. He quotes Mitt saying:
"I love this state [Michigan]. It seems right here. Trees are the right height. I like seeing the lakes - I love the lakes. ... I still know the American cars pretty well, and drive a Mustang. I love cars. I love American cars. And long may they rule the world, let me tell you."
It's not surprising that so many people wonder what Mitt stands for. I think I have a better sense, but I'm not sure. With the other GOP candidates, it was easier to tell:
  • Gingrich - Big ideas, big ego, big rhetoric.
  • Santorum - The right way to live, filtered through orthodox Catholicism and culture war ideals.
  • Bachmann - Ditto to Santorum minus the Catholicism, but with less connection to any reality outside her own mind.
  • Perry - A puppet for some unidentified sponsor.
  • Paul - Shrink government down to a strict constitutional size.
I can't write a clear statement for Romney (or for Obama for that matter). The closest I've gotten is calling Mitt a "Mr. Fixit." He really wants to fix the tax code some, trim the government a bit, slow the growth of Medicare somehow, etc. There isn't an ideological pattern.

How much of a liability is this? We don't want a president guided by a single, strong idea because the issues he will face vary so widely. But we also don't trust someone who is without any anchor. Romney may win the nomination despite his lack of core convictions simply because the alternatives are so ghastly.

We may have to elect him before we find out what we've gotten. That's always true to some extent because no president has governed in 100% compliance to how he campaigned. But with Romney it's even harder to tell. Will he be the practical Mr. Fixit of the Olympics, the MA governorship, and his current position papers? The conservative "Obama is wrong" ideologue of his campaign? Or a hollow shell that bends to the winds and will sign everything that Congress sends him? I really don't know what he wants to do with the office he's trying so hard to win.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What parts of the stimulus worked?

Previously, I've shown some evidence that the stimulus worked in halting the spiral of job losses. There are very legitimate questions as to whether this was true, since the slide stopped before much of the stimulus money filtered into the economy. Looking at the evidence again, I think the stimulus was successful at stemming the recession, and I'll present that case here.


 Tax Credits
First of all, much of the stimulus was in tax credits, some paid in 2010, but about $140 billion in 2009. This money probably benefited the economy right away. Some of the money went into spending as intended, some into paying down personal debt, and some into savings.
Comments: Savings rate went up, so not all the money went into consumer spending. However, it's better for individuals to decide how to use the money, since they better comprehend their financial situation. In this atmosphere, the money probably didn't go into bubble investments.


Payments to States
The federal government gave states approximately $175 billion to make up for their sharply declining revenues. States would have been forced to make significantly deeper cuts in teachers, police, firefighters, Medicaid, Head Start, community development programs, and health programs.
Comments: This portion was very effective at reducing massive public job losses. However, that means that it shielded public employees, who tend to vote Democratic. I doubt that cash infusion into the private sector could have be as effective, unless we set up programs like those in Germany that help companies keep people in jobs at fewer hours.

Infrastructure
The government allocated $184 billion for various infrastructure (highway, other transportation, broadband, water projects, schools, and veteran hospitals).
Comments: These are classic stimulus and/or pork barrel projects, which tend to range from excellent projects for safety and efficiency to throwing money down a sinkhole. On the plus side, it funneled money to a sector especially hard-hit by the recession, and some project were a boon to their regions. But among the negatives, it takes time to plan wisely before construction can begin. There's also a risk of boondoggles, such as the notorious high-speed rail program costing $8 billion. One important lesson: A recession is not a good time to spend on expensive, highly speculative projects. Put away the wishlists and stick with vanilla, well-understood engineering projects.

Direct Aid to the Poor, Disabled, and Unemployed
For those you didn't receive tax credits due to lack of taxable income, the government gave $82 billion. About half was unemployment benefits, but also included extra payments to those on SSI (federal disability) and Social Security and a large expansion of food stamps to meet increased demand.
Comments: I've read many places that money given to the poorer people in society ends up flowing very quickly back into the economy as consumer spending. This is helpful in keeping our economy afloat, but not in building it back up or correcting imbalances. I support food stamps as basic necessity, though the allotment is often more generous than necessary. I'm against raising and disability and unemployment benefits when working people are generally doing with less. This may work as a fairly pure Keynesian stimulus, but it is terrible as a prolonged policy. It also looks like a gift to a favored cause.

Science, Research, Energy, and Technology
This is a grab bag, some of which are like infrastructure spending, but on a smaller scale, only $67 billion. It includes grants for many green energy and efficiency programs, information technology upgrades for many federal agencies, and small grants increases for scientific research.
Comments: As with infrastructure projects, it's hard to tell good projects from wasteful ones, but at lest most of these projects were small and probably created future savings in energy costs. However, it also looks like a gift to favored causes and constituencies--environmentalists and white collar scientists and engineers in government agencies. Again, it may be easiest to stem unemployment by saving the jobs of government workers. But I'd argue that it's an expensive short term benefit and are likely areas to be cut when necessary budget cutting is finally undertaken.


Why (I Think) The Stimulus Worked
The stimulus worked because the federal government showed that it wasn't going to let employment go down the tubes--it would throw money at the country to prevent a depression. That, along with quantitative easing and the auto bailout, reassured businesses and people that we weren't going to let the free-fall continue, and it was safe to spend somewhat, rather than saving every scrap we could.

Parts of the stimulus were wasted, but time was of the essence, so careful consideration wasn't possible. The biggest boondoggle was probably high-speed rail. Probably some of the energy projects were also wastes, but of much smaller amounts of money.

This stimulus definitely had a liberal spin on it--money to ensure jobs for government employees and green energy, but not for large defense systems or oil exploration or coal projects. I can understand Republican anger about it. The stimulus does look like a big jobs program for Democratic constituencies. However, I think a temporary funneling of money into government was the best way to staunch to loss of jobs.

 Why a Conservative Stimulus Wouldn't Have Worked
Funneling money through more corporations probably wouldn't have helped, since corporations that had cash were mostly hoarding it. (The TARP, a different topic, was necessary to unfreeze money circulation). Giving more money directly to people in the form of tax cuts wouldn't have directly saved jobs. State governments would have had to cut very deeply. And people who had extra money mostly saved it to create extra cushions in case they were next to lose their jobs. Giving extra money to individuals and companies that already had money didn't work to the extent it was done.

The conservatives are definitely right about something though. You can't maintain stimulus year after year without getting into a monstrous level of debt. As I've said before, it's high time to end stimulative spending and start intelligent cuts.


Extras:
The graphic is from Wikipedia, but I put some of the money into different categories. These are also interesting sources:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Two flavors of flip-flop

So conservatives hate flip-floppers, do they? Well, they'll get to choose between two different flavors of the type.

Romney has famously flipped on abortion, his political leanings, cap and trade, immigration, and (highest of treasons) health insurance mandates. In each case, he's flipped to being harder.

Santorum's flips have been less notorious. He's been walking back his opposition to homosexuality. In the past, he thought it was fine for states to criminalize homosexuality acts. Now, he'd love his son if he was gay (and suppress those lectures on unnatural sex acts, I guess). He's also flipped on raising the retirement age, auditing the Fed, teaching intelligent design as science, right-to-work laws, and No Child Left Behind. Santorum has usually flipped to being softer, except for his previous support for unions and national education initiatives.

This is an important distinction with you're a red-blooded conservative. Do you support the johnny-come-lately conservative, or the becoming-less-paleolithic conservative? Most red conservatives are going for the barely-escaped-the-paleolithic conservative.

For me, it's an easy choice. I hope that, under all his recent pandering, Romney is still a moderate. I also think he's the Republican most likely to address our deficit problems. With Santorum, I suspect it's lower on the priority list, somewhere below "Pursue expensive war on Iran."

I wonder who the whole of the Republican party, not just the hard-core conservatives, will choose. Is there room for a semi-moderate who pretends he isn't? We shall see.

Getting to be a GOP tradition...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another way to be pro-life

Readers will have gathered that on the question of abortion, I strongly support its availability as a safe and legal option. But this isn't because I think an unborn baby is nothing of consequence, just an inconvenient lump of tissue.

That argument is mostly a straw man used by people who channel their hate through the abortion argument. I was once that lump of tissue, and everyone I've ever loved was once that lump of tissue. I think only a few people see a fetus or embryo as just a lump of tissue.

To most of us, life is sacred, but life also has limits. We are born, we live for an uncertain amount of time, and we die. Some people are never born at all, and some live such a short life that they never develop a sense of life at all. Some people, who could have lives, are never even conceived because sperm didn't meet egg.

That lack of certainty in life is the main reason I don't think abortion is murder. We don't know if that fertilized egg is viable or a scrambled mess. Sometimes it IS a scrambled mess that will never develop into a living, breathing child. Pregnancy is filled with that kind of uncertainty. It isn't a sure thing.

So what do you do if you never intended to conceive this baby--sperm wasn't supposed to meet egg. You can hope for a miscarriage, which is exactly the opposite of what a happily pregnant woman hopes. You can put your future in the hands of fate. Or you can do what many women do, and end the pregnancy that was never supposed to happen.

Some women wouldn't willingly have an abortion because the unborn baby feels like a living child to them, and an abortion would feel like murder. But for others, this small egg, zygote, embryo, or fetus doesn't feel alive, so the overriding concern is that she couldn't care for a child and never intended to get pregnant. For still other women, they are torn and under immense pressure, especially if they depend on someone else, or their own earnings, for a place to live.

With all these considerations, I wonder how anyone else can think they should make the decision, that their judgment should have priority over the pregnant girl or woman. I know pro-life people who don't want to make that decision for anyone else. They can offer help and advice, but the decision is best  left in the hands of the person closest to the unborn baby, and that's always the pregnant woman.

6 week embryo. Size 1/4 inch (6mm), 0.25 oz. (1g).

Extras: Stories of non-regret. You can easily find stories of regret too, but I think it's important to counter the "you'll hate yourself" propaganda. Gallup poll.

Biblical acknowledgment that an unborn baby is not the same as a living person.

********************************************************************


Originally, I was going to write about an acquaintance (Ann) who counsels pregnant girls/women as part of a pro-life organization. I admire the time she takes with the women, and the help she arranges if they decide to have the baby.

She doesn't want abortion to be a political war. It's in the person's conscience and soul where the dilemma plays out, not in a street or courthouse protest. So she listens to the girl: her fears, her hopes, the pressure from her family and/or boyfriend. She'll talk about the life and death of the baby, but not murder. She doesn't tell a girl that she's going to hell, or what God's judgment will be, because she believes that she can't know God's judgment.

I asked her what happens if the girl decides to have an abortion. "She stops calling us," Ann said. It feels like a failure to her, but that happens when you try something so important and so difficult.

If both sides could refrain from scorched-earth campaigns, both sides could live, work, encourage, and help in the same town and country. She's pro-life and I'm pro-choice, but we respect and care about each other. It can be this way.

Tax Battle 2011 is over


Happy  Early Valentine's Day. The Republicans are offering a bouquet of "You were right" roses with no thorns attached. Dems are wondering how long to make them suffer before they accept.

By the way, "You were right"  goes out to the Dems about extending the 2% payroll tax cut.  Maybe this should have been just an update, but I didn't want readers to miss it.

Oh, I didn't forget the chocolates. Here they are. Enjoy:


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Baggage check

This is a baggage check for the General Election Airlines since I can't speak for conservatives and what they'd consider as baggage.

Romney

He'll probably have some explaining to do concerning Romneycare, but it's a complex issue, so some sleight of hand will probably satisfy. His record in Massachusetts isn't bad. I don't know of much the Dems can beat him up over. His aides all paid for their hard drives and took all the potentially incriminating (or just dull) emails with them. He didn't make big enemies here. The Olympics was a success, so opposition research will struggle to find anything there.

I suspect that someone looking into Bain Capital can find something shocking while Romney was leading it. I won't be surprised if Bain raided a pension fund or two. I also wonder about the heavy debts that some companies were left with. Was there full disclosure to those lenders? Somehow I doubt it. There's probably a cadre of researchers looking into Bain, supported by better-funded groups than the Santorum campaign. The diggers will be holding onto their mucky treasures until the general campaign.

General assessment: Pretty clean except for the suitcase stuffed with other people's cash.

Santorum

If this guy was going through customs, he'd be there hours. In 2006, he lost his Senate by 18%. That's a huge loss for an unindicted seating senator. Maybe a lot of Pennsylvanians got fed up with the same kind of statements that angered me: statements about how awful gays are, how selfish working mothers are, how selfish is it to get divorced, how people shouldn't be using contraception because it circumvents nature and greatly reduces the next generation that the country needs.

Then there are political choices he's made--the earmarks, his involvement in the K Street project to ensure lobbyists' loyalty to Republicans, his misuse of public funds and sweetheart business deals. I've just started to look on the web, and I've found more Santorum baggage than I can tote on a cart. From all the websites out in webland, I'm guessing Santorum riled the wrong people.

General assessment: Santorum looks and sounds like Mr. Clean, but his baggage is leaking santorum everywhere. Nonetheless, he's probably cleaner than Newt, which doesn't matter because Newt's campaign bid is now dead.


Maybe I exaggerate...


Extra: Google for "Santorum quotes on" to find out what people are asking. It's quite a long list, including gays, blacks, and birth control. Romney's list starts with abortion and taxes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Conservative candidate confusion

With only the four GOP candidate left in the field, the differences among them should be getting clearer. But can you tell which candidate or candidates propose each of these policies:
  1. Cut $1trillion from the budget in 2013.
  2. Reduce corporate tax rate to 12.5%.
  3. Use credit card fraud detection systems to reduce Medicare waste.
  4. Allow Medicare recipients to stay on Medicare or sign on with other providers.
  5. Streamline our security services to meet new challenges.
  6. Open up offshore drilling.
  7. Cut 10% of the federal workforce.
  8. End nation building.
  9. Allow alternative currencies to circulate.
  10. Reduce corporate tax rate to 17.5%.
  11. Reduce corporate tax rate to 25%.
  12. Roll discretionary non-defense spending back to 2008 levels.
  13. Roll all discretionary spending to back to 2007 levels.
  14. Let young workers opt out of Social Security.
  15. Will not allow Iran to build nuclear weapons.
I know it's important to get an understanding of the character, personality, and history of a person running for president. That's fine and reasonable. But we also need to talk about the direction the person intends to take the country, so policy proposals are critical. I want to know what the candidate's plans are for: the tax system, the budget, major government programs, defense, and foreign relations.

There hasn't been enough discussion and differentiation between the candidates on these issues, except, of course, for Ron Paul. He, at least, has more clearly staked out his policies. When I wrote up the list above, I was able to add his proposals (#1, 8, 9, and 13) from memory because he's been very clear in the debates and campaign appearances.

With the other candidates, it's not as clear. Who wants to do want with Medicare? What are the candidates planning to cut from the budget, how much, and how soon? What parts of the military are they planning to expand, and what will they cut? These are specific questions that each candidate should be answering now as he makes the case for why he should be nominated and elected.

I viewed the second Florida debate again with an eye to substantial communication about issues. Ron Paul, as usual, spent a fair amount of his time on his policy proposals. The others wasted most of their time. Santorum was fairly clear on his tax policy and timeframe for closing the deficit, though he neglected talking about specific cuts.

Gingrich talked about his two-speed tax policy (regular or 15%) but ignored the direct question of what effect it would have on someone like Romney. Gingrich's plans for closing the deficit remain all in his mind, not laid out for examination.

Now I know their Cuba policies, which is important to much of the Florida electorate, but not to me. Regarding my top concerns, I learned very little. However, Romney did directly put out an attack ad claiming Gingrich ... Oh, forget it!

This is quite a waste of a campaign if you care about each candidate's plan for governance, and that's what you'll vote on. Are Republicans satisfied with this?

Which proposes a 15% corporate income tax?

Sources: GingrichPaul, Santorum, Romney websites, plus some statements in debates.

Extra: An honest assessment of their personalities by a libertarian, non-crazy blogger.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The dark side of the pro-life argument

There was a time before Roe v. Wade when we lived in a land that enforced the law that if you got pregnant, you gave birth to the child. Most of us, including me, don't know what that time was like. Here is a reminder (from the comments on a Salon article):

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My mother graduated from nursing school in the late 50s. While she was training in the emergency room, she befriended a young OB/Gyn and made an agreement that extended to a couple of other nurses. Whenever a young woman came in having had a botched abortion, the nurse would get in contact with that particular doctor no matter where he was or what he was doing, and he would take care of them.

Why was this necessary? Well, none of the other doctors would treat these girls. NONE of them. My mother tells horror stories of little girls as young as 13 or 14 being abandoned in hospital hallways until after they were dead. It was an unspoken rule that the doctor was not to show up until they were cold.

The hardest for her is the case of a little girl who tried to give herself an abortion with a knitting needle. She wasn't even a teenager yet. When her mother came into her bedroom, the child was almost unconscious and the bed was soaked with blood. The mother called her preacher and they prayed over this dying child until morning.

When they finally got the kid in the emergency room, she was given some blood, but no other treatment. There was nothing that could have been done to save her. It was far too late, there was already a massive infection in place and she was too damaged to survive any surgery.

The girl was in and out of consciousness for hours, crying and terrified and knowing that she would die. Her family left her there. My mother was the one that sat with her and held her hand while she died. That kid was 11. My mother was 20 (still a kid herself). This didn't change for another ten years or so. That's a lot of dead women.

My mother (in her 70s now) and her entire graduating class are some of the most adamantly pro-choice women I've ever met.

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These are the kinds of stories that the justices of the Supreme Court weighed when they made their 7-2 decision supporting the right to abortion. Even strong Catholics like Caitlin Flanagan are swayed by the truth of what it was like before abortion was legal and safe.

If you're against safe-and-legal abortion, you need to read these links. Read about the blood and the dying girls, about the doctors and nurses and families who treated them with disgust. You need to be fully informed because you are dealing with live and death, just as a woman considering an abortion (also a live-and-death decision) should be fully and truthfully informed. You also need to know that some medical personnel still treat women this way.

Don't doubt the truth of these stories. With the efficacy of our modern medicine, we forget an important medical fact--women are prone to large blood loss in childbirth or miscarriage.


"A river of blood runs through The Choices We Made, and it runs throughout the history of womankind. ...[A]ll the women and men who made possible a context in which an abortion could be performed legally, safely, and even humanely—together they say: Enough."
- Caitlin Flanagan

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Newt hates Mitt

Since Newt hasn't said in his own words, "I hate Mitt because...," this will be somewhat speculative, though I will stay away from psychoanalytical hypotheses.

The best place to start is with the lead Newt gave in his post-Nevada press conference. Newt referenced a story in the New York Times. It's not hard to find exactly which article he's talking about. The article details some of the tactics of the Romney campaign to turn-around his loss in S. Carolina to a victory in Florida:
  • Find lines of attack that could goad Mr. Gingrich into angry responses, particularly his ethics problems in Congress and his relations with corporate clients after he resigned from the House.
  • Paint him as an erratic, unreliable Washington insider in mailings and television advertisements.
  • Air a new ad featuring a 1997 news segment in which Tom Brokaw reported that the House had “found him guilty of ethics violations.” 
  • Get Romney allies to infiltrate Gingrich campaign events and offer instant rebuttals to the crowds and media.
  • Feed large numbers of negative stories to the Drudge Report.
  • Coach Mitt to attack in debates.
  • Pack the Florida debates with vocal Romney supporters.

The attacks hit a nerve, because Gingrich has started saying this about Romney:
"Frankly I was stunned... I have never before seen a person I thought of as a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest. It was blatant and it was deliberate, and he knew he was doing it."
I'm not sure why Gingrich is attacking Romney so much, since Romney isn't only one of the candidates to have launched attack ads against Newt. In the Iowa contest, the best known attack ads came from Paul's campaign, but Romney, Perry, and Santorum all got in their licks. Perhaps it is the other tactics (ambushing him at his own campaign events), or maybe it's besting him in two debates, which had been a point of pride for Gingrich.

Another reason the attacks sting so much could be that they are true. Gingrich has a web page devoted to answering, refuting, or explaining the attacks on him. It contains 28 separate entries. Here are some of the topics for which he mounts defenses: TARP, global warming, praise for FDR, Freddie Mac, and personal life (parts I, II, and III). Mitt evidently hasn't live nearly as full a life, because he doesn't have such a page on his website.

Gingrich doesn't usually specify the exact lies that Romney tells about him. Regarding his $300,000 fine by the House, he likes to point out that an IRS investigation three years after his resignation cleared him of wrongdoing. Perhaps he feels that anyone accusing him of ethics problems is lying. However, he was sanctioned by a 395-28 vote after what was called at the time a "plea bargain negotiation." It definitely has the look of a plea bargain. Or as a commenter wrote: "Those that made you speaker do not desert you in droves if you haven't done anything wrong."

Why does Newt hate Mitt so much? I don't know, but there is plenty of grist for speculation.

Gingrich wife number 2, personal life defense number ??

The sixth sense of Newt Gingrich

Is Newt Gingrich like one of the ghosts in the movie "The Sixth Sense" -- he's dead, but he doesn't know it? He's still running, but most of all he's still fulminating, this time overwhelmingly against his fellow Republican Mitt Romney.

After his Florida loss, Gingrich sounded angry, but channeled it well, speaking at length about what he would do on his first day as president. In that speech, the villain was Obama. Gingrich would be undoing Obama's evil or mistaken deeds. Then Gingrich was still full of optimism and big plans and big ideas.

His news conference after his Nevada loss was a different kind of affair. Gingrich was alone on the stage, but not at all outmanned. The event was billed as a news conference on the new direction for his campaign, but that wasn't how it turned out. If anything, he used the tactics that won S. Carolina, but on a different target. He focused his ire onto his archenemy, Mitt Romney, and all the various demons that are lesser enemies.

So in the news conference, there was a complaint against Mitt, then another against Mitt, then an unemotional comment on Ron Paul's advantage in caucuses, then rising anger at Romney central HQ in Boston, then a shot at the establishment, then disdain for the bankers on Wall Street who will be pouring money into Mitt's campaign, then a comparison between his situation in an underfunded campaign and Reagan's. Some other targets: Nancy Pelosit, Obama, George Soros, the reporter who asked if "Romney was in [his] head," Trump, but most of all, the "fundamentally dishonest" Mitt Romney.

Listening to Newt is like attending a Romantic symphony: he has changes in tempo, in mood, in tone, flourishes and crescendos. It's certainly a more interesting soundfest than Romney or Santorum. It's more emotional than Obama, and more varied than Paul.

So perhaps it's forgivable that Newt himself doesn't know he's dead. Or maybe he's just a dead man walking. He thinks he still has a chance. No, he's certain of it. There will be a reprieve, his truth and honesty are so incontestable, it has to be recognized. He will win the nomination.

What the rest of us know is what we've known all along. Newt has too much baggage to win or even compete. If Newt keeps fighting and his numbers revive a little, Romney will certainly unleash another onslaught. There is no end of the negative information (and video!) that can be turned into 10 minute news profiles or 30 second attack ads. Gingrich never had a chance, most of us knew it, but somehow Gingrich convinced himself otherwise.


Extras: Comments from Hot Air (conservative blog site) are turning decidedly against Newt:
"Newt pretty much ruined his own speakership. Pushing to impeach a President for perjury related to an extramarital affair isn’t wise when you are having an extramarital affair. As my daughter, a College Republican told me last weekend: Anyone who thinks U.S. voters are going to elect a fat old guy who likes to hear himself talk, resigned from Congress under a cloud, has been married three times and has more baggage than O’Hare is crazy."
"George Soros and Donald Trump called to say 'Hi!'…"
"... It’s called politics. And I’m tired of Newt playing hard ball when it suits him and t-ball when someone hits back."
"You Mitt-wits need to back off. Romney has been one nasty SOB trying to diminish what Newt accomplished while he was Speaker of the House. Newt takes a lot of pride in his accomplishments there-as he should-and Romney really is only trying to twist the knife in Newt. I cannot stand Romney’s style of politics. If he wins the presidency, he will not have done it honorably IMO."
"I didn’t get a chance to check the closing market prices. Can anyone tell me what Newt’s dignity is selling for?"
"Newt Gingrich has revealed himself to be nothing but a desperate, power-hungry, angry, lying, petulant, petty windbag with zero class whatsoever."

Update 2/7/12. While researching my next post on Newt, I found Newt's web page explaining or refuting the many attacks on him. It's a must-read.

And laugh at how wrong my crystal ball was here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Funny quote of the day

"What the poor really need is a trampoline to spring up. Up up and away to my new space colony on the moon so they can have enough people to be a state!"
--Newt Gingrich channeled by Wall Street Journal commenter


NASA multi-stage trampoline for moon colony access.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Confusing quote of the day

"So we have now become the first gay marxist state, where the opposition is suppressed with glitter bombs instead of real ones." --Wall Street Journal comment

It didn't work. Time to try depleted uranium.