Sunday, September 25, 2011

Political update for September, 2011

I wrote the following sentence on September 15th, having started it a week before that: "The good news for everyone is that I'm off on vacation (ironic, as there is little difference between my life on and not on vacation) at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning."

Unfortunately, I never finished the post that night, so this had to wait over a week while I visited Arizona, in particular, Phoenix, literally hot as hell; the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a little known group of serpentine red rocked canyons flush with juniper trees, sagebrush and short grasses, including the almost impossibly beautiful Spider Rock; and, Sedona, which is perhaps quite literally, the most beautiful city on earth - at least as far as I've seen. But, enough of that. Missing a week blogging is a cruddy feeling, as if I somehow let down the entire political world - conservatives, liberals, libertarians, communists, socialists, anarchists, nihilists and even moderates, all who regularly come here to get the monthly update. Please forgive me. But, it will probably happen again someday.

Debating us to death
Let me start with the Republican nomination process. I have now watched four debates. As usual, the hosts seemed to focus on the big guns – Perry and Romney. It’s not fair, but expected, and even the other debators don't complain much. Frankly, I think what the other debaters have to say is often much more interesting. But, even that is not that interesting. They have all settled into their themes and personas and will probably carry them to the bitter end.

My view, and of course it is subjective, is that Romney has done marginally better than Perry, but his debating superiority increases a little each time. That's not all that suprising. First, he may just be better at it, but also, he went through the whole process in 2007 and 2008. Both seemed “presidential,” whatever that really means (and it may mean nothing), but Romney seemed more poised, and whether or not any of them knows what they were talking about, handled himself very well. I also thought that Huntsman did very well, in the objective sense, but it is not surprising that I am going to like the guy who is fiscally conservative, but much more moderate culturally than his cop-debators. If the three - Perry, Romney and Huntsman, were on the stage alone, I might have said he won the MSNBC debate. It will not, of course, improve his position much, if at all. He is simply too liberal in collateral matters for many conservatives.

I have waited to hear Perry speak a few times before coming to even a preliminary opinion about him. It is obvious that Romney was long the front runner and now has been surpassed. But, I am going to predict, absent some breaking news or new entrants, that eventually Romney will creep up on Perry and eventually take the nomination. I am cautiously convinced that Chris Christie is not entering the race, despite the recent rumors, but would be pleased to be wrong.

Soon after the debate, Herman Cain won a Florida straw poll, sending some pundits into a frenzy. They should calm down because it probably won't win much. I stick with my opinion that Cain would do well if he was one of two (maybe three) contestants, but as it is, his mellifluous tones are lost in the throng. I like him for the most part, and he is only marred right now for me from his absurd fear of Shariah Law in America and his somewhat ignorant pronouncement that any Muslim in his cabinet would have to take an oath (any one in his cabinet will have to take an oath and one specially directed at a particular religion would certainly be unconstitutional). But, all candidates eventually say stupid things and he has a chance to take some of it back. But, I doubt he is going anywhere.
Here are my ideas to make these repetitive and often pedantic debates more interesting. First, break them up and make it more of a contest. Put the eight lowest candidates on the stage, but 4 or 5 in one debate and 4 in another. Do an American Idol type of competition and put up the two who do best in the next round with the big boys. If they want they can give Perry and Romney free passes into the second round. This process would give everyone more of a chance to talk and give the viewers a better idea of who they want to see debate. It would also prevent the hosts from channeling the questions or topics to the leaders.

Or, they could do a round robin series of one on one, or three way debates as preliminaries. I’d enjoy this much more and I think others would too.

I'd also change up the questions a little bit. First, they could ask more philosophical questions that they normally do and that way avoid these scripted answers. I don't ever want to hear Cain talk about his 9/9/9 plan, or Huntsman brag about Utah being the number one state for job creation while he was governor, or the word Romneycare, or Perry claim he errs on the side of life (ironically, of course, except when he has convicted murderers executed) or Romney tell us again the Obama doesn't have a clue (but is a nice guy), Bachmann say that Obama will be a one term preisent or Gingrich pop off an irreverent sounding one liner. I watch hoping they will ask Paul (or in the last debate, Gary Johnson) a question, because it's a loit mor einteresting when someone tells the truth.  

Last, I'd get rid of these cable news hosts who have no clue how to question someone (O'Reilly is almost the only one on television who has the least talent in it) and replace them with attorneys, but only ones I've vetted to make sure they actually know how to cross examine someone.

Recent blogs that resonated with me:

This first is more about the media than politics, but I'm putting it in anyway.

“George Will, ABC NEWS: "I have a home on South Carolina’s Atlantic Coast. I know that the Atlantic Ocean generates hurricanes and they can be dangerous and unpredictable. That said, this too must be said. Florence Nightingale said 'Whatever else you can say about hospitals they shouldn’t make their patients sicker.' And whatever else you want to say about journalism, it shouldn’t subtract from the nation’' understanding and it certainly shouldn’t contribute to the manufacture of synthetic hysteria that is so much a part of modern life. And I think we may have done so with regard to this tropical storm as it now seems to be."

What was all that nonsense about this storm? Hurricanes and tropical storms are dangerous. They cause flooding and property damage and even take lives; almost 50 people died as a result of this one.  But really, this was so blown out of proportion, it seemed like we were being invaded by the Martians (which everyone knows won't happen until 2012).

Someone wrote me a little after the hurricane passed that NYC was lucky - "Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history."

I wrote back:

"It wasn't just lucky. The top ten list is meaningless. The media (except George Will) and the gov't grossly hyped this hurricane and everyone bought into it. All hurricanes are dangerous and costly if they arrive in populated areas. But, you have to look at it over time. The first link here is to Wikipedia's costliest hurricanes. Look at both lists. It changes dramatically once you adjust for inflation, Katrina was unusual because it hit New Orleans and much of the city is below sea level, so it was extremely costly, but even it is still only the 3rd highest after you adjust for inflation.

hurricane costs
But, deaths are deaths and don't need to be adjusted. Look at this list and you will see that Irene was nothing - a piker. Yes, a few people died, but, realistically, this hurricane was not severe and would have been not much worse if they had merely told people it was coming and to take normal precautions. . . . ."
Why does the media so exaggerate? Ignorance? Part, but part also because they are selling and that takes precedence over everything.
* * *

The next is from an interview of Ron Paul. I'm cutting out the questions and just putting in his answers. He is the only one of the regular debaters who prefers to tell what he sees as the truth unadorned rather than try to please everyone. He doesn't like boos, but he accepts them. He wants the Republican Party to come to him, not visa versa.

Ron Paul was interviewed by Chris Wallace of FoxNews:

"We are out of money. This country is bankrupt."

. . .

"It's a system of bureaucratic central economic planning, which is a fallacy that is deeply flawed. FEMA has been around since 1978. It has one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever. I want to transition out of this dependency on the federal government."

Challenged that his views are unconventional, Paul replied,
"Well because it's a good idea and it's the American ideal. But I'm fascinated with your word unconventional. Isn't it strange that we can apply that word to freedom, and liberty, and the Constitution, limited government and a balanced budget? You're proposing this unconventional idea of government!' Well, I think you're right about it. Under today's circumstances it has been unconventional for probably 50 years. But right now, the Tea Party movement and the Independents in this country and the people who are caring about our bankruptcy, they think what we had is unconventional with regards to our Constitution and the principles of liberty.

So, yes, people are waking up and they're saying 'Yeah, Ron Paul's right. Why are we fighting all these undeclared wars? Why do we have a Federal Reserve that bails out the rich and dumps on the poor? And why is it that deficits don't really matter and politicians just stand around and talk that they're going to nibble away at a budget deficit that is 10 years out.' So, no, this is a very popular philosophy.

It is not my philosophy, it is the philosophy of the Constitution. It's the philosophy of liberty, property rights and not dependency on government. That's the big thing. People are supposed to assume the responsibility for themselves in a free society.'"

Asked why he wants to be president if he hates government so much:

"Yes, I am in it to win it. … I want a new approach, at least from current standards for the presidency. I want to obey the Constitution and follow its very great restrictions on the government. The Constitution was written to restrict the government, not to restrict the people. Now its turned around: We use government to restrict the people in all matters. So, I would like to reverse that."

Regarding the federal reserve, Paul's special bugaboo:
"Take your hands off of it. Let the people take care of it. Let the people who have lived beyond their means let them go bankrupt. Let the liquidation occur. Get rid of the malinvestment (artificially low interest rates and printing of money) like we did in 1921. We recovered. It's not, it's hardly even in our textbooks about the Depression of 1921 which was a natural consequence of the inflation for World War I.

So, we want our hands off. The depression lasted 17 years because we wouldn't do that. Japan, has had 'hands on.' They've been in the doldrums for 20 years and so, we're now into this one. It's a lot more than 5 years, we've basically been in it over 10 years that our economy has been slipping. So, they would say 'hands off, give us a sound currency, free up the markets, property rights, enforce contracts. And make sure people go bankrupt when they're bankrupt. And don't bail out their buddies. Don't let the Federal Reserve create money out of thin air and bail out their buddies."

I certainly don't agree with everything Ron Paul believes, but with Gary Johnson not even a respectable contestant, he is still my favorite of those in it. But, I also think he is a grumpy old man without much charm who would have a very hard time winning the election if he selected (unlikely, anyway), even against an unpopular Obama. Some of his views, particularly those that involve our becoming less involved in the world militarily or which would involve getting rid of very popular federal programs like social security and medicare, would make it almost impossible. Despite the fact that he has done in this election and the last a good job of popularizing his views, it is not as popular as he might hope. I think it would still be rejected by most independents.

The Times' angry columnist
I am not a fan of the NY Times columnist Paul Krugman. I do, however, still occasionally read him. It's not like I've never changed my mind before. He is a leading exponent of Keynesian economics, or, at least the modern interpretation of it, and believes that our economic problems are caused by government not being big enough and it is not spending enough. I never see him commenting on the fact that the government has no money to spend except what is taken from taxpayers or created by the government, reducing the value of the currency. But, we debated that here a bit not that long ago, and it is not my point today. The NY Times is a very urbane and civilized place. The writers are, agree with them or not, polite to political adversaries. But, Krugman is more of the Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann school. Recently, I checked on his blog. He wrote
on August 27, 2011, 3:00 pm


Guys, you are still banned, no matter what new names you’re using. Same lies, same rhetoric, no place for it here. Find something else to do."

That was the whole post. I submitted a comment:

"I guess I will be banned as a 'Troll,' because I frequently disagree with Professor Krugman. I have never been banned anywhere before (well, Wikipedia, but that was for technical software reasons - I had a Google toolbar which caused trouble). I suppose it would be an honor of sorts, sort of a purple heart for blogs. I have been called a troll before by ideologues both of the right and the left, regardless of how moderate my tone. I wish I could say the same for the professor, and I don't mean this personally, but professionally - doesn't he know how this comes across? Do you really ban people for rhetoric and 'lies' (facts with which you disagree). This sounds more like an angry commenter than a columnist or professor.
I can only suggest to Professor Krugman that he take some time to read Karl Popper on rational criticism, the 'criticism' part of the name being key. When you are so convinced of your position, that you must denounce others who question you, you neither have the courage of your convictions nor any room to learn something new or change your mind. I frequently read commenters in The Times and on, both sites on which I comment, with whom I severely disagree with the facts they present or opinions they argue. Many of them seeming Trollish to me as they call names and assassinate characters (all while calling their victims 'haters,' etc. Personally, I have yet to find it necessary to call anyone a liar (even those who lie or have called me a lot worse).
If you don't open yourself up to criticism, Professor Krugman, even uncharitable criticism as you yourself sometimes dish out, you may have to change the name of this blog to the Dogma of a Liberal."

I was not surprised at all that my comment was not published (and there were no other comments at the time, but you could leave one), but it’s a shame. While is much, much worse in terms of name calling, the commenters get to say what they like politically. Most of it is partisan garbage in my view, but I have learned many things from other commenters. When a blog insulates itself from criticism, it defeats the interactive promise of the internet. I take plenty of criticism here, and though I do weed out the rare sexually explicit language as do most sites, I’d rather argue the merits with someone than hide, like Prof. Krugman does. This also may explain why I find comments on the Times so much of one persuasion (liberal, if you didn't know). I can't say for sure that all of their columns are "protected" the way Krugman's blog is. But, it is an indication and not a good one. The Times is still by far my favorite and I think the best paper in the world, despite its admitted partisan politics.


This post is long enough. I have too much to say about the Middle East right now to include it here. But, just a little. The Palestinians requested the U.N. the other day to be recognized as a sovereign country. It will of course be vetoed by us (despite the claim of conservatives that Obama is not on Israel's side). But, it is a mistake for Israel to handle it this way. As I've said many times before Israel should itself recognize Palestinian independence and Abbas as its leader. It should unilaterally evacuate, by force if necessary, the settlements. And then it should defend itself with all its might in the event of attack, far more than it does so now. This is not appeasement, but shedding itself of its own moral impediments. I am less interested that Palestine does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That fact will change nothing. Even if it did it would not make Israel's enemies any less so. Sadly, if Israel cannot make a political settlement, it may face extinction in time, even if it takes other countries with it. We will support Israel, but it will garner much more support from the world if it does so with the moral high ground. It is easy to say - who cares? But, Israel does care and it does make a difference.

More another day.


  1. What a brilliant idea to change th format of the debabtes to one on one!!!!......Glad you pointed it out yesterday.

  2. That comment from Don is a little inside baseball. Speaking yesterday, not having yet read this post (what's with that?), he came up with the same idea.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .