Thursday, December 17, 2009

Poll: Americans Nostalgic for Good Old Days of Dubya

Bloomberg reports interesting polling data today.

Americans approve of Obama's surge in Afghanistan. His approval numbers on the Afghan War are up to 52% from 42% a year ago. Not bad for a drawn-out, foreign war.

Meanwhile, disapproval of the healthcare initiative stands at 47%, versus 32% who approve.

In sum, America likes BHO when he follows Dubya's approach and dislikes it when he does what Dubya didn't do. That's tough for a guy who continues to campaign against his predecessor.

Copenhagen Reality

Those who say that global warmism is not intrinsically connected to faux-socialist totalitarianism have a lot of explaining to do.

Aussie reporter Andrew Bolt notes that Copenhagen Summit delegates accorded thunderous applause to one Hugo Chavez, lately the tyrant of Venezuela, for such chestnuts as
[O]ur revolution seeks to help all people…socialism, the other ghost that is probably wandering around this room, that’s the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell....let’s fight against capitalism and make it obey us.
Nice reality check there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At Last: Real Writers Call Out BHO's Fave Rhetorical Moves

Reason's Jacob Sullam is the first we've seen in a real publication to point out Obama's favorite rhetorical trope, the false-false choice. Along the way, he also notes Obama's penchant for the phrase "there are those who say . . ." to introduce something that no one really says, and to introduce his own assertions with "let me be just clear," a clause that regularly introduces a statement that is a clear as it is counter-factual.

Good. Let's hope others start drawing attention to this tired stuff.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From Gitmo to Thomson

The administration's anticipated announcement that is at last, as promised, closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center and moving the detained terrorists to the former Thomson Correctional Center will satisfy the President's restive leftist base.

It will not, however, do what it's advertised to do, namely, to take from Al Qaida a recruitment tool.

As long as alleged terrorists are detained without trial, as they should be and will be, and as long as those detainees can advance the notion that they're being abused, which they have done and will do, and as long as many in the West champion the detainees as victims, as they have done and will do, a few of the world's billions will make the romantically unrealistic decision to join the anti-American jihad, as they have done. Moving detainees from Cuba to Illinois, where the weather is worse in winter, hardly seems to make a difference that even a jihadist could recognize.

For those keeping score, once again the left has registered its preference for symbolism over substance.

Oral Roberts, 1918-2009

As announced on the Oral Roberts Ministries web site, evangelist Oral Roberts died today at the age of 91.

Of the various things that might be said about Roberts, we will say this: he is the person most responsible for popularizing what is now derisively called the health-and-wealth gospel. With his concept of "seed faith," Roberts successfully promulgated the idea that those who by faith invest something with God will reap material abundance.

That notion has been around the world multiple times since Roberts first preached it. Today the prosperity gospel is a global, not just American phenomenon, especially powerful in Pentecostal circles but hardly confined to them.

So as Oral Roberts has passed from this life to the life to come, it is worth assessing the future of seed faith and the good news of prosperity. We think that Roberts' distinctive concepts are in for a rough time in the near future. Bad theology yields massive disappointment, and health-and-wealth is bad theology for sure. As it spreads, it also withers.

But we also think it's here to stay. Something deep inside people wants to believe that wealth can be conjured. Roberts' surviving disciples will always have an audience ready to have its ears tickled while hoping to have its pockets filled.

Like pyramid marketing, we will always have the prosperity perversion of the gospel--and its casualties.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fanfares and Flourishes for Louise Nippert

Quiet local philanthropist Louise Nippert has given $85 million dollars to support classical music in Cincinnati. Most will got to the Cincinnati Symphony, with some to the Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet.

Our cold, reptilian heart is strangely warmed. We'll all be going to symphony concerts for the foreseeable future. That's a very good thing.

Next step for local music: establishing the Blue Wisp Big Band as a foundation-supported jazz repertoire orchestra, like the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Someone want to ante up for that?

Blair: Without WMD, Still Right to Remove Saddam

Tony Blair yesterday stated flatly that invading Iraq to remove Saddam was right even though Saddam was faking the WMD. Per Reuters:

He said in the interview that the threat Saddam posed to the region was uppermost in his mind and the possibility that Iraq had powerful weapons was only one factor behind his decision. Others were Saddam's 12 years of stalling United Nations weapons inspectors and his use of chemical weapons on his own people.

Thanks, Mr. Blair, for articulating the SWNIDish position for the wider public. We ask everyone again to engage in the exercise of imagining a world in which Saddam was still in power.

Note that this statement could have been made in Oslo by another prominent global leader.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

SWNIDishly Parsing Obama's Nobel Speech

In response to overwhelming popular demand, we offer a few words about President Obama's several words in Oslo.

First, we applaud the President for escaping his leftist patrons to articulate a relatively clear notion of just war. His speech was frank about the realities of persistent human violence. We particularly applaud this passage (even if it contains a misplaced semicolon as presented on the White House web site):

For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Even more than this commonsense observation, Obama stepped out of the left's control to argue for American exceptionalism, at least recently:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

Of course, it would take a fool to miss the implied criticism of the Iraq War, in such passages as these:

I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks. . . .

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

So the best that one can say about the Iraq War is that it is "winding down." It doesn't rank as "a conflict that America did not seek," or as one that the world recognized was necessary. Never mind the coalition that joined the United States in Iraq. Never mind the UN resolutions authorizing action if Saddam didn't abide by treaties and resolutions. Never mind that the outcome is a nation liberated of one of the most murderous dictators on the world stage.

Of course, if Obama had affirmed the justice of overthrowing Saddam, if he had gone as far as to affirm that wars can be just if they defeat tyrants and liberate the oppressed, he would have undermined every campaign speech he has ever made, include the ones he's delivered since being elected. So he remained complicit in the rationale for the award: Obama is not Bush.

We have other objections to elements of the speech. Obama rightly implies that other nations must take responsibility for global order, that the United States cannot be expected always to clean up the mess. But he offers no compelling vision to motivate that action. Yes, he said that genuine peace involves the "inherent rights and dignity" of individuals. But he gave no ringing call that the world's peoples should vigorously pursue that end. Apparently a call for freedom and justice sounds too much like the rhetoric of his predecessor. Worse, he suggests that nonmilitary actions like sanctions can somehow be made painful enough to force dastardly regimes to become less dastardly. We remain unsure on how trade embargoes will motivate murderous dictators to relinquish power. We do know that sanctions can impoverish the oppressed while the oppressors continue to enrich themselves. Slapping Myanmar's brutal dictatorship with something that hurts probably means more than expelling diplomats and restricting trade.

But most naively, Obama talked, albeit briefly, about a world without nuclear weapons. We excuse the young President if he was not yet interested in international affairs in the 1980s when Baroness Thatcher made the trenchant observation that nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented. Even if they could be effectively banned, if war broke out or even threatened, or if a nation had aggressive ambitions, there would simply be a highly dangerous, unstable race to build weapons first.

And of course, he had to triangulate in the middle of a false choice:

[W]ithin America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists -- a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices.

It's like hearing "Free Bird" at a Lynard Skynard concert: no one is leaving until we get the "rejected false choice" trope. Hey Barry, reject a false choice!

Others have noted the inappropriate references to Nixon in China or Reagan negotiating nuclear treaties. Those diplomatic moves were potent precisely because they came from leaders distinguished by their uncompromising confrontation with the bad guys. Obama so far has been noted for wanting to improve America's PR, and despite his premature Nobel, he's been largely ignored. They'll only listen to the soft speaking if you carry a big stick.

Ending on a call to love as the teaching of all the world's religions was nice, if hackneyed. Acknowledging that military force is a grim necessity was excellent, even if muddled. Calling for diplomacy and development was pointless preaching to the choir, and dull preaching at that.

Shall we grade the speech? We shall. It was fluent and clear. It managed to say something important that we fully expected to be ignored. It ungraciously joined the Nobel Committee in giving Dubya a wedgie. It was downright stupid on nukes. It weakly resorted to cliches, especially at its end.

But we are a generous grader who likes to acknowledge what is good more than punish what is wrong. So we would assign a B-, except that it was articulate even in its banalities. So we reward the President with a B.

That's the kind of grade we figure he got at Columbia and Harvard, though no one knows, since Obama, unlike recent Presidential candidates, never released his transcripts.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Reid: The Sum of All Fears

And as if on cue, Harry Reid combines in one half-minute both rhetorical tropes recently called out by SWNID:

Senator, you've got this one backwards and inside out. Present Republicans haven't said, "Slow down." They've said, "Do something else entirely, and soon."

The previous Republican President advocated the kinds of reforms that would begin to correct the market distortions that exacerbate healthcare inflation and provide greater insurance coverage. But the Democratic majority in Congress wanted nothing of it, declaring that Bush wanted to "dismantle" our "employer-based healthcare system" (surely one of the greatest debasements in the usage of the term "system" that one can imagine).

Also, Mr. Reid, this issue of extending health insurance, serious as it is, hardly bears comparison to the slavery problem. But if you want to make the comparison, we invite you to bring it on.

You see, soon-to-be ex-Senator, the party that on the present healthcare issue most resembles those who opposed an end to slavery is, well, the party that opposed an end to slavery, namely, the Democrats. Your bill is most like the awful compromises that sought to placate stubborn Southerners with ever more elaborate jerry-rigging to effect passage through Congress, not to address real problems with real sense. Rather than go back to the beginning and say that slavery was wrong, Ds sought to preserve it with elaborately reasoned, complex formulae, all of which fell apart because they didn't get at the root of the problem, that slavery was allowed to continue at all.

The root of America's problem today is preferential tax treatment for employer-provided health insurance, compounded by the government's massive over-intervention in the marketplace. It takes 2k pages of legislation for Dems to "reform" what needs simply to be removed, and would have been had Republicans been heeded in the last presidential term.

Our analogy beats yours, soon-to-be-lobbyist Reid.

So there.

Panic Is the Enemy of Clear Thinking, But an Excellent Sales Tactic

We are deeply resentful of all those who attempt to sell us something on the basis of false urgency, as in the following:

"This price is only good if you act today."

"Someone in the parts department wants this car, but the sales manager said you can have it if you match his price."

"This is the last one in stock, and I don't know if we will get any more."

Many such statements are factually false. Every such statement is an attempt to panic the buyer into a decision without gathering all the facts, including especially the relative merits and prices of comparable products from other sellers.

And these are exactly the tactics of last resort in politics, presently on display in the issues that have occupied much of this blog lately, namely global warming and healthcare reform.

For the former, note the Guardian's opinion piece which declares:

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days.

Wow! Let's applaud the geniuses who managed to schedule the Copenhagen summit at the precise fortnight, amidst millennia, in which the fateful decision must be made! But mark your calendars: the winter solstice of 2009 marks The End of the World as We Know It.

And on healthcare, Sen. Diane Feinstein is saying what nearly every Democrat seems to be saying these days:

If we miss this opportunity to pass this bill, it's lost. . . . This is the opportunity for health care reform. Some people say, well, we should do it next year, there are too many things. Y'know, there's an element of truth to that. But this is it. . . . If we don't deliver, we've got a problem.

Thanks, Senator! Even when you're willing to admit that no one in the parts department actually wants to buy that car, you're still hounding me with questions about how we can make the deal today. Apparently you think we're too much of a fool not to realize that a problem that's been brewing slowly for decades can stand some time for deliberation.

By contrast with such huckster tactics, we endorse instead the celebrated principle of the celebrated Stephen Sample, retiring president of the University of Southern California and author of the celebrated Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, which he styles "thinking gray":

Wise leaders can 'think gray." Most people take a binary approach to life, instantly categorizing things as good or bad, true or false, black or white. Effective leaders study the shades of gray inherent in situations before making decisions. They may put off making a decision until tomorrow, when new information might be available. They suspend judgment--not unlike a judge considering all the facts in a case--before making a final decision.

So we urge all thoughtful Americans to "think gray" by demanding that politicians debate these issues through 2010 and so make the upcoming elections a referendum on them. Lefties, if you're so right, what have you got to lose? Won't time make all the more obvious the needs which you insist drive your solutions?

Interestingly, federal law demands that any sale made in an individual's home may be canceled by the buyer within 72 hours. Our nanny-state Congressmen once acknowledged the duplicity of pressure tactics and gave consumers a statutory cooling-off period enabling them to get the pressurizing salesman out of the house so that they can do some thinking and comparing.

We simply ask for the same consideration with something much bigger.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Political-Economic Education in Comic-Book Form

Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is a classic of political and economic analysis. But who has time to read it?

So, Look Magazine (Motto: We were the first to demonstrate that print media was obsolete!) helpfully presents the contents of the Austrian genius's work in an illustrated brochure.

Note that it is not necessary to see every step of Hayek's scenario as inevitable, simply that one step did indeed lead to another in the rise of totalitarianism and that the same assumptions will have similarly disastrous results whenever they are applied. So his tale is not strictly predictive but cautionary: people aren't smart enough or good enough to plan centrally, so leave them mostly alone.

We gladly accept gentle readers' thanks for drawing attention to this up-to-the-minute resource.

Baucus, Clinton in Love: How Ds Differ from Rs, Mostly

Hillary Clinton has a crush on the British Foreign Secretary.

Max Baucus nominated his romantic interest, whom he started dating before his divorce, for US Attorney.

Generally, Republicans get canned when they stray sexually (Gingrich), though the canning can proceed in slo-mo (Sanford). For Democrats, boys will be boys (the other Clinton, every Kennedy ever), and so girls should be girls, too (Rodham-Clinton).

Democrats are the perfect party of free sex. Republicans are the utterly imperfect party of traditional morality.

Vote your conscience.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A SWNIDish Christmas Gift: The Shop Around the Corner

Thanks to Google video, we offer you, our gentle readers, a gift: the opportunity to view on this blog in its entirety the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner.

Pauline Kael called it a nearly perfect movie. We agree. If you don't agree, too bad for you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Blowing Hot Air

Since the revelation of "Climategate" emails, it's impossible to write about global warming without acknowledging at least the perception that the data has been "mishandled." Right?

True, unless you are an opinion columnist for the Guardian.

In that storied organ of the left, Jeffrey Sachs does the impossible. The essence of his column, which doesn't bear reading in detail, is that the time to act is NOW.

Well, it doesn't bear reading except for these parts:

We've debated for years about who should control emissions, by how much, when, and according to binding or non-binding commitments. Yet we can't settle these issues without also getting into the details about the deployment of low-carbon technologies, social behaviours and the quantitative realities of energy systems, transport technologies, food production, water scarcity, and population trends. We will continue to go around in circles until we are much more systematic in bringing scientific and engineering realities to the table. Our negotiations need much greater grounding in our true options and their costs. . . .

Let's start by recognising that most of the human-made crisis emerges from a few pivotal human activities: how and what we grow to eat; how we mobilise and distribute energy; how we transport ourselves and our freight; and how we build our buildings and lay out our cities. Each related sector requires its own intensive strategy – to identify the kind of research and development activities, public infrastructure investments and public policy to accompany a positive price on carbon emissions, through permits or taxes. Countries would have a lot to share – for instance in new technological options – and a lot that would distinguish them, according to geography, resource base, development level, and more.

In other words, let's empower the diplomats and bureaucrats at Copenhagen to micromanage the lives of seven billion people. The crisis is here! We need the central planners to get busy to save the world from its awful self!

Recommending response: smirking. Sachs is the equivalent of a French general in 1940 saying the Maginot Line was a good idea.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Department of Bubble Bursting

Were you one of the many who enjoyed Julie and Julia for its pleasant, romantic narrative of young married life in the big city, embellished by French cooking?

Well, here comes a cold dose of reality, courtesy of authoress Julie Powell.

Her latest book is another memoir: Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Per a review in today's WSJ, Powell chronicles in the book her apprenticeship with a butcher and her obsessive, sado-masochistic extramarital affair.

For those of us who enjoyed the movie's sweet portrayal of a wife and husband making their way through the vicissitudes of modern marriage with loyalty and patience, the contents of this new book are a bitter reminder of the realism of most Hollywood movies.

We won't venture a guess as to whether Ms. Powell's literary agent or publisher saw this one coming when they inked the deal for multiple books after the first one. What's left to explore after a book that combines such disparately distasteful themes?

Another fantasy destroyed, though we do appreciate the clever ambiguity of the book's title.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Exhibit Demonstrating Folly in ObamaCare Follies

Gentle readers are by now familiar with a key SWNIDish objection to healthcare reform as conceived by the present administration: mandating first-dollar coverage for all kinds of treatments from all kinds of providers.

The absurdity of such a mandate is well illustrated by an article by WaPo's William Wan, drawing attention to the insistence that Christian Science "spiritual health care" practices be covered.

Lest gentle readers conclude that the fringe practice is demanded only by fringe folk, we draw attention to Mr. Wan's note that the House bill, recently passed, originally mandated coverage for said practice. It has received public pledges of support from such solons as John Kerry, protective of the considerable number of Christian Science observants in the People's Republic of Massachusetts, and Orrin Hatch, protective of another quaint cult in Utah.

Given the outlines of Christian Science dogma, we're not sure why Christian Scientists can't simply put their faith in the notion that such coverage actually exists and thus make it so.

Debate on this topic is predictably bouncing between two issues: the efficacy of prayer in healing and the rights of religious minorities. Absent is consideration whether the issue exposes the folly of a publicly funded mandate for first-dollar coverage.

For those wanting a summary response, we ask: Why not just let people decide whether they want first-dollar coverage for chiropractors, podiatrists, acupuncturists, spiritual healers, feng shui experts, paranormalists, and horse whisperers? Or even whether they want first-dollar coverage for their internist? And pay for it themselves if they do? It's the top end of health care where the risk lies, not the first dollar.

The dumbness continues.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Climate Emails Prove

What can the SWNIDish person learn from the recently unearthed emails exchanged among climate scientists?

Not that all global-warming predictions are fraudulent. Only that some climate scientists were.

But perhaps not much more fraudulent than other scientists, scholars and "experts."

First, the important distinction regarding global warming. There's nothing in these emails to suggest that all data point unambiguously away from the possibility of global warming. Nothing at this stage appears to have disproved the fundamental observation that CO2, methane and other "greenhouse gases" can act to raise temperatures over time. That's true even with the well-known problem that recently temperatures haven't risen. They still could be rising over the long term, and they are demonstrably higher than they were a century ago.

But all the blather about the debate being over and consensus being reached, demanding radical political action yesterday, is now exposed for what it is: the attempt to inflate the certainty of conclusions by suppressing dissent in the scientific community and presenting a self-consciously one-sided view of the evidence.

This, of course, happens all the time in scholarship. Scholars are no less inclined to narcissistic self-promotion and tribal acts of exclusion than are entertainers, politicians, religious-cult leaders or middle-school girls. Donning lab coats or tweed jackets does not make experts less perniciously human.

We offer a case in point from another academic discipline, namely, our own.

The classic puzzle of New Testament studies is the "synoptic problem," the matter of explaining the complex pattern of similarities and differences among the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). For nearly the entire 20th century and continuing into the 21st, the "consensus" solution to this problem is "Markan Priority," the hypothesis that the authors of Matthew and Luke used as their sources the Gospel of Mark, by the hypothesis dubbed the earliest Gospel, and a second, no-longer-extant source, labeled with the algebraic symbol "Q."

Now the problems with this hypothesis have been acknowledged for ages. Briefly, and without sufficient explanation, we would enumerate the verbal agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark (numbering over 1000 if one counts Matthew's and Luke's coincident omissions from Mark), Luke's "Great Omission" of a chunk of material from the middle of Mark, and the absence of external evidence for the existence of Q.

These problems should at least have made Markan Priority one explanation among many for a problem that remained for scholars unsolved, perhaps intractably so. But such has never been the case. Since the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, if one wanted a smooth path into the scholarly club in New Testament studies (a PhD, publication, tenure in an established institution), the obvious first step was to affirm that Markan Priority was settled.

In the 20th century, every major development in the study of the Gospels has been predicated on Markan Priority. For every article or monograph examining the foundations of the theory, there were probably twenty expounding some hypothesis based on the assumption of it.

Throughout there were skeptics. Some were rank outsiders, like some of the very few evangelical/fundamentalist scholars prior to the entry of evangelical scholarship into the mainstream in the 1970s and beyond. Some were boutique skeptics proffering an alternative hypothesis in small seminars with no discernible impact beyond their little circle.

Two anecdotes will illustrate the situation.

We are well acquainted with a PhD whose thesis on a Synoptic Gospel explicitly took an "agnostic" position on the exact pattern of synoptic relationships. While completely successful in gaining his degree and publication for the work, he was challenged in his oral defense of the thesis by an examiner who asked him why he didn't do the obvious and easy thing, not least because dissent on the hypothesis was to be found only "among a few, fringe people in America." The examiner let stand the skeptic's response that no solid conclusions could be drawn based solely on a hypothesis as difficult to deem certain as Markan Priority.

We are also well acquainted with a PhD whose thesis actually brought fresh evidence to bear on questions of synoptic origins, challenging the certainty of Markan Priority. In the middle stages of that work, presenting his preliminary findings to a seminar in his department, fellow students were not so much impressed with the impact of his new line of inquiry as befuddled by his even thinking to pursue it. "Why do you want to challenge Markan Priority when it has been such a productive hypothesis?" they asked. "Productive" here means, By assuming this, we've all been able to write a lot of stuff that has furthered our discipline and so furthered our careers.

And so it goes. The tribes of academe apply social pressure all the time to get their members to adhere to tribal codes. Degrees, jobs, publication, tenure and grants go to those who adhere to orthodoxies. Experts reinforce one another's positions of expertise by affirming the orthodoxies to one another.

Thereby, experts make themselves rare and valuable while at the same time living in interior and exterior denial about the things that they simply don't know. To admit that certain key conclusions are "underdetermined," inadequately proved by available evidence and perhaps beyond the ability of humanity ever to resolve with real certainty, is to admit limits of expertise that lower the public's esteem for the experts, and perhaps worst of all, their consequent funding. Who wants to invest money in the investigation of a problem for which a clear answer may never be found?

Over time, however, some of these shams come to light. In the last twenty years in New Testament studies, as some big players have expressed skepticism, it has become more possible to question the settledness of the synoptic problem, not coincidentally as methods for studying the Gospels have moved beyond those dependent on a conclusion about synoptic relationships. And last week, some intrepid hackers provided the fly-on-the-wall perspective to demand a do-over on the assessment of climate science.

Where is this likely to go? We expect the global-warmism hard core to proclaim that there's so much at stake in delay, we simply can't wait for certitude to act. Of course, what's certain to be at stake in non-delay--the retardation of economic growth and so the perpetuation of poverty for millions--is entirely more knowable and more certain.

In such a case, the cautionary fable of Chicken Little is timely. Running in a panic induced by over-interpreted evidence is not prudent, even if the lead barnyard animal has tenure.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Invoking Future "History"

Last week, peripatetic Gray Lady columnist Nicholas Kristof presented a rather stale essay arguing that opponents of ObamaCare are on the wrong side of "history." Evidence for such is that their rhetoric resembles that of Social Security's opponents in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s.

We leave aside the question whether with hindsight Americans would again design programs (we started to call them "systems" but realized the exaggeration involved) like these, given the reality that both are impossible to sustain financially. Instead, we ask, what does it mean that "history" is on a particular side? As an abstraction for the sum of human experience--that is, the past--how does "history" declare itself on the issues of the present and the future?

Well, Kristof might assert that it does so by showing how ideas in the past have proved successful in the view of many in the present. Hence, ideas resembling those ought to be assumed to be just as prospectively successful in the future. Well, is that indeed the case in every instance? Allowing the debatable proposition that Social Security and Medicare are successful, we ask whether that means all such social-welfare programs ought to be similarly endorsed. Say, Nixon's proposal of guaranteed income for all? Where do the analogies begin and end by which one can pronounce history's verdict on the future? Does history provide no cautionary tales about government initiatives to improve the quality of life?

Let's note another analogy, however. Marxism was (how sweet to use a past-tense predicate with that noxious subject) fond of describing the inevitable movement of history from capitalism to communism and ultimately socialism. To their destruction did individuals ignore the progress of history (note that "history" here means not the past but the coming utopian future, divined by brilliant intellectuals like Karl Marx). We do not accuse Kristof of being a Marxist, so if his publicist is reading this, don't bother accusing us. We simply note that his rhetoric belies the same sloppy thinking: that one can extrapolate a preferred direction of history and insist that everyone get on board with it. If ObamaCare's opponents are to be condemned because their rhetoric recalls that of recalcitrant conservatives of the 1930s and 1960s, Kristof's is to be condemned because it resembles that of Lenin's hordes in the 1910s and 1920s.

But let's take another point. Does "history" always turn out for the good? We are fond of observing that life is better for a lot of people than it once was, but is such movement inevitable? Simply because many governments have provided more social services to their citizens, is progress inevitably in that direction? Are the dystopian futures imagined by Wells, Huxley, Orwell and lesser lights in no way reminders that social welfare experiments may go terribly wrong?

Or let's take a different historical analogy altogether. Were those who opposed Lincoln's Homestead Act (the law whereby the federal government gave western settlers free land), which stressed individual initiative and responsibility, on the wrong side of history? Is that analogy at all instructive about the present debate?

Mr. Kristof, we can indeed imagine a better future after healthcare reform. The reform we imagine is different from Obama's, however. It involves individual insurance, not employer-provided insurance. It insures not the first dollar but the expense that can't be covered by savings or credit, the catastrophic dollar. It puts the economic decisions in the hands of the patient, restoring natural market forces that keep costs in check. It works more like the other stuff in life works. In that respect, it has oodles of history on its side.

Anecdote: friends with a new baby and without first-dollar health insurance coverage noted that in their delivery their obstetrician deliberately did not order tests that would otherwise be routine. The reason? He knew they'd pay out of pocket for them, and he didn't believe such tests were necessary given the costs. Had they carried insurance, he would have ordered the tests instantly. They thanked him profusely. They are all quite healthy, and less poor than they would be otherwise.

What does that historical incident tell us about history, Mr. Kristof?

Obama to Copenhagen: Theater for the Lefty Base

Having been theatrically begged by the environmental hard core to attend the Copenhagen global warming summit, President Obama has theatrically announced that he will indeed attend and will indeed "commit the United States to substantial cuts in greenhouse gas pollution over the next decade" says the AP.

Consider this another in a series of exhibits demonstrating the triumph of style over substance in politics and diplomacy. Nothing will come of this move, for multiple reasons. To be assured of such, one need only note that Obama, limited by the US Constitution, has no ability to deliver on the pledge himself; that the Democratic-controlled Congress can't pass its signature healthcare legislation, let alone cap-and-trade that is sharply opposed by significant elements of its coalition like organized labor; that the previous global-warming summit at Kyoto has become both a touchstone of orthodoxy for global warmism and a prime example of diplomatic failure, with treaty agreements and targets now expressly out of reach; or that the Obama administration, with its fictional tallies of "jobs created or saved" is adept at concocting statistics to measure the success of what it has managed to initiate.

Obama, of course, campaigns. He does not govern. The key to this trip is simply to make the trip. Symbolism is what the Left values most. Caring about problems is more important than actually addressing them. Hope matters more than change.

So this trip simply fits the paradigm. Go to the stylish Scandinavian capital. Deliver the signature speech. Smile and wave for the photo ops. Trash the Evil Bush Administration yet again. Pledge support for the utopian future. Then come home and blame the Republicans for stopping legislation that your own party doesn't really want, as it jets and drives and lights and heats its way to still more relatively inconsequential alteration of the Earth's atmosphere while continuing the theatrical hand-wringing and blame-casting.

Obama's Copenhagen trip is like the annual address given by Republican Presidents to right-to-life folks on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It accomplishes nothing for the issue, but it placates those who care about the issue that the President is Their Man.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A SWNIDish Thanksgiving

On the eve of every American's favorite holiday, we offer a list of items, mostly in random order, for which to give thanks SWNIDishly.

We have no doubt whatsoever that we are thankful for the following, and urge you to be thankful for them also:

  • Joe Lieberman. We like a politician who is old enough and successful enough to speak his mind directly and consequentially. We figure that Lieberman was steeled in contrarian thinking through a lifetime of Jewish observance in a nominally Christian, essentially post-Christian culture. Hooray for Joe's stand on no public option of any kind.
  • Dick Cheney. Those old enough to remember the VP debate at Centre College in 2000 will recall that it was billed beforehand as the battle of the solons and hailed afterward as a pinnacle of informed, civil political discourse. Thirty months later, Cheney was evil personified. Lieberman got the same tar and feathers about six months later. Like Lieberman, Cheney didn't care. Now he's a sort of political prophet, calling out the present administration's fecklessness about security matters and, it appears, successfully goading them into taking some kind of reasonable action in Afghanistan.
  • The 24-hour news cycle's accelerating of political developments. Thanks to the way that everything political is sliced and diced all the time, folks are modifying their opinions with reckless abandon. That doesn't promote stability, but stability is not a good thing when courses need correcting. The public has now made up its mind about Obama's actual political agenda, faster than one could have imagined it would. We therefore hope for real change in the coming months.
  • Moral hazard. We refer to the way that certain rewards and punishments created by authorities can perversely act on individuals to incentivize them to do bad things. Moral hazard is at work when loans are too cheap and easy, incentivizing people to overspend. It's at work when investors can expect to be bailed out by the government, incentivizing stupid risks. It's at work when a third party pays for something, incentivizing overconsumption. We give thanks for it because it becomes so obvious over time, providing repeated cautionary tales that the body politic must reckon constantly with the perversity of human nature. Which leads us to . . .
  • Cautionary tales. History provides bushels of examples of what not to do. Don't invade Russia. Don't tax without representation. Don't impose protective tariffs during a recession. Don't believe it when someone says, "Things are totally different now." Etc. Which leads us to . . .
  • The 1970s. It was a bad era for just about everything, and it steeled us late boomers for the present. Attention, Generations X, Y, Z, Millennials and whatever other term some pop demographer has applied to the latest group of post-adolescents going through their predictable and constant developmental stages: things are bad, but they've been worse. Not only did my generation have to endure the Munich Olympics Massacre, Watergate, Saigon's fall, Whip Inflation Now, multiple fuel crises, stagflation, the Iran Hostage Crisis, Jimmy Carter, Roselyn Carter, Amy Carter, Billy Carter, Miss Lillian Carter, and KC and the Sunshine Band, we also had to endure our parents' stories about the Great Depression. Which leads us to . . .
  • Adaptability. Say what you will about Darwinism, it identifies something that makes us happy. Successful species, like humans, manage to adapt to a changing environment. We are grateful for the dozens of people we know who have not just endured but overcome the kinds of circumstances that--we are told on a daily basis--ought to be dreadfully feared with dreadful fear by all thoughtful individuals. And we therefore castigate those who strive to create a nanny state to protect what they imagine as masses of frozen androids incapable of changing as circumstances change.
  • Music educators. Despite constant publicity given to cutbacks on music education in schools, the observable fact is that musicians are getting better and better with every passing year. Popular music has always been mostly dreck, and it remains so today. But looking beyond what is sold to the Philistine masses, we can honestly say that more people play and sing better today than ever before. Many truly amazing musicians live in penury, simply because there are so many of them. That ensures a massive supply of fine sounds for all of us. Furthermore, many who learn music but don't pursue it professionally later testify to the way that their music educations formed them for other things. Behind lots of amazing people are music teachers, whom we invite to take a bow.
  • Agricultural sciences. The true "green revolution" continues as folks who study the raising of food continue to discover and propagate innovations that increase yields. Just this week we noted a friend who is busy showing subsistence farmers in east Africa how improved cultivation techniques can increase their yields from 300 kg per hectare to several metric tons per hectare, while vastly reducing wind erosion and overcultivation. And as the production of surplus food has historically been the key to improved social welfare, we figure that the world is getting not just less hungry but more enriched generally.
  • The profit motive.The possibility of profits induces selfish humans to do good things for others. Aside from conversion, it's the main force keeping people from simply killing each other. Hooray for capitalism, which has done more to alleviate poverty, sickness and illiteracy than just about anything, including something that we note below.
  • Immigration, free trade and global travel. Thanks to these things, our Republic enjoy a surfeit of foods, manufactured goods, arts, sciences, and friendships. Facilitated by these things, the family of Christian faith is expanded so that the people in the East and South considerably outnumber SWNID and SWNIDish neighbors in the north.
  • Altruism. Despite the constant disappointment that human nature provides, the human family continues to celebrate those who give of themselves for the sake of others and to aspire to do the same. The motive gives meaning to lives that would otherwise be lived in brutish shortness. Of course, we are confident that the impulse has little do to with the sociological and biological factors imagined by, well, sociobiologists. Rather, we affirm it as a sign that humans bear the image of their Creator, the God who gave his own life for the sake of others. Our altruism doesn't so much make the world substantially better in the big picture, though it definitely does in the small cases. Rather, it points us to the One who does offer what we comprehensively call "salvation."
  • The human condition. It's miserable all the time, but that's not all bad. People who imagine that their job, workplace, family, friends, circumstances and prospects are the worst ever need only contemplate the lives of others. Count your blessings indeed, but count the curse and be amazed that people whose lives are like yours can survive and even thrive. Put your misery in perspective, get to know the God whose strength is made perfect in weakness, and find out who in the world you are.
  • Bullet points. This typographical invention makes possible essay writing without genuine coherence, a boon to bloggers everywhere.
  • Hyperlinks. Like breadcrumbs dropped on the path but never eaten by birds, they let us follow where others have surfed before, providing an endless set of opportunities to absorb the wonders of cyberspace. But when absent, as in this posting, they unburden us from the temptation to linger too long on pointless blather.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Palin = Symbol

We assert with relief that Sarah Palin has no future as a political candidate, though she will likely run for the Republican prez nom in 2012, splitting the core Religious Right vote with the slightly less distasteful Mike Huckabee.

We assert with interest that Sarah Palin will remain a potent political symbol for both sides of the spectrum for years to come. She has the power to incite deep hatred on the left and profound affection on the right, even among many conservatives who think that she's incapable of staying afloat in the deep end of the pool.*

As a case in point, we note today's American Thinker contribution from "Robin of Berkeley," a self-styled recovering liberal and a psychotherapist. The anonymous Robin characterizes the left's treatment of Palin as a metaphorical but tangible "wilding," that is, a tactical rape designed to terrorize her and her tribe.

Along the way, the author describes her own revelation as to the true meaning of feminism for her liberal former friends who happened to be male. It was all about having women available to them for unlimited sex, she surmises.

The essay is not for the squeamish. Neither is it for the easily incited. Read it soberly, for the insights, and for the sheer novelty of seeing postmodern tropes being used against the left.

*She also has the power, like Al Gore, to turn her political failure into personal wealth. That's another subject for another time.

So, In Less Than a Year

Rasmussen shows that Obama is now in deep disapproval. Strong disapproves are at 41%; strong approves at 28%. The approval index is in double-digit negative territory for nine days in a row.

That plus Joe Lieberman's principled opposition to a "public option" portend ill for ObamaCare. Minus the public option, lefties like Feingold will bolt, and Obama lacks the skill or popularity to keep all 60 Dems in the fold.

So, a little over a year since the election and much less than a year since the inauguration, it's worth remembering that Obama was elected opposing a health-insurance mandate, a point with which he pummeled Hillary in the primaries, and with a pledge to practice post-partisan politics. So much for promises, so much for approval.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Report from China: What BHO Didn't See

WSJ Asia editor Leslie Hook reminds readers of that astute news outlet what President Obama could have visited in China but didn't: a Chinese "house" church.

The article nicely summarizes what the roughly 100 million Chinese Christians face as their loyalties contest those demanded by their very peculiar government. And it notes who is likely to win the contest:

But freedom of faith is something not even history's most repressive governments have ever been fully able to snuff out: not the Romans in their suppression of the earliest Christians; not the communists in their efforts to substitute History for God; not Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong or Kim Il Sung, who attempted to substitute themselves for God. So while Shouwang has no place to meet this coming Sunday, the church will still be there, only more deeply steeled in its faith. This is the side of China—the one Mr. Obama opted not to see—that will ultimately determine its future.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Which Lawyer Came to Work Prepared?

If we taught in law school (a personal nightmare), we'd require first-year students to watch this exchange between Attorney General Eric Holder and Senator Lindsey Graham. Then we'd ask, Which attorney would you rather be? What makes that attorney different?

The obvious answers are "Graham," and "He seems to know what he's talking about, while Holder hasn't a clue about things that should be settled."

As in someone thought things through and did his homework, while someone else didn't.

How does the Attorney General of the United States go to a Senate committee hearing, having announced civilian trials for 9/11 conspirators, and not expect to be asked what he'd do with Bin Laden? How does the Justice Department not already have a plan for Bin Laden's disposition when he's captured?

Answers, to be applied multiply and randomly to the questions above: (1) They're making it up as they go. (2) They're focused on satisfying the editorial board of The Nation, not the Congress or the electorate. (3) Despite having campaigned on Bin Laden's noncapture, they have no means or desire to effect his capture.

We really think that Holder looks like he's in over his head in this exchange. Graham is deferential to his niceness, almost as if to say that he's sorry to expose the fact that he's not really up to the job.

We're trying not to imagine the confusion behind the scenes as Justice plays out its civilian show trials while intelligence agencies wonder what they'll have to do with the next bad guy who's captured.

Harvard Med School Chief Articulates SWNIDish Position

We haven't posted much lately because so much of what's in the news is covered by prior pontifications. Today we break silence to note that others are similarly pontificating, and they're closer to actual pontiffs.

Specifically, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, who happens to be no less than Dean of Harvard Medical School (a fact with which Dr. Flier opens his article, both obviating the usual biographical note appended at the end and reinforcing the stereotype of Harvard types), opines in today's WSJ that the present state of so-called healthcare reform is deserving of a "failing grade."

For those who expect a stalwart of academe to insist that the current bills aren't trendy-lefty enough, we note the surprise that Flier objects on economic grounds. What the present reforms will do, he argues, is drive prices higher faster than would happen otherwise.

Flier offers nothing of an alternative, but he does hint as he assesses the present:

Tax policy drives employment-based insurance; this begets overinsurance and drives costs upward while creating inequities for the unemployed and self-employed. A regulatory morass limits innovation. And deep flaws in Medicare and Medicaid drive spending without optimizing care.

So the solutions ought to be to reform tax policy to decouple employment and insurance, tax overinsurance, reduce regulation, and reform Medicare and Medicaid away from payment for service. We seem to remember someone trying to do something about such things once.

Despite Flier's throwaway remarks decrying both parties' approaches to the issue, the reality is that his diagnosis would call for the kinds of actions proposed by the Bush administration and instantly torpedoed by Democrats in Congress.

Cost control and quality improvement, Flier says, can't happen when "The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value."

So the solution would be to put patients in charge of their healthcare dollars, with a financial incentive to save. Just the thing that high-deductible policies with health savings accounts would do. Which is to say the very thing that the present administration and Congress refuses to allow to continue, let alone grow. And the very thing for which Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was nearly crucified for advocating weeks ago.

Flier can't say that, apparently. He must respect the rule that people in his position not support such reactionary, right-wing ideas. But it's clear enough what must be done if his analysis has any merit at all.

We continue to think that the Obama-Pelosi initiative is doomed by its stupidity. We are heartened that some of those most deeply embedded in the institutions of the liberal establishment seem to agree.

Cultural Opportunity Not to Be Missed

Our Fair City's renowned musical assemblage, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, this weekend offers an appealing program at an appealing price.

The program is a newly composed piece followed by two chestnuts, Mozart's Fourth Violin Concerto and Brahms' Second Symphony.

The price is whatever you want to pay. They're recommending $10 per ticket, but they're accepting any amount you name.

Info on obtaining tickets is available here. And here's a little video that introduces the program from the perspective of some of they players:

Monday, November 09, 2009

And It Was Torn Down

On this anniversary of the Berlin Wall's apocalyptic destruction, we link a recording, of Ronald Reagan's remarkable 1987 speech that momentously called for that very event. The speech has been edited into three parts to conform to the time limits imposed by YouTube.

We link this extensive digest as opposed to briefer excerpts of the climactic phrase for a reason. As we look back on the democratic West's victory over Communism in the Cold War, we must reckon that the conflict was concluded successfully when Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II added to the historic strategy of containment a determination to roll back the oppression of Communist regimes that were both morally evil and politically rotten.

Reagan's delivery is clear, though betraying some fatigue. He muddles the German phrases, though they are received warmly by his audience. But he delivers not just a call to destroy the wall but an assertion of his core political values: that freedom is both right morally and pragmatic economically. The West was strong because freedom makes its citizens strong and prosperous, while the Communist bloc was weak because oppression makes people weak and poor.

That didn't mean confrontation alone. It meant diplomacy, and most of the speech is about possible diplomatic moves. But it was the aim of the diplomacy that never wavered: Reagan proposed diplomacy not simply to keep the peace but to promote liberty. Avoiding hostility was by itself far too small a goal to channel Reagan's idealism.

And so here is the speech, in three parts:

As a coda,we note that WSJ carries today a there-at-the-creation essay by one of Reagan's speechwriters, noting how the President himself championed the inclusion of the four words that Foggy Bottom sought to excise.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Why Is Tonight Different from All Other Nights?

For a range of conservative punditry on today's extremely off-year elections, we recommend NRO's symposium.

The consensus: conservatives will mostly win, demonstrating the backlash against Big Government and a return to core conservative values.

The advice: Rs need to be conservatives but remain big-tent conservatives.

The likely buzz: mainstream media will either ignore conservative victories or see them as problematic for the GOP, constraining the party from moving left where it ought to be. Such is demonstrable nonsense.

Our meta-punditry: the United States remains an inherently conservative nation that occasionally flirts with the Left. Why? The Left appealingly addresses objectives sought by all people while providing means that semmingly bypass the hard stuff. But after the flirtation, cold reality takes hold and restores the notion that virtuous means are needed to achieve virtuous ends. We have our flirtations, but in the end we come back home.

Electoral Guide Update

ITEM: We urgently update our previous endorsements to note that CPS school board candidate Chris McDowell does indeed have a web site, located here. Mr. McDowell phoned us to leave the message.

We commend him as a reader of this highly influential blog, even if such reading is prompted only by Google Blog Alerts.

We also urge the League of Women Voters to get its thing together and list all candidates' web sites on their avowedly nonpartisan voters' guide web site.

ITEM: Where does Mayor Mark Mallory dine on Election Day? For breakfast, he dines at the Queensgate Frisch's. Enjoying a meal there with a visiting missionary of significant impact, we spied the mayor making his entrance, later sharing some pleasant, neighborly conversation as we exited. Those who infer from his assignment of a police body guard that the Mayor travels with an entourage are simply goofy. Entering with two associates, he walked through a restaurant where he was clearly accepted as ordinary by the serving staff, altogether unheralded, un guarded and unconcerned.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Finally, Something Happens Politically

We've blogged once it two weeks because, near as we can tell, the world has barely turned in that time. All that's happened is that Democrats have introduced more healthcare bills that promise everything, cost a king's ransom and will accomplish little; the economy has moved sideways; diplomacy has gone nowhere despite the high esteem in which the present POTUS is universally held; and Obama has dithered still further over what to do in Afghanistan.

But today something happened. Leftish Republican Dede Scozzafava, nominated by NY GOP Brahmans to run in a district historically Republican but going for BHO in 2008, was fading in a three-way race against an undistinguished Dem and a conservative challenger. Having started with a decent lead, she had recently fallen to about 20% support in the polls, with Hoffman, the conservative, even with the Dem at about 35%.

So today, Scozzafava bowed out, releasing her supporters. Odds are now overwhelming for Hoffman, effectively the de facto Republican nominee, to win.

This could be big for lots of reasons. It should spell the end of Republicans looking center-left to restore the party to parity. It should spell the end of mainstream pundits insisting that conservatism is dead. It should be scored a victory for Sarah Palin, who stumped for the conservative Hoffman and was derided by some insiders for breaking with party discipline.

With Rs likely to ascend to the governor's mansion in Virginia and possibly in New Jersey, this looks like a good week for getting the Reagan Revolution back in gear. Seems that the exile may have lasted as little as twelve months.

And Frank Rich looks hopelessly, utterly stupid, having just predicted that the three-way would decimate the Rs through 2010 and beyond. Ever the thoughtful, considerate guy, Rich referred to Hoffman's supporters as "GOP Stalinists." Funny, Frankie!

SWNIDish Voter Guide for November 2009

All politics is local, especially in an odd-numbered year. As a service to our readers desperate for Seldom-Wrong guidance for Tuesday's election, we hereby instruct on how to vote SWNIDishly.

As always, we offer instruction on how to vote if one's ballot is identical to SWNID's. Those who face different choices will have to infer guidance. We regret that we can't know quite everything.

For purposes of suspense, we will begin with the lowly but important Cincinnati Public School Board, move to Cincinnati City Council, then address the Cincinnati mayoral race before concluding with this year's portentous ballot initiatives.

Cincinnati Public School Board
The seven-member school board this year elects four of its members. As usual, the choice is between denizens of the education establishment and advocates of data-driven change. School board elections tend to be name-recognition exercises, so it's vital that voters who aim for more than the status quo avoid returning incumbents whose records belie claims to innovation.

This year's election includes three incumbents: Melanie Bates, Catherine Ingram and Eileen Cooper Reed. We endorse none of these.

Bates has lurked around Cincinnati politics and Cincinnati schools for years, managing a couple of wins in local elections. Her record has always suggested someone who hears the sizzle but can't locate the steak. The ability to see past buzzwords is vital in education. Bates doesn't. Don't vote Bates.

Catherine Ingram is a long-time board member distinguished by a severe inability to act purposefully. Recent revelations that she owes back taxes are not surprising, given the chaotic persona she presents to the public. Ingram has displayed no consistent educational philosophy, no special contribution to CPS policy-making, and no progress in mastering the details of her job. Don't vote Ingram.

Eileen Cooper Reed demonstrates considerably more savvy and moxie than her incumbent counterparts, having ascended to board president in short order. What she also demonstrates is a commitment to old-school thinking about schools. As former local director of the Children's Defense Fund, she has acted just as one would expect with such a background. Though a more competent member than the other incumbents, we have little confidence in her educational philosophy. So it's a no to Reed as well.

We urge instead a strong vote for three newcomers who are committed to thoughtful innovation and fiscal responsibility. All are committed to the notion that schools are institutions consisting not just of teachers and students but also of parents. They are:

  • Mary Welsh Schlueter: a mom, businessperson, and thoughtful student of public school education. With a strong background educationally and experientially, she'll raise the standard of discussion on the board.
  • Christopher Ray "Chris" McDowell: a veteran, lawyer, dad and school volunteer. McDowell's experience and commitments portend strong potential as a team member to spur continued innovation.
  • John Banner: lawyer and fiscal-responsibility hawk. Banner also brings an A+ resume to the board.
So why only three endorsements? We don't see a fourth who stands out. Given the lack of muscle behind McDowell's and Banner's candidacies (Banner has o web site that we can locate; McDowell is endorsed by the Republicans, which doesn't portend positively in a CPS board election), and given the likelihood that incumbents will be returned to the board, the better electoral strategy is not to empower a mediocre candidate with the fourth vote. There's a very marginally better chance that one of these candidates will be elected if SWNIDish voters do not dilute their votes by doing eenie-meenie-minie-moe for the fourth, who just might get past the post ahead of a better choice.

Cincinnati City Council
Council had seemed a happier place for a few months after the previous election. But for the last year, Mayor Mallory's reliance on a five-member majority has ended the brief period of rationality amidst a fifteen-year cycle of rancor. We therefore recommend strongly against votes for any members of Mallory's current majority, with one exception.

Incumbents who have the dreaded SWNIDish un-endorsement are Greg Harris, Laketa Cole and Roxanne Qualls. All stand on the wrong side of nearly every issue. Harris represents the cynical politics of City Hall: appointed to fill out the unfinished term of term-limited John Cranley, he was anointed by local Ds to fill the seat to gain name recognition as an "incumbent" who has never before been elected. Qualls' perennial popularity remains one of the great mysteries of local politics. A poor public speaker and advocate of nothing in particular except business as usual, she seems to coast along with a persona as the nice white lady on council. Cole, by contrast, has been a move and shaker, consistently moving and shaking in directions that don't improve the city. All are part of the mayor's majority; all get the Curse of SWNID.

Newcomers getting the un-endorsement are Laurie Quinlivan, Wendell Young, Bernadette Watson, and Anita Brockman. Quinlivan promises to be Mallory's lap dog. Young is a perennial Democrat also-ran also pledged to do the mayor's bidding uncritically. Watson is a longtime behind-the-scenes politician who doubtless owes a bundle of favors to the Democrat establishment. Brockman is one of those fanciful candidates who illustrate the limits of democracy: when anyone can run, anyone sometimes will.

Repeat-offender Charlie Winburn, inexplicably beloved by the Hamilton County Republican establishment, also gets our un-endorsement. The peripatetic, chattery, self-promoting Winburn has discredited both political conservatism with his showboating politics and the Christian gospel with his personality-driven church. If Cincinnati is to be a civilized place, Winburn needs to be as far from power as possible.

So whom do we endorse? The nod goes to the following eclectic mix:
  • Chris Monzel, a principled Republican incumbent who understands deeply that to be attractive, Cincinnati needs safety and low taxes.
  • Leslie Ghiz, for whom we hold our nose as a not-overtly-religious version of Winburn but who manages to speak up for a few things that make sense.
  • Cecil Thomas, a loyal member of the mayor's majority who continues to strike us as a decent, thoughtful guy.
  • Kevin Flynn, whose personal story (paralyzed in an accident, rehabilitated at Drake Hospital, now chairman of Drake's board) and open-minded nonpartisanship urge that he be given a try.
  • Amy Murray, an opponent of bad stuff like streetcars.
  • LaMarque Ward, a guy who grew up in poverty, grew out of despair with mentoring by some fine gentlemen, and now stands poised to speak truth and hope to the portion of the city that needs it most, notably promoting virtue as the solution to social problems.
  • Chris Bortz, a well-connected incumbent who hasn't marched in step with the mayor's majority but speaks a language understood by people who energize economic development.
  • Jeff Berding, who earned an un-endorsement from the Hamilton County Democrats for opposing the mayor, a badge of honor if ever there was one.
That's eight. We again recommend reserving the ninth vote for no one, not just anyone. If just five of these folks are elected, the world will be a better place.

Cincinnati Mayor
To the dismay of many but the surprise of none, we endorse incumbent mayor Mark Mallory, and not just because he's a good neighbor.

First, we insist that we disapprove of Mallory's unseemly reliance on a five-member council majority with the deliberate exclusion of the other four members. That's nasty politics that is unlikely to temper bad decision-making.

We also decry his enthusiasm for the streetcar. Maybe in the seven fat years one can spend a fifth of a billion dollars to move people a couple of miles, but not in times like these. Save the experiment for later, Mr. Mayor.

We note, however, that Cincinnati is a palpably better place than when Mallory took office. Crime statistics show obvious improvement, though a city like Cincinnati may never be a haven of peace and goodwill. Economically the city seems to be no worse than many Midwestern metropolises and is no longer the pariah it became after the riots earlier in the decade. Mallory has shown significant ability to restore confidence that the city can be governed by doing it with reasonable effectiveness.

We also note that Mallory can move with the majority if the majority moves. His main experience is as a legislator who builds coalitions. He can work just about any agenda set by the political realities of the moment.

Most importantly, however, the alternative is simply awful. Brad Westrup is a veteran, a physician, and by all reports a good citizen. But he's as bad a politician as we've seen, just about ever. An inarticulate, fidgety public speaker bathed in more flop sweat than Al Gore, he projects no discernible leadership from the podium. Still more awful are his positions. A Republican, he is nevertheless enthusiastic about casino gambling in Cincinnati. Allegedly a fiscal conservative, he says he'd use unreliable casino revenue to support operating expenses, not to provide for capital improvements, thereby perpetuating the city's budget problems. Worst of all, he's pledged not to cut police officers to balance the budget unless he gets the FOP's approval. Ceding fiscal control to a public employees' union, even if it is the one beloved by Republicans seeking local office, is as irresponsible a move as we can imagine.

We want Mallory's political skills at work with a new council majority, not Westrup's haplessness at the mercy of nine un-led egos.

Ballot Initiatives
Briefly, here's how to vote on the burgeoning list of referenda.

  • Issue 1--Bonds to Fund Veteran Compensation: No. We dearly appreciate the work of our Armed Forces, but this is a political gimmick. The common defense is a federal matter, and the state budget doesn't need an additional burden of providing additional benefits.
  • Issue 2--State Livestock Board: Yes. The alternative seems to be standards set by vegan activists. Protect the economic viability of agriculture in Ohio.
  • Issue 3--Casinos. A thousand times No! Gambling is a tax on the inability to do math. It encourages the notion that wealth is had by luck, not productive work and thrift. It brings no economic benefit, as reflected by its exclusion in GDP calculations. Sadly, this will pass, but all will come to rue the day.
  • Issues 4 through 7: Local Levies for Public Health, MRDD, Union Terminal and the Public Library. Yes for all. These are pillars of the local community supported by fair and relatively cheap taxes.
  • Issue 8: Require a Referendum for a Water District. No. Rightly done a water district can improve prospects for local development. And it's dumb to clutter the charter with all these required referenda. See next Issue.
  • Issue 9: Require a Referendum for Rail. No. We oppose the streetcar initiative for economic reasons. But this is a stupid way to deal with it. Vote for a sensible city council instead, and if this council votes wrong, vote in another in two years that will stop the mess.
  • Issue 52: Cincinnati Public Schools levy. Yes. This is not an increase, y'all, but a renewal. CPS has enormous flaws but compares favorably to other urban districts. Don't vote no out of anger for the lack of vouchers or other nonpublic alternatives. Vote yes to allow the thing to function at least as well as it does at present until a better alternative is politically viable.
For more local election fun, check out the League of Women Voters and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kook Exchange Update

The AP reports that the Amazing Grace Baptist Church of western North Carolina, pastored by one Marc Grizzard, will hold a book burning on Halloween night.

That's ordinary weirdness for a few churches on the radical fringe of fundamentalism. But this exercise is special: the books will include non-KJV translations of the Bible plus contemporary Christian music and books by such authors as Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

The AP describes the church as "small." That detail could probably have been assumed.

We note this story on the way to a moral exhortation. Such Christians are ridiculous, of course. They make Christianity easy to vilify, at least for those anti-Christians unable to concede that every group has its nut cases.

They also make easy objects of scorn for saner Christians who resent the kooks' absurd perversion of the faith. On this particular case we open the scorn by wondering aloud whether the book burning will include editions of the Greek New Testament or Hebrew Bible, or whether translations of the Bible into languages other than Jacobean English will be burned as well.

We call such folks easy objects of scorn for Christians because we've known more than a few bright, thoughtful, engaged Christians who become enormously preoccupied with scorning Christian kooks. Some want to find the effective "defeater" arguments for such characters, especially KJV-only types, as if one can argue effectively with folk who have staked their position in the absurdly irrational. Others are devoted to chronicling in detail the escapades of notorious figures like Jack Chick, Fred Phelps, and others of their ilk.

We find neither exercise helpful. The best way in our view (and in our view our view is always the best way) for Christians to respond to the embarrassingly insane members of the ecclesial family (and they aren't all on the so-called "right") is simply to ignore them. They glory in their shame, or to state it without the allusion, they enjoy the attention and ridicule they receive, regardless of the source. Being persecuted for obnoxiousness' sake is what they're all about. They're like kids who only get attention if they misbehave, so they misbehave a lot.

We know of no effective response to kooky narcissism except to starve it of attention. That's why this blog doesn't deal in constant updates on the escapades of extreme fundies or other fringes of Christianity. We hesitate to comment when their shenanigans garner even our momentary attention for reasons of exceptional oddness or notoriety. We recommend the same to others.

Update on Reich

Robert Reich has responded on his blog (don't be deceived by its cosmetic similarity to the SWNIDish blog, gentle readers!) to the circulation of an audacious audio clip, noted previously on this blog. We will take the unusual step of quoting in full to note that, despite his attempt to excoriate "the Right" for its use of his statement, what Reich still affirms is that he is stating the truth about so-called healthcare reform. Emphasis is inserted.

Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Rush, and the right-wing blogosphere seem interested in a talk I gave in September, 2007 to students in a political science class here at Berkeley, in which I played the role of a presidential candidate so politically incorrect and tone-deaf as to pummel every sacred cow in sight -- including the notion that our society could afford and would continue forever to pay whatever amount of money was required to keep everyone alive forever. The whole point of the mock exercise was to show that presidential candidates can't state what everyone knows to be the truth because they'll be taken apart by the Right or the Left. I slew many other sacred cows in that mock exercise, some of which are held dearly by the Left. Nonetheless, two years later the Right has exhumed the lecture and taken my words completely out of context purportedly to show that Obama and the Democrats plan death panels.

If their desperation weren't so pathetic it would be funny. After all, they have proven the whole point of my lecture. UC Berkeley maintains an archive of webcasts and my speech is available there verbatim, should you wish to listen to it in its entirety.
Well, Mr. Reich, the point that you say was "included" is certainly the point that we understood from the clip, that it amounts to sacrificing a sacred cow of the Left, and that you were telling truths that politicians don't want to talk about. How circulating this clip constitutes taking your "words completely out of context" is beyond my ability, as someone who studies the interpretation of words and belongs to a religious tradition that alternately takes words out of context and decries the same, to comprehend.

If your desperation weren't so pathetic, it would be funny. We borrow that hackneyed insult from you, by the way, simply because we've heard it so often in your radio commentaries.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Santa Comes Early for Social Security

The headline says it all: "Obama Calls for $250 Payments to Seniors."

Since the CPI measures no inflation this year, Social Security checks will not increase. The awfulness of that prompts our President to give grandma and grandpa an extra $250 to use at their discretion.

Naturally, since the federal budget is flush with cash, $13 billion is inconsequential, a mere bag of shells" in the immortal words of TV's Ralph Kramden. And with full employment and significant wage growth in the last year, seniors deserve the raise that the rest of America has already received.

That means that grandchildren can expect to receive not a $5 bill but a $10 bill in their birthday cards, casinos can expect higher revenues on slots, and restaurants can expect early-bird patrons to order dessert.

Up next: the President appoints a czar to regulate allowances for America's teenagers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama Loses Friends, Likely Also Healthcare Bill

A major accounting firm, hired by a consortium of health insurance providers, does the projected math on the Baucus healthcare bill (still not actually released for anyone to read). They conclude the obvious: bringing additional people into the system, not allowing exclusion of pre-existing conditions, mandating coverage of all kinds of services with little or no out-of-pocket cost, mandating no preferential premiums for healthy individuals--all that will raise the cost of health insurance considerably.

Democrats cry that the study is flawed. They say it didn't take into account things like subsidies. The authors of the study acknowledge that they didn't take subsidies into account. Their point is that the unsubsidized cost of insurance will rise considerably, as everyone who thinks through the math has realized already. And since subsidies amount to taxing the money from some people to give it to others, the subsidy doesn't change the cost, just who pays it.

Recall that the Democrats have periodically demonized health insurance providers to make their case. This was a clever, if cynical, political move. No one likes their insurance company. Premiums are always too high, payouts are always too low, and you have to fight like the dickens to get them to give you what you ought to have.

Well, that's natural. Insurance companies have to stay solvent, and they can't do that by charging premiums that don't cover their risks or by paying out benefits that exceed covered losses. It's not profits that make insurance companies that way: mutual companies operate without paying dividends to shareholders, and they're no more loved than for-profit companies. It's simple arithmetic that makes them mean.

And that's just as true when the government runs the show. Eventually--as the present budget mess reminds us--even government must live by the math.

So, back to the beginning: it's acutely obvious that giving more stuff to more people will cost more. There is no magic bank of "waste and abuse" that can be instantly tapped to make up the difference. And there's only so much of other people's money to pay for all this.

While we're rambling, we'll note again what makes this matter especially difficult. Health insurance is different from property insurance. There's a clear limit to the value of my car or house. But as far as I'm concerned, my health and life are priceless. My insurance company is justified in paying out only what my car is worth if it's totaled. But if they put a price on my life, well, I'm going to be pretty angry. And I won't care whether it's Blue Cross or Humana or Health and Human Services that does that.

This, by the way, is not to say that nothing will be right until we can spend everything we want to spend on healthcare. It is a grim reminder that what's wrong with the system is that you can't always get what you want, especially if you expect a third party to pay for it.

Back to the study. We think this is another death knell for ObamaCare. To quote the Gray Lady:

The vehemence of the reaction from the White House and Congressional Democrats also reflects a concern about public opinion. If millions of people with insurance conclude that their premiums will go up, that could undermine chances for passage of comprehensive legislation.

Yep. The majority of folk like what they've got and will fight like demons to make sure it doesn't cost them more. This is another indication that the end of the line is near.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

BBC, World's Biggest Climate-Change Promoter, Issues a "Never Mind"

Guess what the warmest year on record was? 2008? Try subtracting 10.

That's a problem to the Infallible Doctrine of Global Warming, and is being acknowledged by the "climate correspondent" of the BBC.

For those who lack the background, the BBC was among the first big media outlets to begin promoting the notion that CO2 will bake us. SWNID recalls, for example, a dramatic documentary aired on the tax-subsidized network in the late 1980s.

As the Telegraph's Damien Thompson notes, this is a turnaround of enormous proportion. One will still hear dire warnings that this is a temporary lull before the final, awful collapse of global climate. Indeed, such are included in the BBC piece.

But the facts are certainly growing more difficult daily to square with the hypothesis.

This, of course, raises the question whether the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize can be revoked.

So it would appear that this man might be feeling the chill.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Reich Says What an "Honest Politician" Would Say

Does everyone remember Robert Reich, Clintonista who allegedly has Obama's ear on healthcare? This snippet of audio was recorded in September 2007 at UC Berkeley, where Reich holds forth in the classroom.

An Interesting Take on the Nobel

With trepidation we link Rush Limbaugh, the formerly amusing and now ranting voice of conservatism, for his distinct interpretation of the Obamnobel:

Of course, this approach didn't work with Arafat, so we'll have to see. With a max of 60k troops needed additionally to anti-insurgentify Afghanistan, the cost will be high enough as it is. Pursuing the legacy of the Nobel may be just what tips the scales of presidential decision-making.

Meanwhile, even Mickey Kaus says that Obama should politely decline. This is not a good day for the President, who now must deal with the obvious disparity between his most ardent supporters' ardor and the reality of the present.

By the way, anybody remember when Ken Griffey, Jr. was selected for baseball's All-Century Team, ahead of Reggie Jackson and with more votes than Stan Musial? Prematurely awarded prizes are not feel-good occasions for the recipient, who has to live the rest of his life in light of the prize.

Obama's Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize

Using the SWNIDish Time Machine, we have gone Back to the Future to record President Obama's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize:

Members of the Nobel Prize Committee and distinguished guests.

I humbly and gratefully receive this distinguished prize for promoting peace among the world's peoples. The Nobel Peace Prize carries prestige unmatched by any other award. I know that my friend Al Gore treasures his even more than the Oscar he was awarded the same year. If Yasser Arafat were here, I'm sure he would say that he treasured his even more than the lives of the innocents whose deaths he directed in countless terrorist strikes, but I suppose that goes without saying.

When I say that I receive the prize humbly, I must acknowledge what was preemptively highlighted by the Saturday Night Live skit that aired a scant six days before this prize was announced. The truth is, my administration presently has no accomplishments that promote world peace. At the time the prize was announced, my major accomplishment was inducing Congress to pass a massive spending bill aimed at economic stimulus. With a total of nine million jobs now lost in the American economy, that bill can be seen as indirectly contributing to world peace, as the American Armed Forces, doubtless the greatest force for peace in the world over the last century, now find it easier to recruit, though we may be unable to afford to equip them.

Still, my nomination was made a scant two weeks after my inauguration. And so I ask with the world, why was I nominated, let alone selected, for this most prestigious of prizes? Arizona State University, a distinguished institution of higher education but hardly the most elite in my country, declined to award me an honorary degree when I spoke at their commencement ceremony last spring, saying that such awards ought to be based on accomplishments. What exactly have I accomplished?

In awarding this prize, the committee cited my support for a multilateral approach to diplomacy, including institutions like the UN. While I acknowledge that such is the case, I aver that such has been the case for American presidents since the dawn of the previous century. The United States has championed such efforts, even when they worked against American interests, as even the most cursory examination of US involvement in the United Nations will demonstrate. While roundly criticized for his unilateralism, my predecessor, George W. Bush, deliberately sought and received UN approval for action against the brutal dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, whose threats to humanity, now proved largely empty except as concerned his own nation, were nevertheless understood by the global intelligence community to be very real at the time. Mr. Bush was also distinguished for his multilateralism in response to North Korea's nuclear arms program, albeit a fruitless multilateralism; his outreach to India, a nation striving to live at peace with grave internal difficulties and graver threats from its neighbor; his exceptional response to the AIDS crisis in Africa; and his building of trust with allies in Latin America.

Certainly if the Nobel Prize were awarded by the Australians, the Czechs, the Poles or other small nations continually active with the United States in a forward-looking global alliance to promote liberty, the award would be given differently.

Nevertheless, I am sure that I can identify the thing which you cite as my restoration of hope for peace through international institutions. The truth is, I am not George W. Bush. Indeed, the clearest platform of my campaign was to be the anti-Bush. I owed my electoral victory in large part to convincing independent voters that John McCain represented a mere continuation of Bush's policies which had uniformly failed. Winning the election, I became the fulfillment of the Nobel committee's dream, shared by other elites in the West, to unseat the "cowboy." Never comfortable with the clear articulation of ideals and their vigorous pursuit globally, the Nobel committee, representing the perspective of elite classes in a small, homogeneous nation with little global influence, supports the mere participation of national leaders, no matter their aims and no matter the outcomes, in diplomatic dialogue.

And so, Yasser Arafat received the prize after concluding accords negotiated in Oslo, the very city where today we are gathered. Yet at the moment he received the prize, groups ostensibly under Arafat's command were waging an ongoing campaign of terror aimed at targets utterly without military significance--buses, pizzerias and discotheques. But he talked and signed. He did what the prize rewards in its worst years.

Of course, I had not even talked and signed when nominated, and I had done little more than offer speeches by the time my award was announced. Must we look elsewhere for the reason my award was given?

A distinguished Nobel laureate--and yes, many have been distinguished--is Elie Wiesel, whose tireless campaigning for the rights of the oppressed justify an award for achievement in the pursuit of peace. Interviewed after my award was announced, Mr. Wiesel affirmed that I was deserving of the award for a reason different than the one cited by the Nobel committee. He said that my election was a singular achievement for peace because it represented the reversal of centuries of oppression of black people in the United States.

To this analysis, I can heartily agree. It is true that my election is utterly remarkable in that respect. The United States has not eliminated racism. Little suggests than tribal hatreds will ever be eliminated, though they must always be opposed. But by electing a black man as President, the United States has said to the world that a new birth of freedom has indeed arrived.

Who, then, should be credited with this accomplishment? While I am at its center, I am responsible for it only insofar as I used my gifts and skills to lead what proved to be an effective political campaign.

What made my election possible were the efforts of countless Americans of all colors who came before me. Even before it became a nation, America struggled to resolve its democratic ideals and its racist heritage. For generations, the ideals lost out. It took decades of persuasion, a bloody civil war, the casualties from which dwarfed those of America's other armed conflicts, and generations more of struggle to realize this moment that demonstrates the self-evident truth that all people are created equal. I stand where I am at this moment in that line of history not because of my own efforts but because of those who have worked for hundreds of years to bring that ideal to reality.

Who, then, deserves this award? Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. If they could, we could name many who engaged in this struggle: William Penn, John Adams, William Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Branch Rickey, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen. Indeed, these can be rightly said to have shared the award given to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose accomplishments dwarf my own and those of most who have received the Peace Prize.

But I stand here not simply because of those great leaders. I stand here because the American people have in large measure set aside the terrible, dehumanizing legacy of racism to act on their ideals of equal dignity, rights and opportunity for all people. How many voted for me for that reason alone? Perhaps no more than the residual racists who voted against me because of my color. But clearly enough, the American people have transformed themselves according to the finest part of their heritage.

So I say to the Nobel committee and to all gathered here today: this prize honors not one American but America. It honors a nation that, though possessing the wealth and might to oppress the world for a century, has instead sought to liberate it. It honors a nation that, though once economically and socially dependent on the oppression of a caste of its people, continues to reform itself to attain genuine equality without caste. It honors a nation founded not on kinship but ideals, that has in its finest moments opened itself to the world's people as a place of opportunity and has promoted by every means at its disposal liberty among other nations. It honors a nation that is the finest product of the Western tradition, whose ideals are now embraced by peoples of every global tradition.

Finally, I urge the Nobel committee to wake up and smell the fair-trade coffee. By nominating me, you have acted in a way that confirms the stereotypes of European elites, American media talking-heads and limousine liberals--in sum, of the global left wing. Critics on the right accuse the left of caring entirely about style and nothing about substance. It has been said that those who dislike stereotypes must not reinforce them. This award has done that very thing, thereby further polarizing global politics, something that will not promote the effective pursuit of genuine peace.

Of course, you are not alone. A distinguished television network "fact checked" the SNL skit that parodied the very point that I have acknowledged, that my accomplishments are still few. Retailers are refusing to sell the whimsical Chia Pet in my likeness, part of a series honoring America and its leaders. If a public figure is so reverenced that he stands even above harmless parody, what will be the outcome of his influence? Can people live as equals if the powerful are not subject to ridicule? Peace without parody? May it never be!

Postscript: "It's as if the Nobel Committee gave Obama the award for behaving like a normal American president, instead of like a clueless corrupt cowboy." (from The Nation [!]).