Quotulatiousness

October 26, 2013

The media zombie horde

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:24

In The Goldberg File email, Jonah Goldberg memorably characterizes the modern media:

When I go to Alaska to visit the Fair Jessica’s people, I’ll often hear some version of a joke about grizzly bears. The gist is, if a bear is chasing you, you don’t need to be faster than the bear, you need to be faster than the guy you’re hiking with. A similar dynamic applies in scandals of this nature: You don’t have to be blameless, you just need to be harder to blame than the other guy.

That’s because the media tends to stalk its prey like the unthinking zombie horde it so often is. Twenty miscreants, malefactors, and scalawags could be in on some scheme to defraud or bilk the public fisc, and the zombie horde will start chasing all of them, but the zombies will stop to feed on the first poor soul who can’t keep up.

Now Bill Clinton always understood this. Whenever it was necessary, he’d reassure his co-conspirators and enablers that he had their back, right up until the minute he found it necessary to handcuff them to the rear fender of a broken down Ford Pinto. Sometimes he varied his techniques, of course. Here’s a reenactment of how Bill Clinton treated Webb Hubbell. But you could always count on Bill to climb to safety over the backs of those who trusted him most.

Barack Obama, who holds a patent on a device that hurls aides and friends under a bus from great distances, also understands this. That is why Kathleen Sebelius these days looks a lot like a Soviet general on his way to brief Stalin on the early “progress” in the battle of Stalingrad.

Anyway, yesterday’s hearings were just the early try-outs. There are 55 contractors and countless nameless bureaucrats who can be thrown into the Great Pit of Carkoon (“You’re just determined to keep mixing metaphors aren’t you?” — The Couch) and given the full scope of this fustercluck, they could all be made to walk the plank before this is over.

January 19, 2013

Failing to charm

Filed under: Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:33

Is the real reason Lance Armstrong’s televised confessions failed to “redeem” him in the public eye just a lack of charm?

But by the standards we have come to expect in these things it was relatively candid, blessedly free of self-pity. He’d told a lot of lies. Now he was telling the truth. Yet if he was expecting this confession to stanch the flow of vitriol, it appeared to have the opposite effect.

Because if there is one thing we expect of professional cyclists, it is that they will compete fairly and stay clear of drugs. And if there is one thing we expect, no demand of our public figures, it is that they will tell the truth.

Oh really. Listening to all this high dudgeon, I was carried back to last September’s Democratic convention, and the rapturous reception given to Bill Clinton, the former president and noted perjurist in the matter of Jones v Clinton.

That may have been the most famous of his lies, but it was hardly the first. Clinton was well known as a liar — an “unusually good” one, according to Bob Kerrey, the former senator — long before he ever reached the White House. As early as 1992, the question posed by his candidacy, as defined by Michael Kinsley, was not is he a liar, “but is he too much of a liar?” By the end the lies and abuses of power had piled up so high that Christopher Hitchens was forced to title his scathing account of the Clinton presidency No One Left To Lie To.

[. . .]

So let us drop the pretense that we’re all so scandalized by Armstrong because he lied. Granted, he lied about cycling, rather than mere financial dealings or affairs of state. But the reason he is in such obloquy, and Clinton and Mulroney are not, is not because his lies were worse, but because he’s not as good at it: because he is not as charming — shall we say manipulative? — as they. Frankly, when it comes to conning the public, he is not in their league.

Anyone can pull a con like Armstrong’s. You just lie and keep on lying until someone catches you. It takes a master to keep the con going even after you’ve been caught.

December 2, 2012

Define or be defined: fiscal edition

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

Ron Hart talks about the distant past where congress passed budgets and those budgets were actually in surplus:

Most Americans expect politicians to work out a back-room deal to avoid embarrassing themselves again. The politicians feel these deals are too ugly for us to watch, so they are compelled to spare us the indignity of the “most transparent president” ever. Political deals are like sausage; it is best not to watch the product being made. The difference is, sausage as an end product is actually good.

In the Democratic vernacular, taxes have changed to “revenues.” Long ago they replaced the word “spending” with “investments,” especially when wasting money on Solyndra and the like. They think we are stupid.

When Bill Clinton so famously “balanced the budget” with the Internet boom and all the taxes from those stock sales, the GOP and Newt Gingrich passed a budget (yes, Congress used to do that) of $1.7 trillion in expenditures. Adjusted for inflation, our federal government would be spending $2.3 trillion today and collecting $2.5 trillion in “revenues,” resulting in a $200 billion surplus. But instead of increasing government spending in line with normal inflation, under Bush and Obama we are spending $3.8 trillion today. Democrats, who believe we have a “revenue” problem instead of a “spending” problem, must also think they have a bartender problem, not a drinking problem.

Those Republican neocons who have never seen a country they do not want to bomb because it looked at us wrong, have to give on defense. We spend $1.19 trillion a year on defense — more than the other top 10-countries combined and more than six times what second-place China spends.

July 24, 2012

The racist history of gun control

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:55

Brendan O’Neill wonders how gun control — traditionally a racist and xenophobic attempt to disarm blacks and foreigners — became a left-wing policy:

One of the great mysteries of modern politics is how gun control came to be seen as a natural Left-wing cause. Following the horrific shootings in Aurora, Denver, the usual lineup of Left-liberal activists and commentators have pleaded, for the ten thousandth time, for America to get rid of its stupid constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms and to clamp down on gun ownership. This is the default setting of virtually every observer who considers himself of the Left, particularly those outside of America, who love nothing more than to look down their long noses at the Wild West-style, gun-wielding, blood-spattered mess they believe modern America to be.

Which is all a bit weird, because for years — for two centuries, in fact — gun control was a largely Right-wing, reactionary campaign issue, not a Left-wing one. The fact that it has now been adopted by Leftists is very revealing indeed.

[. . .]

In the modern period, too, there was a hugely reactionary bent to gun-control campaigns. In the early 20th century new laws, such as the 1911 Sullivan Law in New York City, were passed to prevent the huge influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe from getting their hands on guns. As Gary Kleck puts it in his book Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, gun control was anything but a liberal cause: “In the 19th and early 20th century, gun-control laws were often targeted at blacks in the south and the foreign-born in the north.”

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was ostensibly passed in response to assassinations of Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but its real targets were inner-city black communities where there had been violent riots for three summers running and where some black activists were beginning to arm themselves. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton, recognising that his liberal supporters were converting en masse to the cause of gun control, started to talk about the “evil” of assault rifles. Who tended to own assault rifles? “Drug dealers, street gang members and other violent criminals”, the Clinton adminstration said — long-recognised polite political codewords for blacks and Latinos.

Update: Dan Baum on the reduction in gun crime across the US by nearly half over the last two decades.

Among the many ways America differs from other countries when it comes to guns is that when a mass shooting happens in the United States, it’s a gun story. How an obviously sick man could buy a gun; how terrible it is that guns are abundant; how we must ban particular types of guns that are especially dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded to the news with a gun-control petition. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has weighed in with an online column saying that “Politicians are far too cowardly to address gun violence . . . which keeps us from taking practical measures to avoid senseless shootings.”

Compare that to the coverage and conversation after Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people on the island of Utøya in Norway, a year ago next Sunday. Nobody focused on the gun. I had a hard time learning from the news reports what type of gun he used. Nobody asked, “How did he get a gun?” That seemed strange, because it’s much harder to get a gun in Europe than it is here. But everybody, even the American media, seemed to understand that the heart of the Utøya massacre story was a tragically deranged man, not the rifle he fired. Instead of wringing their hands over the gun Breivik used, Norwegians saw the tragedy as the opening to a conversation about the rise of right-wing extremism in their country.

Rosenthal is wrong, by the way, that politicians haven’t addressed gun violence. They have done so brilliantly, in a million different ways, which helps explain why the rate of violent crime is about half what it was twenty years ago. They simply haven’t used gun control to do it. Gun laws are far looser than they were twenty years ago, even while crime is plunging — a galling juxtaposition for those who place their faith in tougher gun laws. The drop in violence is one of our few unalloyed public-policy success stories, though perhaps not for those who bemoan an “epidemic of gun violence” that doesn’t exist anymore in order to make a political point.

April 14, 2012

“The unipolar era has not been a success for America”

Filed under: Europe, Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:55

Conrad Black examines the differences between the Cold War, when America had a clear mission, and the post-Cold War period, when America could be said to have completely lacked a coherent foreign policy:

Indeed, the overwhelming and relatively bloodless victory in the Cold War, the fruition of the brilliant American strategy of containment, left the United States as the only seriously Great Power in the world, a condition unique in the history of the nation-state, starting in the Middle Ages. As a result, there was, 20 years ago, a good deal of frothy (and, as it turns out, grossly premature) intellectual blather about the end of history and the political culmination of the world in democratic capitalism.

The unipolar era has not been a success for America. The great irony of these 20-something post-Cold War years has been that while the United States was the indispensable country in the triumph of capitalist democracy — its preservation from 1917 to 1941, and its outright victory in the following 50 years — it is not now one of the world’s best, or even better, functioning democracies.

Under the Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama administrations, there has been no coherent strategy to replace the previous masterly and bipartisan missions to lead the West to victory in the Second World War and in the Cold War. Bill Clinton, on the world stage, as in America, and before that in the diminutive state of Arkansas, exuded bonhomous goodwill, extended free trade to Mexico, and expanded NATO into the former Soviet Union, suavely calling it “a partnership for peace.” He moved in the Balkans, but only when the Europeans, who started by calling the challenge posed by Bosnian massacres “The hour of Europe,” fell on their faces and started crying like frightened little pigs for America to end ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. And even then, nothing would have happened if the Republican leader in the Senate, Robert Dole, a bravely wounded veteran of the European theatre in the Second World War, had not legislated military orders (lift and strike) normally in the province of the commander-in-chief. There never really was a Clinton foreign policy: His responses to the early terrorist attacks (Khobar Towers, the African embassies, the USS Cole) were very inadequate.

George W. Bush, forced to deal with the monstrous outrage of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, had a piercing, towel-snapping, locker room vision that since democracies do not engage in aggressive war, ergo, every country that was not already democratic should be propelled by the scruff of the neck and the small of the back toward democratization. Thus did Hamas replace Fatah in Gaza; the Muslim Brotherhood, (whose adherents had proudly murdered Anwar Sadat) is replacing Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; terrorist chaos is replacing Saleh in Yemen; and Hezbollah has more or less taken over from the Syrians in Lebanon. Trillions of dollars have been spent, along with over 6,000 American lives, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it would be impetuous to forecast comparative stability and enlightenment in the near future of either country.

December 13, 2011

Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto was inevitable from the beginning

I was against the Kyoto agreement from the start, but the government of the day had to be seen to be more “green” than the Americans. John Ibbitson explains:

The Harper government’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol tarnishes Canada before the world. Liberal and Conservative incompetence and mendacity are to blame. You and I are to blame. And Lehman Brothers had something to do with it as well.

It isn’t easy for a country to descend, in the space of a single decade, from crusader to pariah, as Canada has done on the environment. But our political leaders were up to the task.

The first, worst mistake occurred at Kyoto itself in 1997, when then prime minister Jean Chrétien told Canadian negotiators to meet or beat the American commitment, whatever it took. The problem was that while the American commitment was ambitious, Bill Clinton never expected the Senate to ratify that commitment, and he was right.

The Liberals found themselves stuck with Draconian targets that, if met, would hobble oil sands production, hammer big industry in Ontario, and send home-heating bills through the roof. Their solution was to study the issue. And study. I remember sitting through an interminable briefing in 2003, in which officials patiently explained how Canada would meet its Kyoto targets. The only problem was that there was this enormous gap, which was to be closed through “future reductions.” It was like having a household budget in which Miscellaneous was bigger than Mortgage.

Given the hammering that British PM David Cameron has been taking in the British press, he should send a bouquet of flowers to Stephen Harper for giving the media a different villain to abuse.

Update: Stephen Gordon says the same thing: inevitable from the beginning.

Notwithstanding economically illiterate attempts to pretend otherwise, higher consumer prices for GHG-emitting goods and services are an essential component of any serious attempt to reduce emissions. Counting on people to reduce GGE emissions out of the goodness of their hearts was the strategy of the Chrétien-Martin Liberal governments, and adopting this policy made Canada’s Kyoto failure inevitable long before Stephen Harper’s Conservatives came to power.

Political parties rarely win when they campaign on a platform that promises to increase the price of fossil fuels — the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark lost power in large part because of its proposal to increase the gasoline excise tax by 18 cents a gallon (4 cents a litre).

Update, the second: Oh, it’s okay, apparently we’re not allowed to abandon the “voluntary” agreement:

Remember how this was phrased? “sign it, it’s just voluntary!”

Recall Rio 1992 “Earth Summit” where the meme was “hey, it’s voluntary! … with a negotiating schedule attached”. Apparently, like a Roach Motel, “countries check in but they can’t check out”. This email is from UNFCCC’s list server and note my bolded section below. The arrogance, it burns.

[. . .]

    “I regret that Canada has announced it will withdraw and am surprised over its timing. Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort. Industrialized countries whose emissions have risen significantly since 1990, as is the case for Canada, remain in a weaker position to call on developing countries to limit their emissions.”

November 14, 2011

Beating up on the Boomer generation

Filed under: Economics, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:03

Walter Russell Mead has a bit of vitriol to spit at the Baby Boomers:

But at the level of public policy and moral leadership, as a generation we have largely failed. The Boomer Progressive Establishment in particular has been a huge disappointment to itself and to the country. The political class slumbered as the entitlement and pension crisis grew to ominous dimensions. Boomer financial leadership was selfish and shortsighted, by and large. Boomer CEOs accelerated the trend toward unlimited greed among corporate elites, and Boomer members of corporate boards sit by and let it happen. Boomer academics created a profoundly dysfunctional system that systemically shovels resources upward from students and adjuncts to overpaid administrators and professors who by and large have not, to say the least, done an outstanding job of transmitting the cultural heritage of the past to future generations. Boomer Hollywood execs created an amoral morass of sludge — and maybe I’m missing something, but nobody spends a lot of time talking about the towering cultural accomplishments of the world historical art geniuses of the Boomer years. Boomer greens enthusiastically bet their movement on the truly idiotic drive for a global carbon treaty; they are now grieving over their failure to make any measurable progress after decades spent and hundreds of millions of dollars thrown away. On the Boomer watch the American family and the American middle class entered major crises; by the time the Boomers have finished with it the health system will be an unaffordable and dysfunctional tangle — perhaps the most complicated, expensive and poorly designed such system in the history of the world.

All of this was done by a generation that never lost its confidence that it was smarter, better educated and more idealistic than its Depression-surviving, World War-winning, segregation-ending, prosperity-building parents. We didn’t need their stinking faith, their stinking morals, or their pathetically conformist codes of moral behavior. We were better than that; after all, we grokked Jefferson Airplane, achieved nirvana on LSD and had a spiritual wealth and sensitivity that our boorish bourgeois forbears could not grasp. They might be doers, builders and achievers — but we Boomers grooved, man, we had sex in the park, we grew our hair long, and we listened to sexy musical lyrics about drugs that those pathetic old losers could not even understand.

What the Boomers as a generation missed (there were, of course and thankfully, many honorable individual exceptions) was the core set of values that every generation must discover to make a successful transition to real adulthood: maturity. Collectively the Boomers continued to follow ideals they associated with youth and individualism: fulfillment and “creativity” rather than endurance and commitment. Boomer spouses dropped families because relationships with spouses or children or mortgage payments no longer “fulfilled” them; Boomer society tolerated the most selfish and immature behavior in its public and cultural leaders out of the classically youthful and immature belief that intolerance and hypocrisy are greater sins than the dereliction of duty. That the greatest and most effective political leader the Baby Boom produced was William Jefferson Clinton tells you all you need to know.

October 12, 2011

So, if it wasn’t Wall Street, then who inflated the US housing bubble anyway?

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:03

Peter Wallison has the answer:

Beginning in 1992, the government required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to direct a substantial portion of their mortgage financing to borrowers who were at or below the median income in their communities. The original legislative quota was 30%. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development was given authority to adjust it, and through the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations HUD raised the quota to 50% by 2000 and 55% by 2007.

It is certainly possible to find prime borrowers among people with incomes below the median. But when more than half of the mortgages Fannie and Freddie were required to buy were required to have that characteristic, these two government-sponsored enterprises had to significantly reduce their underwriting standards.

Fannie and Freddie were not the only government-backed or government-controlled organizations that were enlisted in this process. The Federal Housing Administration was competing with Fannie and Freddie for the same mortgages. And thanks to rules adopted in 1995 under the Community Reinvestment Act, regulated banks as well as savings and loan associations had to make a certain number of loans to borrowers who were at or below 80% of the median income in the areas they served.

August 12, 2011

Why Obama is being attacked from the left

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:12

Victor Davis Hanson outlines the reasons for increasing attacks on President Obama and his administration from his erstwhile allies on the left:

Politics, of course. The combination of sinking polls to the near 40% range, the stock market nosedive, the Standard and Poor’s downgrade, the tragedy in Afghanistan, the confusion over Libya, the embarrassing golf outings and First Family insensitive preferences for the aristocratic Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, and Costa del Sol have contributed to a general unease on the Left about Obama’s judgment, perhaps to the extent that he might well take the Left down in 2012, both in the House and Senate, whether he wins reelection or not.

But the argument remains incoherent: Obama is being blamed for not being liberal enough — after federalizing much of the health care delivery system, expanding government faster than at any time since 1933, borrowing more money in two and a half years than any president in history, absorbing companies, jawboning the wealthy, going after Boeing, reversing the order of the Chrysler creditors, adding vast new financial and environmental regulations, appointing progressives like a Van Jones or Cass Sunstein, and institutionalizing liberal protocols across the cabinet and bureaucracy, from the EPA to the Attorney General’s Office.

In other words, there is now an elite liberal effort to disentangle Obama from liberalism itself, and to suggest that his sagging polls are not a reflection of Obama’s breakneck efforts to take the country leftward — but either his inability or unwillingness to do so!

Partly, the disappointment is understandably emotional. Just three years ago Obama was acclaimed as a once-in-a-lifetime prophet of liberalism, whose own personal history, charisma, teleprompted eloquence and iconic identity might move a clearly center-right country hard leftward where it otherwise rarely wished to go.

Partly, the anger is quite savvy: if one suddenly blames Obama the man, rather than Obama the ideologue, then his unpopularity is his own, not liberalism’s. There is a clever effort to raise the dichotomy of the inept Carter and the politically savvy Clinton, but in the most improbable fashion: Clinton supposedly was a success not because he was personable, sometimes compromising, and often centrist, and Carter was a failure not because he was sanctimoniously and stubbornly ideological, but just the opposite: Clinton is now reinvented as the true liberal who succeeded because of his principled leftwing politics; Carter like Obama was a bumbling compromiser and waffler.

April 8, 2011

QotD: the international double standard

Filed under: Europe, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:39

A long time ago we had a president who was doing a chubby intern.

And some Americans got uptight about it.

And we were told by Europeans everywhere ‘Relax, it’s just sex. He’s the leader of the country, they have mistresses, it happens get over it you uptight prudes.’

So now with Silvio Berlusconi having sex with underage prostitutes and orgies and I don’t know what-all I guess that makes Europe — and Italy in particular — about eighteen times more sophisticated [1] than us hicks in the United States and so-on and so-forth.

Y’all must be so proud.

[1] Sarcasm.

Brian Dunbar, “Sophisticated Europe”, Space for Commerce, by Brian Dunbar, 2011-04-07

February 3, 2011

Bipartisan big government

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:47

Bruce F. Webster addresses the “Clinton Budget Fallacy” by downloading some publicly accessible numbers and doing a bit of simple math:

Put simply, from 1999 to 2010, the US population grew by 10% and inflation reduced the value of the dollar by about 30%. Combine those two, and Federal spending should have gone up roughly 43% over that period. Instead, it went up 135%, or three times what it should have. Setting aside some of the bailouts, etc., that are in the budget, it’s still clear that almost every Federal line item went up at least twice what it should have during that period. Almost nothing (other than “general government”) grew a “mere” 43%.

I fully blame Bush and the 2002-2006 Republicans as much as I blame Obama and the 2006-2010 Democrats. The real question is whether the 2010 Republicans have the brains and the will to turn back the tide.

The smart money, I’m afraid, is betting against that outcome.

September 21, 2009

Hate the president: it’s a hallowed tradition

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:27

Steve Chapman looks at the long, long, long history of President Derangement Syndrome:

A new president, pursuing policies well within the political mainstream, evokes weirdly angry and intense denunciations from opponents—a reaction hard to explain in terms of anything he has actually done. Does that suggest, as Jimmy Carter insists, that their true motivation lies in racism?

No, it doesn’t, because I’m not talking about Barack Obama. I’m talking about George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — both of whom, from the day they took office, managed to convince a minority of Americans that they were not just wrong but illegitimate, dangerous, and thoroughly evil. Obama’s troubles are not exactly unprecedented.

[. . .]

So you don’t need to turn to race to explain the virulent animosity against Obama. What all the presidents who previously endured irresponsible slander had in common, after all, is that they were white.

Clinton’s experience suggests that merely being a Democrat is enough to evoke hysteria in some quarters. In matters of policy, he was about as congenial as any conservative could have hoped — cooperating with Republicans to balance the budget, advancing free trade, rejecting an international treaty banning land mines, signing welfare reform, and threatening to bomb North Korea over its nuclear program. Yet even today, many on the right regard him as an extreme liberal.

I don’t remember President Ford rousing the standard levels of derangement among his opponents, but that could be because it was before I started paying much attention to U.S. politics. Other than Ford, all the other occupants of that office seem to have generated deep animosity (Nixon? Hell yeah. Carter? Yep. Reagan? A subgenre of musical animosity. Bush I? Yep.)

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