Politics: April 2010 Archives

Tulsans will remember G. W. Schulz as an excellent investigative reporter who wrote for Urban Tulsa Weekly a few years ago. He left UTW to go back to the San Francisco Bay Area where he now works for the Center for Investigative Reporting. CIR is launching Elevated Risk, a new blog devoted to shining a spotlight on the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. In the introductory post, Schulz asks some good, hard questions of DHS:

It's time, for example, to ask: Why did a Terrorist Screening Center, thousands of additional airport security officers, behavior detection specialists, ambitious technology investments and multiple intelligence-gathering operations not stop a young radical from nearly killing 290 people on Christmas Day in 2009?

Why are state and federal authorities still struggling to respond to natural disasters after the federal government handed out more than $30 billion in preparedness grants?

What happened to the high-tech surveillance system that was supposed to guard the country's southern border? The Obama Administration embraced the plan to line the border with fences, remote sensors and surveillance cameras at a cost of hundreds of millions. Then, just weeks ago, the administration showed signs that it was bailing out.

The litany of department missteps is an embarrassment.

- The $9 million spent on ice that FEMA allowed to melt on a Texas airfield.
- The $110 million in spending on conferences over a three-year stretch.
- The tens of millions spent on technology that sits unused in warehouses across the country.
- The inability to install a leader at the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

And it's time to ask if Americans are giving away too many freedoms central to their identities as U.S. citizens in exchange for costly and intrusive security programs that may not protect them.

Keep your eyes on Elevated Risk for answers.

Wilson Research Strategies, an Oklahoma-based national polling firm, polled paid attendees at this weekend's Southern Republican Leadership Conference and was the official tabulator for the SRLC presidential straw poll. The presidential straw poll results are online on the WRS blog. Watch the WRS blog for detailed analysis of the six-question survey.

WRS also just conducted a national survey on voters' inclinations and concerns as the 2010 and 2012 elections approach.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called a general election for Thursday, May 6, 2010, just a few weeks shy of the fifth anniversary of the previous election. This will be the first election in which Brown will carry the Labour Party's banner; Labour won the 1997, 2001, and 2005 elections with Tony Blair as leader.

The Conservative Party, under David Cameron's leadership, has a good chance of winning a majority for the first time since 1992, a close victory for John Major who, like Brown, took over as PM in between elections and followed a charismatic long-serving leader -- Major succeeding Margaret Thatcher, Brown succeeding Blair. After floundering in opposition for many years, the Tories have performed very well in recent elections for local councils and the European Parliament, regaining ground in parts of the UK thought forever lost to Labour.

Complicating the picture are a number of other parties, including the Liberal Democrats, the product of a late 1980s merger of the historic Liberal Party and a dissident group of Labourites who had formed the Social Democratic Party. There are nationalist parties in Wales (Plaid Cymru) and Scotland (Scottish National Party). The UK Independence Party favors withdrawal from the European Union and has done well, ironically, in European Parliament elections (which are elected by proportional representation), but holds no seats in the House of Commons, where MPs are elected by plurality -- "first-past-the-post." In 2005, Labour won a solid majority of seats in the House of Commons with only about 36% of the national popular vote.

Northern Ireland is its own world politically, with parties representing the cause of ongoing union with Britain and reunion with the Republic of Ireland. It's been many years since one of the UK-wide parties has won a parliamentary seat in the province. The Democratic Unionist Party, founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley, has the fourth largest delegation at Westminster, with 8 seats.

A British general election is like a presidential and congressional election combined. Like a congressional election, control of the government depends on aggregate of the results in each constituency (district). But like a presidential election, national issues almost always outweigh local concerns; British voters are choosing a party as much as they are a Member of Parliament.

Some British election links:

I told a friend a few weeks ago, "I don't even like writing software anymore." That's a problematic sentiment, given that I'm a software engineer by trade. I'm happy to report, however, that in the heat of hardware/software integration and long hours of focused effort on Making Things Work, I'm back in flow and enjoying tinkering with code again.

That's not leaving me much time for blogging, so here's a selection of some really thoughty stuff from other bloggers

Erick Erickson of RedState: Slaves to Government: Constitutional Gnosticism will destroy a free republic":

Consequently, we have gone beyond a point where you can sit down and read the constitution and really understand what the heck Congress can and cannot do....

We have reached a point where we have to rely on men and women in black robes and lawyers to tell us what we can and cannot do. A society begins to breakdown when the average citizen can no longer understand what his government can and cannot do without relying on men and women in black robes and lawyers all of whom have as many opinions to that question as there are opinions.

Then you cross into the territory where we have already arrived. A Congress can pass a 2,700 page piece of legislation to do something Congress arguably cannot do by making states do it, which is arguably unconstitutional. The legislators who voted on this 2,700 page piece of legislation, when asked, have no clue what is in the legislation.

You cannot sustain a free republic when the citizens who are expected to comply with the law have no understanding of what the law is or how their government works without paying the gnostics to enlighten them and the people who write the law do not know what is in the law.

(Did you know you can't tell how many state senators and state representatives Oklahoma has and how they're apportioned by reading our state constitution? The number and method was fixed by court order in 1964 and reaffirmed in statute with every decennial reapportionment.)

RH Potfry of satirical news site The Nose on Your Face is "Quitting the Blog Thing":

That 2 guys with demanding day jobs and families could cobble together some of the work we've done, get linked by everyone from Mark Steyn to Ann Coulter, and even get featured on the Huckabee Show, says a lot about how the ambitious amateur can use the internet to chase a dream.

But that chase has its price. Over the past six months, I've been nagged by the realization that I'm watching my daughters grow up over the top edge of my laptop. That if not for my wife's bizarre appreciation of my oddness, she could divorce me for neglect....

All things considered and given the limited hours in a day, I need to choose the job that comes with a paycheck, and make sure I'm fully present in the lives of the people I love.

Will Republican leadership walk back from the call to repeal the Obamacare monstrosity? Iowahawk seems to think they've already started and predicts the future with a few words per month.

Ace: Letterman Interviews Tea Party Leader & Grand Unified Theory of Everything Political -- some brilliant analysis of how political appeal works at a sub-rational level, and why the left-stream media is working so hard to convince you Tea Party supporters are wackos:

Successful politicians are often -- almost always, really; one struggles to find a contrary example -- able to appeal to those who should be opposed to them, based on purely rational inputs (past voting history, stated positions, rhetorical priorities) to nevertheless support them based on non-rational or pre-rational inputs -- a general sense of a guy as one of your own.

Non-ideological independents are, well, non-ideological, and tend to be deeply suspicious of those who are strongly ideological. Partly due to their ideology of not having much of an ideology, and partly due to sub-rational reasons: People who are strongly ideological are "not like me" and therefore viewed with antipathy....

Newt Gingrich, back when he was Speaker, gave seminars to conservative candidates on how to win elections, and he highlighted the importance of describing one's opponent (or his ideas at least) as (and I quote) "bizarre," "weird," and alien. (Not sure if that last one was used, but that was the idea.) This is the flip-side of appealing to the "One of Us" feeling -- portraying your opponent as "Not One of You."

Now, of course, the media engages in similar political rhetoric on a daily basis in the service of its cherished liberal party. The media is heavily invested in the Weird, Dangerous, Alien narratives when discussing the Tea Party. That is the biggest reason for the constant denigration of Tea Partiers as racist, homophobic, ugly, uneducated, zombie-like, etc. The media is always trying to paint Tea Partiers as "Not One of You" to discourage people from joining in the cause or viewing their claims as legitimate.

Also remember how CNN described the Coffee Parties. Did they deploy their "Weird, Dangerous, Alien" storyline in describing this group of mutant Obama Zombies? Oh dearie me no. For groups CNN likes and wishes to promote, it employs the "One of Us" Narrative....

So that's the media's template -- the left is portrayed by using the most broadly inclusive nouns, expressing the most broadly palatable and vague ideology. (All the CNN pieces on the Coffee Party refuse to divulge the Coffee Party is leftist and insist it is a centrist group concerned only with non-ideological concerns such as fair process and clean politics.)

The right is portrayed by using the narrowest possible categorical nouns and their ideology is represented as specifically as possible (to discourage those who don't share those particular views) and the Weirdness Factor is highlighted-- just in case some of those specific positions are actually attractive to a lot of people, the Weirdness Factor ought to keep you away.

He has an extended example from CNN's coverage of the "Coffee Party" movement. He also has links to Letterman's interview with Pam Stout, a leader of a Tea Party group from Sandpoint, Idaho. It's notable because it runs counter to the narrative -- Mrs. Stout comes across as normal, likable, and sincere.

Try viewing the news through this lens for a few days. You've probably seen it done at a local level, too, with phrases like "Gang of Five" used to render the legitimate concerns of a group of city councilors unworthy of public discussion.

National Review's Jim Geraghty has a list of "The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates," including his opposition to individual health care mandates, his commitment to shut down Gitmo, etc. Some are campaign promises that have expired since he took office, some are statements made since Inauguration Day that are now inoperative, and some are campaign promises that expired during the campaign itself.

Ivy League graduate William Deresiewicz writes in the American Scholar (the journal of Phi Beta Kappa) on "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education." One of the disadvantages: It hinders intellectual activity.

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it's almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it's even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A's in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time. Paradoxically, the situation may be better at second-tier schools and, in particular, again, at liberal arts colleges than at the most prestigious universities. Some students end up at second-tier schools because they're exactly like students at Harvard or Yale, only less gifted or driven. But others end up there because they have a more independent spirit. They didn't get straight A's because they couldn't be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resum├ęs.

That ought to keep you busy while I get some sleep.

WAIT: Almost forgot about this, by Richard Fernandez, which touches in different ways on the themes in Ace's post:

Who makes monsters? Mostly the Left: because of its huge presence in the media and the arts, the Left has traditionally manufactured the most hate-objects. They've done it for so long that it has become almost a birthright. The photographer Zombie has documented dozens of calls from the left, from demonstrators to celebrities, for the assassination and murder of President George W. Bush. But that's not a crime, is it? "Threats to the president aren't excusable now, and weren't excusable in the past -- and yet death threats against Bush at protests seem to have been routinely ignored for years (and readers who have any evidence showing that the threateners depicted below [in the Zombie post] were ever prosecuted for threatening the president, please tell me and I'll update this essay with the new info). Why the discrepancy?"

The discrepancy is probably because the Left has long appointed itself the guardian of the freak-minting industry. It is a prerogative that is jealously guarded. Thus Glenn Reynolds could receive this insulting email calling for civility without the slightest irony. "I cannot emphasize this enough: your brand of public discourse is hurting our country. It us poison. So f[***] you, you GOP utensil, and f[***] your mother for bringing you forth." Get it Glenn? So too could Ann Coulter be threatened by protesters at the University of Ottawa to prevent her from making a "hate speech." S**t flows downhill. There is no mystery to that. It's Leftist physics.

But the unintended consequence of uncontrolled and systematic distortion; the unforeseen effect of shipping funhouse mirrors everywhere is that sooner or later frustrated audiences put on corrective spectacles. The most sophisticated audiences eventually have a pair of corrective spectacles to suit every context. The term for this method of fixing distortions is adaptive optics. My grandfather had a simple rule of thumb for understanding the controlled news broadcasts in the last days of World War 2. Whatever the Japanese broadcasts claimed he believed the reverse. After listening to one strident description of a vast Japanese naval victory he concluded, "the IJN is no more."...

One might argue that the explosive growth of the blogosphere has been driven by its utility as an adaptive optical appliance through which to view the media. But it's a hell of a way to run a railroad. Since the reality "out there" is first distorted by the media to the point where the discerning members of the public must apply a further distortion to make the image sensible, we inflict a huge signal loss on the viewer. There is no guarantee that the applied corrections don't do more harm than good. Back in the days of the anti-Marcos underground I asked someone why he bothered to read either the government newspapers or the Communist Party propaganda sheet. He replied, "I buy it for date, my friend. It's still good for telling me what day it is."

A better situation would be one in which billions of independent sensors gathered an image and left the end user to process the information. The terrible memetic distortions of the 20th century are partly rooted in the ill-matched marriage between news gathering and meme-minting. The phrase the medium is the message was originally intended to convey the sense of absolute divorce between content and information. In an environment dominated by the formal medium, real information content actually declines. A point is reached where all news stories become variations of a few didactic themes.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from April 2010.

Politics: March 2010 is the previous archive.

Politics: May 2010 is the next archive.

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