Archive | Politics

Left/Right bloggers agree: Economy will be top issue in 2010. Disagree on WH war on Fox

This week’s National Journal poll of political bloggers asked “What will be the top two issues in the midterm elections?” Enormous majorities on both the Left and the Right picked “Economy/jobs” as the expected top issue. On the Left, “health care reform” came in second, far ahead of the third-place “deficit/big government.” The issues of Afghanistan and Cap & Trade were very far behind. The picks on the Right were similar, expect that “deficit/government” was the choice for 2d place, with health care in third.

I wrote: “All these will be big, but the ballooning deficit and the unemployment rate will probably be of interest to the largest number of voters. Afghanistan/cap-and-trade/health care will probably motivate lots of base activists from both sides.”

The second question was “On balance, does the White House’s decision to take on Fox News help or hurt President Obama?” Eighty-seven percent of the Left, but only 18% of the Right thought it helped. I was among them: “It turns out that all those folks with ‘dissent is patriotic’ bumper stickers who worried about the president trying to shut down criticism were just a little ahead of their time. Obama’s stature is diminished in the short run, but Fox’s reporting is so harmful to the WH (Van Jones, Anita Dunn, etc.) that they may have figured some short-term cost is worth it if they can convince the more pliant folks in the MSM not to follow up those stories.” [...]

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Fat acceptance in NJ Governor Race

The Fat Acceptance Movement may have a new hero. Tubby Republican nominee Chris Christie is now pushing back against imperially thin Democratic Governor Jon Corzine’s campaign theme making fun of Christie’s heft. Christie criticizes Corzine for his recent, implausible, assertions that Corzine never raised the weight issue: “If you’re going to do it, at least man up and say I’m fat…Afterwards he wusses out and says ‘no, no, no. I didn’t mean that I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Man up. If you say I’m fat, I’m fat. Let’s go. Let’s talk about it.” Asked if a governor needs to set a good example, Christie retorts, “I am setting an example…We have to spur our economy. Dunkin Donuts, International House of Pancakes, those people need to work too.”

Smart move by Christie, since his sense of humor about himself softens his prosecutorial image (which independent candidate Chris Daggett has exploited in TV commercials) as an angry guy whose solution to everything is putting somebody in prison. For the still-undecided voters (a group which tends to be ill-informed about politics), Christie’s quips show him as a guy who knows who he is, and who does not take himself overly seriously, who admits his own weaknesses, and who has a sense of humor. [...]

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Who is behind today’s anti-banker demonstrations? The usual suspects


(photo from

During Tuesday’s lunch program at CNBC, anchor Bill Griffith asked who was behind the demonstrations at the American Bankers Association meetings in Chicago. The answer is clear: SEIU and a coalition of organizations, many of which are related with ACORN or that have commonly partnered with ACORN over the years.

A few weeks ago, I was solicited to participate in today’s demonstration by a robocall. (My guess is that I was selected because I am a registered Democrat –- perhaps also because I live in a zip code with a large African-American population and a history of ACORN-related organizing.)

Given the option of endorsing the effort or learning more, I chose learning more. The robocall then revealed that I was being solicited by the SEIU Illinois Council.

The phone call then directed me to a website run by a coalition that included several organizations related to ACORN or run by former ACORN officials. (In Illinois, for example, ACORN mostly shut down in 2008, with many of its members moving over to Action Now.) The head of SEIU Illinois Council (the group that took credit for my robocall) is Tom Balanoff, the labor leader who was so close to Obama that he was chosen as Blagojevich’s go-between in Blagojevich’s effort to shake down the Obama team. One of the improper proposals that Blagojevich floated was a job at Change to Win, another of the organizations that is sponsoring today’s demonstrations against bankers. Another sponsor is Citizen Action, the organization that received a large, suspicious payment from the Obama campaign.

A week after the phone call, I received a letter in the mail that began:


Dear Voter:

Thank you for agreeing to join the thousands of people from around the country to tell the American Bankers Association—Enough

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A Transaction Tax on Financial Transactions?

The Wall Street Journal has a new story from over the weekend on Democratic proposals, in Congress and the administration and from outside groups, to impose a tax on financial transactions (John D. McKinnon, Democrats Weigh Tax on Financial Transactions, WSJ, October 10, 2009):

Taxing financial transactions on Wall Street is gathering support in high places.

With federal budget deficits soaring, policy makers and other advocates are eyeing the huge sums that could be raised as a way to cover the costs of new initiatives.

Labor unions, in particular the AFL-CIO, have proposed a financial-transactions tax as a way to defray costs of a health-care overhaul. Lawmakers have discussed a similar fee as a way to cover the cost of future financial oversight. Liberal advocates are pushing the tax to pay for new stimulus spending.

Financial transactions taxes, whether on the US domestic level or the often-proposed international “Tobin tax,” are sometimes described simply as broad based revenue raisers, and sometimes described as ways of deliberately slowing down the movement and flow of capital.  As a revenue raiser, one current proposal operates this way:

This week, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute floated the idea of a national transaction tax that would raise $100 billion to $150 billion a year. The tax, at a rate of 0.1% to 0.25% of the value of the trade, would be levied on all financial transactions such as stock trades, but not on consumer transactions such as with credit cards.

The money would be used initially to pay for temporary aid to states, hiring incentives for public- and private-sector employers and school construction money.

“We are in a difficult time right now, so people are looking at every opportunity to gain some revenue to fund” new initiatives, said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.), a

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The psychology of prizes

Obama’s Nobel Prize brought to mind a vaguely remembered line in a novel by Thomas Bernhard (I think it was Wittgenstein’s Nephew but only because that is the only novel of his I remember reading) to the effect that nothing is as humiliating as being given a prize.  Bernhard was famously splenetic, as were the anti-heroes of his novels, but that line stuck in my head because it had the ring of truth.  Virtually everyone with any sense recognizes that Obama’s prize was an embarrassment, including Obama himself:

I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize, men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

It’s one thing to be modest about one’s accomplishments, but few people who win prizes actually say they don’t deserve them.  In doing so, one casts doubt on the judgment of the prize committee and hence the merits of the other prize winners—which can only come across as a monstrous act of ingratitude—and diminishes oneself as well.  But Obama had no alternative; he could not claim that he deserved the prize because no one outside the prize committee believes that his accomplishments compare with those who have won it.  To accept the prize without qualification would come across as megalomania of the first order.  (Just imagine the ridicule and incomprehension that would have greeted any suggestion that Obama deserved the prize if it had been made by anyone prior to the announcement of the award.)

Obama did not reject the prize, of course.  His equivocal response—accepting the prize but declaring that he does not deserve to be in the company of the people who did deserve it, and treating [...]

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Obama Administration Considering Tax Credits for New Hires

On the New York Times Caucus blog, John Harwood revealed that the Obama Administration is considering “a new package of tax cuts and other job creation measures.”

Privately, Mr. Obama’s economic advisers are sifting options for a new package of tax cuts and other job creation measures to be unveiled in next year’s State of the Union address — or earlier if pressure for action becomes irresistible.

On CNBC at about 1:01 ET, John Harwood explained his cryptic comments by saying that among the proposals being considered are “tax credits for new hires.”

Imagine you are a small businessperson thinking about adding an employee. Should you hire now — or wait until next February to see if you can get a tax credit for hiring that person.

If employers become like American car buyers waiting for the next round of industry rebates or government give-aways, then the employment picture will deteriorate further.

It’s not hard to see how to promote employment: lower FICA taxes for everyone — immediately. [...]

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They Made a Multilateralism and Called It Peace

The Obama UN speeches and appearances last week have caused some comment among conservatives along the lines of President Obama simply wanting the US to be ‘one among the guys’ of nations.  Andrew Ferguson picks up this notion in his Weekly Standard commentary this week, and it’s been around other places, too, including Richard Fernandez and other commentators.  I think it’s basically right, and is one of the basic motivations behind Obama administration proclamations of of “multilateralism.”  Multilateralism – well, I suspect a number of the world’s leaders (even if not their peoples so far), both our enemies and our friends, are drawing the correct conclusion that, to the Obama administration, it means … to lay down the burdens, mouth the same words as everyone else, and quit having to bear the costs of providing the essentials of the global security system.  Go along, get along.  Iran might force a change of direction, but quite possibly not.

I’ve been talking about this for quite a while, in alas unread academic papers that languish in backwaters of the internet (SSRN, I mean), so you’ll just have to forgive me for quoting myself.  Note to everyone:  As with all my prose, the full papers are well worth reading.  Also a review-essay on the history of the United Nations that appeared in an excellent literary review, La Revista de Libros which, while very well circulated and the publisher of some of the finest literary prose in the contemporary Spanish language, does, however, publish out of Madrid and in Spanish:

Be wary, O Europe, above all, of liberal internationalist Americans bearing gifts of multilateralism.  An America that does not assert, rudely and brusquely, its own interests and views first through Nato and elsewhere, an America that sings sweet songs of multilateral interdependence is, surely,

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On the Criticism of Obama for Going to Copenhagen

I have been surprised at some of the criticism of President Obama for going to Copenhagen to lobby for the Olympics. Few commentators bother noting that, had Obama NOT gone to Copenhagen, many would have been blamed him for Chicago’s losing its bid.

Most of us would have quite reasonably — though erroneously — attributed at least Chicago’s elimination on the first ballot (if not necessarily its defeat) to his not attending.

And some critics might have called him arrogant for just “phoning it in” and assuming that merely sending the First Lady was all that was needed to wow the world. [...]

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Globally Managing American Speech?

I read with great interest Eugene’s post below on the Obama administration, free speech, and human rights. As it happens, I’m trying to finish up a manuscript on the UN and “values” at this very moment, and so alas don’t have time to comment more than a few paragraphs about this. Here are a couple of observations that I don’t propose to defend here; I throw them out unsupported, and I’ll try to go back and add something else later.  Many of them are about the intellectual community of international law, which I take as relevant here in part because Eugene is trying to sort out what various international law experts say is or is not the import of the free speech drafts in the UN Human Rights Council; I think it matters to have a sense, even if it’s just my personal and idiosyncratic one, of the baseline of international law experts.  (I don’t promise that I have re-read this closely despite some aggressive characterizations here; I’m simply out of time.)

This whole process of “engagement” on an issue like free speech by the US at the HRC or anywhere else in the international system is a mistake from the beginning.  Among the many reasons is, first, that a process like that of the HRC is designed to lead to consensus, which in practice will mean some kind of compromise. But the whole point of freedom of speech under the First Amendment is that it is not open to compromise, and certainly not in the sense of elaborating standards from the outside for a sovereign people who govern themselves under a constitution.

Even to “engage” in the process, as a consequence, leads to tears no matter where it goes.  A compromise on the issue will inevitably mean that the [...]

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News Flash: Presidents Work When They Travel

Though I am a Chicagoan who is rooting for Rio — not Chicago — to win the 2016 Olympic bid, I think the criticism of President Obama for flying to Copenhagen to lobby the Olympic Selection Committee is silly. A modern president is working at least 16 hours most days (Reagan being the only exception I’m aware of). Whatever Obama’s strengths and shortcomings might be, loafing is not one of them.

I think this travel criticism of Obama is about as ridiculous as the grief that George W. Bush used to get for going to his ranch in Texas for most of August.

The idea that you can’t travel and work used to be more common than it is today — and it reflected an earlier period when it was often impossible to do so.

I remember one December night in 1972 going to visit my (then future) wife’s maternal grandparents, the Ackermans, who lived on a farm between Freeport, IL (population about 30,000) and Rockford, IL (population about 140,000).

They were both of German farm stock (Grandma Ackerman’s maiden name was also Ackerman, which means “farmer”), and German was the language used in their home in the 1920s.

They worked long and hard on the farm and did little else. In the early 1970s, they had not been to Rockford, which was about 15 miles away, for several decades, and they had not been to Freeport, less than 10 miles away, for at least 5 years. They hated daylight savings time because (as Grandma Ackerman explained to me) it was bad for their cows.

That night, when their TV showed the face of Richard Nixon (whom I disliked), I asked Grandma Ackerman what she thought of him. She answered, “I guess that Nixon guy is OK, but every time [...]

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Appellate court dismisses Dan Rather’s lawsuit against CBS


More than two years after Dan Rather filed a $70-million lawsuit against CBS for breach of contract and fraud, a New York Supreme Court appellate division has tossed out his claim.

The ruling, handed down today, dismissed Rather’s claims that CBS News broke his contract and committed fraud by sidelining him in the wake of a controversial story he reported about President George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the Texas Air Guard.

Here is much of the opinion:

Rather v. CBS Corp.

Supreme Court of New York
Appelate Division, First Department
September 29, 2009


This action asserting breach of contract and related tort claims arises out of a September 8, 2004 broadcast that plaintiff Dan Rather narrated on the CBS 60 Minutes II television program about then President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Rather alleges that CBS disavowed the broadcast after it was attacked by Bush supporters, and fraudulently induced him to apologize personally for the broadcast on national television as well as to remain silent as to his belief that the broadcast was true. Rather alleges that, following President Bush’s re-election, CBS informed him that he would be removed as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Rather claims that although his employment agreement required that, in the event he was removed as anchor, CBS would make him a regular correspondent on 60 Minutes or immediately pay all amounts due under the agreement and release him to work elsewhere, CBS kept him on the payroll while denying him the opportunity to cover important news stories until May 2006 when it terminated his contract, effective June 2006.

Rather commenced this action against CBS Corporation, Viacom Inc., and individual defendants Leslie Moonves, Sumner Redstone and Andrew Heyward in September 2007.

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Roman Polanski, George Orwell, and Salvador Dali

When I was running university film societies in the 1970s and early 1980s, I considered Roman Polanski’s Chinatown the best film made in the 1970s. I don’t know what I would think today because I haven’t seen it for three decades. And I still consider Rosemary’s Baby one of the best horror movies ever made.

I mention this because good artists are not necessarily good people and bad people are not necessarily bad artists.

The first writer I encountered who explored this issue was George Orwell in his essay on Dali. The essay is also memorable because its second sentence contains one of Orwell’s most resonant ideas: “any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

Notes on Dali

George Orwell

Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book (Frank Harris’s autobiographical writings are an example) can without intending it give a true picture of its author. Dali’s recently published Life [The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (The Dial Press, 1942)] comes under this heading. Some of the incidents in it are flatly incredible, others have been rearranged and romanticised, and not merely the humiliation but the persistent ordinariness of everyday life has been cut out. Dali is even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a strip-tease act conducted in pink limelight. But as a record of fantasy, of the perversion of instinct that has been made possible by the machine age, it has great value.

Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali’s life, from his earliest years onward. Which of them

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Bloggers agree: Health bill likely to pass. Split on Obama foreign policy grade:

This week’s National Journal poll of political bloggers asked “What is the most likely outcome of President Obama’s health care reform initiative?” Ninety-three percent of the Left and 82 percent of the Right expected either “major” or “scaled back” legislation to be enacted in 2009. The Left was roughly split between major and scaled back. I was part of the only 12% on the Right who expect some major. I wrote: “‘Scaled back’ in the sense of no public option. The legislation will still impose huge, and mostly harmful, changes on American health care.”

The second question asked for a grade on President Obama’s foreign policy so far. The Left gave him a B, while the Right awarded a D-.  I voted for D, and explained: “From Poland to Israel to Iran to Honduras, the President has made it clear that it is safer to be America’s enemy than its friend. His crackdown on the pro-democracy government in Honduras for obeying the Honduran Constitution, and his active support for Zelaya, who is trying to become another Castro/Chavez, is despicable. Obama is much more popular than Bush among Belgians and many other Western Europeans, but Obama has been unable to translate that popularity into any results for American diplomacy.”

[Note to commenters: It appears to me that comments have to be specifically approved before they become visible. There are several comments which I have “approved”, but which are not displaying. I don’t know what the problem is. Presumably we eventually figure out how to use WordPress. ] [...]

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