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All in the timing

Aug. 20th, 2010 | 10:15 am

Obama's mistake was not "not expressing an opinion" on the wisdom of the proposed muslim center in lower Manhattan. His mistake was doing so after, rather than before, he invoked the rights of the matter.

Evidence? No one accused Voltaire of "waffling" when he said much the same, but in reverse order: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

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Minnesota's high tax rate is killing jobs. Not.

Feb. 12th, 2010 | 05:03 pm

MPR's Bob Collins wrote the blog post I was thinking of writing, only I didn't take the time (and I'm not as smart):

Is Minnesota's tax structure costing jobs? | News Cut | Minnesota Public Radio

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Minnesota's current unemployment, while high for us, is still in the bottom one-third of states (list). Could Minnesota's relative economic resilience have something to do with our tax-supported investments in infrastructure, education, culture (social-networking), diversification, and livability? Yes I think so.

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Bipartisanism With a Stick

Jan. 28th, 2010 | 01:58 pm

Last night's State of the Union address, like most all previous ones, had a number of audiences. Most obvious to me, it seemed like Obama was appealing, in tone and substance, to independents and disaffected tea-party types (jobs, reigning in Wall Street and lobbyists, middle-class tax cuts, budgetary restraints).

To Congressional Democrats, Obama gave marching orders and a slew of messages and initiatives crafted to help them appeal to voters -- e.g., tightening Government's belt by adopting a 3-year cap on discretionary Federal Spending, and recovering the taxpayers' money through a new tax on the bailout banks, both of which will be popular with voters and (if implemented) a strong shield against Scott Brown-type challengers in the upcoming election cycle. He also offered Dems some discipline, twice promising to exercise his veto if the don't give him the limited spending freeze and the type of bank reforms he called for.

Most interesting was his message to Congressional Republicans. To them, he offered a new approach to bipartisanship. The standard approach, as caricatured by Jon Stewart and others, is to successively abandon liberal policy preferences until reform (of the banking industry, of health insurance) is diluted to the point of ineffectiveness, or worse.

What is Obama's new approach? We are going to spend the next ten months addressing broadly popular issues -- a jobs bill, recovering the bailout money, banking regulation, budgetary constraints (pay-as-you-go, limited spending freeze), tax-cut shifting (from large corporation and high-earning individuals to small businesses and the middle class), and clean energy. Repubs can either get on board and try to take some credit for the most popular parts of these bill, or side with the banks, the rich, special interests, and dirty energy, and take the blame for dooming our country to higher deficits and a slower recovery, to boot.

This tactical shift in legislative priorities is key. It signals a keen awareness that, while "sausage legislation" like health-insurance reform may be necessary (Obama turned to health care after the Recovery Act, he said, in despite of its high degree of difficulty, because the voters elected the Dems to get it done), the Dems must also regain positive political momentum before November. They can do that by focusing now on popular, straightforward legislation that easier to explain and defend rhetorically in the short term. Obama's bipartisan offer to Republicans is thus "join this effort, or prepare to get hit with a big stick come this November."

Big, depressing caveat: the Democrats must have the wits and discipline to execute their marching orders -- a tall order, given their tendency to make every bill a sausage bill, opening themselves to deserved derision.

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Bald-faced no more

Sep. 10th, 2009 | 08:41 pm

Drama this weekend. The folks were in town staying with us for the weekend and the forecast called for Sun, so we planned a weekend project in the front yard. On Sunday afternoon, halfway through the project (after the excavating but before the tamping, as I recall), two neighborhood kids stopped by to gander at an Australian-football sized wasp nest hanging not 12 feet above the sidewalk. Its presence was unbeknownst to me but unbeknownst, apparently, to every eight-year old on the block.

So I did the responsible thing and called 411 (aka The City), who gave me the number for the Park Board because the Park Board has jurisdiction over boulevard trees, duh. The Park Board transferred me to their "Forestry Department" (wow), who was very nice, record my info, and explained that they would send a private contractor out in the next few days.

This morning the dead was done. Contractor stopped by just around sunrise, when the wasps were still lethargic from the cool of the night. Turns out they were bald-faced hornets: poor pollinators but quite aggressive if you threaten their hive. For example, if kids were to -- I don't know -- throw rocks at it on the first and second day of school while waiting for the bus in front of my house. If it wasn't in such a bad location, we could have waited for the coming cold to kill the colony (a fertile queen over-winters underground) and kept the empty hive as a nice trophy. Ah well, there's always next year.

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Blame the unions?

Jul. 9th, 2009 | 02:02 pm

Came across this gem online today:

At the Detroit auto show in January, GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz belittled Toyota's thrust into hybrids as little more than "an advertising expense." "We business-cased it, took a hard, analytical look and thought the engineering and investment were irresponsible vis-a-vis our shareholders," he said.

- from an April 2005 article in the San Diego Union Tribune (http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050409/news_lz1d9toyota.html)

I'm sure GM's shareholders appreciate that decision now.

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Who's Afraid of Hugo Chavez?

Apr. 22nd, 2009 | 11:18 pm

Can I just say, I'm really really happy with Obama so far. The bank bailout sounds like a raw deal, for sure (at least according to the small subset of economists that I follow). But the rest makes me really happy. Proud, even.

Just thought I'd mention it out loud, because I know a lot of other people are still afraid to. Afraid that it's too good to be true, afraid that verbally acknowledging just how good it is will somehow jinx it, afraid that more happy we allow ourselves to get over Obama, the more devastated we'll be if he ends up failing us spectacularly (like, you know, our last three Presidents). And I was there too, in that mind frame.

Until I read this: Obama's current approval rating among Republicans is lower than Bush's approval rating was among Democrats in March of Bush's first year. You read that right. Just months earlier, Bush had lost the popular vote, only to win the office by Supreme Court fiat. His earliest steps included raising the amount of arsenic allowable in drinking water, as a deliberate and over-obvious wink to big business and to anti-regulation ideologues. Democrats hated hated hated him, and apparently today's Republicans hate Obama even more.

But I'm happy with Obama on a number of dimensions. For nocking the socks off the European crowds and leaders. For reaching out to Iran. Releasing those torture memos. Organic gardening on the White House lawn. Speaking clearly, persuasively, and relentlessly about our need to (nay, our now-ongoing) transition to a green economy. And yes, even - especially - for shaking Chavez's hand.

Cheney and others will gladly tell you why, for "strategic" reasons, Bush would never have been caught shaking that Socialists' hand. But they won't tell you how Bush avoided such political embarrassments (sorry, I meant "blows to Democracy and America's moral authority"): by being so unloved in Argentina that Chavez did better domestically to demonize Bush like we demonized Hussein; by being so uncharismatic that he had virtually no "soft" powers to deploy in South America (ah, so this is what it's like to have a charismatic leader in the White House - people want to be seen meeting and agreeing with you); by trusting when his advisers (or was it his gut?) told him that it would be completely ineffective for him to talk to hostile leaders face to face, like a fucking man.

There, it's late and I've said it. I don't see myself (obligatory disclaimer) as especially masculine, and critiques of modern America for its effete "latte-sipping" ways usually strike me as transparent self-puffery. But I did graduate from Texas A&M. And that's the best word I can find for the old Bush policy of not even talking to leaders that we didn't like: Pussy. Would George Washington have hidden behind an aid as Chavez approached? Would Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson have excused himself to go the bathroom? Would Lincoln or Grant or Roosevelt (either one) have struck up a sudden, facetious conversation with a random passerby, or feigned a coughing fit? Or would they have extended a strong grip and flashed a confident, 10,000 candela smile for the media? Right. Because they weren't pussies. And neither is Obama. I'm really really happy about that.

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dreamy day

Apr. 21st, 2009 | 09:45 pm

This morning, while I was drafting a quick email Jason S. (who I know from a non-work volunteer org, but whom I've never emailed or talked to on the phone before), I received a call from Jason P. (who I know from work, but I've also never talked to on the phone before). After a pleasant chat, I hung up and put the finishing touches on the email to Jason S., asking him to pls give me a call. Just then the phone rang again, an unknown phone number, so I let it ring three times while I double-checked the email and clicked "send." The caller was Jason S. He joked that his ears were burning. Weird.

This afternoon, while I was walking home from work along Lyndale, I saw mplsmoochy standing outside the pet store. What a nice coincidence, we said, as we spent a few minutes catching up. I picked up my prescription next door and proceeded down Lyndale, composing a mental guest list for Shire Prty 5:2:09:20:00. Approaching my hair place, I wondered whether I should invite M. And then there she was, waving hi from inside the salon window. Then, stopping into Bob's for some coffee and to review my immigration filing, I look up just in time to see A (who I work with but never see, except in connection with this particular immigration case) walk by outside. We chat, and she explains that no, she doesn't live near here, she just happened to step on the wrong bus without realizing it, and now she's 20 blks away from home, but it seems looks like a nice neighborhood. Aw, thanks, A. Weird.

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AIG rant

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 01:01 pm

AIG's leadership says that it had to pay those bonuses because they were contractually obligated to do so. I call bullshit. Put aside, if you can, the question of why any rational company would pre-commit to paying over $160 million in bonuses to managers who may or may not even be with the company at the time the "retention" bonuses mature. (After all, AIG did a lot of crazy shit during the recent bubble, and pre-committing to bonuses was nowhere near the craziest.)

The reason AIG's excuse is bullshit is that one always has the option to non-perform on a contract. What if AIG had non-performed, eg, by not paying those bonuses? The aggrieved managers would have to sue AIG. At which point AIG could argue on any number of contract doctrines (incl. changed circumstances, force majeure), the government would likely file an amicus brief on AIG's behalf, and it would go to a jury. Would the jury find for the poor-rich-kid managers, despite knowing that it would come from bail-out money and ignite a firestorm of controversy? Would the managers even bother to sue in the first place? Some would, but some would probably not.

The worst case scenario is that the managers that do bring suit could win the full bonus package they were promised (though really the jury would probably reduce the bonus amount) plus attorney fees (though really the judge would probably deny the fee petition). AIG would stay on the government's good side (thus averting the proposed new 90% tax bracket and onerous gov. restraints for financial institutions going forward) and gain a PR boost for standing up for the taxpayer against AIG's own greedy-yet-incompetent managers.

In other words, even the worst case litigation scenario is better than what AIG is experiencing now. Why didn't AIG's leaders go this route? You could certainly pin it their greed and incompetence. But I blame their lawyers. Lawyers are trained to minimize their client's liability. Here, if AIG's lawyers were smart, they would have aimed to minimize the sum of liability plus negative PR. If AIG's lawyers had a f*cking backbone, they would have advised non-performance and started gearing up for litigation.

Last thought on this:Collapse )

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link - the cure for rose-colored glasses

Jan. 29th, 2009 | 08:25 pm

Article of the week: An Oral History of the Bush White House

I know what you're saying. You've put Bush behind you; he's finally gone and you're not going to waste another minute cogitating over that one-man Fail Blog. I feel the same. Except it's really gratifying to read that -- all this time -- many people within the Bush administration were thinking the same thoughts that you were. Thoughts like:

"To be told early in the administration, Don't give the president a lot of long memos, he's not a big reader -- well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?" - Chief White House counter-terrorism adviser.

"[Preparing Condi Rice for her 9/11-commission testimony] was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda.... They didn't give a shit about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof." - Chief of Staff to Colin Powell.

"[Why didn't Bush have a post-invasion plan for Iraq?] Number one was extreme hubris... The other major reason is that, given the difficulty of mustering public support for something as extreme as an offensive war, any serious discussion inside the government about the messy consequences, the things that could go wrong, would complicate even further the job of selling the war." - CIA national intelligence officer.

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FBP - First Black President

Jan. 20th, 2009 | 09:49 am

The media have been using the term so much of late, why not just "FBP" for shorthand? Yes, the focus on his race (on his skin color, to be more exact) does strike me as a bit unseemly.

Obama's presidency is obviously a "first." But having grown up in the multi-cultural milieu, this first always struck me as an inevitability (in a good way); not an impossibility. In Obama’s case in particular, it never crossed my mind that enough Americans would vote against him for bigoted reasons to tilt the election-meter -- though it did seem for a while that opponents hoped for that outcome, branding him un-American, etc. On the other hand, I can see why the first-ness is a bigger deal to older generations, and who am I to say that their view is less valid than mine? Given their longer perspective, it's probably more valid. And with yesterday being MLK Jr. day, it would be churlish to ignore the harmonic chords.

Still, I wonder, why the surprise? Did we really think that our country, with its history of racial oppression and bigotry, would never elect a black man? Or is it more that we (white people) simply could not imagine that a black man would ever be accomplished enough to win the presidency on the merits? If so, perhaps this euphoria is because we now know that we were wrong; perhaps this swell in our chest is from the realization that our country, despite its deep faults, has produced a black leader that we can all (black and white) look up to, that we can all take as our role model.

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