Saturday, May 29, 2010

Faces of Freedom Rally

Missouri families came together at the Macon County Fairgrounds for the Faces of Freedom Rally to recognize and honor America's Veterans and Fallen Heroes. There were a few speeches, some great music, and delicious pulled pork. I'll have video in a future post.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rush, They have a Proscription for That!

World Net Daily reports on Rush Limbaugh's worries:
In an e-mail sent to Zev Chafets, author of the new book "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One," Limbaugh admitted, "I know I am a target and I know I will be destroyed eventually. I fear that all I have accomplished and all the wealth I have accumulated will be taken from me, to the cheers of the crowd. I know I am hated and despised by the American Left."
Proscription is the government sanctioned murder of political opponents—so called "enemies of the state." In ancient Rome, it functioned like a death tax. The property of the proscribed was auctioned off, those responsible for capturing or killing the person were awarded a bounty, and the rest of the estate went to Rome. That's pretty much what Rush fears.

Rush, we understand your concern, but don't worry. You're the Obi-Wan Kenobi of conservative talk radio: "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." As a mentor of mine frequently said: "the pioneers take the arrows and the settlers take the land." You've taken the arrows so that others—Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and Dana Loesch—could stake a claim to parts of this conservative land. You've raised the bar. You've set the standard by which all who follow will, not only be measured, but strive to surpass.

One of Rome's greatest orators, Cicero, was a defender of the republican form of government. He died under Mark Antony's proscription.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Incentives Matter: Suicides at Foxconn's iPad Factory

There have been a dozen suicides at the Foxconn factory where Apple's iPad and iPod are manufactured. The incentive structure in place means that Foxconn cannot stop the suicides:
Foxconn finds itself in the position of paying 110,000 yuan (£11,000) in compensation to every person who jumps. For a depressed Foxconn employee, who still feels an obligation to repay his family for the cost of his or her upbringing and who would like to give his parents a lump sum that could transform their lives, this is a very tempting sum.

For a worker on the basic rate of 900 yuan a month, the compensation amounts to the equivalent of over ten years of gross salary. For a worker who is doing overtime and earning 1500 yuan a month, the compensation is still worth six years of salary.

If these enormous payments don’t stop, the suicides are unlikely to either.
Even in China, you get what you pay for and that's why incentives matter.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Debt Shell Game

H/T Greg Mankiw

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When Mosquitos Attack

ABC News: Dengue Fever Hits Key West:
More than two dozen cases of locally-acquired dengue fever have hit the resort town of Key West, Fla., in the past nine months, officials from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Although not the first cases of home-grown dengue in the U.S., or even in Florida, the outbreak highlights the need for physician vigilance regarding this and other formerly exotic tropical diseases, the CDC said in the May 21 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"The re-emergence of dengue in Florida as well as the threat posed to the U.S. from other emerging mosquito-borne arboviruses (e.g., chikungunya) emphasizes the necessity for strong vector-borne surveillance and mosquito control infrastructure to rapidly identify and control outbreaks of dengue or other mosquito-borne diseases," MMWR's editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report.
The "cure" for dengue fever and other mosquito-borne illnesses is, in my opinion, DDT. We used to have malaria in the US before the mosquitoes that carried it were eradicated with DDT. Here's a recipe for DDT, but, note, it is banned here in the States.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Layers of Editors and Fact Checkers

Ann Curry gave the commencement address at Wheaton College:
Where am I? The crowd at Saturday's Wheaton College commencement may have wondered that while listening to Ann Curry's speech to grads. The "Today" show anchor gave a shout-out to a few distinguished Wheaton alums, but there was one problem: They were alums of the other Wheaton College. Curry, a graduate of the University of Oregon, cited evangelist Billy Graham, horror director Wes Craven, and 9/11 hero Todd Beamer, who was a passenger on United Airlines flight 93. While it's true all three attended Wheaton, it was the Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, not the school in Norton where Curry was speaking.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Voting out the Spenders

Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner: The gathering revolt against government spending:
This month three members of Congress have been beaten in their bids for re-election -- a Republican senator from Utah, a Democratic congressman from West Virginia and a Republican-turned-Democrat senator from Pennsylvania. Their records and their curricula vitae are different. But they all have one thing in common: They are members of an Appropriations Committee.

Republican Charles Djou Wins in Hawaii!

The Star Bulletin reports that a Republican, Charles Djou, has won the Congressional district where President Barrack Obama was born:
Republican Charles Djou emerged victorious tonight in the special election to fill Hawaii's vacancy in Congress, giving Hawaii it's first GOP member of Congress in 20 years.


“This is a momentous day,” Djou told a jubilant crowd at state party headquarters. “We have sent a message to the United States Congress. We have sent a message to the ex-governors. We have sent a message to the national Democrats! We have sent a message to the machine.

We have told them that we will not stand idly by as our great nation is overburdened by too much taxes, too much debt and too much wasteful spending.
Congratulations, Congressman Djou!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hope returns to Bangkok

A steady stream of news is coming out of Bangkok, Thailand, about efforts to cleanup the mess that resulted from the confrontation between government forces and red shirt protesters. There's a lot of work to be done because of the fire damage around the city—protesters set barricades of old tires on fire in multiple locations. Here are some of the encouraging tweets I'm seeing on my Thai news list:

You Can’t Build a Growth Company on Public Subsidies

Coyote Blog on Green Rent Seeking:
Do the math. You can’t build a growth company on public subsidies. It may be possible to grow at first when the subsidized activity (e.g. solar) is a tiny percentage of the market. But once it starts to grow, the projected subsidies are astronomical. The German solar subsidy is something like 50 cents per KwH — to give one a sense of scale, the typical electricity price from fossil fuels there or here is something like 8-10 cents per KwH. Subsidizing just 20% of US electricity production at this kind of rate would cost $50 billion a year. Subsidizing all production would cost a quarter of a trillion dollars a year.

Remembering Sgt. Denis Kisseloff

Photos Courtesy Doug of Leaning to Starboard

Video above courtesy Bob McCarty who also provides this report:
The body of Missouri Army National Guard Sgt. Denis D. Kisseloff, 45, was returned to St. Charles County, Mo., Friday afternoon, one week to the day after he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. In the video above, I capture the arrival of the funeral procession at Buchholz Math Hermann funeral home in St. Peters and learned a little bit about the sergeant assigned to the Farmington, Mo.-based 1141st Combat Engineers (Sapper) from Sgt. Jeff Stevens, his team leader.

British Anarchist in Bangkok

In mid-April, News in Bangkok wondered about Anarchists in Thailand:
One aspect about political protests in Europe (not sure about America) is always the presence of anarchists – sometimes dressed in the traditional red and black but more commonly masked and hooded to reduce the risk of being identified, the anarchists are so determinedly opposed to the state that they will take any opportunity to try to bring it down through violence. When there is a political protest in a progressive cause, the anarchists tend to join in on the fringes with their own program of violence; when the protest is reactionary, they might instead attempt to intimidate the protestors or anyone else through using or threatening violence.

Yet we do not seem to have any anarchists in Thailand (unless, as Esther Rantzen might say, you know different[ly]). Of course, some people would argue that all Thai people are at heart anarchists anyway (Thai means ‘free’) and joke about road usage and so forth. In any case, most protests in Thailand attract a wide or at least fairly wide range of different interests. The pro-democracy UDD demonstrations, for example, include leftish progressives (many of whom deeply disdain the capitalism of Thai Rak Thai), Thaksin supporters (these categories are not all mutually exclusive), the rural dispossessed, those upset with the corrupt and brutal Democrat rule, former Communists still wondering when Prem is going to keep his side of the bargain (never, is the answer to that one), labour activists and so on and so forth. The only people who can be accused of anarchic tendencies would be Maj-Gen Seh Daeng Khattiya and his supporters but it must be contradictory being any kind of anarchist in the rigidly hierarchical Thai military forces. Some of the PAD associates appear to be deeply unpleasant and heavily-armed sociopaths, of course, but that is not the same as being an anarchist.

Are there any Southeast Asian anarchists (he asks having thought about this briefly and not done any research at all – hey, it’s a blog not a journal)?
Based on the video below, the answer to that question would seem to be: no, but there's a British anarchist in town. The narrator in the video refers to the Brit in black as a "farang" which is slang for "foreigner" in Thailand.

Cross Coverage:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dawn to Dusk Coverage of Bangkok on May 19th

WARNING: the video above is GRAPHIC in parts (blood, dead people, and bloody dead people from 4:35 to 5:25). produced the video above and has more background.

Pre-announcing Our Secrets

The Los Angeles Times: Obama decides to unilaterally announce secret U.S. missile tests, satellite launches
President Obama has decided to pre-announce to the world once-secret American ballistic missile tests and satellite launches.

The Democratic administration's goal is to show a friendlier face to other countries and to coax Russia to do the same.

It's part of a confidence-boosting initiative...
Why does he want to further boost Russian confidence?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fabio Polenghi has this photo and caption of Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi:
Freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 48, of Italy lies on a stretcher at Police Headquarter Hospital Wednesday, May 19, 2010, in Bangkok, Thailand, after being shot during a government crackdown on anti-government protestors. Polenghi was later pronounced dead by Thai doctors. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
While the red shirts espouse a non-violent transformation of Thailand's political establishment there is at least one group associated with them that is willing to use violence to achieve their ends: the black shirts. The Thai Army would naturally be suspicious of anyone in a black shirt. This is why rule #2 from Andrew Marshall's Bangkok Safety Tips is: "Wear light clothes, e.g. white top, light brown trousers. Avoid wearing black which is intimidating." To be a bit more direct, don't dress in a way that would lead one side in a conflict to see you as a nefarious assassin. It's possible that Fabio was wearing body armor or some other outer layer (like many other journalists); however, the camera bag still strapped on him suggests otherwise.

Rest in peace, Fabio.


Photo District News reports that Polenghi was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was shot:
Polenghi was shot in the stomach when police rushed a barricade where protesters were gathered. AP says that according to other journalists at the scene, Polenghi was wearing a bullet-proof vest. He was rushed to a hospital, but doctors were unable to save him.
Cross Coverage:

It's an Anti-Obama Year

Jay Cost at the HorseRaceBlog: This Isn't an "Anti-Incumbent" Year
Just as the student radicals of the 1960s became the tenured faculty of the 2000s, so the worm has turned in the District of Columbia. The gates have been crashed and the one-time insurgents are now comfortably ensconced as the establishment. And with the health care bill, Mr. Obama and his band of former rebels have enacted an extremely unpopular law that they cannot possibly blame on the old guard. George W. Bush may have "forced" Barack Obama's hand on the stimulus, but Dubya had nary a thing to do with the health care bill.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Al Jazeera on the Unrest in Thailand

Al Jazeera's English language channel posted the above panel discussion on the unrest in Thailand. It's 24 minutes and there's some "inside baseball" about the Thai system of government, but I think the moderator does a good job of getting the panelists back on topic. That inside baseball also provides some insight into the subtleties and history of the problems in Thailand. has an excellent photo set.

Jim Schmidt drops out and endorses Chuck Purgason

From the website of Jim Schmidt for US Senate
Dear Friends,

After much consideration, I have decided to withdraw my name from the Missouri Republican Primary Election ballot for the United States Senate.

I recently learned that the work I perform on federal grants for the St. Peters Police Department may stop me from seeking partisan political office....


I urge you to vote for Chuck Purgason in the August 3rd Republican Primary Election and to support the winner of this Primary contest in the General Election on November 2, 2010.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

While Bangkok Burns

The Nation's State has photos from the unrest in Bangkok. The slingshots are a bad idea.

By the way, I setup a Twitter list to better follow breaking news out of Thailand. Checkout:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Journalists in the midst of Thailand's Unrest

Veteran photographer for The Nation, Chaiwat Phumpuang, is evacuated after being shot in the leg

The Nation reports on the injury of one of their photographers:
Chaiwat, an award-winning lensman who has worked on many political crises including 'Black May' in 1992, was shot in the leg while recording the action in the Rajprarop area, which has been declared by the military as a "live firing zone". A bullet smashed a bone and he ended up being sent to Phya Thai 1 hospital. He had just come back to work a few weeks after suffering partial paralysis.


Chaiwat is the fourth journalist casualty in the latest rampage. On Friday three journalists from France 24, Matichon and Voice TV were wounded in clashes between government forces and protesters.
Andrew Marshall has some advice for journalists in Bangkok:
Three journalists were among the dozens of people injured in today’s violence in Bangkok. Courtesy of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT)—which lies inside the Red Shirt protest site at Rajaprasong—here are some safety tips for reporters working in this increasingly dangerous city. I should stress that this is not an official FCCT comminique, but is based on advice from a security consultant. (Nor is it my advice.)

1. Consider if you really need to put yourself in the fire-zone for your story.

2. Wear light clothes, e.g. white top, light brown trousers. Avoid wearing black which is intimidating.

3. Carry a first-aid kit, spare mobile batteries. Wear Kevlar if you have it. Under a top is better as you look less official. Bicycle helmets are good for head protection as they are thick and shrapnel will have further to travel through it.

4. If you hear a blast TURN AWAY FROM IT crouch with your back to it cover your head and stay that way for several seconds. Shrapnel can travel for hundreds of metres. If you can take cover do so, but be aware that secondary bombs are often placed at the most obvious cover.

5. Keep to the footpaths. Avoid open places and shops with plate glass windows.

6. If there is gunfire take cover and observe where the line of fire is travelling. E.g., is it random, sniper fire, travelling towards you (in which case you could be the target), or near to a person who is.

7. You have more safety in crowds. They absorb blasts and shrapnel.

8. If you see something happening, people shooting, etc., and want to take a look, be sure to look behind first otherwise you may inadvertently put yourself in the line of fire of someone who is behind you.

9. Do as much as you can to make yourself look neutral. Wear a flower. Make a point of smiling at the soldiers, protesters, etc.

10. If a hand grenade lands near you (which is possible) they normally have a 3-5 second fuse. Throw yourself on the ground face-down with the soles of your feet pointing towards the blast. Wear shoes with thick soles as these will prevent the shrapnel from traveling too far up your legs. Tuck in your chin, stick your fingers in your ears and open your mouth – this will help prevent your eardrums from bursting. Wear a small rucksack. Stick a few A4 pads in it. This will help stop shrapnel.

11. Avoid wearing jewellery. If you’re near a blast, it gets turned into shrapnel and gets embedded in you.

That’s it. Stay safe out there.
Update: Why do journalists put themselves at risk? I think in many cases they do not realize that they are in danger until there's little to be done. Nick Nostitz had this experience on May 15th and provides a riveting first hand report and photos from the killing zone:
Naked terrible unbelievable fear

Leadership: Seh Daeng

Khattiya Sawasdipol, also known as Seh Daeng, is a 58 year old leader of the red shirts in Bangkok Thailand. He had just begun an interview when he was shot. The reporter, Thomas Fuller, who was interviewing Seh Daeng is interviewed above about the shooting. "Leader" is another word for "target". I suppose it's always been this way.

If you just learned about the unrest in Thailand, I highly recommend this summary of the political and security situation.

Here are a couple of reports on the shooting of Seh Daeng:

Sniper 'targeted Khattiya from high-rise'
A sniper who shot Maj-General Khattiya Sawasdipol on Thursday appeared to have used a Winchester rifle with a .308 bullet and fired it from a tall building, a military expert said.

The expert said the bullet, which struck Khattiya on the right temple before passing through his throat and the back of his neck, was travelling at an angle of between 45 to 75 degrees.
"This can only mean that the sniper must be a real pro and stalking Seh Daeng from a tall building," he said.

Khattiya collapsed unconscious the moment he was struck by the bullet at around 7pm, right in front of the underground MRT Silom station. He was rushed to Hua Chiew Hospital before being transferred later to the Vajira Hospital. He is now in a critical condition. Only a miracle can save his life, according to medical sources.

An informal investigation into the shooting of Khattiya reveals that he was talking to reporters with his face turned towards Wireless Road. The sniper could only have hid himself on one of the high floors inside either the Dusit Thani Hotel or the adjacent building on Rama IV Road.

Khattiya propelled himself into the second generation of the red-shirt leadership after Jatuporn Promphan, Veera Musigapong, Natthawut Saikua and Dr weng Tojirakarn wavered in the face of growing pressure from the Abhisit government. Khattiya was quite carefree during his routine surveillance of the Sala Daeng area, where the red shirts had set up barricades to protect their Rajaprasong encampment.

A replay of the incident pointed to the possibility of a set-up. Khattiya was giving an interview. The video camera of a reporter started to roll and the light from the camera beamed on his face. Within that second, Thomas Fuller, a correspondent of the New York Times who was about a metre away from the general, heard a loud noise like a firecracker lighting up the sky.

In his report for the New York Times' Thursday edition, headlined "Thai General Shot; Army Moves to Face Protesters", Fuller wrote: "The reporter, who was two feet away and facing the general, heard a loud bang similar to that of a firecracker.

"The general fell to the ground, his eyes wide open, and protesters took his apparently lifeless body to a hospital, screaming his nickname: "Seh Daeng has been shot! Seh Daeng has been shot!"

The loud bang that Fuller heard possibly came from a firecracker - not the gunshot from the Winchester .308 rifle, which was equipped with a silencer. The sniper fired his shot within the second when he could see Seh Daeng clearly with the help of the light from the video camera.

Political observers said there are several theories behind the assassination attempt on Khattiya.

First, he could have been a target of revenge from a military regiment called Phayak Burapha, which lost the battle badly on April 10 against the red shirts. In that battle, the Phyak Burapha lost Colonel Romkhlao Thuwatham.

Second, hardcore elements of the red shirts wanted to strike down Khattiya so that the ensuing upheaval would go out of control and in the end a national government could be formed as a compromise.

Third, the military or the government in power wanted to eliminate him to dilute the hardcore element within the red-shirt movement.
Thai General Linked to Protests Is Shot in Head During Interview -
A renegade major general who allied himself with the protesters who have paralyzed Bangkok for weeks was shot in the head and critically wounded here on Thursday as the military began sealing off a barricaded encampment of antigovernment protesters.

The general, Khattiya Sawatdiphol, 58, had become a symbol of the lawlessness and impunity that have torn Thailand apart as the protests have pitted the nation’s poor against its establishment.

He was shot during an interview with a reporter for The New York Times about 7 p.m., one hour after the military announced the start of a blockade and cut off electricity and water to a tent city of thousands of protesters.

The reporter, who was two feet away and facing the general, heard a loud bang similar to that of a firecracker.

The general fell to the ground, his eyes wide open, and protesters took his apparently lifeless body to a hospital, screaming his nickname: “Seh Daeng has been shot! Seh Daeng has been shot!”
More news on the unrest in Bangkok, Thailand:

Asia Society has photos and a voice-over about Thailand's political crisis

Video: Molotovs and Machine Guns in Bangkok | GlobalPost
Young Thais, faces cloaked with bandanas, are chucking molotov cocktails at troops. Small caliber bullet holes are punched through street signs. Old tires are set aflame and rolled toward troop positions and barbed wire is strung across what should be busy thoroughfares.
Hope all reporters injured today will be recovered soon.
I called it. @aleithead
From cameraman DC: "Sathorn on fire." Burning tyres all the way along the road - troops seem to have pulled back. Reds taken control of rd
As always happens.... @TAN_Network
Their Majesties the King and Queen to pay for medical bill of those injured in today's clashes
BBC News Video - Reporter travels to the heartland of the red shirts

BBC News Video - Violence returns to the streets of Bangkok

The Nation's State has a good set of annotated photos.

Bangkok Pundit has frequently updated coverage of the situation.

Reports of power and internet outage. And stay away from windows. Bullets go through them and explosions shatter them turning the glass into shrapnel.

Bangkok Unrest: Missile Command Edition

Red shirt protesters are not well equipped, well trained, or well funded, so they have to improvise. In the clip above you can see them launching fireworks at Thai Army helicopters in an effort to ward off the choppers. I'm not sure how effective this is, since the fireworks give away the position of the red shirts so ground-based Thai Army units can respond.

Oh, and don't forget, never bring a laser pointer to a gun fight.

Friday, May 14, 2010

John Galt Reports for Duty in April

Reuters reports U.S. posts 19th straight monthly budget deficit:
The United States posted an $82.69 billion deficit in April, nearly four times the $20.91 billion shortfall registered in April 2009 and the largest on record for that month, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday.

It was more than twice the $40-billion deficit that Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast and was striking since April marks the filing deadline for individual income taxes that are the main source of government revenue.
They seem surprised. Why? Unemployment was way up in 2009. Even those people who were only out of work for a little while, would likely have made less money than projected prior to their unemployment. As a result, their with-holdings early in the year would have been too high for their total yearly earnings resulting in a tax refund after they filed. Look. A progressive tax system only works well when the country is creating more and more top tax bracket wage slaves. That's the kind of behavior the present administration has endeavored to discourage.

The article goes on to note that the US Government's receipts for April 2010 were $245.37B, down from $266.21 in April 2009. Since quarterly taxes are also due April 15th, it stands to reason that a portion of that $21B fall in revenue was caused by people either going Galt or deciding that they've "made enough money."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Debt and Rating Agencies

Investors Business Daily reports that U.S. Debt Shock May Hit As Soon As 2013
The great uncertainty about how much debt is too much has tended to make fiscal discipline seem less urgent, rather than more. There is no obvious threshold beyond which investors will demand higher real yields for holding U.S. debt. Vague warnings from ratings agencies about the loss of America's 'AAA' status haven't added much clarity — until recently.

In the wake of the financial crisis and recession, Moody's Investors Service has brought new transparency to its sovereign ratings analysis — so much so that 2018 lights up as the year the U.S. could be in line for a downgrade if Congressional Budget Office projections hold.

The key data point in Moody's view is the size of federal interest payments on the public debt as a percentage of tax revenue. For the U.S., debt service of 18%-20% of federal revenue is the outer limit of AAA-territory, Moody's managing director Pierre Cailleteau confirmed in an e-mail.

Under the Obama budget, interest would top 18% of revenue in 2018 and 20% in 2020, CBO projects.

But under more adverse scenarios than the CBO considered, including higher interest rates, Moody's projects that debt service could hit 22.4% of revenue by 2013.
And that explains why Reason is reporting that Rater Haters Turn On Moody's
On this side of the pond, the Securities and Exchange Commission is putting pressure on Moody's, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) is introducing regulation of rating agencies into the stalled finance bill.

Note that the rating agencies are not getting dinged in response to their legitimate failures -- the famously too-high ratings awarded to Enron, Lehman Brothers and the universe of junk debt instruments. They're being punished for doing the right thing: sounding the alarm on Europe's manifest sovereign debt crisis and America's looming one. By coincidence, Moody's recently issued a widely publicized warning that the U.S. could be looking at a serious public debt emergency by 2013. No wonder Franken wants to rein in the raters that were considered jim-dandy back when President Obama first introduced his financial regulation bill. The agencies have gotten themselves into trouble by trespassing on government property.
Al Franken wants to legislate lower rates. What could possibly go wrong?

'nother Warrant, 'nother Arrest

Over in Columbia, MO, a police swat team executes a search warrant and the family pet. A few months ago I heard someone with Campaign for Liberty discuss the militarization of America's police forces: "when the uniforms go from blue to black, that's a leading indicator." I honestly can't recall the last time I saw a police officer in blue and if the video above is representative, that's a lot of police to serve a warrant.

End in Sight

RealClearPolitics on The Welfare State's Death Spiral
The welfare state's death spiral is this: Almost anything governments might do with their budgets threatens to make matters worse by slowing the economy or triggering a recession. By allowing deficits to balloon, they risk a financial crisis as investors one day -- no one knows when -- doubt governments' ability to service their debts and, as with Greece, refuse to lend except at exorbitant rates. Cutting welfare benefits or raising taxes all would, at least temporarily, weaken the economy. Perversely, that would make paying the remaining benefits harder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Obama: A Polarizing Leader in a Polarized Age

Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics explores two reasons for Obama's polarization:
The hook of [Obama's] candidacy was: America, do you really want to do Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton?

Yet here we are, breaking records for polarization. How did that happen? Why has Obama failed to do what he promised?

I think there are two big reasons.

First, Obama's implicit claim throughout his candidacy was that public divisiveness was somehow a failure of leadership. This was mostly nonsense. This country has been divided over cultural issues since at least 1973 and Roe v. Wade. It has been divided on fiscal issues since Reagan cut taxes in 1981; this ended the hidden tax of bracket creep, but meant that legislators had to make hard choices between more spending and lower taxes. It has been divided on foreign policy issues since the Bush Administration's response to 9/11.

These are all real things. They are not rhetorical wrinkles that a Jon Favreau speech can iron out. Obama's choices have mostly been liberal (with the notable exceptions of dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan). His speechwriters have endeavored to present his choices as win-wins, but their words have failed to persuade because the President's choices are rarely in fact win-wins. They usually favor one worldview or set of interests over others. Favor one side enough times and the losers will start to see what's going on, "eloquent" speeches aside.

Second, insofar as leadership could bridge the many divides in this country, this President has never been in a good position to exercise it. He owes too much to others. You don't win a nomination battle like the Clinton-Obama smackdown without making a bunch of promises. Remember that neither Clinton nor Obama secured enough delegates through the primaries and caucuses; Obama needed the superdelegates, chief among them being Speaker Nancy Pelosi (easily the most powerful Democrat in the country prior to the President's inauguration). There is a long line of constituent groups in the Democratic Party who certainly needed assurances about what an Obama presidency would look like. So long as reelection remains to be secured, these groups at least have to be monitored if not placated. And so, in a time of great divisiveness, the people with the closest connection to the 44th President are consistently on one side of the aisle. The left side.

Video: Red Light Camera Protest

About a dozen protesters assembled on the four corners of the intersection of Chippewa and Kingshighway in south St. Louis city Saturday afternoon. The protesters carried signs and gave flyers to passing motorists and pedestrians encouraging them to contact their state representatives. An amendment to the transportation bill which would ban red light cameras across the state was passed by the Missouri senate this past week. The state legislative session will end in mid-May, so contact your state rep in Jefferson City and ask them to vote for a state-wide ban on red light cameras.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Mullah Omar Captured

Big Government is reporting that Mullah Omar has been captured:
Through key intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I have just learned that reclusive Taliban leader and top Osama bin Laden ally, Mullah Omar has been taken into custody....

We have known since the end of March and we had it confirmed ten days ago by the Pakistanis. So why didn’t the State Department and the CIA know?

Courageous Restraint = Kick Me

Washington Examiner Medal for 'courageous restraint' plan get mixed review from troops
A proposal to grant medals for "courageous restraint" to troops in Afghanistan who avoid deadly force at a risk to themselves has generated concern among U.S. soldiers and experts who worry it could embolden enemy fighters and confuse friendly forces.
Can our troops decline to accept the "courageous restraint" medal? It seems to me to be a variant of that old middle school "kick me" prank.

Count down to Elena Kagan

RedState is has a preview of the likely Elena Kagan Nomination Debate
President Obama is expected to announce at 10 am this morning that Elena Kagan will be submitted to the Senate for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court...

Let the vetting begin. A preview of the Senate debate on Kagan to be Supreme Court Justice can be found in the Congressional Record preceding the March 19, 2009 vote on her nomination to be President Obama’s Solicitor General. Kagan is going to have a rough ride — she only passed on a 61-31 vote.

The March 2009 debate is a preview to the public debate that will be going on over the next few weeks from coast to coast. Kagan was hit hard on her actions in banning the military from recruiting on campus at Harvard Law. She was also critiqued for not having the necessary experience for the Obama Solicitor General position. These issues will be front and center in this debate. Will this be President Obama’s Harriet Miers Moment?
I doubt that this will be Obama's Harriet Miers Moment. Perhaps Kagan will be voted down in the Senate, but I just can't see Obama withdrawing her name.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Red Light Camera Protest

Red Light Camera Protest

About a dozen protesters assembled on the four corners of the intersection of Chippewa and Kingshighway in south St. Louis city Saturday afternoon. The protesters carried signs and gave flyers to passing motorists and pedestrians encouraging them to contact their state representatives. An amendment to the transportation bill which would ban red light cameras across the state was passed by the Missouri senate this past week. The state legislative session will end in mid-May, so contact your state rep in Jefferson City and ask them to vote for a state-wide ban on red light cameras.

Cross Coverage:

Friday, May 7, 2010

April Unemployment

Gateway Pundit reports on the BLS Situation Report:
US Nonfarm Payrolls increase by 290K in April. Unemployment rate up to 9.9%. It was the highest rate of unemployment since December.
Here's Instapundit's always pithy take:
JOBLESS RATE RISES TO 9.9%. UNEXPECTEDLY! But the spin is positive
Here's Yahoo! FinanceJobs up 290,000; jobless rate rises to 9.9 pct:
The economy got what it was looking for in April: A burst of hiring that added a net 290,000 jobs, the biggest monthly total in four years.
Wait! The Wall Street Journal will cut through the rainbows and unicorns and give me the numbers straight! Right?
Economists expect the unemployment rate to fall very slowly as discouraged job seekers who had stopped looking for work return to the labor force and are counted as unemployed.
No. Apparently not. So here's the BLS Employment Situation Report money quote [link will break in a month--I blame BLS]:
Among the marginally attached, there were 1.2 million discouraged workers in April, up by 457,000 from a year earlier.
As you can see, The Won's plan to create, save, and discourage workers continues apace. I'm just wondering, if 290k is the most jobs added in four years, when was the last time we added nearly half a million newly discouraged workers? Has that ever occurred?

US Financial Earthquake causes Asian Tsunami

ABC Radio Australia reports Turmoil on Asian markets over Greek debt crisis:
Japan's central bank says it will inject more than $US20 billion in liquidity into financial markets amid market turmoil caused by the Greek debt crisis.
While the Japanese blame the Greek debt crisis, America's ABC News is investigating a Possible Trading Error:
The sources told ABC News that the possible error by Citi involved what was supposed to be a $16 million trade on an S&P 500 futures-linked contract. The trade was entered in billions instead, they said.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Picturing the Spending Problem

Financial Crisis 101

Andrew Klavan of PJTV summarizes the financial crisis.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Summarizing Thailand's Security

G. M. Greenwood has an excellent summary in Asia Sentinel of Thailand's Multiple Revolts. This is a good place to start if you're trying to come up to speed on the unrest there. I've added links to additional information, but otherwise this is all Greenwood:
The spectre of civil war is now routinely discussed as a possible outcome to Thailand's now-systemic political and social crisis. This is an improbable outcome in the current phase of the protest cycle given the widely differing and frequently opposed expectations, grievances and fears that underpin the motives and issues driving the country's protracted political instability.

Thailand is not simply experiencing a binary struggle between pro- and anti-government forces but is in the midst of a complex series of revolts that now involve much of the population and most institutions. The depth and force of commitment may vary, but disentangling the now exposed divisions between classes, regions and within key organisation cannot be dealt with through a superficial compromise between already discredited political leaders.

The crisis, which began for the more perceptive members of the country's traditional elite in January 2001 with Thaksin Shinawatra's first election victory, now defines Thailand's political and social system.

Thaksin's massive popular reaffirmation in the February 2005 polls, an existential threat to Thailand's established order, ignited a series of revolts that now engulf the country. These largely passive rebellions are largely concealed by the noisier narrative that Thailand's crisis is a simple struggle between the impoverished, neglected and marginalised countryside seeking redress from the wealthy, distant and disdainful city.

The now familiar colour-coded ur-revolt – reds, yellows, with occasional sightings of blues, pinks, as well as the ever-present green of the military, the mysterious and murderous ‘blacks' and the growing involvement of saffron-clad Buddhist monks – give an impression of order and symmetry. In reality, the Thai crisis more closely represents at its present stage the ‘million mutiny' phase of social and political upheaval rather than the coherent coalescence and radicalisation required to move general disorder into nation-breaking anarchy.

Rather than presenting unified ideological or structural fronts, the organic components of the Thai drama have often conflicted beliefs and sentiments towards the other players and within their own groups.

The professional military leadership may, for reasons of conviction and ambition, be firmly aligned to maintaining the status quo. The army, in particular, is traditionally in a near-permanent state of revolt against any civilian government – which includes Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's creaking administration that owes its position to military leverage. The military is also divided within, with many senior officers seeking advantage over intra-service rivals while doubting the willingness of enlisted personnel to act decisively against their own class.

These competing tensions are regarded as responsible for the army's reluctance to support successive governments in restoring order – either against the pro-establishment yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) when they occupied Bangkok for months in 2008 or now against the red version of this similar strategy.

The much reviled police are, by contrast, seen as supporting the Red Shirts – no doubt partly due to Thaksin's links with the force that he served for many years, but also because of the animosity between the police and the military. The police, therefore, have frequently failed to act against the Red Shirts out of solidarity and against the well-connected yellows out of professional reticence and the fear of personal retribution.

Even the monkhood is riven between what many junior clergy appear to view as the contradiction between Buddhism's high status at the apogee of Thailand's elite pantheon and its mission to bring succor to country's most disadvantaged. This raises the possibility that some of the clergy may take to the streets with reds, much as Buddhist monks did in Burma during the doomed 2007 anti-government protests.

The reds' appeal to the rural population of the northern and northeastern provinces reflects economic, class, social and even ethnic divisions between the hardscrabble lives most lead, in contrast to the reality and perceptions of those in distant Bangkok. Ideological mobilisation may be evolving, but the principal catalysts for revolt are for improved personal outcomes based on more stable income, affordable health and education provision and freedom from usury and indebtedness.

Assuring such expectations - raised and partially met by Thaksin - is the most readily achievable resolution at an economic and administrative level, but opposition to such largesse from the country's still narrow tax base stirs counter-revolts.

The yellows – created, funded and protected by the military, the aristocracy, bureaucracy and largely ethnic Chinese urban professional and commercial classes – represent the status quo and reflect an unwillingness to share status and wealth with the masses. This group forced Thaksin and his successor governments from power by staging a protracted revolt in 2008 that, unlike the reds, drew no warnings that the country faced civil war.

The unintended consequence of the Yellow Shirt uprising was to produce an operational and moral template for the reds to follow and use to claim the protection of precedence. Until the first fatalities occurred in Bangkok in April, the red case was beginning to receive more favorable – or at least sympathetic – coverage in the mainstream Thai media, revealing conflicted opinions within the elite.

The ‘royal institution' – the respectful term used to refer to the monarchy – is at the heart of the present national melee. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, hospitalised since September last year, made a rare public comment in late April in which he repeated a message to the nation's judges to do their work well.

The king's failure to deliver even a runic phrase or comment that could be directly linked to the present crisis and serve as a keystone in forcing compromise between his divided subjects has disappointed and confused many Thais and foreign observers. However, the king's call to uphold the law may also be interpreted as a warning to the country that without a recognizably equitable legal system Thailand faces a future dictated by the arbitrary use of power and force, with the unspoken implication that it will be unmediated by a benign monarch.

Such après moi le deluge sentiments and the king's removal from worldly events – which may be viewed as a regal strike - can be added to the numberless revolts that now characterise Thai society.

This maze of passive and active revolts complicates any resolution to the crisis. Millions of Thais have incrementally abandoned or ignored the bonds – or shackles – that had traditionally defined relations between classes and within the country's key institutions. In the absence of any new charismatic leader emerging - Thaksin is extremely unlikely to return to Thailand and prosper - who can complete either the red agenda of mass democracy or enforce the yellow intent to reserve political power for a small elite, Thailand risks slipping into an era of sullen apathy that leaves grievances to fester and petty ambitions to flourish. The response to such a period, which may well combine Burma's ruthless authoritarianism with Cambodia's past displays of hysterical nativism, may serve as the precursor for a coherent populist revolt that could violently shatter Thailand's mythic national consensus for generations.
Update: Thanks for the link, Glenn! It's truly an honor to be mentioned in a post along side Michael Yon. Here are some additional resources for following the unrest in Thailand:

Is this the Change We were Promised?

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO): Putting al-Qaeda Ahead of the CIA?
Have you heard of the group of lawyers associated with the American Civil Liberties Union self titled the “John Adams Project”? These folks apparently hired private investigators to take pictures of CIA agents they believe may have interrogated terrorists after September 11th. They then passed these pictures on to the lawyers defending said terrorists in hopes that one of them will accuse the agents of torture. These photos of covert CIA agents were later found in the cells of al-Qaeda members being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama Justice Department is quietly investigating the lawyers associated with the John Adams Project who may have violated a number of laws in place to protect our covert operatives and their families. But so far, with few exceptions, the media and their friends on Capitol Hill haven’t found this case nearly as interesting as Valerie Plame. Could it have anything to do with the ideological bent of the perpetrators?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Creative Destruction

Clay Shirk on The Collapse of Complex Business Models:
In 1988, Joseph Tainter wrote a chilling book called The Collapse of Complex Societies. Tainter looked at several societies that gradually arrived at a level of remarkable sophistication then suddenly collapsed: the Romans, the Lowlands Maya, the inhabitants of Chaco canyon. Every one of those groups had rich traditions, complex social structures, advanced technology, but despite their sophistication, they collapsed, impoverishing and scattering their citizens and leaving little but future archeological sites as evidence of previous greatness. Tainter asked himself whether there was some explanation common to these sudden dissolutions.

The answer he arrived at was that they hadn’t collapsed despite their cultural sophistication, they’d collapsed because of it....

In such systems, there is no way to make things a little bit simpler – the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change. Tainter doesn’t regard the sudden decoherence of these societies as either a tragedy or a mistake—”[U]nder a situation of declining marginal returns collapse may be the most appropriate response”, to use his pitiless phrase. Furthermore, even when moderate adjustments could be made, they tend to be resisted, because any simplification discomfits elites.

When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.
The article is excellent throughout, so read the whole thing. It got me thinking about The Practical Rules of Bureaucracy and good ol' fashioned creative destruction. The first practical rule everyone has heard before: "spend your budget." The second is a little less familiar: "fail." Having spent its budget a bureaucracy must fail so that it can argue for a larger budget and/or more regulatory authority next year. For example, if the Department of Energy ever succeeded in curbing American dependence on foreign oil--more or less its stated mission--then there would be no reason to keep it around.

And that's where capitalism's creative destruction comes in, or, rather, doesn't. We simply have not figured out how to creatively destroy the atrophied remnants of our recent past. We continue to spend public money on libraries and public government schools while less expensive web-based alternatives are ignored. The Department of Energy, in addition to energy security, claims as its purview nuclear safety, scientific discovery, and environmental responsibility. Areas that should be the responsibility of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Institute of Science and Technology, and the Environmental Protection Agency respectively. In other words, not only have we not figured out how to curtail government bureaucracies, but those bureaucracies have figured out how to expand their regulatory scope adding to their complexity while further burrowing into the body politic like the ticks they are.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Path to Peace in Bangkok?

Thailand's The Nation reports on the latest peace overture from Prime Minister Abhisit:
Is the light at the end of the tunnel that of a train coming our way? The answer depends on how the red shirts, who have been tired, dispirited and discredited, respond today to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's unexpected offer to hold a general election on November 14.
The light at the end of the tunnel well could be a train since ABC Radio Australia reports that some are predicting a civil war in Thailand:
Leading global think tank the International Crisis Group says Thailand's political system seems incapable of ending violent protests that have gripped Bangkok for two months.
Nonetheless, there is hope that a compromise can be reached, as The Nation story continues:
Optimists say the Rajprasong occupation may even end in a day or two. They see Abhisit's offer as a carrot being dangled before demoralised red leaders who have had their personal well-being threatened by possibly serious legal action and their image smeared by the Chulalongkorn Hospital invasion, arms seizures, as well as alleged links with armed militants.

The real "stick" is yet to come. On Sunday, an emergency Cabinet meeting was called to approve the possibility of an armed crackdown, which would almost surely be accompanied by terrorism charges against key leaders, who already face lesser accusations of violating the state of emergency law.

Immigration Reform Rally in Atlanta, GA

From the description on YouTube:
There was an immigration protest in Downtown Atlanta which revealed some shocking discoveries. The speakers spoke almost entirely in Spanish, but a few speakers spoke in English and called for "black, brown, and progressive whites" to stand together and fight the "culture that opposes all things public" A Democrat GA State Representative shamelessly called on the crowd (by definition filled with illegal immigrants), to register and vote! He did not qualify this statement to only include citizens, but clearly was calling for voter fraud.

The Future of Libraries

Harvard Magazine has an article on the future of libraries titled Gutenberg 2.0:
“A big misconception is that digital information and analog information are incompatible,” says Darnton, himself an historian of the book. “On the contrary, the whole history of books and communication shows that one medium does not displace another.”
Say what!?! Wait one while I copy and paste that bit of ivy league wisdom to my non-displaced medium of choice: a clay tablet. All-in-all it's not a bad article except that the librarians, convinced of their own self-importance, seem determined to convince others as well:
“Who has the most scientific knowledge of large-scale organization, collection, and access to information? Librarians,” says Bol. A librarian can take a book, put it somewhere, and then guarantee to find it again. “If you’ve got 16 million items,” he points out, “that’s a very big guarantee. We ought to be leveraging that expertise to deal with this new digital environment. That’s a vision of librarians as specialists in organizing and accessing and preserving information in multiple media forms, rather than as curators of collections of books, maps, or posters.”
If the categorization and organization that librarians provide is so great then Yahoo would've beaten Google; however, ontology is overrated. And there's a simple mathematical reason for that: hashing algorithms can execute in constant time. Let me explain what that means by way of an example. Let's say you have a street with a thousand houses on it. Instead of each house having a unique and ordered number, let's give them all unique names like: Bob, Joan, Steve, Kim, etc. A well written hashing algorithm will find George just as quickly as knowing that George is the 583rd house.

But the thing that really irks me about the Harvard Magazine article is the fact that it makes no mention of the real Gutenberg 2.0—the Gutenberg Project. You would think that the people committed to classifying information and proud of their ability to do so would be aware of a project to identify, transcribe, and provide public domain books. Perhaps they think the Gutenberg Project is just a fad, a flash in the pan that will disappear like so many internet start ups before, a blink in the history of human writing:
Project Gutenberg began in 1971 when Michael Hart was given an operator's account with $100,000,000 of computer time in it by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois.
Then again, maybe "the whole history of books and communication shows that one medium does not displace another" is wishful thinking that librarians have a vested interest in perpetuating.