Thursday, August 22, 2013

Away from it all

I'll be cruising and visiting some islands off the New England coast, and hopefully not wondering what the Tea Party is saying about Mitch McConnell for the next 9 days. I won't be around to clean up the spam comments, but they're easy to spot.

The weather forecast is great!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Weird Congress

I was going to write about how Texas seems to have more than its share of off-the-wall politicians, but additional research showed that my first impression was wrong. (The resulting post here.) Nonetheless, the pursuit of knowledge has many rewards! As part of my research, I decided to search for lists of the worst members of Congress.

In accordance with the charge that the internet is biased, my discoveries list more incredibly bad GOP members of Congress than Democrats. Bearing that bias in mind, let's look at the carnival of congressional jerks:
  • The Daily Beast nominated House members who shouldn't be returned to the House in Nov. 2012. Alas, five of eight are back in the House.
  • The Nation highlights the terrible-ten lawmakers who've managed to avoid publicity. Well, most of them have avoided publicity. The perennial favorite Louie Gohmert, always a top suspect for crazy quotes and ideas, makes this list.
  • The most referenced article is from Esquire, dating from 2010. It deserves the attention because it doesn't just focus only on congress critters with bizarre delusions, but also covers the most disappointing and the most sanctimonious.
  • My favorite article is illustrated with some wicked cartoons of the ignominious ten. It justifies the selections with juicy anecdotes. 
I was truly disappointed not to find a conservative-flavored list. Searching deeper into the Google results, I found a few other lists worth noting:
Still no luck finding a conservative list of the worst of Congress. If you have that hankering (and I did), you'll have to settle for Town Hall's list of worst liberal quotes. What a disappointment that conservatives as a group or a movement can't put together a better list than that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Short: Pouring cold water on shutdown fever

Mitch McConnell is trying to dampen the sect of the Senate that vows to filibuster any bill that doesn't defund Obamacare. The Tea Party, at the same time, is throwing gasoline on the fire in the form of threats to primary senators who won't support such a filibuster. The GOP leadership of both House and Senate are trying to stomp out this idea, but it's not working.

Folks, a government shutdown is likely to happen sometime. If not at the current drop-dead date of September 30, then after this year's crop of realistic Republicans RINOs get primaried and replaced with Tea Partiers in 2014. I wouldn't have thought this would happen since the GOP backed away, either compromising or capitulating, four times already. But all those losses have made the TP sect that much hungrier for a real battle.

When I read the comments on web, it's surprising how many GOPers want to go the showdown route. If that's a real reflection of the GOP, the party is on the verge of a civil war. I've never been able to discern whether he TP crowd is the majority in the party because indicators have been mixed. (The indicators: polls in the 2011 primary running toward TP candidates, yet the eventual Romney win.) It could well be that the traditional GOP establishment gets replaced. I never would  have thought it possible, but it's definitely a possibility within the next few years.


Here's the cartoon that might be too violent for my blog:


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Housecleaning: Interesting links

These are a bunch of links I found interesting at the time. They still are, but don't merit a post for each. Here is the unsorted horde from Pandora's box.

  • Waterboarding is torture per someone who's experienced it.
  • Why Romney lost. Best comment. Also look at Aaron B's comment, if you want to take the time to find it.
  • NYT visits young GOPers trying to figure out what went wrong.
  • Why Dems insist on tax increases.
  • Remember when the GOP was spinning all these theories about Benghazi? Here's a lie and its evolution. Quaint. Now everyone is scared to look for the truth.
  • The Political Lie Machine: Obamacare plans will cost $20,000.
  • Mark Manes, the man who sold a gun used at Columbine. He's not evil or callous, so find out how it happened.
  • Yet another gun story with an unhappy ending: veteran shot in Texas.
  • Citation of a study showing that capital gains/dividends are the leading causes of income equality.
  • Long NYT article on the 2011 debt deal negotiations.


The Dilemma of Stop and Frisk

I have sympathy for the Stop and Frisk policy in New York City. Parts of the city have high crime rates, which were even higher decades ago and almost caused a permanent collapse of the city. What can you do when there is a concentration of criminals? Stop and Frisk is one of the possible answers, and the mayor and police chief swear by it.

There are a couple problems with the policy. The handling is often rough, is highly resented by the frequent targets (young men of color) and their families, and might be contra the word and spirit of our constitutional rights. These rights include the guarantee that we aren't subject to arbitrary search and seizure. Such an intrusion, and it is a big intrusion, is legal only when based on individualized suspicion.

Safety Vs. Rights
With that background covered, I want to move on to the big question: when (or if) to make the tradeoff between fundamental rights and safety. In many aspects of life (my life at least), safety is the prime issue. My car is much safer than models from 50 years ago because safety was a huge priority, and the government forced the car companies to add safety features. In healthcare, safety is the top priority. You don't endanger your life to save someone else. Your rights as a patient abruptly end when there is danger to other people, including to the professionals who are responsible for caring for you. We definitely manhandle the obstreperous patients.

So safety is a very worthy consideration. However, so is the right to be free from unreasonable searches. I'm so glad that I don't randomly get pulled over or stopped when I walk, forced up against a wall, have my pockets emptied and my arms, legs, and trunk felt all over. That's not the way to treat anyone whom you respect--it's a denial of human dignity.

Yet I submit to full body scan when I take an airplane, and I'd allow a frisk if that was required. Why? Because I've seen plenty of hijackings during my life. Air travel is clearly a target, and lesser measures haven't been enough to ensure safety. Also, it's an infrequent intrusion, well defined in scope and timing and broadly applied. Those limits are what make it acceptable to me.

View from the City
I'm not personally affected by NYC's Stop and Frisk policy, or by NYC's crime. I rarely visit there, and I'm old enough so I don't look like anyone's idea of a mugger. I don't have the personal stake that New Yorkers have, so I definitely wouldn't tell them what to think.

Still, I try to put myself in their shoes because that's the best way to understand the issue. On one hand, the relatively high risk of being stopped and frisked may inhibit crime. A person is less likely to carry a weapon for mugging or burglary tools when there's a chance of being stopped and frisked. I wonder if burglary and robbery rates went down a great deal at the start of this program.  I wonder if burglary and robbery would rise if the program was suspended. Why would you put people through that kind of search if it wasn't effective? That's the only reason I find body scans reasonable at airports--we know that they are effective in preventing hijackings.

Question of Efficacy
When I take a closer look at how the program works, certain aspects surprise me. Arrests for illegal gun possession have occurred in just 1.9% of the stops. That makes me wonder why the mayor thinks this program is so important in its effectiveness. The cops aren't actually taking many weapons off the streets this way, so what is the effect? Could police presence alone, without a quota of stops, be as large a deterrent to crime? I don't see why not, but I'm no expert on this.

It seems to me that the police have broad enough power to stop people when they have even mild suspicions--suspicion due to bulges in clothes that could be guns or illegal knives, someone walking too closely, or someone checking out purses, wallets, and briefcases. The police don't need to have a quota of stops besides. They don't need to stop someone with no suspicion whatsoever and subject that person to invasive search just for being outdoors in their own city. The thinkers behind the Bill of Rights were correct--you shouldn't be stopped or searched for no reason at all.

That said, I'm surprised by the amount of support for the program among residents in neighborhoods where many of the stops are conducted. It seems that they feel much safer due to these police actions. Many fear a return of higher crime rates. They want to feel safer in their neighborhoods. I can't argue with that--that's exactly how I feel when I fly or drive--I want to feel safe. I hope that can be achieved without quotas of stops and without random searches. If crime rates rise, perhaps this policy is the only deterrent that works. If that's true, we're back to the difficult question of safety versus rights, and rights may well lose for the greater good of safety.



  • Bloomberg is a racist elitist.
  • The legal view against the policy.
  • The true aim is to instill fear.
  • Gun rights advocate/libertarian says the police shouldn't take guns from those who carry in NYC. 
  • A black parent has misgivings about ending program and a surge of gun violence. 
  • Frequent fliers, but their families support the program. 
  • New Yorker article with statistical analysis of stops. 
  • Mend, not end: "If they're going to frisk, they should follow procedures." But also: "I'm black, I've been jailed for no reason. That's why I don't go outside at night."
  • More background and statistics, but see the Wall Street Journal and this article for some counter statistics: 
  • 87% of those stopped are black or hispanic. 
  • 88.5% of those stopped have no evidence of a crime on them. 
  • 78% of shooting suspects are black. 
  • Major crimes have fallen 34% in NYC, but only 14% across the country.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sad news: No impeachment

Here are two sides to this story, which barely deserves the title of 'news.' Per our liberal-inflected MSM, it's a case of 'those weird, stupid Tea Partiers.' To the conservative media, it's a case of a congressman trying to politely let a constituent down easy.

The unfortunate congressman is Blake Farenthold (R-TX). According the various MSM  sources (I read it in this post), the rep was explaining that impeachment would pass in the House and go down to defeat in the Senate, so it didn't make sense to do it.

Hotair has a somewhat different take:
Farenthold’s not floating impeachment, he’s just trying to make a Birther go away. This is his way of appeasing her.
That sounds more plausible than the MSM take. Nonetheless, conservatives are having to walk back expectations of the outer right, expectations such as imminent impeachment or the shutting down of Obamacare, which just aren't going to happen.

It's good that some GOP reps are trying to cool down the crazy, but there's a hell of a lot of it out there. I doubt this effort will be enough. The outer right has been fed fairly extreme rhetoric for four years now. The sentiments that have been built up aren't going to change in just 2-3 months. I expect sparks to fly this fall.


Update 8/22/13. It isn't news, but another Republican congressman had to disappoint a constituent demanding that Obama be impeached. This congressman says that it would be a "dream come true" if he could do it, but dang, there's no evidence. Too bad he doesn't ask where are these false expectations came from.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Short: Republicans for Obamacare

I hadn't thought of this, but it's true. In many states, some Republicans are working to make health insurance available. I'm not sure how they explain it when asked, maybe something like "... for the good of the people of my state, I'm following the law." These unorthodox Republicans include governors Chris Christie, Susana Martinez, and Jan Brewer.

The next year will be interesting--the implementation of Obamacare might be like the Hindenburg, or it might be ... not so bad. I can hardly wait.

Hat tip: Josh Barro


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shutdown and its effect on the Senate's future

The conventional wisdom is that Tea Party-aligned senators want a government shutdown, and establishment GOP senators (EST) don't want a shutdown. That seems to be the noises they're making.

However, there may be reasons that EST senators would want a shutdown. If these senators give the Tea Party its desired shutdown, the likelihood of being primaried goes down. The EST senator may also have a better chance of winning the nomination, but may have a lower chance of winning in the final election.

Tea Party senators (TP) may actually increase their numbers if the establishment prevents their desired government shutdown. That would prompt more challenges to EST senators, more TP nominees, and maybe less voter backlash in the final election.

So, what strategy is better for each group? Damned if I know. Another important question is what calculation will drive the decisions of each senator. Will it be the greater good, what is most likely to ensure reelection, or what is most likely to give the Senate majority to the GOP? Damned if I know again.

Image: ModeratePoli

Extra. More of my posts about the Senate.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Benghazi info

There's an interesting new wrinkle in the Benghazi story. According to a CNN story, there were over two dozen CIA personnel in Benghazi, much more than mentioned before. The current speculation is that the CIA was rounding up Russian-manufactured anti-aircraft missile that got loose in Libya in order to send them to the Syrian rebels via Turkey.

I don't know whether this is credible, and I'm certainly not going to out on a limb and declare that this is what Obama's been trying to hide, so now it's definitely impeachin' time. (I realized just a few hours ago that my reaction was very much affected by my dislike for those crowing about being right all along, when of course they weren't.)

If this is true, it's surprising how zippered up the Obama administration is. Or perhaps the CIA is much better at keeping secrets than most government organizations. Maybe the ambassador died protecting a secret stash of weapons from the al-Queda aligned group. May he died unsuccessfully protecting the weapons, and that group got its hands on bunches of missiles. Maybe it's some totally different incredibly sensitive story.

It would be great to know what it was, but the Obama administration is obviously not trusting Congress with the info. Currently none of us peons can judge whether the mission in Benghazi was worth the risk, totally immoral, or something in between. In the future, however, this information should be shared, with small leaks generally being the preferred method. There are probably more leaks to come. I hope we get the story soon and I hope it's not too bad. Reagan managed to withstand the Iran-contra scandal, but I'm not sure Obama could do the same.

All about the weapons?

Extra. Self-declared definitive timeline. It's about the weapons according to this 9/20/12 article.

Update 8/5/13. In posts like this, I usually write "What you want to hide, it ain't gonna stay hidden." This time might be different. If there was a big hush-hush operation in Benghazi, it's stayed hidden for nearly eleven months. Maybe it will stay hidden, or maybe it will slowly be revealed. With four Americans dead, it's had enough impact that it should be revealed. As I said before, I hope the story isn't too bad.