Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Question: Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!

I am led to believe that some of you are fans of science fiction. If so, what "world" would you most want to see? Do you want to live the good life in the off-world colonies? How about sharing a cab with Corbin Dallas? Ride the worms on Arrakis? Or is Seti Alpha 5 more your speed? [+] Read More...

Afghanistan Failure

At the beginning of June, Afghanistan became our longest war -- longer than even Vietnam. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Yet, we are losing. The Taliban are running rampant and control huge swaths of the country. What’s worse, our current strategy won’t change that. We need to rethink this war. Let’s start this by going through the reasons that are routinely given for staying in Afghanistan and showing why those are bad. Then I’ll talk about a better plan.
Reason One: “Having invaded Afghanistan, the West has a duty to return a half-decent state to the Afghan people.”
I hear this a lot and it’s total bull. We owe these people nothing. Afghanistan is a primitive cesspool because its own people made it that way. It was like that when we got there, and it’s not our responsibility to change that. And frankly, claiming this is our responsibility with one hand while claiming that we need to respect their culture and religion with the other is a sucker's game.
Reason Two: “We need to deny al-Qaeda a haven.”
This is the primary reason given for being in Afghanistan. But we’ve already lost this one. Al-Qaeda has a haven in Pakistan, in Yemen, and in Somalia. The CIA has even noted that they are starting to use operatives from all over the world now, making “havens” almost irrelevant. Moreover, if the goal is just to deny them Afghanistan, a rather silly goal given their other havens, then there are better ways. Indeed, cutting a deal with the Taliban to toss al-Qaeda out would be more effective.
Reason Three: “If we leave, a civil war might start, which could suck in local powers like Iran, Pakistan, India and Russia.”
This one shows how little our policy people understand what is going on. This IS a civil war. The Taliban are not foreign invaders. They do not lack popular support. Indeed, recent polls show that one-third of Afghans openly support them, compared to only 25% who support the government. No matter how much we call them “insurgents,” we are participating in a civil war.

Our real target, al-Qaeda, has smartly piggybacked on the Taliban. Without the Taliban, al-Qaeda has no support in Afghanistan. Yet, we’ve lumped them together and, in so doing, we’ve chosen to fight tens of thousands of Taliban fighters who can draw upon local populations for support, when we should be fighting the 1,000 or so al-Qaeda members that the CIA claims are there and in Pakistan. In fact, once again, our best strategy would be to cut a deal with the Taliban to toss out al-Qaeda and we walk away.

Indeed, the military is starting to get this. Said one U.S. civil affairs officer: “We need to reevaluate who the enemy really is. . . Based on the evaluations and interviews in the report, we're not sure we're fighting the right war or fighting the war the right way."

And as for those other powers, who cares? Afghanistan is a worthless piece of rock populated by a few million goat-herders. It has no strategic value. And if Pakistan or Iran want it, let them have it. Where is the harm? Indeed, it might show the world that there are negative consequences to fighting with the United States. . . mess with us, lose your country.

Further, the idea that Pakistan and India or Iran would go to war over this is simply scare mongering. Those countries are ready to fight over any number of things already, tossing in the rocks and goats of Afghanistan won’t change a thing. Not to mention, we could partition the country before we leave to avoid any such conflicts entirely.
Reason Four: “A defeat would mark a humiliation for the West, that would encourage our enemies around the world.”
Finally, we come to the real reason we stay. It is absolutely true that the rest of the world follows the maxim -- “might makes right.” Thus, if we appear weak, then we will be weakened in the eyes of our enemies everywhere. And running away would make us appear weak. But so would losing. And make no mistake, we are losing and everybody knows it.

At the beginning of the year, the military put together an assessment called “The State of the Taliban.” This document paints a grim picture:
• U.S. and NATO leaders do not adequately understand the Afghan people, and our communication skills are poor.

• Our support for Karzai’s corrupt government has made it easy for the Taliban to recruit insurgents and prevents locals from working with NATO.

• The Afghan army and police forces are years away from providing security for the nation -- even though we’ve been training them for nine years.

• There are not enough civilian workers to complete construction projects, and fear prevents local workers from taking coalition jobs.

• Local governments steal project funding.

• Violence is up 87% since March and bombing is up 94% this year.
Said one official with knowledge of the report:
“We are getting beat up. The Taliban know their own people -- they are culturally accurate. We know the facts but we are culturally inaccurate. The main message in the report is that we don’t fully understand our enemy and we are not clearly communicating our message to the people.”
Indeed, the military admits that the Taliban are better propagandists than we are. They have persuaded the Afghan people that (1) 9/11 was a response to the planned invasion of Afghanistan by United States, (2) America does not allow Muslim women to cover themselves, and (3) mosques are not permitted in American cities. These are big recruiting points.

All of this leads to a quagmire. In fact, the situation is so bad, that the report recommends that US commanders mediate cease-fire negotiations with local Taliban commanders. But that’s not possible because the Taliban don’t respect our side. Said Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis: “The bulk of insurgents clearly do not see foreign forces as a credible negotiating partner.”

What was supposed to change all of this was the “surge” that Obama and McChrystal promised. But that’s proven to be a failure. It started in Marja, a farming district in Helmand province. Thirty thousand troops moved into the city to push out 400 Taliban fighters. Along with the troops came government people and truck-loads of money. The idea was to establish Afghan government control and thereby gain the trust of the locals, who would then reject the Taliban. That didn’t happen. The Afghan government proved ineffective and the locals were less than impressed with the temporary nature of our military plans. Indeed, the Taliban put out posters telling people the date they would return, right after our withdrawal date. McChrystal now calls this test case for our surge plan “a bleeding ulcer.”

And because of this failure, they have postponed the next step, which was the invasion of Kandahar, a city under the control of drug traffickers and the Taliban. According to the military, the local people in Kandahar “are not ready to back” the invasion yet. Ominously, McChrystal implied, before he was replaced, that if we don’t make significant, irreversible progress soon, Christmas would be the end of NATO operations, i.e. the date we quit.
So What Do We Do?
Actual victory is an illusion. What we need is a genuine exit strategy. Obama’s "wait one year and then run for our lives" plan is about the worst thing we can do, apart from staying without any plan except waiting to be driven out. Here are our options as I see them:

Option One: Our first option would be to totally replace the government and impose a modern state on these people. I doubt we have the stomach to do this, but this is the only way we can win over the people who oppose Karzai’s corrupt regime and also eliminate the handicaps that keep us from creating a stable state. This one would require a longer military stay and a realization that we can’t “respect” a defective culture.

Option Two: Our second option would be to carve the country up and hand it to the neighbors along ethnic lines. This strategy actually makes a lot of sense as the neighbors would then become responsible their new territories, and none of the neighbors like al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The weak link here would be Pakistan, which is already a problem in and of itself. BUT, the force in Pakistan that props up the Taliban is Pakistan’s intelligence service (the “ISI”). The ISI use the Taliban as a way to destabilize Afghanistan and fight off Iranian and Indian influence in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan were broken up, then the ISI would no longer need the Taliban. Indeed, their concerns then would turn to maintaining the stability of Pakistan, which would mean ending the Taliban.

Option Three: Our final option would be to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban. In exchange for the Taliban kicking out al-Qaeda, we would either (1) cut the country in half, leaving them with the part they already hold, (2) walk away and let the locals sort it out, or (3) force some sort of power-sharing arrangement on Karzai that included the Taliban.

The advantage to this would be that we could somewhat-credibly declare victory, al-Qaeda would be denied the Afghan haven, and this would likely prevent foreign powers from getting involved. And if the Taliban don’t want to agree, then we use Option Two and their whole country disappears right out from underneath them.

As I read the tea leaves, we are giving up at the end of December. If we don’t come up with a better plan than "keep doing what isn’t working," we will leave Afghanistan in disgrace and we will face a much broader mess. But if we act now, and we stop thinking about winning this war in the traditional sense, then we can salvage a real victory. If we don’t, then this will be a defeat we will regret.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Iran Calls Off Its Ships

Oops. Wrong picture. That's the Spanish Armada. I wanted to post a picture of the Iranian "flotilla" attempting to send "humanitarian aid" to Gaza. But that picture will not be available, since Iran backed away from its commitment to join the other Muslim terror ships attempting to break the Israeli blockade.

The Iranian ship (or ships) was supposed to join the latest flotilla yesterday (Sunday). But they got cold feet at the last minute. Iran set up its own "relief committee" of fellow Muslim Israel-haters called The International Conference for the Support of the Palestinian Intifada. Its chief spokesman, Secretary General Hossein Sheikholeslam, announced "the trip is not going to happen." Instead of the usual "we ain't scared a no Jews" rhetoric, the thrust changed slightly: "Due to the restrictions from the occupying Zionist regime, it was decided that this ship would not sail. The Zionist regime has made the blockade a political issue and we do not wish to politicise this kind of humanitarian aid because the most important thing for us is to break the blockade of Gaza. Therefore, we have canceled the sailing."

But what really caused Iran to back off and decide that it would try to get supplies to Gaza by other routes? Sheikholeslam himself told us. "The voyage was canceled because Israel had sent a letter to the United Nations saying the presence of Iranian and Lebanese ships in the Gaza area will be considered a declaration of war on that regime, and it will confront it (emphasis added)." That's a whole lot different rhetoric from "we will wipe Israel off the map," now isn't it?

For a country which claims to have superior forces and a complete lack of fear of Israel, Iran suddenly sounds pretty shaky about taking on a nation which has declared that there is now a line drawn, and if certain states cross it, it's war. Internally, and out of public sight and hearing, I'm guessing that Iran is finally getting the message that Israel is on the brink of doing the job the United Nations and the cowards in Washington DC won't do. Israel is letting Iran know that Iran's assistance to terrorists in Palestine is not a good enough diversion from their nuclear ambitions. Israel is further making it clear that it's about ready to accept not one more provocation from its sworn enemy in Tehran.

Michael Ledeen at PajamasMedia wonders what would happen if the jellyfish in the White House suddenly developed the same backbone and announced that any attacks on Israel would be tantamount to an attack on America (anybody remember John Kennedy and the Cuban Missile blockade?). He also points out, appropriately, that Bush had that opportunity as well, and didn't take it. Fair enough.

Even something less than total defeat in a military confrontation with America and Israel could very well be the catalyst that reawakens the opposition in Iran and brings about the fall of the Iranian dictatorship. A direct confrontation with Israel in the flotilla, assuming it failed, would probably be a mortal blow to the ayatollahs and Imadinnerjacket. It would also mean the death of imprisonment of Iranians when the whole idea is to have Arabs become martyrs with Iranians egging them on. Israel, 1. Iran, 0. America, on the sidelines.
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Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer

Every four years, the world holds an international soccer event called the World Cup. And every four years, there is a full court press to convince us that Americans should love soccer. We don’t. We won’t. There are basically two reason for this: one economic and the other political. . . or more precisely, political correctness.

Americans don’t care about soccer. Indeed, every year Harris does a poll to ask people what their favorite sport is. Soccer doesn’t rate. Here are the top eight from 2010:
• NFL (35%)
• Major League Baseball (16%)
• College Football (12%)
• Autoracing (9%)
• NBA basketball (5%)
• Hockey (4%)
• Men’s golf (4%)
• College basketball (4%)
Soccer hovers between 1% and 4%, where it has been for the last 25 years.

A lot of reasons are given for why Americans don’t like soccer, but I think what it really comes down to is a matter of economics: soccer presents a poor value for our time.

As strange as it may sound, people are economically rational creatures. That means that before we act, we look at the value of each of the alternatives and we pick the one with the highest value for our time. Value is simply the benefit we expect from the activity less the costs of engaging in the activity.

The problem for soccer is that it presents a relatively low value to the viewer. Indeed, while I agree that most goals and a great many near-miss shots on goal can present the same thrill as a running back breaking away from the pack for a touchdown or a baseball speeding toward the fence, the problem is that soccer presents too few of those moments for a two hour event. Indeed, in baseball, any pitch can result in a home run. In football, any play can result in “that moment” of the great hit or the great escape. Soccer simply does not offer anything like that. In an hour and a half soccer match, you’re looking at a couple of minutes of excitement and an hour plus of set up.

Even compared to hockey, soccer still comes up short. In principle, hockey and soccer are nearly identical games. But hockey has three times as many shots on goal per game, and the game is only 2/3 as long. Moreover, the majority of time in a hockey game is played in the danger zone where a strong shot could score. By comparison, most soccer is played in the middle of the field where scoring is essentially impossible.

Thus, even though soccer can achieve the same highs as other sports, it simply does not offer enough of them for the time commitment involved to attract an American audience.

But why are American audiences unique? Because Americans value their time differently. The rest of the world by and large values leisure time more than work time. They are obsessed with holidays, short work days and early retirement, and they are willing to give up economic progress for that free time. American’s aren’t. So when it comes to finding leisure time activities, Americans have fewer leisure hours, and they value each hour more highly. In other words, Europeans are much more willing to blow an afternoon than Americans are. This means that when Americans are looking for ways to spend their leisure time, they are much more selective, i.e. they are more concerned than other people with finding “the biggest bang for the buck.” Soccer just can’t compete with the other activities available to Americans.

Moreover, soccer is hurt in this country by its advocates. For example, too many of the attempts to get Americans to like soccer sound anti-American. We’re told that Americans aren’t smart enough or erudite enough to “get” soccer. . . could you imagine Coke using a similar ad campaign? We’re given vague (and sometimes open) parallels between soccer and socialism, which never sits well with Americans. And we’re told that we should like soccer because the rest of the world does. . . as if Americans have ever liked being told to act like the rest of the world.

Frankly, reading some of the articles on the exit of Team America, you get downright angry. These articles vacillate between insults at the public for not getting with the program and lies about tens of millions of Americans suddenly falling in love with soccer (the same lies they give at the end of each World Cup). They also love to present misleading statistics to give the impression that everyone but you is watching -- “soccer ratings up 68%”. . .twice nothing is still nothing.

Finally, soccer has become the weapon of choice for leftist in the United States. Soccer has been the vehicle that feminists have used to demand that Americans start treating women’s sports on a par with men’s sports. . . actually, that's not quite accurate: feminists have been trying to shut down men's sports for years and they see requiring equal outcomes with women's sports as a way to do that. And soccer is the sport where daffy anti-competition socialist nuts keep demanding that kids games be played without keeping score. . . so nobody feels pressured or gets their feelings hurt. None of this endears the public to soccer. It's like having Hitler endorse your aftershave.

Soccer will have a hard enough time ever breaking onto the American to-do list because of the lack of value in the game. And as long as it is a political tool of the politically correct left who are trying to remake America as a commune, it might as well forget trying.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Financial Regulation Winners and Losers

Let’s talk about Obama’s biggest achievement, THE achievement that will rally the public to the Democratic side in the upcoming election: FINANCIAL REFORM. . . (yawn), sorry. Any ways, here are the winners and losers. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the well-connected banks are the winners and you are the loser.

The winners. . .

1. Goldman Sachs and the investment banks. This bill changes nothing for these boys (see 5 below).

2. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These monster slush funds and dumping grounds for former Democratic staffers are big winners because somehow the Democrats couldn’t find it in their corrupt little hearts to fix their regulations. . . even though Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directly caused the financial meltdown and will cost taxpayers $389 billion. Laughably, the MSM actually calls Fannie and Freddie “losers” on this because the lack of new regulations means the evil Republicans will keep talking about them. Boogey boogey boogey!!

3. Wal-Mart and the Retailers. Wal-Mart won a reduction in the amount that credit card companies can charge retailers for the use of a credit card -- which will save retailers $20 billion a year, which the Democrats are sure will be passed on to consumers. Wink wink.

4. Massachusetts Banks. To get Scott Brown’s vote, the bill includes exemptions for State Street bank and other Massachusetts banks from “the Volcker Rule,” which will keep banks everywhere outside of Massachusetts from trading with their own money. . . mostly.

5. CME Group. Blanche Lincoln forced a provision into the bill that requires that derivates be cleared by a third party and traded on an open exchange. The organization who led this charge is the CME Group, which coincidentally, provides just such an exchange! It's like a Christmas miracle!

6. Derivative Traders. Blanche Lincoln wanted to appear to crack down on the $600 trillion market in derivatives. So she put in place regulations that prevent banks from trading the more exotic derivatives. . . unless they do it through subsidiaries. This shell game is what is causing the MSM to call Goldman and the boys “losers” in this. Not coincidentally, the stock of Goldman and the boys went up between 4% and 6% right after this "punishing bill" was announced.

The losers. . .

1. Bank Customers. Bank fees are going up about $19 billion a year, almost the exact same amount the retailers won’t be sharing with you. If you believe the Democrats, then banks will pay these fees. If you aren’t stupid, then you know bank customers will pay these fees.

2. Retail Customers. Retailers also won the right to require minimum dollar amounts on credit card purchases.

3. The Democrats and the Liberal Press. The Democrats believe that they have finally achieved something they can sell to the public, and they are going to make this the focus of their campaign. Heh heh heh. . . oops, I mean, oh no, whatever will we do now!

4. Us. This bill does nothing to stop future bailouts, does nothing to clean up our archaic regulatory scheme, and simply ensconces the principle that big lobbyists get what they want from our government, and you pay for it. Moreover, a golden opportunity for true bi-partisan, expert-based reform is squandered. . . as usual.

In fact, the only good thing to come out of this bill is that mortgage issuers will now be required to hold 5% stakes in the mortgages they issue. This will slow mortgages and make them more expensive, but it will also help slow the growth of legal-yet-basically-fraudulent mortgages because the issuers will now stand to lose when they make bad mortgages.

There you have it. I hope you’re still awake. . . so do the Democrats.

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Question: Country Mouse. . . City Mouse?

Some people like the country. Others like the city. Moonlit country lanes? Or dirty neon street? 100 acres or 400 square feet? Grass or pavement? Rats or raccoons? Herds or gangs? Deliverance or C.H.U.D.? What do you prefer, and why? [+] Read More...

This National Park Is Off-Limits To Americans

While outgoing President Bill Clinton was busy turning more useable land into remote wilderness National Parks, the last one he created was the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona. The National Park Service has now added something to the "welcome" sign. It has closed the roads into the park, and told Americans that it's too dangerous to go into the area.

It must be those great gatherings of western diamondback rattlesnakes, or the tarantulas, or the scorpions, right? Or maybe drought combined with the possibility of deadly flash floods that has caused the Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management to cut off entry into the park for American citizens. Nope. It's too dangerous because one of our national parks has become a staging ground for the violent paramilitary activities of illegal immigrants and the Mexican drug cartels. The Obama administration is so busy pandering to illegals and weakening America's ability to secure its own borders that they simply found it cheaper to put up a "Do Not Enter" sign to the park than to forcibly and probably violently remove the invaders.

There was really only one road into the park for tourists unfamiliar with the local Arizona trails and backroads. That was Interstate Highway 8. Signs all along the highway now warn Americans not to go anywhere south of the highway or in any way enter the park that Bubba Clinton described as "a magnificent example of untrammeled Sonoran desert landscape." Well, it's become a bit trammeled, and not from the Americans who pay for it and who should have the right to enjoy it without being warned off by their own cowardly government or murdered in cold blood by foreign invaders.

And the situation continues to get worse. You can't have a large group of reactionaries without something for them to react against. The total lack of any desire to stop this foreign invasion on the part of the Obama administration, the looming possibility of another amnesty, and the left's vitriolic attacks on Arizona's attempt to enforce the federal law that the federal government refuses to enforce has produce a full-blown reactionary result. The feds won't defend our borders, and the Arizona legitimate forces are stretched paper-thin in their valiant attempts to do the right thing, so that leaves a vacuum.

To fill that vacuum, we have now also provided a training-ground for neo-Nazis. Jason "J. T." Ready has announced that his National Socialist Movement will fill in the border-enforcement gaps. On their website, the group announced "an anti-invasion operation in the Vekol Valley called 'Border Ops.'" Ready describes their paramilitary action as "the Minuteman Project on Steroids." The negligence (or perhaps the intent) of the Obama administration was to result in the painting of all those who believe in legal immigration and border enforcement as racist xenophobes. And now, the neo-Nazis have come along to help them prove their phony talking point. Just what we needed--a white supremacist, violent group of thugs to give the Obamists something to point to.

Although local law enforcement, largely through Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeau, has warned the neo-Nazis about any attempts at paramilitary action, the neo-Nazis seem about as impressed with the warnings as the illegals and the cartels. In White News Now, the vigilantes have said they are going forward with their operation with or without the blessing of law enforcement. "One way or another the invasion must stop" was their response to Sheriff Babeau.

Not all the civilian groups forming committees to act in the absence of the government are white supremacists or neo-Nazis. Another group which calls itself "Vekol Valley Illegal Immigrant Patrol" is an outgrowth of a pseudo-vigilante group called "Operation Line in the Sand." They fit better into the original meaning of "vigilante" in that their sole mission is to defend themselves and their homes, and enforce the law when the government cannot or will not do that job. The leader of the group, Harry L. Hughes III, says "Although we are armed for bear, I would like to think that the primary intention of this show of force is to raise public awareness when it comes to the drug trade and human smuggling."

That is far different from the neo-Nazi "whites only" reasoning, but both are a reaction to the vacuum created by the federal government and the inability of local law enforcement to do much on its own. From desperation, comes radicalism, and sometimes the most honorable of groups feel they have been forced into alliances with unsavory groups by the inaction of the government they are supposed to be able to rely on. That is how the Nazi camel got its nose under the German tent, and I pray that the same thing won't happen here.

As the saying goes, "desperate people do desperate things," and if the Obama administration is failing to enforce the law as a tactic to consolidate pro-amnesty forces, they are playing a very dangerous game. It's way past time for Congress to quit making multi-culti speeches and devoting its resources to sensitivity training and get on with serious border enforcement and sensible immigration reform. As the situation in the border states becomes ever more dangerous, the failure of Congress to act in the interests of the United States could easily produce a lawlessness of domestic origin to match the lawlessness of the invasion from south of the border.
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Case For A Democratic Debacle In November

I’ve been trying to avoid getting too positive about the November elections, because it’s still a long time until November and many things can happen. But the evidence is coming in that the Democrats are going to get routed and that nothing will turn that around. Here’s the case for a huge disaster for the Democrats.

1. The Numbers Game. The Senate is a problem because there just aren’t enough Democrats up for election in November. But the House looks set for a Republican tidal wave. Here are some key facts:
• Republicans can capture 70 seats without picking up a single seat where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans.

• Republicans lead the generic ballot by around 8%, and have done so for more than a year now. This translates into somewhere between a 70-100 seat pickup in the House.

• Turnout is critical in elections, and 62% of Republicans are excited to vote in November. Only 37% of Democrats are excited. And as we saw with CommiCon, the far left is demoralized and isn’t turning out and won’t be contributing time or money.

• The media talks about an anti-incumbent mood in the country, but polls show that 55% of people want their Republican representatives re-elected, only 41% want their Democratic representatives re-elected.

• Republicans look like they will capture 33 governorships covering 318 House seats (73% of the total). This could boost the above numbers simply with the coattail factor.
2. The Image Problem. Democrats have an image problem: 49% of Americans think the Democratic party is “too liberal.” You can win being too conservative in America, but you can’t win being too liberal. How bad have things gotten? Democrats are retiring or refusing to run all over the country, whereas Republicans are piling into the primaries. Even Harry Reid’s own son won't use his own last name in his ads for his race for Governor of Nevada (he still trails by 22%).

The Democrats also have shown that they are masters of corruption, which does not play well with the American public (usually listed as the number 2 or 3 concern of voters):
• Blagojevich is busy linking Obama and Rahm Emmanuel to attempts to sell Obama’s seat.

• Obama has been caught illegally offering government jobs to Sestak and Romanoff if they would drop out of their Democratic primaries.

• No one in Obama’s administration paid their taxes.

• Team Obama is thicker with lobbyists than K Street itself.

• Pelosi has spent like a queen on alcohol, office decorations, junkets and private planes.

• And every bill the Democrats pass is loaded with giveaways and dirty deals. And I’m not just talking about the Louisiana Purchase or the Nebraska Compromise, I’m talking about money for contributors and regulations to harm competitors of contributors, e.g. like ObamaCare preventing the creation or expansion of doctor-owned hospitals.
3. The Angry Middle. To win a general election, you need a majority of independent voters. For a year now, 2/3 of independents have been mirroring the views of Republican voters.

4. With Friends Like These. . . Meanwhile, the Democrats are fracturing. The left is running against moderates. The moderates have turned on Obama/Pelosi’s agenda. The activists are demanding suicidal policies be put in place while they still can, and Pelosi openly talked about sacrificing her moderates to get her agenda passed.

Moreover, none of them are defending ObamaCare or the Stimulus anymore -- their two big “achievements.” In fact, most are specifically avoiding town halls and won’t even do open questions at public appearances. And now, their left flank is forcing them into a war with Arizona and the vast majority of the American public.

Also, with the coming of election season, things are turning ugly in Democratic ranks. From the vaguely racist attacks on the winner of the South Carolina nomination, to the refusal to support the Lyndon LaRoucher who won the nomination in Texas, to the attempts to buy off competition for incumbents, the Democrats have shown themselves to be hypocritical corruptarians, who will do whatever it takes to protect “the establishment.”

5. The Unforgiveable Sins. The Democrats also have done several things that are simply unforgiveable to the public. They hoped that the public would forget about these by the time the elections rolled around, but the public hasn’t forgotten:
• ObamaCare: More than 60% of the public want ObamaCare repealed. In fact, this desire is so strong that the Democrats dropped their plan to paint Republicans as wanting to repeal ObamaCare.

• Seniors are furious about the $500 billion in Medicare cuts.

• Unemployment remains at 9.7%, with real joblessness above 17%.

• The Democrats have spent us into Greece-like levels of near bankruptcy. And they just can’t stop themselves.
6. A Deluge of “Other Shoes”. Everything the Democrats have done is starting to blow up on them. The Democrats have been hoping against reality that the economy would recover despite their economic policies and that people would give them credit for the recovery just in time for the election. But that’s not happening.

Twelve months after the end of a recession, we should be experiencing tremendous growth, massive job growth, and strong confidence across the economy. But growth is being projected downward again, consumer spending is anemic, bank failures are at their highest point in two years, foreclosures are at an all time high, unemployment is growing, and we are experiencing job losses -- not growth.

Also, their failure to act rationally last year and to trim state governments means that state governments will start running out of money, cutting worker pay and jobs right at the end of the summer.

7. All The Wrong Moves. Finally, the Democrats have one big handicap that will keep them from recovering: poor leadership. Obama’s approval rating remains stuck at the bottom of its range, between 40% and 45% (if you exclude black voters, this falls to 39% with 54% negative -- this is important because blacks are clustered in "majority-minority" districts designed to make sure black candidates get sent to Congress, which also means blacks rarely affect other districts). This is because he keeps making all the wrong moves.
• BP was not his fault, but it became his fault when he started dithering. He did the same thing he accused Bush of doing, only worse. Rather than going to the Gulf and appearing sympathetic, Obama remained silent. He played basketball, went on vacation, and went to the theater, all the while claiming he was too busy to do anything. Then he got angry, but never showed leadership. Instead, he flailed around impotently and looked like a man who wants to destroy all business. This hole is going to keep leaking right until the elections and every drop is hurting the Democrats. And even if it somehow stops in August, it’s destroyed the time the Democrats needed to repackage themselves.

• As I’ll outline in a couple days, Afghanistan is a failure. That won’t sit well with the American public. What’s worse, the fight with Gen. McChrystal reflects poorly on Obama (even though I fault McChrystal) because the public is already suspicious of the Democrats when it comes to the military, and this will only remind the public of the Democrats’ yellow streak.

• Obama also doesn’t know how to win the public back. He thinks trumpeting financial regulation will do it. Big whoop. The public doesn’t know what a derivative is or care.

• Finally, Obama has a penchant for insulting everyone with everything he does. The Democrats demonized the voters with their mocking of the Tea Party. They’ve blasted “greedy” doctors and “greedy” bankers. They blast the religious, the patriotic, and non-union workers. And they call us all nasty names because we want to see illegal immigration stopped. Moreover, Obama’s “famous cool” is turning out to be petulance and anger. People don’t like angry, whiny politicians.
To sum this up, the numbers favor us. All the poll numbers portend a tidal wave. The Democrats have alienated the middle, energized the right, demoralized the left. Their record is a record of failure and the few things that might have helped them are now turning sour. Moreover, they don’t seem to know how to fix this. And even if they did, they have insulted the public, and the public is no longer listening. Sounds like a disaster is inevitable now.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

New York State of Mind

Yea! We’re saved!! Well not “we” exactly, but the New York acting community. It has been rumored that “Law and Order: SVU” is leaving its home in New Jersey and moving into the now empty studio of its cancelled parent “Law and Order”. As for the rest of us, well, things aren’t quite as good. It has been awhile since I reported on what’s happening in New York, so let’s catch up…

Sports - We are in the midst of football fever here in NYC. Not the American kind, but as long as the US World Cup soccer team is the game, every bar in the city will be open for business. Go USA! Also, if you are into the American kind of football, NY will host the 2014 Superbowl, so get your tickets now!

Local - The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA for short), the governing body for all public transportation matters in NYC began massive bus and subway cuts at the end of this week because of a budget shortfall in the billions. The MTA board promised over and over that if we let them raise fares “just this once”, this would never happen. Of course that was three fares hikes ago, but who’s counting. Now I admit that most of the cuts are justified because there were bus and subway routes that were redundant anyway, but why my bus?

I should be really upset, but actually I learned a couple valuable lessons during this process. You see, I signed all the petitions and wrote my Councilperson to voice my opposition to these cuts. But then I made an interesting observation. The fact is that cuts had to be made and something was going to have to give. As convenient as my cushy X90 bus was, it is not my only option, just the most convenient. Lesson #1: We all understand that sacrifices have to be made; we just don’t want to be the ones to make them. So, I stopped fighting it and all cuts went into effect on Friday. Frankly, they always were going to no matter how many letters I wrote or petitions I signed because they are necessary.

But now comes Lesson #2 (Obama take note): If government will get out of the way, private industry will pick up the slack. So as it turns out, because of one government-run option that I lost on Friday, on Monday, I will have two private options. Options that I would not have had if the cuts had not been made. A private bus company will pick up the bus route at the same price and the same schedule and a new private share-a-cab service only a few blocks away. See, free enterprise works. Take that, Marxist scum!

In other city news - Just when we thought NYC was beginning to show signs of life, the new banking bill has everyone nervous again. Soon to be ex-Senator Christopher Dodd admitted that no will know how exactly what the new law will do until it is implemented. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Well, we will see what happens on Monday when the markets open again, if this is the last rally or the dawn of a new era. Unfortunately what is good for Wall Street has always been very good for New York City and State coffers, but like I said, we all want someone else to make the sacrifice.

State - Governor Patterson has now finally laid down the law, and has given the state legislature until Monday at midnight to pass a budget or he’s going to shut the state down. For months now, our state has been on the brink of bankruptcy. We are over $9 billion in debt and still our politicians refuse to pass a state budget. A few weeks ago the Governor threatened furloughs, but the unions won that round, no budget was passed, and we only got a two week reprieve with an “emergency” budget. Now, we’ve come to the brink again and Patterson is having his showdown. No really, he is serious this time. His proposed budget includes a new tax on clothing, new tax on online hotel reservations, and tuition hikes for state colleges and universities. But just so you don’t think that Patterson is your typical tax and spend Democrat, there are a few cuts – cuts to education and cuts in tax exemptions for charitable giving. Hey, at least he gave up that stupid “soda tax”. I will let you know what happens. My prediction – nothing.

In other state news – In separate conventions in May, both parties decided officially who would run for Governor. So as predicted the Democrats chose Andrew Cuomo, current Attorney General and son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, and the Republicans will run Rick Lazio, businessman and former Congressman from Long Island. Rick Lazio is also known for running unsuccessfully against Hillary Clinton in her first bid for the Senate. Sadly, I think Lazio has about as much chance of beating Cuomo as he did with Clinton, but we will see. As I have said before, our primary is not until September, so a lot can happen this summer.

Federal - Chuck Schumer is hoping to fill the vacuum that will hopefully be left when Harry Reid is defeated in Nevada. Sadly, there is still no one brave enough to run against ol’ Chuck, but I still keep holding out hope that George Pataki, our former Governor, will pick up the gauntlet. He just might have a shot. In the mean time, Chuck is putting his name to every hare-brained legislation he can. His latest is the Disclose Act that just passed by the House.

On a finally note – All is not lost in the Northeast. New Governor Chris Christie is getting serious in New Jersey and had his first major victory last week. The Democrats in the New Jersey state Legislature decided that they didn’t like some of Christie’s harsh budget cuts, so they passed a “millionaire’s tax” bill in an attempt to raise funds to reinstate some of the cuts. Christie immediately vetoed the bill which prompted these same Democrats to try and override the veto which they failed to do and the new tax is now dead. Well, not really 'cause if you can't win, then just spin. So now the Dems are saying that they were knew exactly what they were doing and were just trying to set Christie up. These new taxes were to reinstate cuts to programs for “the elderly and children” and they just proved that Governor Christie hates old people and children. Sadly, their grand scheme did not work as planned and Christie is as popular as ever.

Next time - Mayor Bloomberg makes stand on immigration and did you hear that the Luv Guv Eliot Spitzer will have his own primetime show on CNN?
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Supreme Court Nominee Kagan Picks A Hero

Barack Obama's second nominee for the United States Supreme Court picked her judicial hero, then honored him at Harvard Law during her term as dean of the law school with a judicial prize. When asked recently about the 2006 ceremony, Elena Kagan reaffirmed her devotion to the judicial philosophy of Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court (comparable to Chief Justice). Fortunately for Israel, that position is not a lifetime appointment.

Not surprisingly for an Obama nominee, the judge Kagan so esteems is a judicial supremacist par excellence. Kagan, like so many liberal legal scholars, believes and teaches her law students the concept of judicial supremacy as derived from the famous Chief Justice John Marshall. The only problem with that concept for lawyers and decent historians is that Marshall announced no such belief. Marshall established judicial review, not judicial supremacy. Quite the opposite from judicial supremacy, Marshall announced that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land, and that nobody, including himself, had the right to make policy decisions in conflict with the Constitution.

Distorting Marshall's viewpoint into near-unrecognizable pretzels, revisionist lawyers and judges have been attempting to rewrite the Constitution from the bench for nearly a century and a half, with a considerable acceleration with the onset of the Earl Warren Court. Yet all of those revisionist, judicial activists, and "living constitutionalists" of note in America have been downright shy compared to the outspoken Barak. In a way that couldn't even happen in America because we have a written foundational Constitution, the judicial supremacist Kagan announced from the Israeli high bench that "the court may strike down any law that it feels conflicts with basic Israeli laws. Israel's basic laws amount to a formal constitution that any law violating them should be overturned."

In other words, unlike our judicial activists who attempt to rewrite the real Constitution by interpreting it into meaninglessness, Barak 'wrote' Israel's imaginary constitution himself so that he could determine which Knesset legislation conflicted with it. As we lawyers say, he "deemed" certain Israeli principles to be a basic law tantamount to a Constitution giving the Israeli Supreme Court supremacy over the legislature and executives simply by virtue of Barak's sole and unique knowledge of a constitution that doesn't actually exist. Now that's judicial activism.

Says Barak: "The law regulates relationships between people and proscribes patterns of behavior (guess there's no Bill of Rights in the imaginary constitution). It reflects the values of society (by which he means his own views and those of his fellow social engineers). The role of judge is to understand the purpose of law in society and to help the law achieve its purpose (thereby rendering the people and their elected representatives superfluous)."

"The role of the judge is to ensure stability with change, change with stability, without allowing the legal system to degenerate or collapse into anarchy." In line with our judicial activists, Barak said in another speech that "I support the theory of 'purposivism' in which a judge interprets a constitution or law according to his determination of the modern meaning of the statute (as clarified by the non-existent constitution?)."

And here's the piece de resistance: "The judge is the mouth of the legislature in many cases, but not in all cases. When a judge has discretion (which is always, in Barak's mind), he does not merely declare what has been determined by the creator of the text. Alongside with declaration of the law, judges create new understanding of the law. Prior to the judgment there were, in hard cases, a number of possible solutions. After the judgment, the law is as has been handed down by the judgment."

Kagan's gushing support of this philosophy has caught the attention of several Senators, including a few on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Jeff Sessions asked a very salient question about Kagan: "Does she see her lifetime appointment to the court as an opportunity to promote ideas she desires and then let the law catch up?" I think the question was rhetorical, and the answer is surely "yes."

Robert Bork, formerly a federal judge and unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee believes that unlike his own defeat for things he never believed, Kagan should be disqualified for things she does believe. And her support for Barack's philosophy is one of those major disqualifying beliefs. His exact words were: "Kagan's admiration of Barak's views is disqualifying in and of itself."

For those of us who hoped Kagan would turn out at worst to be a moderate/liberal with some activist tendencies, this is a wake-up call. The judge she most admires makes Earl Warren look like a reactionary originalist. She doesn't believe in mere judicial review and some pretzeling of the law, she sees the role of a Supreme Court Justice as one in which the judge simply ignores the law, precedent and the Constitution in pursuit of doing what she personally considers to be "the right thing." She will use her considerable intelligence to sound traditionally judicial, but in fact she is a ravening wolf in sheep's robes. Unlike Sotomayor, Kagan is no dull-normal political hack. She is a true danger to our entire system of jurisprudence.
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Obama Gets It Right--Sort Of

The picture of Gen. Douglas MacArthur with President Harry Truman was taken shortly before Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination. Exaggerated comparisons to that historic event are being made about the recent firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal by President Barack Obama. Although there are similarities, the McChrystal situation is not on the same level as MacArthur/Truman, McClellan/Lincoln or even Kennedy/Walker.

First of all let's establish that I think that Barack Obama is an empty suit with an empty head, a duplicitous deceiver, an occasional outright liar, a hopelessly incompetent executive, and a surrender-and-declare-a-victory President. And he's a bit of a socialist, too. So there! Nyah! I can both believe and forthrightly and publicly say this because of two factors. The First Amendment, and the fact that Barack Obama is not now, nor will he ever be, my boss.

Unlike the chief executive of almost any other western nation, the President is both the head of state and the head of government. And in his capacity as head of government, the Constitution makes him the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Like it or not, that means that all military personnel from the lowest private to the highest five star general all work for and under the orders of the President. Unfortunately for all concerned, that President right now is Barack Obama.

Let's establish a few facts before proceeding. Unlike MacArthur and McClellan who were also fired, McChrystal was not grossly insubordinate, nor did he refuse to follow a presidential order or substitute his own orders for those of the President. That's in his favor. But the rabid Obama haters on talk radio and the blogs who believe that McChrystal was some sort of innocent saint wronged by a crazed President are simply blinded by their hatred for Obama. McChrystal himself surely must know the dictum "if you can't respect the man, respect the office."

McChrystal's major sin was to allow himself to be interviewed by the left wing, anti-military, drug-addled, politics for dummies publication known as Rolling Stone. McChrystal made some fairly innocuous but negative comments about Obama, Vice President Biden, and the Secretary of Defense. His staff was not so reticent, and made very pointedly insulting comments about the same people. In the military as in executive management, the commander is responsible for and charged with maintaining good order among his subordinates. What the staff people said goes to the command skills of McChrystal.

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman jointly stated that McChrystal's comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between the commander in chief and the military." That left the President with the choice of firing the general or finding a way to keep him on. Obama chose to fire him. I can't find fault with that decision, despite my deeply negative feelings toward this president. As part of his duty as Commander-in-Chief, it is the president's responsibility to maintain good military order. That is difficult to do with a loose cannon giving interviews to birdcage-liner publications like Rolling Stone.

In addition, America has always held that civilian authority must be above military authority. Presidents who have served as high-ranking military officers and those who have never served in the military at all have consistently upheld that civilian authority. A major public breach of respect for the Commander-in-Chief endangers that authority, even if the actions of the general do not rise to the level of outright insubordination. This dictum has nothing to do with the actual battlefield command skills of the officer who has made the criticism of the civilian authority.

In addition, Obama had another hurdle to overcome. After joining the chorus of liberal negativity about General Petraeus and the surge during the election, Obama hand-picked McChrystal as Petraeus's replacement and kicked Petraeus upstairs. And though he was nearly-fatally slow in doing so, Obama ultimately supported McChrystal's Afghanistan version of Petraeus's surge in Iraq. Except for imposing a July 2011 date for beginning withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Obama bought McChrystal's strategy in toto. But McChrystal's statements, along with those of his staff, were critical of the withdrawal date, despite having obtained essentially everything they had asked for. Amazingly, the fact that McChrystal told the magazine that he had voted for Obama was another reason for his command being taken from him. Even Obama recognized that this sort of political statement should not be coming out of the mouth of a major military figure.

There was also an additional figure whom McChrystal and his staff tarred. In my mind, they said nothing about civilian leader and retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry that wasn't true, including the fact that Eikenberry regularly bad-mouthed McChrystal to the President. But again, Eikenberry is serving in a civilian capacity under the direction of the President, and the military man McChrystal was way off base making disparaging remarks about the civilian authority, no matter how true.

Obama also found himself in the uncomfortable position of removing the man who convinced him to move in a direction not beloved by the left wing anti-military wing of the Democratic Party. But once again, I have to give the devil his due. Having made the decision to fire McChrystal, Obama turned to the only military man of the necessary stature both in the military and civilian sectors who could keep the McChrystal firing less than a total disaster. And that man is the selfsame Gen. Petraeus whom the Democrats had called Gen. Betrayus during the election.

Placing Petraeus back into field command is at least a minor admission that the Democrats were either lying during the election, or simply besmirching a man they were frightened of. And Obama must be aware that many, including me, will recognize the intelligence of the Petraus decision while also recognizing who the better man is. Petraeus is now Obama's admitted "best man for the job," and Petraeus must also be given credit for the sacrifice and patriotism he is showing by stepping down from a loftier position, without complaint, to help a President and a party which had treated him like a leper just two years earlier.

And so, unlike the venom being sprayed by rabid pro-McChrystal, anti-Obama zealots, I am going on record as saying that for one of those rare, if not entirely singular moments, Barack Obama actually acted like a chief executive. He made a decision, and he made it quickly. And however it finally turns out, the decision itself is hard to fault on solid factual, historical and constitutional grounds. I won't be holding my breath for another one any time in the near future. But, just this one time, I tip my hat to the current Commander-in-Chief. I also add that he had the decency to allow McChrystal to resign rather than firing him outright.
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Question: Soundtracks

All films have soundtracks. Some use classical music. Some use rock or country. Some mix it up. How much do you notice the soundtrack? How much do you think it affects the film? What do you think makes a good soundtrack or a bad one? And what are some of your favorite soundtracks? [+] Read More...

What Makes An Actor Great?

I’ve often wondered what makes an actor a great actor. It’s not as obvious as it may seem. Indeed, to answer the question of what makes an actor great, you need to start by asking what it is that we ask of actors? But that’s really where this whole problem begins. For it appears, that we want two contradictory things from our actors. And in the end, I think that truly great actors need to deliver both things. . . even though that sounds like a contradiction.

Looking at the films Hollywood has produced, it appears that actors generally fall into one of two categories: those who play themselves in each role and those who disappear completely into their roles.

Indeed, in the first category, you find people like Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger. No matter what role they play, they remain Tom and Arnold -- just try to name the characters they’ve played. But that’s not to denigrate them. In fact, Tom and Arnold did wonders playing themselves. They managed to put millions of rear ends into seats across the entire planet, people remember their roles and still quote their dialog, and their movies still have staying power today. But something is missing, isn’t it? There is something about Tom and Arnold that keeps us from calling them great actors.

At first, I thought this might be a problem with the category itself, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I say this because Robert De Niro and William Hurt, both of whom have been called “the greatest actor of our generation,” fall into this category as well. And before you try to tell me that De Niro is “versatile,” tell me when he hasn’t played an Italian mobster or an Italian cop? And do you have any doubt that what you see on screen isn’t what you would meet in person? It’s the same thing with Hurt, though it took me a lot longer to realize that he fell into this category, because the roles he chooses are so varied.

So what is the difference between Cruise/Schwarzenegger and De Niro/Hurt? Could it be as simple as De Niro and Hurt sticking with drama, whereas Tom and Arnold stick with action flicks? Perhaps. But I think there is more to it. Indeed, I can’t see Tom or Arnold playing any of the roles in The Usual Suspects, Glengarry Glen Ross or L.A. Confidential even if they wanted to -- though De Niro or Hurt could do that with ease. So there must be something more missing than simply their choice of roles.

To continue, let’s leave that category for a moment. The other category includes actors who simply vanish into the roles they play. These actors so thoroughly become the characters they are playing that we all but forget they are actors. Instead, we see their characters as real people. Some of the better character actors fall into this category, as do guys like Daniel Day Lewis, Robert Shaw and Jeremy Irons.

But simply disappearing can’t be enough either. Tim Curry and Christopher Lloyd disappear into their roles quite nicely, yet they aren’t considered “great actors.” And if disappearing is all it took to be considered a great actor, then shouldn’t anyone who pulled off a monster suit character be considered a great actor? Again, there must be something more to it?

I think that “something” is the ability to stand at the top of both groups. Cruise may be at the top of the first group, but he simply can’t disappear into a character. Shaw became whoever he played, but people didn’t clamor to see his movies. But when you look at someone like Johnny Depp, you suddenly see the difference.

There is no doubt that Depp’s name on a movie pulls people into theaters, just as Cruise’s name does. There is something about Depp that is simply compelling and makes you want to see him act. Part of this could be that we know from prior experience that he will bring great acting to the role, but part of it must also be that there is something we like about him personally. Indeed, the fact that his interviews pull high ratings tells us this. But Depp also gives us more than Cruise. We know that once the film starts, Depp will not be playing “Johnny Depp as the spy.” Indeed, Depp more than anyone these days disappears into his roles so believably that we no longer see Johnny Depp at all. Instead, we see the quasi-inebriated Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean or that the slimy, cowardly, and yet compelling Dean Corso of The Ninth Gate. And that, I think, is the real difference. To be a great actor, an actor must have the compelling personality that makes us want to spend time with them, but once the film begins, they need the skill to vanish into the role so that all that is left is the character. The audience can’t be left seeing “Johnny Depp the pirate.”

Another actor who fits into this category would be Gene Hackman, who is a compelling actor but also presents compelling characters. Bogart and Jimmy Stewart pulled this off as well. I would add Harrison Ford to the list, at least until the last few years. From the actress ranks, I’d offer Glenn Close.

If I’m right, and I leave that up to you to decided and to comment upon, then the best advice we could give an actor would be to carefully hone a public persona that is irresistible to the public, but also to work hard to lose themselves in their roles.

So what do you think? Am I right? If not, what makes an actor a great actor? And tell us who you would include in that list?

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Obama's Poll Numbers Keep Falling

One of the interesting facets of the Obama administration has been how he’s managed to make his poll numbers not only hit bottom, but how he’s managed to keep them there without a single upward blip. Some people say it’s his leftist politics. Other say it’s his incompetence or his arrogance. But I think the answer lies in something far more interesting. I think the answer lies in a very famous book from 1513 A.D.

Niccolo Machiavelli has gone down as history’s most cynical thinker. Indeed, many people claim that Machiavelli was an evil man whose views are the stuff of dictators and tyrants and deceivers. But that’s the ignorant view. The reality is that Machiavelli was a keen observer of the human condition, and he well understood the relationship between rulers and their subjects. And it is Obama’s failure to understand the principles laid out by Machiavelli that have caused his steady unpopularity.

In his seminal work, The Prince, Machiavelli makes two key points about leadership. First, if a leader is faced with taking negative or unpleasant actions, the leader must do so swiftly, quickly, and all at once. The leader should never drag out such actions. But, secondly, if the leader has the opportunity to take pleasant actions, i.e. to hand out goodies or patronage, the leader should stretch that out over a long period of time. Obama violates both points.

1. Cruel Actions

Machiavelli warns that a leader who must take “cruel action” must be decisive in their actions, must act swiftly and effectively, and that these cruel actions must be short-lived. The reason is simple. Cruel actions anger people and generate fear.

Think about this in terms of your job. If you came to work one day to find that your boss fired half the staff, this might be startling, but it won’t terrify you so long as you know that these are the only firings that will happen. But if your boss starts firing people every day, that will terrify you, whether you are likely to be fired or not. The reason is that human beings crave certainty. Even though we may hate the idea that so many of our colleagues have been fired all at once, the first scenario still gives us the comfort of knowing that we will not be next. Combined with the remarkable human ability to put unpleasantness behind us (and to turn a blind eye to injustice that does not affect us directly), this scenario allows time to heal the wounds and happiness to return.

But in the second scenario, where the boss keeps firing people, there is no certainty. Thus, we instinctively fear that one day it will be us. Moreover, the unpleasantness of seeing our colleagues fired cannot be healed by time because the wound is refreshed every day that more people are fired. Thus, even if it's the same number of people fired, the "moral" effects are much worse in the second scenario.

The same is true in politics. If you keep raising taxes over and over, people will fear that their taxes will be next. If you cut benefits or fire employees or impose regulations, the results are the same. The longer you stretch out the pain, the more upset people will be, the greater the number of people who will be upset, and the longer the pain will last.

Obama, however, fails to grasp this concept.

When Obama came to power, there were a lot of “cruel actions” that had to be taken. We had a recession that was being prolonged with overly-generous government benefits. We had a banking industry that was out of control and sucking the public treasury dry. We had foreign “friends” who were harming our interests. We had a public sector that was over-paid and under-worked. We had a deficit that was too large to be sustained. Thus, Obama needed to cut federal pay and benefits, fire workers, cut off the banks, regulate and break up the “too big to fail” institutions, and slap down our ungrateful friends. He did none of these things. But the need to do them didn’t go away. So rather than taking these actions and getting them over with, Obama now imposes the prospect that he will be taking these steps over the next one, two, and three years. This is exactly what Machiavelli warned never to do. Rather than inflicting the pain once on a defined set of people, Obama has created a situation of uncertainty where no one knows who will be next to suffer, and everyone fears it might be them, and no one knows when the pain will end.

Even the legislation Obama proposes violates this principle. For example, ObamaCare slowly hands out the pain by triggering new provisions slowly, year after year. The same is true with his proposed cap and trade system, which brings on an increasing amount of regulation and restrictions each year, and with each of his other proposals; they drip out the pain like Chinese water torture.

Thus, Obama has undertaken a course of action that leads to a fearful and angry population that is nervously awaiting the next cruel act to beset them. And time can never heal these wounds, because they are constantly refreshed.

2. Patronage

Obama also fails to grasp the other side of the coin. Machiavelli tells us that when a leader hands out benefits, i.e. patronage, they should do so slowly over time. There are several reasons for this. First, this prevents recipients from getting everything they are going to get at once and then becoming ungrateful. Keep in mind that the same human trait that lets us move beyond bad things also makes good feelings fade into memory; hence the adage “what have you done for me lately?” Spreading out benefits keeps those good feelings fresh. Moreover, if people come to expect (or depend upon) favors from their ruler, then they will be loath to replace them. But if they think the benefits have stopped, then they have no reason to remain loyal.

Obama is doing this wrong as well. When he came to power, he handed out all kinds of benefits on day one. He gave GM to the unions. He gave a wad of cash to various interest groups. He handed out massive increases in benefits, pay raises to government employees, money to states and businesses, and he promised free lunches to everyone in the form of a massive stimulus plan to spur job growth. But that was then and this is now, and what has he given lately? Indeed, since the golden handouts of the first few weeks, Obama has given out nothing, and there’s nothing left on the schedule to be handed out.

Think about this. If you were an Obama supporter, either on the left or the near-left, what has Obama given you since that first week and what has he done to make you think you’ll get anything else if you continue to support him? Environmental protection? No. Jobs? No. Any more increases coming in benefits? No. You got everything you’re ever going to get.


This is why Obama’s popularity has steadily collapsed and why it stays down so relentlessly. He has created an environment of anger and fear by slowly dripping out cruel acts, and by delaying others that everyone knows must still be coming. At the same time, whatever benefits he handed out when he first took office have long since faded into memory and there is no prospect of any more coming. These are the exact conditions that Machiavelli warned his Prince to avoid, and this is why Obama's poll numbers stay down without respite.

Who knew an ancient text could teach us so much?

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Obamacare Makes The President Sick

The Wall Street Journal, has been assessing the after-effects of the forced passage of the health care reform act, and it appears that opposition is about where it was at the time of passage, and perhaps beginning to stiffen a bit. The Democratic strategy has gone awry. The plan was to ram health care through, then run on it after people decided that they actually loved it. Not gonna happen.

Along with The Journal, YouGov (where I happily and regularly answer their polling questions) and Pollster have come up with results that indicate that opposition to the bill has not softened in the slightest, and that people who oppose it will be voting in larger numbers than those who favored it. Along with the usual party-in-power letdown during mid-term elections, this may very well be fatal to the Democratic majority, and a seriously crippling illness for the President.

The polls that overlapped included eleven states which are expected to be competitive in November. They are, in alphabetical order, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Both the health reform bill and the Democrats who voted for it (particularly the last-minute anti-abortion Democrats) fared rather badly. The polls were taken first in January, then repeated with identical questions to the same respondents in late May.

Nothing much changed between January and May in overall opposition among all categories of voters. Opposition to the health care reforms remained at about the same level, but many of the respondents were more emphatic about voting against the people who passed it than they were about the bill in the first place. In all eleven states, the opposition exceeded those who favored it. Needless to say, the margin was closer in blue/liberal states than in red/conservative states.

In January, in liberal states such as Connecticut, opposition was at 55% to 45%. In conservative states like Louisiana, the opposition was at 63% to 37%. In the true battleground states such as Colorado and Ohio, the ratio was 58% opposed, 42% in favor. In big liberal states such as California, Illinois and New York, the reforms actually gained some support, but none were considered swing states, and Democrats are expected to do fairly well there. By May, opposition in liberal Connecticut had dropped to 50%, but in conservative Louisiana, opposition increased to 64%.

It's the wobblers, the battleground states where the numbers will be most significant if there is going to be a shakeup in Congress. Colorado's opposition dropped only by two percentage points, and in Ohio by a mere one percent. This is where not only preference, but determination to win and undo the reforms becomes the deciding factor. In both January and May, the polls carefully controlled for party identification, self-identification of political philosophy, 2008 vote for the presidency versus their current feelings toward Obama, and the usual demographic considerations of age, gender, race, income, education, state of residence, and personal status in the health insurance market.

Both polls showed that health care reform had a significant impact on votes for and against the Democratic candidates who were running. Those in opposition to the Obama health care reforms were 20 percent more likely to vote for the Republican than the Democrat in the Senate races. The Senate differential in May remained static, but the House race changes radically. In January, the anti-reform Republican had a 24% better chance of winning than a Democrat. After the hustling, bribing, and parliamentary tricks which snuck the reforms through, by May the Republican opponent of reform has moved up to 44% more likely to win. The result is that for the first time since the 1994 "Republican revolution," the Republicans lead in the generic ballot. The question was asked identically in both polls: "If the 2010 election for the House of Representatives were held today, would you vote Democratic or Republican?"

In those battleground states, Democrats have not changed their minds about voting for a fellow Democrat, nor have Republicans changed their minds about voting for their fellow Republicans. It is now the independents who will likely make the final decision. Opposition to or support for the health care reforms doesn't change the minds of either voting Democrats or voting Republicans. But if Obama and the Democratic candidates can convince independents that the reform was a good thing, and other issues have little or no effect, then Democrats can win in Colorado among independents by as much as 56% to 44%. In Ohio it would put the Democrats behind, but only by 52% to 48% rather than the January 57% to 43%.

So far, the Democrats have been unable to move those statistics among independents. The independents remain essentially static from January to May, and Democratic propaganda has had little or no effect on their voting attitude. Even after passage, Obamacare still plays a major role in the future voting decisions of independents, meaning the Democrats are facing a serious round of shoveling stuff against the tide. If Obama's inability to energize voters other than his base continues, he could be facing at least one Republican house of Congress after the November elections. Possibly even two.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Question: The Unseen Movie

Summer is a big time for new movies. Heck, it can be a big time for old movies. What movie, new or old, would you like to see this summer that you haven’t already seen? Toy Story 3? The A-Team? How about finally getting around to watching Driving Miss Daisy or Gandhi or Killer Klowns From Outer Space? [+] Read More...

The Primary Game

With primary season coming to an end, I find myself wondering about our primary system. Should we allow non-party people to participate? Should we allow caucuses or anything less than a full primary? What has particularly raised these issues is what is going on in California, where ballot initiative Proposition 14 is looking to open California’s primaries and, basically, combine them.

Proposition 14, which currently has 60% support, would amend the California state constitution to make primaries open and non-partisan. The ostensible idea behind this is to let unaffiliated voters have a say in the selection of candidates. The thinking is that this would lead to more moderate candidates. But would it really?

Under the new system, everyone regardless of party, would receive the same ballot with the same list of candidates. The top two vote-getters would then face off in the general election. Thus, theoretically, Pelosi would face a second Democrat in November. Similarly, two Republicans could square off against each other in Orange County. And this would likely happen a lot. . . but there's a twist. For while a study by the Centre for Government Studies found that more than 1/3 of the races for the state legislature or Congress could have produced runoffs between members of the same party if this system had been in place over the past few elections, almost all of these would have happened in overwhelmingly Democratic districts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

So I guess the question becomes, could the few Republicans in these districts, combined with the few independents and the few Democrats who would never vote for a Republican but might vote for a moderate Democrat, produce enough votes to toss out someone like a Pelosi in favor of a moderate Democrat? I must admit that I like the idea of tossing out Pelosi, even if it’s with another Democrat, but I don’t think this will work.

Democrats have shown time and again that they are much more susceptible to groupthink than Republicans, so I see this as a much greater danger for the Republicans. Indeed, this sounds like an easy way to game the system by running a large number of Republicans and keeping the number of Democratic candidates small, so that you end up spreading the Republican vote and routinely getting two Democrats. In fact, I'm sure there are dozens of RINOs salivating at the chance to hurt their own party.

Moreover, Washington State ran this kind of system for 70 years until 2003, and they continued to produce reliably liberal Democrats. And I find it interesting that Democrats support this plan in liberal states, but don’t even mention it in deeply conservative states. That’s rather telling in and of itself. What this sounds like to me is nothing more than a gimmick with the potential for freezing out the less popular party, which in California happens to be the Republicans. And that’s not the only reason I oppose it.

I also oppose this measure because political parties are private organizations that should have the right under the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of association, to choose who their nominees are and to decide who gets to vote to make that decision. State governments should not be allowed to tell parties that they must let non-party members choose party candidates.

Further, I am troubled by adding more gamesmanship to our electoral system. Politics is dirty enough already without adding more opportunities to game the system. I don’t think it helps the reputation of our democracy when we use a caucus system that results in candidates claiming that the other candidate shipped voters in to rig the system, when we use open primaries that let one party manipulate the selection process of the other party, and when we don’t require voters to produce identification and we don’t pursue people who commit election fraud or intimidation. I certainly don’t think it will help our reputation when 1/3 of the races in California suddenly feature only Democratic candidates.

This is a bad idea.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Problem With The America Right -- A Realistic View

In my last article, I took apart an article from The Economist which purported to outline the problems with the American right. Their arguments were of course, garbage. Basically, they concluded that the problem with the American right is that it doesn’t do the bidding of the left. Boo hoo. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the right. Here are the problems as I see them.

1. Poor Communication Skills.

The biggest problem with the right, and the one that has frustrated me to no end for decades, is that the right is very poor at communicating:
Conservative Politicians Don’t Understand The Principles
First, few of our politicians actually understand the principles for which they stand. The most obvious example is John McCain, who showed during the last election that he didn’t know the difference between an “earmark” and a deficit, didn’t understand how the Federal budget works, didn’t understand how or why free market principles work, didn’t understand when regulation is necessary and when it isn’t, and didn’t have a clue how tax cuts stimulate economic activity. Basically, he knew the buzzwords but doesn’t understand the principles.

What this means is that McCain and the rest are incapable of explaining those principles to the public in a way that is understandable and persuasive. It also means that McCain and the rest are incapable of coming up with conservative, free market solutions to the nation’s problems. More than anything, this is what keeps the public wary of Republicans -- they don’t know what we stand for, we can’t seem to explain it, and we often seem not to have any solutions to offer.

This is why sixty percent of the American public shares conservative views, but only forty percent are willing to identify themselves as “conservatives.”
Conservative “Thinkers” Don’t Understand Politics
Secondly, most of the “thinkers” on the right who understand the principles don’t understand politics. This harms our ability to reach the public. Indeed, for years now, it seems that conservatives have been incapable of speaking English. Whenever they speak about budget matters or tax policy, they speak in terms of line items and supplemental measures, and they use heavy economic and accounting lingo. This is the political equivalent of sleeping pills. The public wants to know what you stand for, they don’t want to have to take a masters course in accounting just to follow what you’re saying.

Moreover, these thinkers live too much in the land of pure theory. They never understand that politics is not played on a field of pure logic where all values are clearly defined. It is played on the field of emotional appeals where believability trumps fact and imagery trumps truth. By not getting this, these thinkers repeatedly prove themselves incapable of coming up with compelling arguments, and they routinely come up with arguments that only anger the public.

For example, it is absolutely true that increasing unemployment benefits will increase the incentive for people to stay unemployed. That’s undeniable. Yet using that argument to oppose an increase in unemployment benefits during a recession is political poison. But conservatives stupidly did this because they assumed the public would see the logic of their position. They didn’t. They saw conservatives being “uncaring.”

This same impulse causes these thinkers to fall into traps set by the left. For example, the left loves to frame capitalism as “survival of the fittest,” which scares the heck out of the unfit. But the right, rather than refuting this mischaracterization, almost revels in it. Indeed, they pound their chest and say, “absolutely, and that makes us great.” But in reality, capitalism is about reallocating resources to create better opportunities for everyone. Firms that sell things no one wants go under, and new firms put those resources to better uses, and everyone benefits. Capitalism doesn't abandon people. It is socialism that leaves people behind in perpetual ghettos of joblessness and shortages.

Sadly, the right never fights back on these mischaracterizations because it doesn’t understand the power that emotional appeals have. Instead, it sits around telling itself, “no one is going to believe that, because that’s wrong.” But that’s not how humans work. Of all the recent conservatives, only Reagan understood the need to fight back on this front.
Conservative Activists Live In A Bubble
A lot of people won't like this one, but it’s true: conservative activists are a problem.

Politics is about persuading the public that your goals are worthy of being put into law. But activists (left and right) rarely understand the public. Indeed, they tend to live in bubbles because they surround themselves with people who share their views. This causes them to become increasingly extremist in their thinking because there is no one to put the breaks on their “enthusiasm,” and it causes them to lose touch with the public because everyone they know agrees with them. This also causes them to wrongly assume that the public supports them.

As a result of this, when activists open their mouths, they often advocate things that are genuinely shocking or scary to the public. And this is a problem. Indeed, moving public opinion is like steering an oil tanker: you need to nudge it inch by inch, winning its trust the entire way. That means taking only the steps the public will accept. When the public sees that the world hasn't ended, then you ask for the next step -- not before. But activists don’t want to hear this because they “know” that the public is "really” behind them, because that’s all they hear from their friends.

And of course, this leads to disaster because the public may share some of the activists' views, but they definitely haven't hit the same level of extremism. Thus, while the public may accept "limit this" or "regulate that," it freaks out when it starts hearing “ban this” or “ban that” or “eliminate that.” Nor does it understand whatever nuance the activists are using. For example, when activists say “eliminate the Department of Education,” the public hears “end public education,” not “free education from federal interference.” When activists whine about certain books or television shows, the public hears this as “ban books” or "ban films," and they wonder what restrictions the activists are planning to heap onto a culture that the public generally likes. It doesn't help that so many on the right proudly proclaim how they "never watch television" or something similar. This is also why the nostalgia that besets so many on the right is so fatal to public opinion: no one outside the bubble wants to return to 1950.

The key to effective persuasion is to offer the public steps that they consider acceptable. That means finding ways to make your goals seem like their goals. But the activists don’t get this because they assume that the public is secretly already with them -- and quite a few actually don’t care at all what the public thinks, they are so obsessively focused on their pet peeve that they want it ensconced in law no matter what the public thinks. This makes the activists a problem because they tend to turn off and scare the public a great deal.

What makes this worse is that the media ignores or downplays the fruitier activists on the left, but it highlights those on the right. Further, the thinkers and politicians mentioned above are very poor at handling the activists, thus the public tends to think that these activists speak for the right as a whole.

2. No Plan.

And that brings me to the second big problem. The right has no plan at the moment. The reason for this is a combination of the above factors. Conservative politicians have no plan because they don’t understand conservative principles. Conservative thinkers offer plans, but they aren’t politically feasibly. And the activists are screaming for things that sound insane.

This makes the right very easy to characterize as the “party of NO” and as the party of extremists. This is what makes it so difficult to convince the missing 20% who share conservative views that they should be on the side of the conservatives.

Conservatives need to draw up a short platform of maybe ten points, based on actual conservative principles, to brand themselves. This platform needs to be spelled out in easy to understand, highly visual, and emotionally-grabbing language. These principles should not be vague or generic (e.g. “we’re patriotic”), and they should not be a laundry list prepared by activists (e.g. "eliminate the Department of Education") or lobbyists (e.g. "increase insurance coverage for all"). They need to be real principles. And this platform must be written to reach the modern public, i.e. it should not be written by people who like to image themselves living in 1776.

3. Too Many Knee Jerk Reactions.

Finally, too many conservatives have become knee-jerk thinkers. Just because the other side advocates something, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just because someone you like advocates something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And stop circling the wagons around rotten eggs. When someone is corrupt, they are bad for us all around. If someone is stupid, they aren’t going to represent us well. And just because the left attacks someone, doesn’t mean they are a good representatives for our side. I hear this all the time: “they are attacking X because they fear X.” Really? Is that why you poke fun at Biden? Because you fear him?

Ditto the blog world. I’m amazed at how shrill and hyperbolic the blogosphere is. I still remember clearly how we told you that Obama was a fool from day one. But at the same time, conservative bloggers everywhere else were lost in a world of fantasy paranoia where Obama was the fulfillment of a secret master plan by Muslims and long dead evil-genius leftists to convert us into the Soviet Union redux. Even today, reading most blogs is like listening to air raid sirens. . . “Wwwwwaaaaaaah!! Obama did ___ today! He’s Hitler! He’s a socialist! He’s planning to destroy the country! There has never been a graver threat to our country that what he did today. . . at least until tomorrow!” Many on talk radio are no better.

Knee jerk reactions and paranoia have been the domain of the left for decades now. Conservatives are thinkers. Our views require understanding and thought, and they need intelligent, capable salespeople. Leave the knee jerk stuff to the left.

That's what I see as wrong with the American right today. Thoughts?

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