Monday, July 30, 2007

The MAC is back.

Senator John McCain is now calling himself "The Mac" (hat tip: Captain's Quarters). It's surprising that I predicted this nearly a year ago:
A lousy idea that's been floating around the internet lately is the propect of a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008. McCain is a long-standing favorite candidate for a party switch, probably because his big-government streak makes him the current MAC (i.e. a Minimally Acceptable Conservative, or the least Left conservative that is still considered "mainstream") Daddy of the Republican Party.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Democrats in America now abed will hold themselves accursed they were not there.

Iraq's soccer team wins the Asian Cup. A local blogger reports:
Today is definitely the happiest day for Iraqis in years. Tears of joy mixed with prayers for hope on the faces of millions of Iraqis…Words truly fail me and I can't describe the feeling so please pardon me if the post doesn't sound coherent; I hear the cheering and music outside although the bullets of celebration keep falling on the ground and roofs here and there. But no one seems to worry about that, the moment is so great that fear has no place in the hearts of the millions of fans, neither from bullets nor from crazy suicide bombers who tried to kill our joy last week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Political kung-fu for dummies

The heavy propaganda requirements of modern political campaigning make the day-to-day task of managing the news cycle a lot like martial arts combat. There are basic moves like the generic attack ad that any candidate with a functioning brain can generate. There are advanced moves like sloganeering that should only be used by professionals due to the risk involved. For the true masters of the campaign, there are even spiritual moves that draw upon the adept's inner Qi to produce political results (the Clinton's trademark "spoofed Freudian slip" is an example).

Preliminaries aside, we thus turn to the latest news about the Obama 2008 campaign:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to turn rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's words back on her Wednesday, saying her vote to authorize the Iraq war was "irresponsible and naive."

Clinton had used the same language a day earlier to criticize Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with leaders of nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions within the first year of his presidency. Clinton said renegade leaders could use such a meeting for propaganda and that envoys below the presidential level should begin diplomatic work.
Here Senator Obama attempts a risky reflection move to turn his opponent's attack against her. This can potentially be used to devastating effect. The most notorious example of a reflection move in recent memory was President Bill Clinton's reflection of Bob Dole's campaign theme "A Bridge to the Past" into the bone-crushing Clinton campaign theme "A Bridge to the Twenty-First Century".

The single most important point to observe when attempting a reflection move is to avoid reflecting your opponent's attack away from your face and into your groin, which is what Senator Obama has done in this case. The first mistake was to accuse Senator Clinton of being irresponsible in voting for the Iraq war. Of course everyone knows that Senator Clinton was irresponsible. News flash: most Democrats don't care. The official Democratic Party line is that the Clintons are never responsible for anything bad that happens, and if they are, then the American people have already forgiven them. The second mistake was accusing Senator Clinton of being naive. If marrying Bill Clinton didn't cure her of that, there's nothing else out there that will. The final mistake was actually attempting a gutsy political move and not pulling it off with aplomb, because nothing reinforces the original attack better than a botched attempt to address it. A response of "I know you are, but what am I" doesn't quite project that aura of adulthood and gravitas that most presidential candidates aim for.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A brief history of United States foreign policy, part I

To get a handle on the historical foreign policies of the United States, first write a list of the most popular nations (excluding Native American nations) for the United States to wage war upon. Probably the major entries on the list would look something like this in rough chronological order:
  1. The United Kingdom -- a monarchy
  2. The Republic of Mexico -- a nominal republic run by generals at the time of the Mexican-American war
  3. The Spanish Empire -- a monarchy
  4. Imperial Germany -- a monarchy
  5. The Empire of Japan -- a monarchy
There seems to be a rough pattern there, although some discussion is in order. America's war of independence from the United Kingdom was probably roughly even in terms of support for or against the British. America's second war against the United Kingdom was almost universally popular, at least in the early stages of the war. Modern day liberals have it easy compared to 19th century Federalists; the War of 1812 was the final nail in the coffin of the Federalist party. The Pacific theater of World War II was probably not any more popular than the Atlantic theater, but I seem to remember that United States isolationist opinion was more concerned about staying out of Europe than anywheres else.

The Mexican-American war is the oddball in the list. Perhaps 19th century Americans thought that Mexico was still a monarchist or aristocratic nation only 25 years after it won its independence from Spain. Or maybe it marks a slavery-minded South reaching the pinacle of its political influence in the United States government.

Moving on, now write a list of the least popular nations for the United States to declare war on, assuming that the United States did actually did go to war with them, of course. The major entries on the list would look something like this in chronological order:
  1. The Confederate States of America -- a federal republic dominated by a socialist-leaning Democratic Party
  2. The Third Reich -- a dictatorship run by a national socialist Nazi party
  3. North Korea -- a communist state
  4. North Vietnam -- a communist state
  5. Iraq -- a dictatorship run by a nominally national socialist Ba'ath party
Another rough pattern seems to show up, and some discussion also needs to be made. First of all, the Conderedate States of America is generally considered to be a conservative state by modern-day liberals. Also, it's not clear to me how socialist-leaning Saddam Hussein was in running Iraq. Whether the ruling ideology had any kind of basis in socialist thought or was just a reflection of Saddam's personality is an open question. War against Hitler's Germany was probably just as popular as war against Hirohito's Japan once war on Germany was actually declared. Finally, the major exclusion from the list due to a technicality is the Soviet Union, yet another communist state.

From the two lists, it's clear that the United States has actually been swinging between two foreign policies for a large part of its history. The first is a wildly successful anti-monarchy crusade based on amoral working-class solidarity. This crusade doesn't particularly care about democracy, except insofar as democracy is a useful tool for leveraging monarchs out of power. And this crusade has varying degrees of amorality, given that states can perform ghastly mass crimes and still provoke calls for appeasement, negotiated settlements, and moral and military disarmament from the crusaders. Generally speaking, the anti-monarchy crusade has morphed into an anti-war crusade given the near universal repudiation of monarchy as a meaningful political principle since 1945.

The odd case of the Mexican-American war might suggest that (so far unstated in this post) a policy of territorial expansion springs from the anti-monarchy crusade. Obviously the United States was going to need a lot of land, manpower and natural resources if it was serious about trying to destroy the British Empire someday.

The second foreign policy is an ethical reaction to the worst excesses of the anti-monarchy crusade. This was generally introduced into American politics by Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party, reasserted itself during the war years under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and especially after the Holocaust, and saw general expression against a range of communist states during the Cold War. The leading expression of this ethical reaction was, until its recent collapse, neoconservatism: the subject of part II.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Call of Chameleon

Robert Novak reports on the latest fundraising effort of Senator John McCain's presidential campaign:
Sen. John McCain's virtually bankrupt presidential campaign has made a desperate fund-raising bid for small contributions, on grounds that "the liberal Hollywood elites would love to see Sens. [Barack] Obama, [Hillary] Clinton or [John] Edwards face off against any Republican other than John McCain."
Contrary to Senator McCain's self-image as a Republican Charles Martel standing strong against the Democratic hordes, Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards are probably somewheres between "positively delighted" and "absolutely ecstatic" about their chances in the presidential election against him. McCain, known to Democrats as "that guy who cosponsors all of our legislation" or "our little stooge", has been carrying water for the Democrats for years. The Democratic Party's presidential nominee wouldn't even have to run campaign ads against McCain; he or she could simply order McCain to surrender and be able to expect that order to be carried out.

The single positive benefit for Republicans from nominating McCain as their presidential candidate would be that McCain would almost certainly be forced to resign his Senate seat at some point. This action would dramatically increase the Republican chances of winning back Congress overnight.

Transformers: Random Thoughts

The gang went to go see the new "Transformers" movie the other day, and suffice it to say that we had issues. Random thoughts about the movie that have been percolating since then will aggregate here.

  • Based on the casting of the teen to early twenties cast, we now know that Hollywood recognizes four basic types of Generation Y characters. The first of these is Geeks. A gang of the usual stock Hollywood male geeks -- except with contemporary technological skills -- make brief appearances in the film, basically as cosmetic accesories. Their job is to establish the amazingly sexy female quantum-physicist signal-analyst as a mathematical prodigy without having to show her doing any mathematics (aside from a little Hollywood "fast-typing" computer work). Also remember that all assembladges of movie geeks will include at least one hacker who can out-hack the NSA.

  • The second type of Generation Y character is the Jocks. Except that in "Transformers", our few token jock characters are the classic stereotypical movie jocks -- they are belligerent, arrogant, affluent, and Californian with prematurely sexually developed girlfriends. In fact, were it not for the fact that these jocks drive Hummers instead of classic convertibles, we might have suspected that they were human-replicants created by the Decepticons and designed to mimic the first visual-data radio transmissions of planet Earth.

  • The third type of Generation Y character is Women. Apparently all Generation Y women in movies must emphasize their resemblance to Lindsey Lohan as much as humanly possible and possess an eeire "fresh from the porno set" orange glow.

  • Finally, the fourth type of Generation Y character is Average Guys. These can be identified by their inevitable use of dissimulation when dealing with authority figures, an obsession with unattainable sexy women, and an unfailing ability to instantly inspire murderous rage in any and all nearby jocks.

  • By the way, all of the above characters will have so many cell phones that even their cell phones have cell phones.

  • "Transformers" does do some things right. The battle scene against the scorpion robot in the desert village was an absolutely perfect, classic science-fiction fight. The film also does us the visual favor of making the "African-American" transformer "Jazz" into an automobile instead of a giant ghetto blaster.

  • Unfortunately, "Transformers" does some very important things totally wrong. Perhaps the single biggest blunder of the entire film was the ridiculous amounts of visual clutter that the transformers robots displayed. Basically, unless one of these robots is standing perfectly still at attention with abundant lighting, it looks liks a random agglomeration of technological parts. As suprising as it sounds, the use of computer graphics actually made the transformers look worse than their conventionally animated predecessors (compare the original Optimus Prime to the 2007 Optimus Prime, for example). The decision to make the updated transformers appear like advanced versions of the robot Johnny 5 from the film "Short Circuit" will probably become known as one of the notorious film blunders of our day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Today's Senate Filibuster Challenge

Senate Democrats have launched the Senate into an all-night debate over Iraq:
Democrats steered the Senate into an attention-grabbing, all-night session to dramatize opposition to the Iraq war but conceded they were unlikely to gain the votes needed to advance troop withdrawal legislation blocked by Republicans.

"Our enemies aren't threatened by talk-a-thons, and our troops deserve better than publicity stunts," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

McConnell and many other Republicans favor waiting until September before considering any changes to the Bush administration's current policy. They have vowed to block a final vote on the Democrats' attempt to require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days.
I think it's pretty reasonable to agree that whether 30 hours of continuous debate is a political stunt or a necessary filibuster-breaking tactic depends upon one's partisan preferences.

On the other hand, I do really have to wonder why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks this particular tactic has even the slightest chance to be successful. The most notorious recent usage of the 30 hour rule was an unsuccessful effort by the Senate Republicans to block a Democratic filibuster against President Bush's judicial nominees -- Miguel Estrada in particular. Let me restate that: the Democrats were willing to "go to the matresses" to prevent a handful of wealthy, powerful lawyers from becoming slightly more wealthy and somewhat more powerful lawyers. Now the Democrats are expecting the same treatment to push the Republicans into allowing a democratic ally of the United States to be surrendered to a not-improbable mixture of anarchy, civil war, mass terror, ethnic cleansing or genocide. A Republican Senator would have to be one of the most craven cowards ever born to be bullied by the Democrats like that.

Alternatively, look at the situation in another way. Suppose you are a Republican Senator. Harry Reid is offering you a choice tonight. You can have a long string of sleepless nights because (a) Harry Reid and the Democrats want to tell you how evil and cruel you are, or (b) you caved on Iraq and condemned a nation of millions to mass terror, anarchy, and slaughter. Which would you pick?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Return of the self-refuting column

Paul Krugman discusses redefining "carried interest" as income in todays San Jose Mercury News (my boldface):
What's at stake here is a proposal by House Democrats to tax "carried interest" as regular income. This would close a tax loophole that is complicated in detail, but basically lets fund managers take a large part of the fees they earn for handling other peoples' money and redefine those fees, for tax purposes, as capital gains.

The effect of this redefinition is that income that should be considered by normal standards to be ordinary income taxed at a 35 percent rate is treated as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent instead. So fund managers get to pay a low tax rate that is supposed to provide incentives to risk-taking investors, even though they aren't investors and they aren't taking risks.
Tax cuts provide incentives to private individuals to engage in economic behavior. Who knew? Anyway, this position gets contradicted a few paragraphs later when Krugman writes (my boldface):
There's a larger question one could ask: Should we even be giving preferential tax treatment to true capital gains? I'd say no, because there's very little evidence that taxing capital gains as ordinary income would actually hurt the economy. Meanwhile, the low tax rate on capital gains is one main reason the truly rich often pay lower tax rates than the middle class.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Better luck next dictator

Camille Paglia answers a reader's email with cutting-edge liberal thought about Iraq:
You say that if we don't stay and win in Iraq, we'll be back there in 10 years. I think you might well be correct. The Iraq chaos, which we instrumentally helped foment, will probably spread and destabilize the entire Middle East -- a momentum that has already begun. By removing that despicable autocrat, Saddam Hussein, we conveniently did Iran's work. There's no stopping the jockeying of power now -- Iran eyeing Iraq's Shiite territories; Turkey ready to smash the independence movement among Kurds (who have been playing the United States for a fool).

But next time around, we will hopefully have the support of other powers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia (a corruption-riddled regime with strong Bush ties), which can't afford the implosion of Iraq. Meanwhile, the massacre of our hapless soldiers, along with the waste of billions of our tax dollars, must stop. There is no clear way to define "victory" in this folly -- which tried to jump-start Western democracy in a country with none of our long traditions of civil law or free speech.
Call it the "pass the buck" doctrine: if we take less responsibility for fighting terrorism now, we'll be able to take less responsibility for fighting terror in the future.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hoist by his own petard.

Senator John McCain, famous as the champion of federal regulation of Presidential campaigns, is considering adopting public financing for his presidential campaign (hat tip: Atrios):
McCain campaign officials said this week that they are considering accepting public funds for the primary campaign. McCain has raised $24 million for his presidential bid and has only $2 million in the bank.

McCain could accept up to $250 in federal matching funds for every contribution he collected, but the public assistance would be capped at around $21 million, according to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) spokesman.

More arduous for McCain, however, would be the spending limits that public funds would trigger in key primary states. If the presidential primaries were held this year, McCain could spend only $818,000 in New Hampshire — a limit that includes funds his campaign has already spent in the Granite State.
Let's indulge in a bit more schadenfreude over this. Senator John McCain -- legislative master of the Senate, champion of campaign finance reform, and fearsome enemy of the very appearance of corruption -- now finds his own presidential campaign in such a desperate shortage of funds that he is considering entering his very own 100% corruption-free public campaign financing system.

Of course, this only underscores the fundamental problem of Senator McCain's campaign, which is that the Senator himself is far too statist to be a viable Republican presidental contender. Think of Senator McCain as the Andrew Sullivan of the Republican party; no matter how much water he carries for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, he'll still vigorously insist that he is the one true conservative voice in American politics.