Thursday, January 31, 2008

Inevitable? Price Hill Girls Launches Web Site, T-Shirts

We point gentle readers to the newly launched PriceHillGirls.com, clearly destined to celebrate the music video and cultural phenomenon for as long as people have interest.

The enterprising gentlemen who created the song and its video presentation are selling t-shirts via the web site. And in a move that ought to silence critics once and for all, they are donating proceeds to organizations doing charitable work in Price Hill.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

McCain Doing What Frontrunner Should: Run in Front

We take heart that John McCain, who appears more certain every day to be the GOP nominee, leads both Democratic frontrunners rather nicely in the latest Rasmussen head-to-head.

There's reason to hope in the bleak midwinter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Onion Takes Layers off Edwards

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Mysterious Traveler Entrances Town With Utopian Vision Of The Future

Update: The mysterious traveler has apparently made his exit. But is it final? Will he reappear in the cabinet? Will he revisit in four years? in eight? Will he franchise legal services nationwide and appear on ads during Maury Povich's show?

Hooking-Up Culture Examined

Inside Higher Ed today offers an interview with sociologist Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus. For those with an interest in the way undergraduates tend to live their lives these days, the interview has significant data, expressed with remarkable insight.

Some findings that we found interesting, though unsurprising:
  • Students believe that there's more hooking up happening on their campus than actually is, though there's still a lot.
  • Alcohol abuse plays a big role in hooking up.
  • Students who engage in the hooking-up culture as undergrads find it difficult to transition to dating, which most attempt after leaving college.
  • Women who hook up express dissatisfaction at the way that hooking up tends not to lead to long term relationships; men who hook up are mostly unconcerned.
  • Students, mostly women, express discomfort with the "walk of shame," i.e. walking home in the morning after a hook-up, wearing the same clothes they wore the night before.

It's not hard to draw some conclusions from this:
  • Humans function best sexually in permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and practices that deviate from that are destructive to their humanity.
  • The present, dominant view of sexual relations in the dominant American culture represents the triumph of selfish men at the immediate expense of compliant women but ultimately to the degradation of all.
  • Despite our best efforts to talk ourselves out of it, most of us can't escape feeling shame for things that we intuitively recognize are wrong.
  • People should realize that if they need excessive alcohol to be willing to do something, that something shouldn't be done.

Monday, January 28, 2008

SWNID Associate Featured in Nationally Syndicated Comic Strip

We congratulate SWNIDish colleague Professor James Snyder on becoming a character in Doonesbury.

WSJ Beats SWNID to Analytical Punch Again

On Bill Clinton's shameless playing of the race card in SC, we defer to the sublime opinionists at WSJ, who say quicker and smarter what we would say if we weren't so slow and stupid.

Some brief teaser quotes:

Anyone who thinks this was accidental has spent too much time with Sid Blumenthal. . . .

This primary contest has been a rolling revelation for many Democrats and the media, as they've been shocked to see the Clinton brand of divisive politics played against one of their own. Liberal columnists who long idolized the Clintons are even writing more-in-sorrow-than-anger pieces asking how Bill and Hillary could descend to such deceptive tactics. Allow us to answer that lament this way: Our readers aren't surprised.

The old Clinton complaint about "the politics of personal destruction" now comes full circle, and what was thoroughly apparent to all but Clinton's most devoted sycophants in 1998 is even more apparent to everyone in 2008.

Update: Also not to be missed is Christopher Hitchens's reminder that playing the race card is nothing new for William Jefferson Clinton. The conclusion is vintage Hitchens:

Say what you will about Sen. Obama (and I say that he's got much more charisma than guts), he is miles above this sort of squalor and has decent manners. Say what you will about the Clintons, you cannot acquit them of having played the race card several times in both directions and of having done so in the most vulgar and unscrupulous fashion. Anyone who thinks that this equals "change" is a fool, and an easily fooled fool at that.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Super Bowl Run-Up, Dems Decry Growing Championship Inequality

Democratic Party leaders today decried the growing inequality in Super Bowl championships under the Bush administration.

Anticipating the inevitable victory of the New England Patriots next weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement:


Under the shortsighted policies of the Bush administration, the NFL has become a haven for the wealthy football fatcats at the expense of working American families. Since Bush became President, the New England Patriots, representing merely 3% of the NFL, have won or will win 50% of all Super Bowl rings. The other 97% of the NFL must subsist on whatever trickles down from the rest.

Further, 50% of NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl championship, and nearly 20% have never even appeared in a Super Bowl. Meanwhile, President Bush has spent our government's treasury into debt and pursued an illegal war in Iraq, while his rich, country-club cronies enjoy Super Bowl championships. Surely this makes him the worst President in our nation's history.

It is past time that every American football fan had the opportunity to get moderately drunk, paint herself in team colors, pound her chest and shake her upraised index finger in celebration of her team's Super Bowl triumph. We have not put into practice the democratic ideals on which this country was founded until every American football fan can truly chant, "We're number one!" Americans will wait no longer for this injustice to be remedied.

We will therefore introduce in the United States Congress the Football Equality Act of 2008. This bill will mandate that the most successful NFL teams pay a windfall-championship tax on excessive championships. Proceeds will be distributed to teams with the fewest wins in the NFL, with extended benefits for those, like the Cleveland Brown, that have never appeared in a Super Bowl.

We urge President Bush to give his support to this bill and to declare in his State of the Union Address his determination to cooperate with us in correcting this unjust inequality of football championships. We warn that the American voters will hold him and his party accountable if he does not. It is a failure of this administration that it has trampled on the right of Americans to celebrate their team's championship, thereby destroying the American Dream for so many of our country's working families.

Reason Enough to Vote Republican in November

Ultimate Beltway Insider Robert Novak today reports that the Obama camp is leaking word that John Edwards will be AG in an Obama administration.

The move is patently designed to lure Edwards's labor supporters to Obama over Clinton and pre-emptively to secure Edwards's support in a split convention.

If you'd like the Justice Department run by the equivalent of the guys who advertise legal services on the Jerry Springer Show, it looks like you've got your wish.

Of course, if Hillary prevails as expected and becomes POTUS, the whole government will be run by the equivalent of a Springer guest.

Why We're Actually on the Right Track

Despite the midwinter gloom, stock market slide, miserable level of political dialogue, resurgence of the disturbing Clintonistas, and obsessive local controversy about undergraduate rappers, SWNID remains optimistic. To put it negatively, we simply can't understand why millions of Americans tell pollsters that the country is on the "wrong track."

To explain, we recommend two superb pieces of journalism on politics and economics, excellent weekend reads for those who read on weekends.

The first is Mark Steyn's recent address at Hillsdale College, recently published in abridged form by Hillsdale's Imprimis publication. With the sly title, "Is Canada's Economy a Model for the US?" Stein with signature wit manages to point out everything that is right about the American way and everything that is wrong with the Nanny State of the North. We offer a couple of quotations in hope of inducing gentle readers to read in full:

I was a bit stunned to be asked to speak on the Canadian economy. “What happened?” I wondered. “Did the guy who was going to talk about the Belgian economy cancel?” It is a Saturday night, and the Oak Ridge Boys are playing the Hillsdale County Fair. Being from Canada myself, I am, as the President likes to say, one of those immigrants doing the jobs Americans won’t do. And if giving a talk on the Canadian economy on a Saturday night when the Oak Ridge Boys are in town isn’t one of the jobs Americans won’t do, I don’t know what is. . . .

The third difference [between Canada and the US] is that Canada’s economy is more subsidized. Almost every activity amounts to taking government money in some form or other. I was at the Summit of the Americas held in Canada in the summer of 2001, with President Bush and the presidents and prime ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean. And, naturally, it attracted the usual anti-globalization anarchists who wandered through town lobbing bricks at any McDonald’s or Nike outlet that hadn’t taken the precaution of boarding up its windows. At one point I was standing inside the perimeter fence sniffing tear gas and enjoying the mob chanting against the government from the other side of the wire, when a riot cop suddenly grabbed me and yanked me backwards, and a nanosecond later a chunk of concrete landed precisely where I had been standing. I bleated the usual “Oh my God, I could have been killed” for a few minutes and then I went to have a cafĂ© au lait. And while reading the paper over my coffee, I learned that not only had Canadian colleges given their students time off to come to the Summit to riot, but that the Canadian government had given them $300,000 to pay for their travel and expenses. It was a government-funded anti-government riot! At that point I started bleating “Oh my God, I could have been killed at taxpayer expense.” Say what you like about the American trust-fund babies who had swarmed in to demonstrate from Boston and New York, but at least they were there on their own dime. Canada will and does subsidize anything.


The second is an article dated 24 January 2008 in the Economist, generally regarded as the globe's premier news magazine and decidedly committed to the middle of the road on all matters. Would it make folks feel better about things to know that at present the world's poor are getting un-poor at a rate far, far faster than any previous point in history? It certainly warms our SWNIDish heart on an otherwise cold morning.

For those who complain that global capitalism and technology don't solve all problems, we offer a loud "Amen!" Our conviction that human nature is fallen suggest that nothing short of conversion genuinely alters the human condition at its core. But the concern for others dictated by the gospel that converts us also dictates that we seek what is best for the many out of what is possible for the fallen. That best remains relatively free markets and free trade, which harness human creativity and local advantages for the benefit of others despite and even through human selfish interests.

Our neighbors to the north provide a contrast on the negative while the planet as a whole provides an example on the positive.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Krauthammer Shares SWNIDish Contempt for Despicable Edwards

For those who wonder why we vent particular bile on John "Breck Girl" Edwards, the impeccable Charles Krauthammer explains today.

We quote:

This is not politics for him. "This fight is deeply personal to me. I've been engaged in it my whole life."

Except for his years as senator, the only public office he's ever held. The audacity of the all-my-life trope is staggering. By his own endlessly self-confessed record, his current pose is a coat of paint newly acquired. His claim that it is an expression of his inner soul is a farce.

We particularly appreciate Sir Charles's nearly appropriate quotation of Jesus at the end of his dismantling of the un-esteemed trial lawyer.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

SWNID: "McCain the New Rudy"

Polls now convincingly show that John McCain is the Republican most likely to defeat a Democrat in November.

Polls also show that Rudy is very unlikely to win Florida.

Rudy needed to translate his record into curb appeal. He hasn't managed it.

McCain's Damascus-road conversion to supply-side economics, in particular his clear and articulate call for a significant and permanent reduction in the corporate tax rate, has convinced us that he can bear the burden of our weighty support. We have always, of course, been convinced of his ability to command in the ongoing struggle with Islamofascism. Politically he shows considerable ability to appeal beyond party loyalists, always necessary for a GOP candidate, but especially so this year.

Adieu, Mayor Giuliani! We will remember fondly our time together. We hope that we can always be friends. But it appears that our relationship would not be satisfactory to either of us if we pursued it further. We wish you the best in your consulting work.

Welcome, Senator McCain! We promise you our best efforts in supporting your promotion of policies that will enhance the quality of life for all our Republic's citizens and all other members of the human family. We are yours, unless someone better emerges.

Video Reaction Illustrates Perils of Satire

Gentle readers who want to follow the saga of community reaction to the satiric video "Price Hill Girlz" are directed to the following:

  • A story on WKRC television news.
  • Coverage on 700 WLW news.
  • A blog operated by CityBeat (on which we posted a SWNIDish comment; N.B. that our comment appears above the name and date stamp: we don't use a euphemism for a vulgarity commonly inserted into the middle of a word for emphasis, even sarcastically--and we don't use the un-emphemized vulgarity either).
  • A blog operated by World Magazine, in which commenters have liberally exercised their constitutional right to flame each other.

We offer our sympathy to the clever creators of the video, who now unexpectedly find themselves the objects of controversy. We know the pain of sarcasm misunderstood. Not that it has stopped us.

Update: We pass along the unconfirmed rumor that many seniors at Seton High School are lobbying for "PHG" to be their senior song.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Patterns of Childbearing

The SWNIDishly esteemed tothesource.com today reflects on the minor uptick of births to teen mothers and major uptick in births to older, single mothers in the United States. We recommend the article and quote its piquant conclusion:

There is something seriously strange when society can't bring itself to tell kids to postpone sex until marriage but insists that women postpone marriage until they are nearly menopausal.

Election Roundup: What It Means to Face a Clinton

We note that the dean of conservative pundits, George Will, yesterday affirmed the SWNIDish judgment that we can expect a Clinton-McCain general election. We are pleased, naturally, to have scooped Will, if one can scoop a prediction.

Will spends most of his column noting in a world-weary way that Hillary's campaign has been characterized by the flagrant disregard for the truth in attacking opponents that was characteristic of the first Clinton. The same is noted in detail in a keenly written piece in today's WSJ.

Meanwhile, the Onion probably captures the moment best with the headline atop this story.

This all feels far too much like 1996 to us. Next up: a Macarena revival.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Demographics of Major Newspapers

We thank a gentle reader for forwarding to us this compendium of news media demographics, which we have slightly modified to address local concerns.

Demographics of American Newspapers
1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.
2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.
3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country, but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.
10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country . . or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarfs who also happens to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy, provided of course, that they are not Republicans.
11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.
12. The Cincinnati Enquirer is read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something in which to wrap it.

Funny for Anyone Who Lived Through the 70s, 80s: Krugman Disses Reagan

So-called economist Paul Krugman, whose sinecure at the Gray Lady entitles him to speak without thinking, today uses an entire column to assert that Ronald Reagan did nothing good for the economy.

As facts, he cites such things as a statement made by Bill Clinton during his 1992 presidential campaign. He also brings to bear the much-disputed "real wages" calculations oft maligned by this blogger, not least when someone like Krugman does not reveal the precise demographic whose real wages he is allegedly citing.

To the columnist without an idea, we make the following declarations:

We came of age in the 1970s. We experienced double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. We remember when money market funds were earning about 17% and no one would have considered investing in businesses. We remember a DJIA that had only three digits before the decimal. Our generation left high school expecting that we would be competing for a slice of an ever-shrinking pie.

Then came Reagan. Inflation was tamed, employment skyrocketed, the economy grew, the stock market rose. And the lunchbucket crowd (the "Reagan Democrats") whom you claim didn't do any better gave him a second term with a landslide vote far eclipsing anything else in the 20th century, including FDR's 1936 election. SWNID, hardly a plutocrat, did better under Reagan than he imagined was possible before Reagan. So did most other folks. That's why we like him still. That's why Obama wants to invoke his legacy, just as Republicans will invoke the legacy of Harry Truman, who so savagely beat their party as "do-nothings" in 1948. Over time, we realize what fine stuff these Presidents accomplished, despite the partisanship that disputes their legacies.

Reagan's revolution was carried on by Bush I, Clinton (yes, Clinton, who supported trade agreements and welfare reform) and Bush II. His measure is not just the achievements of 1981-89 but the legacy of a changed political discourse in all areas, domestic and foreign, for both parties. Like FDR, he fundamentally changed the way people think about their government. That is, he changed the way people with the exception of you and your fans think.

Keep harking back to the days of stagflation, Mr. Krugman. Your job is secure, at least until the Gray Lady finally gives way to the competitive pressures of electronic journalism. The rest of us will enjoy the liberty and prosperity of human creativity unleashed by Ronaldus Magnus.

What bugs us about you, Mr. Krugman, is not just that you have it wrong about Reagan. It's that by asserting that we're all so wrong about him, and have been for so long, you come across as mightily condescending. We poor middle class folks are just too stupid to realize that we were better off before Reagan became President, mesmerized as we are by right-wing propaganda. Thanks for that. We'll give back our bigger homes, our fuller grocery carts, our fatter retirment accounts. Let's get back to what we discussed in the 1970s: gas lines, meat substitutes, extended unemployment benefits, expanded food stamp eligibility, wage and price controls. Those were the days!

And so we say again, Viva la Reagan Revolucion!

Not That It Matters: A Fitting Description of the Edwards Campaign

By now it's clear to everyone except John Edwards that his campaign is doomed. But at the risk of kicking a man, good or otherwise, when he's down, we draw attention to Andrew Cline's scathing characterization of Edwards's base demographic on the American Spectator.

Cline calls it the "angry dandy vote."

Apt!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plans for Tonight: Better Than a Movie

What are you doing this weekend?

If you are planning to spend this evening seeking some entertainment, we urgently recommend a better choice than going to any of the pretty good or not-so-good movies at the local multiplex.

Go to Cincinnati's Blue Wisp and catch jazz trumpeter Pat Harbison with the quartet that he's leading tonight, the end of a two-night gig. We were there last night and mark the evening as just about the best entertainment we've had for less than $20 per person in just about 50 years.

For those unfamiliar with jazz in general, the Wisp in particular and the esteemed Friend of SWNID Mr. Harbison in more particular, we offer the following introductions.

Jazz is American improvised music, combining European instruments and harmonies with African rhythms (far too simple and narrow a description, this must suffice for a beginners' introduction). Like a lot of art forms, it rewards the listener who has some knowledge of its history, but it also rewards the neophyte who simply approaches it with some curiosity and openness.

In typical jazz setting, the musicians will play a melody through once. Then the musicians will take solos, in which they improvise variations on the melody, often quite complex, following the harmonic structure of the main tune. After the solos, they'll return to playing the melody again, generally with some little variations thrown in. It's the rhythmic and melodic invention and interaction of the musicians, all maintaining the "swing" of the music's pulse, that fascinate anyone who pays attention.

The fun of jazz for people who who are new to it is in taking in the musicians' inventiveness and musical communication with one another. The audience witnesses the creation of a new piece of music on the fly, different from any performance before or after. Like all music, it's best appreciated live, where one can feel and see as well as hear.

The Blue Wisp is a delightful and accessible jazz club in Cincinnati's downtown, on Eighth near Sycamore, an area rather desolate at night but entirely safe. Parking is available on the street or in nearby garages.

The club charges a "cover" to pay for the music ($10 tonight, a true bargain). It also serves drinks. Those who like SWNID eschew alcoholic beverages to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in recovery are more than welcome to order from the soft drinks, juices and coffee that are always available (our favorite is pineapple juice, sometimes mixed with orange or cranberry). We have never observed a patron of the club who was overserved. It's a pretty staid group.

Jazz clubs have a reputation for being smoke-filled. The Blue Wisp once was, especially in its former location, a basement on Garfield Place. But the new joint has massive ventilators and is now protected by Ohio's marvelous no-smoking law (our favorite example of big government). A trip to the dry cleaner or the emergency room after the show is no longer necessary.

In the club, one sits in a rather spartan commercial chair at a vinyl-covered table, presumably with other friends at the table. This facilitates conversation among friends between numbers and sets. Some patrons talk through the music, a habit that would be expected to discourage musicians but which musicians condition themselves to overlook.

The staff at the Wisp is courteous; the clientele, multigenerational and multiethnic. Sometimes the club is crowded, but a reservation is seldom necessary, especially for those who arrive in time for the first set.

The first "set" (a period of about an hour when the musicians play continuously) is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., but those who arrive by 8:40 probably won't miss a note. The band will play three sets, though the fatigable SWNID rarely makes it to the third.

Note that it is customary to applaud at the end of solos and at the end of an entire number. When in doubt about the propriety of indicating one's appreciation, there are two options: (a) applaud when others do; (b) offer a few claps or a shout whenever you hear something you like. This is not a classical recital hall. The players appreciate some interaction. Just remember that people are there to hear the music, not the guy who hollers "oh, yeah" all the time.

Pat Harbison is a member of the music faculty of Indiana University, formerly a member of the faculty of UC's College Conservatory of Music, a SWNIDish friend for well over a decade, and a man who is extremely serious about his music, his family and his faith in Jesus Christ. He is also a great wit. And he can really blow.

Last night, appearing with local talent Art Gore on drums, Mike Sharfe on bass and Jim Connerly on piano (the same appearing tonight, except Steve Schmidt replaces Connerly on piano) played with energy, enthusiasm, creativity and the kind of interaction that fans love to see and newbies can't help but notice. Always a virtuoso player, Pat is at the peak of his powers, always incorporating new ideas and new approaches to his music, finding new ways to express what's in his gut. With these guys, he sounds especially fine.

To put it differently, the quartet peeled the paint off the walls. It was tremendous to hear these guys pursue their craft with such joy and skill. The rhythm section (piano, bass and drums) laid down grooves with a vicious swing, onto which Pat laid leads that teased and danced with joy, pathos and imagination.

We remarked last night to Pat that the band sounded like it has played together for years (this remark takes its point from the fact that groups like this one are formed by experienced musicians on the spot and play without rehearsal: the program is even decided by the musicians in between numbers). Pat noted that it's nearly true that they play all the time together, since he's played with these guys repeatedly over the last 25 years.

It shows. And it's good.

Don't miss it.

You'll still get enough sleep to get up for church on Sunday.

Friday, January 18, 2008

We Mutter a Bitter Prognostication

We don't generally prognosticate on this blog. We like being Seldom Wrong, so we avoid statements about things that haven't happened.

Take this as a comment on the present more than a prediction of the future, though formally it is the latter.

The Democratic Party will nominate Hillary Clinton for President and Barak Obama for Vice President. The Republicans will nominate John McCain for President and Like Anyone Will Care for Vice President.

The Democrats will win.

This is our reading of the present trends and present polls, which we divine as follows:
  • Hillary's "finding her voice" by sobbing a sob in New Hampshire has captured the soft hearts of the Democrats. She will surely turn to her erstwhile opponent to tap into his power over the wealthier, younger and more idealistic elements of her party, plus the independents that he brings along.
  • McCain is the only R who shows an ability to get votes nationwide. He's first choice for a lot of the GOP and second for everyone else. No one else can conjure up enough traction to overcome that.
  • This sets us up for a replay of 1996, with McCain in the role of Bob Dole as Old Republican Senator and Clinton in the role of Clinton.
  • Voters get tired of Republicans after a few terms. Republicans tell people to be responsible. After awhile, we'd rather be taken care of, just what the Democrats offer. Now is one of those times.

How Much Is Too Much? A Response to Barney Frank

Monday's Financial Times carried a significant and timely column by Congressman Barney Frank (D-People's Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts). And while the Honorable Mr. Frank probably deserves all the opprobrium he continues to receive for years ago having facilitated his same-sex partner's prostitution business, he is nevertheless a thoughtful and articulate spokesman for the social and economic left.

His article was entitled Why America Needs a Little Less Laissez-Faire. That by itself articulates a thoughtful position. The question is not whether free markets are good but the degree to which they require regulation to achieve better performance at any given moment. Economic debate should be framed on such terms, not with the class-warfare rhetoric in which many in Frank's party indulge.

So a serious article deserves a serious response. And we intend to give such. Here it is, point by point.

Frank writes:

As we prepare for this autumn’s election, the results are in on America’s 30-year experiment with radical economic deregulation. Income inequality has risen to levels not seen since the 1920s . . .


And we respond:

You had our interest from the title up to the word "radical." Few who work in American business would say that the burden of their regulation is less than it has been historically. Few who know the American business environment would say that it is more radically unregulated than other countries. A recent evaluation ranks the United States the fifth most free country economically, behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland and Australia. Those ahead of us are notable for their aggressively rising levels of prosperity. Ireland is the economic story of the last decade.

What's worse, he notes what Democrats are really on about. They're not saying that the poor are getting poorer or more numerous, because they aren't. They're saying that the rich are getting richer much faster than everyone else is getting richer. Somehow, the fact that Bill Gates has hundreds of billions hurts someone like SWNID who lives in the middle of the economic landscape, despite the fact that I enjoy a lifestyle unknown a generation ago. And I should be angry about it.

Frank continues:

. . . and the collapse of the unregulated portion of the mortgage and secondary markets threatens the health of the overall economy.

We respond:

Aha! Here's what's up. Something bad happens economically. People who lost money as a result are portrayed as victims. Government promises to step in to prevent such things happening again. The consequences of the actions that led to the economic losses should be lesson enough for the future, but politicians create laws that outlaw what has just occurred, and which no one who pays attention would do again. Those laws in turn have unanticipated effects that drive down economic growth and do nothing to prevent the next problem brought on by unwise business decisions.

A prior case in point: Enron collapsed, taking shareholders' wealth with it. Accountants were complicit. New laws (Sarbanes-Oxley) were passed to prevent accountants doing what no business that wanted to avoid bankruptcy would ever do if it paid the least attention to Enron. Those laws make it more difficult for financial service companies to do business in the United States. So they move to London and elsewhere.

The current case in point: brokers made bad mortgages to people who shouldn't have borrowed so much money to begin with. They then distributed those loans in derivative instruments that broke them into so many pieces and layers that no one knew what loans they were buying. Then the loans started to go bad, and no one knew whether their derivatives had good or bad loans in them, making all of them impossible to value. So now no one will ever do that again (at least at the derivative level), but Frank thinks that the barn door should be closed now that all the animals are gone.

So Frank will say that more laws will make me better off by taking more money from rich people and preventing bad things from happening to people who make bad decisions. We are being offered to trade away some economic freedom for the promises that rich people will be less-richer than we and that economic losses from bad investments will be regulated away. Hmm.

Frank continues:

These two economic failures will be major issues in the forthcoming presidential election, and, importantly, there is an emerging Democratic consensus standing in sharp contrast to the laisser faire Republican approach.

There are two central elements of this consensus. Democrats believe that government’s role as regulator is essential in maintaining confidence in the integrity and fairness of markets, and we believe that economic growth alone is not enough to reverse unacceptable levels of income inequality. In the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, credit markets round the world contracted sharply in response to concerns among market participants about the value of exotic and opaque securities being offered in largely unregulated secondary markets. This staggering implosion and its damaging and widespread reverberations make it clear that a mature capitalist economy is as likely to suffer from too little regulation as from too much. . . .

We respond:

So there we have it again: linking income inequality (not inadequate incomes but unequal ones) and the mortgage credit problem.

First, these are completely unrelated.

Second, it is the very presence of regulation which sometimes throws kerosene on the fire of imprudence. An investor thinks, "This might not be a wise investment. But the government surely would have outlawed it if it weren't safe. And if it goes bad, they'll probably bail me out." Similar thoughts course through the brain of the mortgage lendee as well.

Frank continues:

With respect to income inequality, since the end of the last recession – a period of steady economic growth – average earnings for the vast majority of workers have fallen in real terms. During this period, after-tax incomes of the top 1 per cent nearly doubled.

Whether because of globalisation, technology or other factors, it is clear that market forces have produced too much inequality and government has not adequately used its capacity to mitigate the impact of these forces.

We respond:

Since the end of the last recession, two significant socio-economic developments trump any theoretical decline in "real wages" as calculated by some formulae. First, the number of households receiving public assistance has dropped significantly, thanks to welfare-to-work legislation. Meanwhile, the percentage of households in poverty has declined slightly while the percentage of households classed as "upper income" has increased significantly. In other words, the middle class has been squeezed because some in the middle class have been getting rich while few have become poor, fewer than in the past.

Can government "mitigate" the effect of globalization and technology? The truth is that those individuals and communities that determine to adapt to the changing marketplace are the ones that will prosper. Depending on government to soften the blow de-incentivizes the changes needed to adapt. If there is work for the government to do, it is in encouraging people to retrain and relocate for productive work in the changing environment. But we doubt that Rep. Frank intends as much.

Frank continues:

Conservatives have long argued that government efforts to address these issues would damage the economy. They are, of course, the same people who predicted
that there would be an economic disaster after Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress raised marginal tax rates in 1993, and who opposed other tax increases on upper-income people. Economic growth in the ensuing years was among the strongest in the postwar era. It is now clear that growth in the private sector
is consistent with a far greater variation in many aspects of public policy – including taxation and regulation – than conservatives claim. In fact, appropriate intervention with respect to prudential market regulation is necessary to promote growth, and its absence – as we have learned – can retard it.


We respond:

We first thank Rep. Frank for not saying that Clinton's tax increases caused or helped the prosperity of the 1990s. What he's saying is that they didn't hurt it. That says more about the robustness of the economy in that period than it does the value of tax increases.

But the fact that tax increases by themselves didn't hurt the economy doesn't mean that the economy is ready for a beating with other kinds of regulations, which is Frank's implication at the end of the paragraph. What kind of regulation is necessary at this time, Congressman? What does our economy need government to do? If it's raise taxes, the only thing that you've mentioned specifically, what good will that do for anyone?

We will ignore for now the ad hominem aspect of Frank's rhetoric, since there's so much less of it than is typical of members of his party.*

Frank continues:

As recently as a year ago, one often heard the argument that US financial activity would migrate offshore unless we moved to further deregulate markets. There is little evidence to support this claim. . . .

We respond:

Actually, there's a lot of evidence for this. After Sarbanes-Oxley, London experienced a boom of firms that expanded there and not in NYC. The London Stock Exchange has benefited from New York's problems with its regulatory environment. And that isn't just a theoretical issue: jobs that would have been in the United States went elsewhere, and so did the jobs that depend on those jobs.

Frank continues:

In fact, it is now clear that what has been migrating to the rest of the world are the problems associated with securities based on bad loans – often originated by unregulated institutions in the US. Banks in the UK and Germany were forced to close, either as a result of holding large portfolios of these securities or because they could not roll over debt backed by them. Widespread securitisation, and use of the “originate to distribute” model, has turned out to be far less than the unmitigated boon it had once appeared.

The market did its job with great efficiency in exploiting the benefits of securitisation but government failed to make good on its responsibilities. The failure of regulation to keep pace with innovation left us with no replacement for the discipline provided by the lender-borrower relationship that securitisation dissolves. Increasing and largely unregulated leverage multiplies the corrosive effect of this change.

In response to the current crisis, it appears that the regulatory tide may, at long last, be turning.

We respond:

This is the truest part of the essay. It just doesn't support what Frank says. Yes, the markets didn't function well when the originator of the mortgage had no stake in its value. But that's yesterday's story. Regulations to curb that are unnecessary now, because few will repeat the mistake. Zealous regulations will instead interfere with other, productive forms of investment, to the loss of everyone who would have benefited from a more prosperous economy.

But truly, the tide on regulation is turning. Too few remember the 1970s, with price and wage controls, rampant inflation, stagnation, fuel shortages, and high unemployment. What we enjoy now is not a result of the regulations that led to that mess. Many of us want to go back to that as much as we want to go back to listening to KC and the Sunshine Band.

Moreover, the global credit crunch has to do not just with the mortgage problem in the US but with the global decline in real estate prices, something that has been punishing Japan for several years now. We didn't export this. It happened to everyone.

We've been through a real estate bubble like the dot.com bubble of the 1990s. But as no one believed that "profits don't matter" after that previous bubble, so now no one will believe that the orignator of a mortgage should be without a stake in its value. We didn't need laws to regulate startups then, and we don't need whatever Frank has up his sleeve now.

Frank continues:

In 1994 a Democratic Congress – the last before the Republican takeover marked the arrival of the deregulators – passed the homeowners equity protection act, giving the Federal Reserve the power to regulate all home mortgage loans. The avatar of deregulation, Alan Greenspan, then Fed chairman, flatly refused to use any of that authority.

In contrast, today’s Fed will soon issue rules using that authority. That represents a significant repudiation of the previous view. While the proposals made by the Democratic presidential candidates differ in detail, they are to a substantial extent consistent with the argument I have made here. Their Republican counterparts continue to advocate the hands-off approach pursued by the Bush administration. As a result, we are likely to have a healthy debate about the role of government in supporting a robust capitalist economy in the 21st century. It is important to note that this debate is not about policy details but represents fundamentally different views about the nature of our modern economy.

I believe the American people will decide that we should enact policies that seek to curb growing inequality and provide some check on market excesses.

We respond, finally:

We note in passing that the Fed chairman whom Frank derides as "avatar of deregulation" was enthusiastically reappointed by Bill Clinton, who at least followed a reasonably sound economic policy despite his willingness to exploit class envy

But in the end, we see what's up. Frank hopes to use resentment against the wealthy and economic naivety to convince an electorate tired of Republicans that Democrats can regulate them into economic safety and prosperity. All he can name in the process is more regulation of the mortgage industry, likely keeping more people from building wealth over generations by buying a family home, and more taxes on the rich, which will benefit no one but the government that spends it on who knows what.

If you like the sound of that, vote for Mr. Frank's party in November.

If you think that people need opportunity, not protection, vote for the party that began with a platform of ending slavery and allowing free settlement of the frontier.
__________________
*That was our own ad hominem.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

SWNID Quotes Self: What's Silly About the Fair Tax

Our SWNIDish gripe with Mike Huckabee is that he has a miserable grasp of economics. In a recent email, a devoted, gentle reader asked us to be specific about Huckabee's enthusiasm for the so-called "Fair Tax," a peculiar proposal to replace all federal income taxes with a large federal sales tax of about 30%.

For economy of time and benefit of all gentle readers, we quote our email, with modifications to fit the rigid style requirements of our blog:

[We] think that the "fair tax" is a bad idea because it does nothing that its proponents claim. For example, FT proponents say that drug dealers and prostitutes don't pay income taxes on their earnings, but with the FT they'll pay the FT on their purchases. True enough. But under the FT, drug users and johns won't pay the FT on their drug and prostitution purchases. There's no gain there.

The FT will also distort certain areas of the economy. With the FT, there's a huge incentive not to buy a house to live in, since you'll have to pay a whopping tax on it that you won't recover when you sell the house (example: Bob buys a house for $100k and with tax pays $123k for it; three years later he moves and sells for $110k, the buyer paying $135.3k for the house, leaving Bob with a theoretical capital gain of 10% but a cash loss of $23k). Also with the FT, businesses that don't buy stuff will pay nearly no tax at all. Investment bankers are an example.

Worse, the FT offers no improvement on the complexity of the tax code. With income tax, the question is what constitutes income and at what rate particular kinds of income (again defined per the code) will be taxed. With the FT, the question will be what constitutes a sale and at what rate particular kinds of sales will be
taxed.

All high sales taxes encourage the growth of black markets, of course. The FT will certainly do that. Tijuana, Mexico will become a very big retail site if this ever happens.

What puzzles [us] about Huckabee's support for the FT is that all this seems to be so obvious. [We] don't see why he doesn't get it. [We] have to assume that he's simply trying to tap into the hostility that people have for income taxes. But this will be no better.


Let's add a few points to these, while we're at it:

  • What we illustrate above with houses would also be true with cars. Currently a new car depreciates significantly as soon as it is bought. The FT will add 30% depreciation right off the bat. All new car buyers who purchase with a loan and without trade-in or cash worth 40% or more of the purchase price will find themselves "upside down." We expect that consumers, if they can afford a new car at all, will demand replacement-value insurance policy just about all the time, the higher premiums for which will suck more productive money out of the economy.
  • FT proponents are misstating the rate at which the tax will stand. You'll hear that it's a 23% tax, but that's really 23% of the cost to the consumer with the tax added. If the percentage is calculated as a percent of the pre-tax cost, like state sales taxes are, it's 30% as currently proposed.
  • The FT will be inherently regressive, i.e. taxing people at the bottom more than the top than is true currently. FT proponents talk about providing a "prebate," a check that Uncle Sugar sends to lower-income taxpayers at the beginning of the year to subsidize their payment of the tax through the year. However, one should keep in mind that the bottom 50% of American taxpayers pay only 3% of total federal individual income taxes, and there's no way that the prebate can be big enough to cushion the blow for them. The less well off always spend more of their income than the more well off, and the FT allows now difference in rates for different incomes apart from the token "prebate."
  • If there is significant tax reform to be made, it's in the corporate tax rate. Our Republic taxes for-profit corporations at 35%, significantly higher than the rate of industrialized economies, like Wonderful Ireland, that have faster growth, stronger employment and higher tax revenues with lower corporate tax rates.


For more on this subject, check out Bruce Bartlett in WSJ from August. Nothing has changed since then.

Reality Check on So-Called Universal Health Care

As the electorate's memory fades, notions that voters previously rejected for good reasons start looking attractive to them. While this strikes us as much the same effect that alcohol consumption is said to have on the drinker's perception of the attractiveness of members of the opposite sex, we nevertheless hope that some rational discourse can bring the body politic back to sobriety.

Our concern is for Democrat proposal for so-called universal health care, which is really about health insurance, not health care, and is about greater government control of the same. On this subject, we point gentle readers to James C. Capretta's column at NRO.

To summarize Capretta's admirably brief and demonstrably logical piece, here are some key points:

  • While all Democratic proposals currently involve both private and public insurance, they do so only to give the appearance that people's present health insurance, which most voters like, will continue.
  • But all such plans involve a "pay-or-play" provision for employers: employers must either provide a health plan for employees or be taxed for participation in a new government plan.
  • The projected tax for the government plan is significantly lower than the average cost to employers of current health insurance plans.
  • Few employers will hesitate to opt for the government plan if it appears cheaper.
  • Insurance companies will therefore be driven from the market.
  • The government plan will then be in a position to dictate what services are available and how much providers will be paid, driving providers out of the market as well.

SWNID normally doesn't heed warnings about slippery-slopes. This one, however, looks dangerously slippery to us.

And to those who think that the bottom of the slope, that is, a health-care system run paid for entirely by the federal government, is fine, we urge a trip to the local VA hospital. Our limited experience in such institutions, viewed through the lens of our more extensive experience with single-payer systems in another place, tells us that we can all expect that level of care, or worse, from Uncle Sugar.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Take the Church Resource Download Survey

In our ever-vigilant effort to assist all who deserve assistance, we urge gentle readers to take the survey, conducted by our friends at Standard Publishing, on downloadable resources for ministry. Access it here.

And remember, gentle readers, sarcasm has no place in answering serious surveys, though it does on blogs like this one. And that is not a sarcastic remark. Really. We mean it. It's a serious survey. Don't mess it up.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More on Bumper Stickers

Now that John Kerry has dumped on his '04 running mate and endorsed Obama, will all the people with Kerry/Edwards 2004 bumper stickers kindly remove them?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Take the Elder Survey

We urge gentle readers who are church elders (no presbyterial impersonation, please) to respond to the survey of elders run by Arron Chambers of Christ's Church (Jacksonville, FL).

This is part of the very timely "Year of the Elder" emphasis at Christian Standard. Those who didn't see the outstanding first issue on the theme (January 6) should get it and read it, or access it through the archive here.

Do it because we said so, and we are an elder to whom you must submit.

Bumper Sticker Juxtapositions

We know why we saw these two bumper stickers on the same car:

Left Side: End at-will firing: employment equality for all!

Right Side: Republicans for Voldemort

But what is one to make of this combination:

Left Side: My child got smart at a charter school.

Right Side: Kerry/Edwards 2004

Paglia Empties Rhetorical Revolver on Hillary

Camille Paglia may be a left-wing nutjob, but she's an articulate one. Today she vents serious spleen on a certain Junior Senator from New York who seems to be in the news a lot.

Here are some especially juicy bits:

Hillary's willingness to tolerate Bill's compulsive philandering is a function of her general contempt for men. She distrusts them and feels morally superior to them. Following the pattern of her long-suffering mother, she thinks it is her mission to endure every insult and personal degradation for a higher cause -- which, unlike her self-sacrificing mother, she identifies with her near-messianic personal ambition. . . .

Hillary's disdain for masculinity fits right into the classic feminazi package, which is why Hillary acts on Gloria Steinem like catnip. Steinem's fawning, gaseous New York Times op-ed about her pal Hillary this week speaks volumes about the snobby clubbiness and reactionary sentimentality of the fossilized feminist establishment, which has blessedly fallen off the cultural map in the 21st century. History will judge Steinem and company very severely for their ethically obtuse indifference to the stream of working-class women and female subordinates whom Bill Clinton sexually harassed and abused, enabled by look-the-other-way and trash-the-victims Hillary. . . .

But Hillary herself, with her thin, spotty record, tangled psychological baggage, and maundering blowhard of a husband, is also a mighty big roll of the dice. She is a brittle, relentless manipulator with few stable core values who shuffles through useful personalities like a card shark ("Cue the tears!"). Forget all her little gold crosses: Hillary's real god is political expediency. Do Americans truly want this hard-bitten Machiavellian back in the White House?

Read this piece in its entirety for Paglia's insights that connect Hillary's upbringing and her adult behavior. They may not be accurate, but they're vividly put.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What Gentle Readers Have Been Waiting For: The SWNID Superlatives for 2007

Having patiently waited out the flurry of journalistic retrospectives at year end, we here present our annual SNWIDish reflection on the year just completed.*

Most Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing: The Golden Compass. The movie opened with a bang of controversy over its atheism. It is ending with a whimper of failure at the discount theaters. Be warned, Hollywood, and learn the lesson of Joel Osteen: God is more commercial than anti-God.

Most Positive Political Development (Western Hemisphere Division): Venezuela’s defeat of Chavez’s president-for-eternity referendum. We congratulate again Venezuelan friends and neighbors for demonstrating again the spirit of Simon Bolivar.

Most Positive Political Development (Eastern Hemisphere Division): General Petraeus’s success in pacifying Iraq. We now can begin to glimpse the benefits of the Bush Doctrine: American or American friendly power is firmly projected on two sides of Iran, three sides of Syria and, thanks to a brilliant diplomatic move with India, two sides of Pakistan. There may be trouble ahead, but while there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in the neighborhood, there will be less trouble.

Biggest Historical Farce: The so-called Jesus Tomb, probably the most egregious example of P. T. Barnum’s riposte about suckers since his own petrified man. Runner Up (Continuing Saga Division): The Gospel of Judas, now exposed as mistranslated by the clever Coptic scholars employed by National Geographic. Upcoming question: what “revelations” will Easter 2008 hold?

Most Good Money After Bad: Mart Green’s $70 million gift to Oral Roberts University. How much bad architecture and bad leadership does it take to disqualify a “Christian” university from support?

Most Misunderestimated Public Figure: Dubya. The Ds in Congress got approximately 0% of what they sought. We expect the end of the Bush administration to be themed as “Strange New Respect” for 43’s accomplishments, and we expect historians to laud Bush for his aggressive stance toward Islamofascism and his forward-looking positions on education, Social Security and health insurance (the latter two still unrealized).

Most Embarrassing Christian (National Division): Three-way tie between John Hagee (Christology Subdivision), Richard Roberts (Graft Subdivision) and Pat Robertson (Legacy subdivision). Honorable mention: James Dobson (Political Meddling Subdivision).

Most Embarrassing Christian (Local Division): Darlene Bishop, Queen of the Church of Butter Jesus, a.k.a. Solid Rock Church. Her opulent lifestyle and tacky taste have now been complemented by accusations of malfeasance from family members. We pose the rhetorical and theological question as to whether it honors the Christ of the cross to claim to have been miraculously healed by the power of his Spirit while carrying out such a lifestyle.

Biggest Political Disappointment: As we have said many times before, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Calculating that he couldn’t beat Hillary and Obama, he sold his political soul with a ridiculously extreme pose on Iraq to get into Blair House. Bill, you could have been a contender!

Biggest Entertainment Disappointment: 24. Poor Jack is becoming a self-parody. As we have said, we now watch for the same reason we go to Reds games: we know that what we’re seeing isn’t that good, but maybe we’ll see something that we haven’t seen before.

Biggest Entertainment Fulfillment: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The ease with which some point out the weaknesses of the Potter saga is ironic testimony to its impressive intergenerational and intercultural narrative power. Our generation is unlikely to experience again a phenomenon like this one.

Greatest Political Naivety: Randall Balmer, Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Bruce Larsen and other spokespeople of the resurgent Christian Left. We say again that intentions are not the same as outcomes, that socialism is proved to impoverish and pacifism proved to kill. We also say that those who chase trends, in this case hatred of Bush and disillusionment with the Reagan Revolution, are destined to be quickly out of fashion. Oddly, in Mike Huckabee the Christian Left has a candidate who espouses most of the policy positions that they love and all of the subcultural characteristics that they hate.

Most Left-Wing Consolation Prizes: Shadow President Al Gore, winner of the Oscar and co-winner of the Nobel Prize, and all for a movie that overtly distorts facts. When the Left can’t prevail on the big prizes, it substitutes those under its complete control. When one reflects that Rocky and Yassar Arafat were also winners of said prizes, the shine is off the proverbial apple.

Most Egregious Uses of the False Choice and Slippery Slope: Answers in Genesis and its Creation Museum. We assert yet again, in case there are those who still haven’t heard, that there are more alternatives than atheistic Darwinism and young-earth creationism, which alternatives in our view are more powerful to explain both the sacred text and the created world, and that those alternatives do not lead inexorably to universal social degradation. We will return to our “Day in the Museum” series as our precious time permits, but in the meantime we pose the following rhetorical question: If belief in a young earth leads so surely to saving faith and social order, and if Adam and Eve presumably knew the age of the earth and communicated it to their offspring, why did Cain kill Abel?

Most Successful Politician (Cincinnati Division): Mark Mallory. The quiet consensus builder had by the end of the year managed to get City Council and the County Commission together on The Banks and effectively silence the anti-Mallory opportunists among local politicians.

Most Accurate Fulfillment of SWNIDish Expectations by a Politician (Ohio Division): Ted Strickland. We tagged him as a party functionary of no wider consequence. His major achievement for his first year has been to prove that the Ds’ first loyalty is to public employee unions as he appeased the Ohio Federation of Teachers with opposition to charter schools and school vouchers. He remains popular precisely because he is so inconsequential.

Best Development in Cincinnati Economic and Social Life: The reduction in homicides and resurgence of downtown (tie). We can’t ignore the former, though it leaves lots of work left to do, especially in interrupting the drug trade and incarcerating drug traders before they become murderers and victims. We draw attention to the number of people who are going to events and lingering downtown now that a critical mass of attractions is regrouping downtown, especially the redeveloped Fountain Square. We offer the following unsolicited advice on the subject: Graeter’s, please keep the Fountain Square location open later, so that theater goers and sports fans can get a dip after the game or show is over.

Worst Proposal for Cincinnati Economic and Social Life: Having seen the price tag, we withdraw an earlier opinion to label as “worst” the proposed downtown-to-Over-the-Rhine streetcar. Cincinnati’s once powerful public transportation base is languishing, but this hugely costly project will have no impact on it whatsoever. Take the money and put it in more bus routes and bus trips, then couple it with incentives to get people out of their cars. But a streetcar for $100 million? How about a battleship?

Most Missed Musicians: Cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich; drummer Max Roach; pianist, electronic keyboardist and composer Joe Zawinul; and pianist Oscar Peterson. Each was among the most successful and admired in their crafts. Each has left a long and extensive legacy of recordings for us who live on to enjoy. None will have a peer in the next generation, though the number of gifted musicians seems to increase geometrically.

Sports Figure of 2007 Most to Be Watched in 2008: Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher and slugger Micah Owings, who pitches better than most rookie pitchers and hits better than most veteran position players. Note to Reds management: make a deal for this guy before he catches on.

Best Strategy for Reducing Greenhouse Gases, If Such Matters: Megabus. The innovative provider of cheap, safe, clean and quick intercity bus travel is attacking the market by making it silly to drive between major cities. We know for a fact that people who would not take a bus otherwise are taking Megabus. And their latest promotion is to reduce their $1 teaser fares to $0 (to take advantage and get a chance at a free fare, enter the code WIN2008 on checkout at http://www.megabus.com/).

Better Choices for Person of the Year Than Time’s Choice of Vladimir Putin: Either General David Petraeus or the Mid-Level American Military Officer in Iraq. Putin’s growing nationalistic fascism is significant and troubling, but it’s mostly troubling if you’re one of the decreasing number of Russians in the world, for whose benefit Putin does his theatrical saber-rattling. For Time’s main market, Americans, the success in Iraq is most significant. For that we have to thank Petraeus for his superb anti-insurgency plan and, less noted but no less significant, American Army and Marine (mostly Army) officers at the ranks of colonel, major and captain. These latter have done superb work in building local alliances to quash al Qaida in Iraq. One whom we mention is Army Colonel Richard Welch, recently decorated with the Bronze Star, whom we were privileged to have taught some Greek once upon a time. Of course, who could accuse Time of wanting to ignore the success in Iraq for ideological reasons?

Best Choice for Republican VP Nominee to Arise in 2007: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham has been right about the war, though a critic of the later Rumsfeld (non)strategy. He is a formidable speaker, well informed on foreign affairs, conservative without being a stereotypical conservative and appealing to Southerners without being a stereotypical Southerner. No one will doubt that he can step into the Oval Office if called upon. Plus, if the Dems try to look strong by nominating Jim Webb, we can look forward to more confrontations like the one on Meet the Press where Webb went postal on Graham for Graham's suggestion that the American military might be able to prevail in Iraq.

Legislative Body Even Less Productive Than the Iraqi Parliament: The US Congress under the leadership of Pelosi and Reid. No need to point out the obvious irony that the Congresswoman and Senator routinely point out the failures of their Iraqi counterparts, all of which is George Bush’s fault, of course.

Least Commonly Observed Distinction in Political Discourse: That health care is not the same as health insurance. In the United States, millions lack health insurance, though they can and generally do still receive health care. Observing this distinction would go a long way toward clarifying debate on this difficult subject.

Most Pointless Foreign Trip by a Politician: Nancy Pelosi’s Hermes-scarfed visit to Syria. It was embarrassing to thoughtful Americans at the time, though historic for histrionic Democrats. The embarrassment has faded with time, as embarrassments do. But now for her own party, the trip is a bad memory of how the regal Speaker has overreached and undergrasped.

Most Missed Higher-Education Story: That the kind of boozy sexual exploitation that led to the (demonstrably false) accusations against Duke lacrosse players is an ordinary part of most university campuses and though not limited to sports teams is often nurtured among them. Sooner or later Uncle Sam should decide whether Title IV funds should go to universities that compromise education with the toleration of binge drinking and consequent exploitative sexual behavior.

Most Wished for Event That Didn’t Happen: The death of Fidel Castro. Well, there’s always 2008. Maybe we can all celebrate New Year’s Eve in a free Havana.

____________________
*Normally, we hyperlink SWNIDisms to relevant web sites. For this article, we forgo that service, suggesting that we would not be the blogger that gentle readers deserve if we did for them what they can do for themselves. So we recommend that gentle readers wanting background use the convenient “search blog” feature at the top left of the page, then open another window or tab on their browsers and do additional searching.

Democrats: Party of Oprah, Maury

Iowa and New Hampshire prove that the ethos of the Democratic Party is now the ethos of the afternoon talk show.

Obama surged when Oprah endorsed him.

Hillary counter surged when for the cameras she wept about how hard her life is.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are deciding whether they are the party of the 700 Club* or 24.

__________________
*Yes, we know that Embarrassing Pat endorsed OMR. But his viewers are voting Huckabee.

BBC Exposes Internationally Bogus University

In our perpetual vigilance to warn gentle reader of educational misadventures, we point out the recent report by the BBC on the so-called Irish International University.

In sum, the unconventional university operates without quality control and shamelessly uses promotional materials with images from Oxford and Cambridge. Somehow it has heretofore escaped the control of the massive UK bureaucracy.

We note that divinity is prominent among the offerings of IIU, as it seems generally to be among diploma mills. The willingness of the self-styled leaders of God's people to be duped is perhaps only rivaled by their willingness to dupe.

No need to email SWNID asking what we know about IIU. We like the British Isles for research degrees in divinity, and we're all for the unconventional when it does the job. But IIU is about "virtual" in a sense opposite "actual."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Go to Church with Obama

We tip the SWNIDish hat to, of all people, Christopher Hitchens for point us to the web site of Barak Obama's church. Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago's resurgent South Side, claims 8000 members and lists a whole bunch of ministries. Remarkably for a UCC congregation, we note that they have essentially nothing to say on homosexual matters.

Hitchens finds the whole Trinity UCC experience disgustingly plebian. How twee! And what church membership would the militant atheist find more suitable?

We draw no conclusions, positive or negative, from Obama's membership with this church. But they do have a nice web site.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hillary: Cliches Make Me Cry

ABC News has some interesting video showing Hillary having a Muskie Moment in New Hampshire.

She either believes that platitudes like caring about your country are deserving of tears, is a terrific actress, or is crying about something other than what she's talking about. Or any combination.

At any rate, her handlers continue to try to show her softer side. We like it just as well as her other sides. She is as consistent as she is multifaceted.

Of Candidates and SWNIDish Support

Astute (and always gentle) readers have noted what our SWNIDish grammar might reveal about our political preferences of the moment. And we believe that our own consciousness is not so far removed from many who register their opinions in these times as to be entirely idiosyncratic. So we express our mind as a means of grasping the minds of others, even if they be by definition lesser minds. Further, it is our mission to inform others what to think. So to that end, we reveal what we think.

To wit: our enthusiasm for Mayor Giuliani as cooled somewhat. We are ready to date other candidates.

We still believe that the most successful American political executive of the last 25 years, excluding the beatified Ronald Reagan, deserves a shot at the office. We are less ardent about this for three reasons.

One, as we noted previously, is that the management of the Iraq War is now hardly an issue at all. Only a fool would mess up what's happening on the ground at the moment. We'll say more about fools below, but we don't think that most of the frontrunners are fools. So Rudy's ability as a problem-solver and crisis manager are not as significant as they once were.

The second, which we confess now, is that we are disappointed at the Giuliani campaign so far. We concede the possible electoral utility of his waiting for the big states, a strategy that Mrs. Clinton now assumes by default. But his waiting without initiative is not inspiring our confidence in Rudy's readiness for national leadership. By now we expected some bold policy proposals on health care, social security, taxes and education, maybe even abortion. But if he's got them, he's keeping them hidden. He's leaving us worried that he will do something like kiss his wife in public again and call that a bold move.

The third is that we are ready to forgive, at least conditionally, the prodigal John McCain. Having recently made a firm confession of faith in lower taxes, implicitly repenting of his opposition to the glorious Bush tax cuts, he has addressed our most pressing concern about him. Further, because no one, himself included, talks about his awful campaign finance reform law, we're ready to consider McCain-Feingold a regrettable mistake on the way to being forgotten. We are therefore ready to trot McCain out as the Republican who can appeal to people who don't subscribe to Focus on the Family publications, i.e. the one who can keep the White House in the hands of those who won't sell us down the road to serfdom quite so quickly.

McCain can certainly manage the remainder of the war: the credit he's currently claiming for changing the strategy is perhaps deserved more than any other credit currently being claimed by candidates. More importantly, he's the only candidate talking a lick of sense about immigration. The other Rs are dedicated to seeing who can promise to build the biggest wall and send the most illegals back the quickest. The Ds are trying to avoid any commitments, knowing that anything they say will get them in trouble with someone. McCain knows that we need workers and so we need immigrants, and he's willing to say it.

So on that score we say that McCain has the policies, while Rudy has the abilities.

Of the other Rs, we say the following:

Concerning Romney, he's Michael Dukakis only Republican. See Peggy Noonan's latest for an explanation. The man can't win a national election.

Concerning Huckabee, we've said a little before. But Huckabee has recently achieved something genuinely indicative of significance: George Will devoted a column to insulting him. We can add nothing to the diatribe from the dean of conservative columnists. "Histrionic humility, "curdled populism," "a compound of Uriah Heep, Elmer Gantry and Richard Nixon" . . . who can match such exalted phrases of loathsomeness . . . and aptness?

Underreported Reason for Change in Presidential Polls

So the frontrunners aren't in front any more.

We've heard lots of explanations why Hillary and Rudy have fallen as the extremely early nominating process proceeds. And we'll buy some of them. Yes, Hillary is very unlikeable, and the more people see of her, the more they respond to that salient characteristic. No, Rudy hasn't done much to calm the fears of conservatives about his candidacy, sending them off to look for a True Believer to support.

But here's what we see as the most significant point: thanks to General Petraeus's remarkable success, the Iraq War is no longer the major issue of the campaign. The frontrunners were running in front because they were seen by those in the center as the best potential POTUSes to fix what was a very nasty situation. But it's nasty no more.

Rudy was the candidate of Republicans like SWNID who saw the war as the critical issue trumping all others. Hillary was the candidate of Dems who wanted to placate their pacifist base but act with reasonable responsibility.

But now, the war appears to be on a glide path to reasonable success, regardless of who is in the Oval Office. So voters are free to indulge other interests.

Getting past the boilerplate about whether this helps Democrats or Republicans in November, we opine that the surge's success has given voters the freedom to think about unconventional candidates like Obama and Huckabee.

Of course, there's a problem in all this: the next POTUS takes office about a year after tomorrow's New Hampshire primary. For all we know, by then we could be back in trouble in Iraq or dealing with another military matter in some other part of the world.

A nominating process that nominates so far in advance threatens to leave us with choices best suited to a year-old situation. Suddenly the old system of party officials picking their nominees in August looks very appealing again.