Thursday, May 30, 2013

My prediction scorecard...very belated

I'm a scientist by background, training, and temperament. One tenet of science is hypothesis testing, which means making an educated prediction (guess) about an outcome, and then observing whether your guess was correct.

In life in general, having good predictive powers is helpful in many ways, but especially for avoiding nasty consequences. In politics, good predictive powers don't seem to matter much--pundits and politicians are always promising or predicting stuff that doesn't pan out, yet they maintain their professional status. This is annoying to me as someone with a scientific bent. Why aren't those with poor predictive skills drummed out? I mean... uh, they keep getting it wrong! They're screw-ups, so who would want to listen to/vote for them? But politics is more complex than science, and it isn't done by the same rules.

With that long introduction, here is my attempt at an honest appraisal of my predictive abilities for the calendar year 2012.

Voting for a Mormon, 3/27/12. I predicted that we wouldn't see a decline in voting by Bible Belt Christians in the presidential election. I think I was mostly right. Many Bible Belt states, like Virginia, Iowa, North and South Carolina, had increased voting over 2008 or tiny decreases. However, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and W. Virginia had declines of approximately 5% in turnout, so those states might have had some effects from evangelicals abstaining from voting. A few states with strong libertarian strains, such as Alaska and Michigan, also had strong declines. (0.5 points) (Source for election statistics here.)

Predictions about mistakes Romney's campaign wouldn't make, 4/1/12. I predicted he'd pick someone solid for VP, talk about tax rate cuts but be vague on details, resist calls to take more conservative positions, and run a cool-headed campaign. I judge that I was mostly right but wrong in some aspects of the style of campaigning. (0.5 points)

The outlook for the Dems keeping control of the Senate, 4/2/12. I said it looked bleak. Wrong! Good primary picks for Dems and dreadful picks by the GOP primary voters helped the Dems gain Senate seats. (0 points.)

Regarding the sequester, 7/27/12, I predicted outrage about the listing of the cuts, then a calming period and eventual acceptance. The cuts were detailed in mid-September, and didn't prompt waves of outrage. It was campaign season and partisans/the press had other fish to fry. Bingo on eventual acceptance, though. (0.5 points)

The campaign coverage will be about gaffes, 8/23/12. I think I got this one wrong. The campaign did become less serious at that point, but turned back to important issues, though at a level I found too superficial. (0 points)

On 10/21/12, I predicted no game-changers in the final two weeks. Some Republicans think that Hurricane Sandy was a game-changer that sapped their advance, but there's not much evidence for their supposed 'advance.' Too easy for full credit. (0.5 points)

Predictions about the fiscal cliff outcome, 11/12/12. I almost nailed this one. Deal will come out the Senate -- check. Boehner will drop his pretense that he won't budge -- check. Dems will include a sunset provision to give themselves a leverage point in the future -- er, no. I got it mostly right, so I'm going to round up. I had another post about how quickly the GOP would capitulate, but I won't count that since it's on the same topic. (1 point)

Secession was the rage just after election, 11/12/12. I predicted it would go nowhere. Too easy. (0.5 point)

I declared Grover Norquist among the walking dead, 11/24/12. Yes, the House and Senate didn't do what he wanted, but it's too early to know if he's truly defunct. We'll have to see if he has any sway in House and Senate elections in 2014--a long time to wait. I'm not counting this either way.

Fox News will move to a more realistic conservative center of gravity, 12/5/12. Shoot, I haven't checked back on this. Let's throw this one into the "check back later" pile. I also need to define what I mean by a 'more realistic conservative center.' I'll post on it... sometime after I've gotten to reflect and sort between what's possible versus what's wishful thinking.

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

By my reckoning, I scored 3.5 out of 8. Since some of these weren't yes/no issues, I think I did pretty well in 2012.

...did better than Mr. Unskewed Polls, Dean Chambers
Image: examiner.com (hahaha)

Monday, May 27, 2013

According to Rush: Planned Parenthood

After my loads of research on Rush Limbaugh, I have several fascinating stories still to share. This is the first of the addendums.

A woman caller had this question: "Why is Planned Parenthood supporting the Plan B pill in the first place? Won't it cut down on abortions?"

Now, this is interesting. The Limbaugh line on Planned Parenthood (PP) is that their one interest is abortions. Yet this listener noticed an odd dissonance. If PP is all about abortion, why would they support contraceptives? After all, if contraception, such as the morning-after pill, is effective, you don't need abortion, so there are fewer abortions, and that is counter PP's mission.

This listener doesn't see that Limbaugh has been feeding her and all listeners a crappy half-truth. That possibility hasn't entered her mind, but she does pick up on this inconsistency, so she calls Limbaugh (the educator, the answer-man, the voice of conservatives) for an explanation. Limbaugh asks her to take her best guess for the reason, but she muffs it. So he steps in and builds the story:
CALLER: I had two questions for you. Number one: Why is Planned Parenthood supporting the Plan B pill in the first place? Won't it cut down on abortions?

RUSH: Well, great question. You want to try taking a stab at answering it yourself? 
CALLER: ...They're mad at the Obama administration for doing away with it, so they're playing it both ways. 
RUSH: Well, that could be. But what does Planned Parenthood stand for?
CALLER: Abortion.
RUSH: Women aborting babies, however they do it. However they do it. Other than the back alley, however they do it. So the thing is if the morning-after birth control pill at age 15 conditions women, "This is no big deal!" Planned Parenthood would have to support it. Look, liberals are liberals first. Abortion is the sacrament. If you look at liberalism as a religion, abortion is the sacrament. So whatever moves the agenda forward is okay, and this moves the agenda forward.
The agenda forward is women having abortions, whenever, however... It is true that the Plan B morning-after pill will impact the Planned Parenthood bottom line. So it just means that they'll go into the manufacturing business, or they'll invest (chuckling) in pharmaceuticals. I don't know. It's a great question, but the answer is: "Hey, what's the objective? Abortions!"
So there is the dissonance, but Limbaugh papers over it with the affirmation dogma that PP is all about abortions. In the real world of honest discussion, someone would explain that PP's goal is not just to perform abortions, but to give people, mostly women, the tools to manage when to have children. When that's the goal, there is no disconnect between providing contraception and providing abortion.

However, in Limbaugh's world, and according to many conservatives, abortion is the only reason for PP, so there is this inconvenient fact that PP also supports contraception like Plan B. Limbaugh can't explain it on his own terms, so he gracefully punts. I don't know if his audience notices or not. The caller doesn't get another word, so we don't know if she found the answer convincing or not.

Limbaugh goes on to criticize PP for falsely hiding its mission (abortion per Limbaugh) with the name 'Planned Parenthood:'
RUSH: Now, I know. I know there are people in this audience who cannot possibly think I really mean that. Folks, not only do I really mean it, it's true. Don't blame me if you can't get your arms around that. There are over a million abortions a year. Planned Parenthood supports them and performs them. It's not even controversial to say that what Planned Parenthood is about is abortions and as many as possible...
When I first heard of Planned Parenthood, to show you how the left uses the language, I thought it was exactly what it says: Planning parenthood. I was very young. I was in my teens, early twenties. I thought you went to Planned Parenthood and they would help you plan your family, help you deal with the economics of it and raise a family...
That's not at all what they do. They want people to think that. So when somebody like me comes along and points out what they really do, people say, "No, no, no! That can't possibly be!" Some people don't even want to conceive that that's what they do, but it is. This is the cross that I bear: Bringing the truth to people that they may not want to hear. Therefore it makes me "divisive." -- emphasis added
Ah, Rush, you were so naive when you were young. You imagined that Planned Parenthood  helped you get a job and manage your money, maybe get an affordable apartment or house for your family. But delaying having children wasn't part of your vision for how to plan your family. To think, PP manipulated language to make you think they are a helping organization. And all the time, they're only about abortions. Thank God for Rush, and his willingness to bear the cross and tell the truth. I hope he can continue with his sacrifice and his truth-telling mission... all the way to the bank, since he isn't going to earn any honesty awards.

Inconceivable--One of 11 categories of PP services
Image:  plannedparenthood.com

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Is Rush the soul of the GOP?

Comment thread from Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic

I don't think Rush Limbaugh is the most powerful person in the GOP or the head of the party. But what is his position and role? That's a question that's mystified me for quite a while and maybe it's worth exploring. Let's look at some data points:
  • He is a big source of talking points for many conservatives, but so are Mark Levin, Breitbart, the Fox News commentators, Michelle Malkin, etc. He's not unique in having many dittoheads.
  • As the comment exchange above shows, Limbaugh hasn't had a strong influence on the party's choice of presidential nominee.
  • While he's a target for liberal anger, many conservatives have avoided criticizing him, his rants, and his positions.
To get a feel for Rush's significance, I read a lot of transcripts of his show. I read transcripts rather than listening because it's easier to apply critical thinking to text than to a stream of spoken words. It's easy to reread than to replay. I was also careful to apply reasonable guesses as to what was serious and what was satire.

Overall impressions
Though Limbaugh is most infamous for calling Sandra Fluke "a slut," he doesn't generally go in for extravagant name-calling. These are the insults I found in the course of researching his transcripts: slut (of course), feminazis, Dingy Harry (Reid), "Drive-By media," Mark "Maxi" Shields, and "NBC's Meet the Depressed,." This contrasts with someone like Ann Coulter, who's made a career of diatribes against liberals. Her statements are much more hyperbolic and insulting. Here's an example:
"Liberals hate the idea of God because it competes with their conception of themselves as a specially anointed elite."
So, even though I initially thought Limbaugh was a political shock jock, my research didn't bear that out. (Better examples of shock jocks here and here.)

Instead, Limbaugh seems to be an explainer for traditional conservatives. He provides the words to explain some inchoate thoughts and underlying premises that his listeners already have, but haven't verbalized. So his listeners may know they hate liberals, but he gives them specific examples of liberal behavior to hate, and specific arguments why liberal policies are stupid. This is extremely helpful if you don't know how to construct these arguments for yourself (the research for examples, the rationales for what's wrong). These explanations fill a void for the less intellectual conservatives, and there appear to be many of them.

Limbaugh's followers, if they want extreme rhetoric, have to go elsewhere. But they don't seem to want that. His callers, who are obviously screened, are always polite, as Limbaugh is to them. These aren't people looking for a pissing contest. They are socially conservative and are uncomfortable with obscenity and extreme language. They are family-oriented; many proudly saying how they are raising their children as "Rush babies," that is, children who grow up learning their political thinking from Limbaugh's radio show.

So Limbaugh casts himself as an educator, but also as a listener to his "salt-of-the-earth" audience. He builds them up as the ones who think, who understand the issues, who are the majority in the country, who  "probably know this yourself because you're the ones that create the results of the poll."

Limbaugh on policy and analysis
Limbaugh, for all his pride in educating and being educated in turn by his listeners, provides scattershot arguments. His logic is hard to follow, made even harder because he doesn't write columns, he only has his radio show, where he can throw in as many diversions and other tricks as he needs to camouflage weaknesses in his arguments. I tried to find a clear explanation and defense on many GOP positions, but I didn't find them. He sticks to sounds bite and taking potshots at liberal policies and liberal politicians. If anyone finds where he makes a strong, coherent argument for, say, a GOP tax policy, let me know.

The longest policy analysis I found from Limbaugh concerned immigration. In that piece, he made the following points, all quotes:

  • ...McCain was pro-amnesty. He didn't like the word, but McCain was identified with wanting it. A far as the Hispanic community was concerned, McCain was okay. He was all for relaxing immigration law.
  • And remember it was the conservatives who finally got a fire lit under the House Republicans in the summer of 2007 to kill it.
  • While the Hispanic voters would look at McCain and say, "Yeah, he's one of us. He's for us," they still couldn't vote for him because the party wasn't.
  • If amnesty was it, McCain shoulda won big...
Oh damn, that wasn't really a discussion about why a particular amnesty policy was better, but such explanations are rarely the subject for Limbaugh. Perhaps this is better, through still terribly thin on depth of analysis:
First conservative constitutional principles are the answer... The blueprint for rebuilding America has been written.  Ronaldus Magnus wrote it; Barry Goldwater wrote it; ... Friedrich Von Hayek wrote it; Milton Friedman wrote it.  Market capitalism is the answer. Robust liberty and freedom for the American people is the answer, and then a government willing, after unleashing that, to get out of its way is the answer. 
It's terribly frustrating, not finding the 'why' for ideas Limbaugh supports. I guess you just have to 'believe' despite Limbaugh's claims that his positions and his listeners' positions are based on knowledge and thinking.


Non-endorsement of candidates
Limbaugh assiduously avoids declaring preferences for one GOP candidate over others. He's got several good reasons for doing this. He avoids feeding the internecine battles that weaken the GOP (as they would with any party), and therefore his party is stronger. He also avoids the embarrassment of backing a loser. Since "I told you so" is a frequent refrain of his, his credibility in not backing a loser is probably the bigger consideration.

However, he does covertly signal his preferences. In 2008, he barely mentioned McCain. He spoke well of Fred Thompson, but hedged. He aired some complaints about Huckabee and called his supporters "Hucksters" which doesn't sound complimentary to my ears. In 2008, he liked Romney best among the final three, and speculated that there was a deal between McCain and Huckabee to block him. You know he dislikes a candidate when there's a criticism, but it's never so pointed that Limbaugh would be trapped as being against the candidate. As I said, he must remain neutral so that he doesn't lose credibility by picking a loser.

Here's a fascinating exchange with a caller who pleads with Limbaugh to mediate a squabble between Huckabee and Romney:
RUSH: It is an unfortunate comment, and Romney came back and said, yeah, these religious comments are over the top. It was what his speech was about last week, which I thought, as I said many times, I thought it was a fantastic, inspirational, and uplifting speech, and it wasn't so much about religion as it was about religion's ties to the founding of this country, and very, very important. I think Huckabee is showing us who he is, and he thinks this is what it takes to win, and he's a Baptist minister, and his religion is very serious to him, too. He's using it for all it's worth for him, and I think I understand why. I don't think I could stop it, either.
CALLER: Well, I don't know. I think you could. I think you control America, and that's good. I think at the very least, you ought to be able to control the Republican nominees. I mean, they're all beholden to you, they wouldn't be in power anyway.
RUSH: You may have a point, now that I think about it in that regard. You might. People don't believe this, but my staff would believe me when I say, I walk around here with such humility, you would not believe it. They're all laughing because they know it's true. Okay, so, you know, I'm thinking you may have a good point here in the sense that what you're asking for is somebody to stand up and say, "Would you guys stop acting like kids and start talking about the issues that are going to get us elected president: taxes, immigration, the future of the country and so forth, and stop all this stuff." That's the kind of thing you want me to say?
CALLER: You got it. We need a referee, Rush.
If you read this section and the entire transcript, you can see how Limbaugh executes some of his style. He:
  • Digs at Huckabee, but not at Romney. 
  • Compliments the caller, says he'll do something about it, but doesn't follow up. 
  • Accepts the caller's statement that he [Rush] is an influential person, but also plays up his humility. 
Here's an example of his rhetoric in 2012, another presidential election where he remained officially neutral in the GOP primaries:
Newt Gingrich is making it clear that he is proud of this country and its history, of our culture, the idea of American exceptionalism.  My point is here, nobody ought to be shocked to learn that a Republican who is articulating conservatism proudly, competently, confidently, articulately, nobody should be surprised that that person is nearing the top of the heap.
His tacit support of Gingrich continued here and here, where Gingrich got the only compliment in an overview of a debate, which was: "That's lighting dynamite and throwing it in a crowd of liberals. Oh, I know it's a hundred percent true."

How did he feel about the other candidates? I'll just end with this from Limbaugh's website:

Image: rushlimbaugh.com

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The temptation to blow up government

The talk (or blather) from the Tea Party crowd is that the Republicans in the House and Senate should shut down the budget process unless they get much more of what they want. For the purposes of this post, I'll ignore that they don't have a realistic budget proposal, much less a compromise proposal, so no real proposal at all. They still want that magic something, and some are agitating for a "Let's show 'em" stance. They are tired of the GOP folding, and they want to push hard enough to see whether the Dems will fold next time.

What will this strategy bring? Here are my predictions for the likely outcomes:

  1. The GOP doesn't hold together in its talking points, and enough of the GOP members of Congress fold and pass a status quo budget. The hardcore are again disappointed in their desire to make a stand.
  2. The GOP holds together well enough that negotiations fall apart, and a government shutdown ensues. After a few days (less than a week), the civilian clamor is too great, and the GOP folds, passing a status quo budget. The Tea Party faction finally gets proof that it doesn't have the power it imagines it has.
  3. The Dems fold and give the GOP substantial concessions. The Tea Party view is confirmed.
I was just kidding on #3. That's not going to happen. It's going to be #1 or #2.

Sometimes I think that most people with their eyes open already know this, including most people in government. That's why they aren't working on reform plans for Social Security, Medicare, or the tax code. It would just be wasted effort.

However, there is the noisy rump of the Republican Party that still thinks they can have their way despite the outcome of the most recent election. Now, what I can't explain is why they cling to that belief. I can speculate, though. They live in very conservative areas where their views aren't questioned, and therefore they wrongly feel that they are in the majority. The news media they listen to (talk radio, Fox News) reinforces this view of superior numbers by neglecting to point out evidence of the larger political world. But there's no stopping reality, their delusions not withstanding.

I wonder how many years the delusion can endure? On this question, I'm not making a prediction, but I welcome the predictions of others.

Image: theweek.com


Extras. The hero worship of Ted Cruz. RedState's Erickson tells the GOP to be tough, just like they [weren't] on tax increases.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Partial research into late-term abortion

WARNING: Please skip this if you're tired of my posts on abortion. I certainly understand if you are. However, due to questions, and awareness, raised by the Gosnell trial, I decided to research late term abortion.

As a practical matter, abortions become more difficult and more bloody as the fetus gets larger. A dilation and curettage (D+C) is possible for second-trimester abortions. Abortions after approximately 24 weeks required day-long dilation. Then delivery/termination is performed on the second day.

I started to understand the statements of Gosnell's workers about "it raining fetuses" after studying late term abortion. The process of dilating the cervix enough to remove a larger fetus is painful and lengthy, and can itself cause the woman to go into premature labor and delivery. This is actually safer because the fetus is aborted whole, and no parts can accidentally be left behind to cause medical problems like infection.

If the fetus is not expelled in premature labor, the abortion doctor has to try to remove it, sometimes cutting it apart. The procedure to cut apart the fetus can cause injury to the mother, such as perforated uterus or perforated bowel. It isn't surprising that instruments that can dismember a fetus can also lacerate the internal organs of the mother.

In writing this post, I've tried to provide only facts without interpretation or taking sides. I believe that it's best to be informed and to have a scientific understanding of the issues. Science will not dictate decisions, but it provides a firm basis for your own decision making.

More resources (in no particular order):
  • Video of a real second-trimester abortion (graphic).
  • Undercover video of an informational session for a woman considering a fairly late abortion. I judge based on my general healthcare background that the information is accurate.
  • Discussion of late-term abortion with a few graphic line drawings. 
  • Clearinghouse of ads for late-term abortion services.
  • Fetal growth chart.
  • Growth chart using comparison to everyday objects.
  • If I wanted to find more statistics and research, I would go to the NIH site here.
  • A doctor talks about the reasons for and against abortion.
I hope this is the last post I write about abortion. I understand and largely respect the arguments on both sides, and I struggle with my own opinions of this life-and-death issue. I hope other people feel the same way.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Short: Tax-Exempt Status Denied

While following up on some issues related to the recent IRS scandal, I found this at a Tea Party site:
Chris Long. President, Ohio Christian Alliance Email: chrislong@ohioca.org 330-329-0105 Cell. Chris’s group can prove actual damages from the IRS Action. They filed for a 501(c)3 tax status in January of 2011 and waited thirteen months to get approved. During that time, he has documentation of significant donors who withdrew their donations because he was unable to get the 501(c) 3 certification in a timely manner.
Look at the website and tell me whether this looks like a political group, or more like a charitable group, which is what 501(c)3 organizations are supposed to be:

Image: ohioca.org

I think that donations to this organization should be treated like political donations, not like donations to schools, libraries, or the Salvation Army. Donors to this organization shouldn't have their donations subsidized by taxpayers. Organizations like this, on the left and the right, deserve greater scrutiny. It's not going to be hard to make this point to the persuadable public. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The significance of the scandals

Republicans may be overjoyed--they have a triad of scandals to hold against the Obama administration. There's new information on Benghazi including the edit trail of the administration talking points and testimony of personnel who dissent with administration handling of the Benghazi attacks. The IRS targeted Tea Party groups for onerous oversight, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) subpoenaed and seized phone records of many journalists of the AP.

Benghazi
Benghazi is the oldest of the scandals, dating from September 2012. The death of four Americans at a satellite diplomatic facility in Libya hasn't been the story that the GOP had hoped for. It's difficult to turn a single incident like Benghazi into a wide-ranging indictment of the administration's capability of running competent foreign relations. The Obama administration has generally been competent, with fewer Americans soldiers dying, fewer wars started in various hot spots, and not considerably more nuclear tests by North Korea. It's hard to make the case that Obama is so incompetent that we need the more war-like Republicans in office. The narrative that some conservatives wanted to push, that Obama is a welcome mat for Islamist groups, was undercut by other groups in Libya attacking the group responsible for the attack. Also there's Obama's generally aggressive posture in Pakistan and Yemen that belie the GOP position.

So how bad is Benghazi? Hillary is looking less like the firm hand at the State Department handling a myriad of international situation without any of them spinning out of control. She ignored the warnings of dangerous conditions in Benghazi, and she has no good way to apologize for it. This is a black mark against her that she can't clean up. So far her efforts have been defensive and screechy--she may need to learn how to be humble and contrite. She has to hope that her strong points are enough to compensate. That said, she has a couple years to figure out how to explain and mitigate.

The damage to Obama is his lack of engagement. His underlings are mealy-mouthed, his own role in decision-making is muddy. He doesn't know how to end the drip, drip, drip of discrediting information and doubts about the handling of the situation. The CIA is trying to make sure State gets the blame for lack of preparation, but the responsibility for the non-timely military response to the emergency is still a liability that hasn't been fully explored. But this incident, as a small tragedy, isn't large enough to sink Obama's presidency.

IRS
The IRS scandal is also less than initial reporting would have it. The IRS probably wasn't directed by the White House, so this is more a rogue operation, rather like Fast + Furious. Also, I doubt that it will seem as egregious as trying to deny tax-exempt status to a church. These groups were political, and the three salient issues were:
  • How much they would have to report, such as listing their donors.
  • How much paperwork and red tape the IRS piled on them.
  • Whether the IRS leaked confidential information to the press or other groups.
No political group, left, right or center, is going to arouse that much sympathy or indignation, so hearings will be either boring or falsely histrionic. That won't do much damage to Obama.

The Obama administration can and should be tough on the personnel responsible for the decisions to pursue these procedures. Perhaps this will mark a new higher standard for the IRS that future administrations will have to follow.

Subpoenas of Journalists' Records
Finally, there is the seizing of the telephone records from the AP. This concerns a leak about a foiled bombing. The leak included some surprisingly detailed information, such as the existence of a double agent who came from the UK and infiltrated a terrorist group in Yemen. If CIA methods for infiltrating this al Qaeda group were compromised, that is a serious leak that deserves scrutiny and perhaps prosecution.

On the other hand, Obama administration may just be trying to intimidate news organizations. Considering that the target was the evil mainstream media, the GOP are not going to be able to spin it as much as they would want to. (Let me crank up my crocodile tears over the missed opportunity.) Obama's handling of leaks and whistleblowers may be tougher than some previous administrations, but it hasn't been severe or common enough to worry the garden-variety, non-libertarian voter. There are good arguments on both sides, which makes it hard to paint Obama as the villain. So, no legs on this scandal either.

Thin Sauce
Sometime last year, perhaps when I was researching Fast + Furious, I realized that the Obama administration has been surprisingly clean, though certainly not squeaky clean. There were some known back door deals in ACA, and it would be hard to believe that there weren't any goodies in the stimulus bill. However, the worst malfeasance was ill-considered large loans to Solyndra and other pet causes. (Or maybe it was some of the big policies, like Obamacare, that don't lend themselves to sound-bit scandal hearings.)

That leaves the GOP-controlled House without enough to investigate, so they are inflating whatever they can find. But that isn't much. There isn't a revolving door between lobbying firms/oil companies and the White House staff. The administration either isn't throwing favors at its Wall Street friends, or the favors pale compared to other times.

The lean pickings, and the insistence of the out-party on investigating something brought us the endless delving into Fast + Furious last year, and will bring us endless Benghazi this year with some droning IRS hearings mixed in. Perhaps some Republicans will weary of the attempt to weave these tiny scraps into a funeral shroud for the Obama administration, and this will end, but I doubt it. The House will have to fill its time somehow, and they certainly won't be spending the time hammering out courageous compromises on pressing issues like entitlement reform or tax reform. No, we can expect some very dull partisan soap operas. Sigh.

The Short Version
Some lessons from these scandals:
  • Bringing the in-party down a few notches doesn't translate into more support for the out-party. The Dems look slightly worse, but ...
  • The GOP still look like a bunch of opportunistic scoundrels who are interested primarily in power rather than sound policy.
Image: democraticunderground.com

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Short: Missing piece of the Benghazi puzzle

Wow. Now I understand why the Benghazi cover story was exposed so quickly. The original story was that there were demonstrations over a nasty anti-Muhammad video, and these turned violent. It sounds plausible because that was happening in Egypt on the same day. But how did Fox News know to push back against this story?

I hope you're curious. Still time to put down a bet...

At the same time in Egypt...
Image:  guardian.co.uk

OK, here it is, per Marc Ambinder:
"Republicans got briefings, classified briefings, attesting to the evidence the al Qaeda-linked militants were ready to strike... The briefings were accurate. Republicans knew. And indeed, they began to speak out almost immediately..."
Some the GOP knew that al Qaeda groups were poised to make attacks in Libya. State knew, Hillary knew, Dems in Congress knew, Obama knew, etc. They all knew that this was a strong possibility, if they had been paying attention to those briefings.

That seems significant to me, but I haven't worked out the implications. For example, was Obama unprepared with an explanation for why he didn't prevent the attack? Did he use the video cover story to buy time?

I suspect that spin for the election drove reactions all around, with Dems trying to minimize damage and the GOP trying to maximize it. Is there anything that isn't treated as a zero-sum game in this country? Did all administration response have to go through the election filter first? Ugh.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Short: Those dastardly senators

Here's some interesting reading on how a nasty Senate maneuver started. The article talks about a Senate trick called "filling up the amendment tree" (sounds like Christmas?), but it could be about any number of Senate tactics. The article is short, the comments are intelligent and add to the story, so definitely worth two minutes.

The story is a reminder: It's definitely naive to think that everything X party does is fair and justified, and everything the other party does is low and contemptible. So many of the maneuvers are recycled, started by one side, perfected by the other, reviled when employed against your side instead of for it. Hypocrisy is the order of the day in our highest legislative body. Democracy continues to be the worst form of government except for all the others.

From such an appropriate source: nonsportsmanlikeconduct.com

Friday, May 3, 2013

Short: Open Letter to Conservatives

First, two disclaimers:

  1. The open letter is NOT short. It's long, but pithy and readable.
  2. It was written by Russell King, whoever that is, and published by Talking Points Memo. However, all links to their version are broken, but here's a complete version that still works as of May 2013. The pictures were added, and are somewhat nasty.
Here are some teasers:
You can't vote and scream against the stimulus package and then take credit for the good it's done in your own district (happily handing out enormous checks representing money that you voted against... 
You have to condemn those among you who ... celebrate violence, joke about violence prepare for violence or use violent imagery, "fun" political violence, hints of violence...


I found this open letter as I searched for a blog from a former conservative in hopes that it would enlighten me. (Side note - I can't even remember the particular issue that prompted my search, and it happened just this morning. Thoughts have no time to get moldy in my brain--they turn to dust almost immediately. I'm not looking forward to dealing with my brain as it reaches 70 years old.)

Here is a refutation of the complaints in the open letter, except when it's confirmation of them. An excerpt:

Conservatives stand on principles: limited government, personal liberties, freedom of expression, and so on. We believe in the principles that the Founding Fathers espoused, and not the whims of your modern-day liberal intellectual.
With all this material, there are probably some solid complaints and enough straw men for one hell of a bonfire. Enjoy, and bring the wieners.


Short: Abortion reading

Not everyone's favorite topic, but worthwhile if you have the interest:

  • Is Late Term Abortion Ever Necessary? This author, a pro-life GYN, argues that it never is. She prefers that a mother carrying fetus with severe problems go to full-term. The doctor is so opposed to abortion that she doesn't defer the decision to the mother. I do because I respect the opinions and experience of the mother, who will deal with the weeks of heartbreak and anxiety during the wait and care for the disabled baby once it's born. No dice, Doc. You didn't convince me.
  • The story of a woman who had one of those late term abortions, the reason she died, and how her story is twisted for propaganda.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Confirmation bias: Still no political changes

Last month I wrote about the suspension of politics except for a few important side issues like immigration. I still think I was right, at least in many ways. I never meant to imply that Dems and Repubs would stop complaining about one another--that's as inevitable as death and taxes. But I was right that no major issues are being discussed.

For example, what was the biggest issue on the budget front? Well, a small tweak to the sequester that prevents furloughs of air traffic controllers so that the airline schedules don't suffer. Are we even talking about a billion dollars there?

So, this is our budget outlook for the foreseeable future: no major changes. Budgets not tied to inflation will be flat. No new spending initiatives. No new savings initiatives. No new taxes. No tax reform. No taking a scalpel to the budget. No reform to Medicare or Social Security except what's already baked in the cake. No Dem wishes, no GOP wishes.

As I said before, I'm satisfied with this. I don't trust the current crop of pols to do a good job on any kind of reform, so we're better off if they restrict themselves to fixing what is obviously broken. Fix the flat tire, but don't mess with the engine.

We are now on a trajectory to have lower deficits. That's due to the Tea Party House Republicans, who forced spending cuts, and due to the 2012 electorate who didn't hand power to the GOP, and thus allowed many of the Bush tax cuts to lapse.

No Gain, But No Pain
I'm not the fastest to see this coming. Back in 2011, an Atlantic commenter named steveinch pushed the idea of no cuts, but also no spending increases. I was hot for some cuts, but eventually I saw the beauty of his plan. It would be more politically palatable to hold the line on spending than to find the places we could safely cut. With the sequester, we have something fairly close to his plan.

I think the budget next year will look a great deal like the budget we have now, primarily because no other budget deal has a chance of passing.

As for other issues, such as background checks (small potatoes, really) or immigration (a big issue), they have almost no chance either. Congress will get one big thing done this year--a status quo budget. That is all. Everything else will be small, and not a whole lot of small things either.

Image: bigmedicine.ca