Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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31 January 2008

Obama is the Most Liberal of All

Based on his 2007 voting record, Barack Obama was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. A look at the actual votes this rating was based on doesn't reveal any frighteningly left-wing issues being deliberated (this is, after all, the U.S. Senate), but it's a bit disturbing nevertheless.

The votes show Obama consistently voting for more government - more spending, more regulation, more interference in local and routing matters in our lives. His votes on immigration are particularly alarming, as he consistently takes the side of amnesty for illegals and more open borders generally without regard to the quality of immigrants we allow in. On foreign policy most of the votes were geared towards the Iraq war, and he missed an awful lot of these votes anyway, so I can't fault him here. It would be interesting to see how he votes on interventionist policies outside of Iraq.

One major black mark against the Bush legacy will be the growth of government under his watch. Our budget has become bloated, and he has enlarged the reach of the federal government deep into our lives - No Child Left Behind being one of the most egregious examples, as this pointless policy directly affects every family in America , and its insidious effects will be with us for years to come. What we don't need right now is a president who doesn't think government does enough. While at one time the federal government was somewhat competent, those days are long gone. Increased regulations and more government programs will not lead to improvements in our lives, but will lead to even more government. When regulations and laws fail to accomplish their goals, the answer is always "we need even more." What we need is a president who will begin to reverse this tide - who will have the courage to step back and let the states take care of matters in their own states - let them compete for citizens by governing their jurisdictions wisely and economically. Barack Obama certainly is not that man - not sure who is.

Update: Mickey Kaus lays into Obama's relentless pandering. Obama will be a disaster (i.e., worse than Bush).

30 January 2008

O Mighty Rudy - Dost Thou Lie So Low?

The Times has a pretty good summation of Rudy's precipitous fall. It was pretty spectacular - remember when he took control of the debate about a year back to attack Ron Paul's realpolitik take on the 9/11 attack? He seemed unstoppable, and every bit as comfortable as he if he was giving a tongue-lashing to some whiny critic back in his heyday as mayor. Now it's all over - and he seems to be more relieved than anything.

I thought Rudy would certainly make a better run of it than he did. Despite his liberal social views (not to mention lifestyle), I thought he'd run real strong in Florida and South Carolina based on his man-who-saved-NY image. Of course his secret to turning around New York City really amounted to little more than putting as many young black men in jail as possible. It's sad to say, but this approach, though crude, is a sure-fire way of reducing crime and making a city's streets seem more welcoming to tourists. But due to his ego (and his habit of only surrounding himself with sycophants) he was unaware that he really possessed no other magic powers, and so failed to play up this little secret to these audiences. There aren't many more receptive audiences to such a message - however cryptically sent - than Republican primary voters in South Carolina and Florida, but Rudy, thinking himself a statesman, failed to send it home.

The other secret to New York City's greatness is one Rudy has had nothing to do with. New York has the second most Jews of any city in the world - number 1 is Tel Aviv - and probably the most Ashkenazim. You can walk thru Lincoln Center or the Guggenheim or any other cultural landmark in the city and scan the names engraved on the walls - or thru places such as Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital and note who various wings are named for - to get a sense of how important a large Jewish presence is to a city's cultural and civic vitality. Then there's just the awesome entrepreneurial skills this group brings, and you've got the world's greatest city.

29 January 2008

McCain Wins Florida

Big victory for John McCain in Florida tonight. I believe a Republican candidate has an even shot at winning the presidency this year, but if it's a McCain/Obama race I can't imagine that old fossil is going to match up very well against young Barry.

Creative Financing is So Necessary

I find rationalizations of the subprime mortgage debacle fairly amusing. Certainly Alex Tabarrok's rant about "credit snobs" is a masterpiece of this genre. I didn't see David Brooks's Friday contribution until today, but it's worth reviewing. He likes to explain the subprime crisis in terms of an "Ecology Narrative".
The Ecology Narrative is different. It starts with the premise that investors and borrowers cooperate and compete in a complex ecosystem. Everyone seeks wealth while minimizing risk. As Jim Manzi, a software entrepreneur who specializes in applied artificial intelligence, has noted, the chief tension in this ecosystem is between innovation and uncertainty. We could live in a safer world, but we’d have to forswear creativity.
You've gotta love the irony there (he's gotta be pulling our leg, right?) - the failed loans, billions of write-offs, mass foreclosures, are all from "investors and borrowers...minimizing risk." Brilliant. He doesn't stop there.
Most of the time, the complex new instruments diversify risk and serve the public good. But life requires trade-offs, and, as we’re being reminded this week, the innovation process involves a painful adolescence...They [i.e., the wise people observing all this, like Brooks] don’t like the periodic crises, but don’t see how government can prevent them without clamping down on innovation.
Innovation - yes indeed, all that innovation revolutionizing our lives. No wonder years ago there was so little to show for all that stodgy, boring, run-of-the-mill financing, other than trans-continental railroads, fleets of ocean liners plowing the seven seas, the electification of an entire continent, air travel, automobiles, telecommunications, the green revolution.

Has it occurred to these people what a sorry state of affairs it is when we have all this surplus money floating around looking for an investment and the best they can find are low-grade mortgages on the least desirable properties with the least attractive credit risks? What innovation? What wonderful things are revolutionizing our lives as a result of this creative financing? Cell phones and video games (which are not even manufactured in the U.S.) Maybe the only innovations are in the financial markets themselves.

22 January 2008

The Subprime Disaster

So the subprime mortgage crisis has turned into a world disaster. World markets plunged yesterday - trading had to be stopped on India's main exchange. How could poor lending practices be responsible for such a debacle? What sort of economic theory explains how so much money could be tied up in such low quality investments and then be lost at the first sign of a market correction that everyone knew would happen?

There was apparently a glut in investments floating around for the past few years, and it ended up in mortgages lent out to under-capitalized, poorly-informed, and inadequately vetted home buyers at the peak of a long and tiring real estate market. We put these funds in the hands of used-car salesmen turned mortgage brokers trolling for saps, turned these over to financiers who quickly bundled them up into packaged investments and sold them off before anyone had time to look into the contents. Now the entire world economy is at the brink of failure.

Again - which school of economic thought do we turn to for an explanation of all this?

19 January 2008

We Are Doomed, part MCMLVIII

Read this article in the NYT. It concerns a study about a new nasty, drug-resistant form of staph that is spreading among gay men. Here's a straight-forward Reuters report from a couple days ago, based on the by-the-book press release from the study and an interview from one of the study's authors.
"Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable," said Binh Diep, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study. "That's why we're trying to spread the message of prevention."
Here's what we find togay in the Times:
One of the major sore points for some critics was a quote attributed to the report’s lead author, Bien Diep, a researcher who said he was concerned about “a potential spread of this strain into the general population.” Mr. Diep, 29, said on Friday he regretted not being more thorough in communicating his research to reporters. He said that the term “general population” was part of medical jargon used in the report, which did not translate well.
Mr. Diep was just trying to report the facts. But, God no, not the facts - we can't allow the public to see facts - they might be tempted to draw their own conclusions! We must draw the conclusions for them, and once again, the mantras of "tolerance" and "diversity" win out over truth and safety. Is there no one in the public arena with the balls to tell this relatively small segment of the population to go f--- themselves and grow up already?

Related: A really obnoxious editorial in Salon on this issue, pointing to a 2003 outbreak among St. Louis Rams linemen and how the multiple skin abrasions and heavy skin-to-skin contact experienced by linemen put them at higher risk than other players. But as the idiot/liar author of the editorial failed to understand/relate, that was an isolated incident 4 years ago that's obviously been dealt with and not cropped up again.

15 January 2008

More on Presidential Qualifications

The Democrats are getting all the attention this cycle because they seem to have the more dynamic candidates, yet the Republican candidates are hands down more qualified on paper. The job of president is basically an executive job, since the president is essentially the CEO of the U.S. Government, Inc. (what the clever blogger Mencius calls "SovCorp"). So I would look to proven management skills as the principal qualifications for the job (on paper, of course).

In fact the Democrat front runners are a rather sorry lot, when you think about it. Hillary's principal qualification is being married to a former president, which is an awesome qualification for president of Argentina but not necessarily in the world's only superpower. She was a partner in a law firm and boss of her Senate staff which has no doubt given her many opportunities to yell at and humiliate various underlings but this is not quite the same thing as managing an organization. Edwards was a very successful attorney, and so had plenty of the same experience, but I've never heard anyone ever suggest that being a trial lawyer qualifies you for being anything other than a trial lawyer. And Obama was a community activist before becoming an Illinois state senator and then a U.S. Senator for the last couple years. So, on paper, they're a remarkably unqualified lot.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have a wealth of relevant experience. Mitt Romney, in particular, has a very impressive record in the private sector; he rescued the 2002 Olympics, and was a well regarded 1-term governor of Massachusetts. There is no doubt he could handle the executive responsibilities of the office of POTUS. Giuliani was a US Attorney, a job with great deal of responsibility, and who successfully put away several mobsters. He was also a highly successful two-term mayor of New York City. He too clearly has substantial executive skills. Huckabee was a two-term governor, but also had a lot of managerial experience as a pastor, running televisions stations, and in leadership positions in the Baptist church. Although he's had one checkered career, and not much in the way of leadership positions, McCain has at least been in congress for over 20 years and a four-term Senator, which is head and shoulders above what the Democratic candidates have to offer.

Yet there's something very off about the GOP group. They don't give the slightest hint that they're going to do anything sensible when they get into the oval office. They're still playing with post-9/11 emotions, sabre-rattling over Iran and Islamofascism; still promising to cut taxes, despite our large deficits; still extolling the virtues of free-trade, despite our horrific and very dangerous trade deficits. Nothing to make us think that they've actually been paying attention the last eight years and might have noticed even one thing to make them rethink their positions.

Not that I'm going to vote for Obama or Hillary - there's just no way. Maybe Romney would be the best choice - he seems to be the smartest of any candidate, and that might be enough to trump his phoniness.

Civil Chaos

I'm usually the last to see the latest hot video, but in case you haven't seen this one, a most enjoyable minute of viewing (via MySpace videos).
Driving In India

14 January 2008

What a Choice

As the United States grew from a small agrarian society in the late 18th century into an industrial world power by 1900, the Presidency boasted an astonishingly mediocre gallery of chief executives. Occasionally a dynamo would sneak in, but invariably with these outsized personalities also came an ill-conceived or disastrous war, so the people ended up not minding so much how undistinguished the rest of them were.

As the years have gone by and all the debts have long since been paid and all the war dead long-since buried (along with everyone else alive at the time) we tend to view these wars rather fondly. Even the War of 1812, most assuredly the stupidest thing this country has ever done since it very nearly cost us the nation itself, is celebrated in film and song for the post-bellum victory at New Orleans. And the Spanish-American war, another pointless enterprise, is typically not thought of at all, even though it led to a 15-year Iraq-like insurgency in the Philippines. And however we view it now, we all understand the Hell that that great conflict visited upon these lands. So people probably were relieved when a lightweight (and pipsqueak) like Benjamin Harrison took the reins.

The major presidential candidates we have to choose from today pretty much guarantee that our next president will fit in well with his (or her) 19th century predecessors. The bad news is that mediocre is no longer synonymous with uneventful, as George Bush has made abundantly clear. The White House is one awesome seat of power, and the dumber or crazier its inhabitant the more problems he can create.

The problem is that we have a government that does so much and it does everything poorly. Look at lending. The lending industry should be simple - you have money to lend, you take a look at the applicant, he looks like a good credit risk, you lend him money. But the government decided that banks for some bizarre reason didn't like making money and so wouldn't lend money to worthy creditors because they didn't like the way they looked, and so decided it had to micro-manage the lending process. Well, whaddayaknow, banks decided they didn't like that end of the business so much and farmed out the dirty work to brokers, and now we find that these supposedly credit-worthy customers that banks were callously refusing to lend money to are now on the verge of bringing the world economy to a standstill.

So what do we think President Obama or Clinton are going to do about the subprime loan debacle? Tell banks to only lend to good credit risks and forget all this nonsense about how many loans originate in what neighborhood? Fat chance. And of course, under President Clinton/Obama, the federal government can then apply its magic touch to all other areas where the people who vote for Obama and Clinton can get more money from the people who don't.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates (except Ron Paul) are falling over each other to assure the American people that Iran is a greatest threat to world peace on the order of Hitler/Tojo and that we are fighting World War III (or IV, I lose count) and that we need to fight Islamofascism abroad so that we can allow thousands of Mulim college students to study here and overstay their visas, all of which will be paid for by corporate income tax cuts that will pay for themselves. And Ron Paul, who sensibly has no interest in getting involved in anyone else's problems abroad, wants to return to the gold standard and opposes mandatory vaccinations here at home.

But perhaps I'm way off - maybe one of these candidates is going to do some really sensible, useful things once in office - I'm all ears.

08 January 2008

What Do We Want in a President?

Happy New Year. I recently joined an obscure Catholic sect which prohibits its adherents from even so much as thinking about wordly affairs from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception through the Feast of the Epiphany, with a one day buffer on each end. That requirement having been fulfilled to the letter, I may now resume blogging. I think I'm going to apply for an indult so I can keep blogging during the sacred Martin Luther King / President's Day interval.

Anyway I thought I'd start out slow, and reflect on what kind of president I would like to see elected. Simply put, my ideal president would be an unalloyed patriot - that is, one who is only interested in what's good for America. Of course people can honestly disagree on what's good for America, but I would be comfortable knowing that that was the president's only concern.

And I'm talking about America the country - not the idea of America, not what someone would like America to be, but the country we actually have. And I don't mean "American ideals" - yes, he should be dedicated to the Constitution, but not to any supposed lofty American idealism that transcends borders and all that crap. The Constitution has quite enough in it to keep any president occupied defending it - limited government, enumerated powers, individual rights, all that good stuff.

What sorts of priorities do presidents have besides the well-being of their country? Well let's look at Exhibit A, George W. Bush. It seems to me that what's best for America is a line of thinking that never even crosses the man's mind. His utmost concern is always his record of accomplishment.

The tax cuts he pushed through in his first year may or may not have been good for the country, but to W. it was a feather in his cap pure and simple. When Reagan pushed his own tax cut through his first year (with a hostile Congress), I have no doubt that he did so feeling it was necessary to awaken the country from its malaise. The tax code was then further re-jiggered at least two more times, with one major overhaul, with his blessing, to straighten out some problems in the previous rate changes. George Bush, on the other hand, simply will not entertain any change to His Tax Cut.

No Child Left Behind and the Iraq War are much more obvious examples of a president more concerned with burnishing his record than helping the nation. Indeed, Iraq was to be his crowning achievement (alas, it was not meant to be). As for Clinton, he seemed equally obsessed with his legacy. There is no line of thinking that could justify bombing Kosovo or invading Haiti as being good for America, though on the whole he took much less dramatic courses of action than Bush, and so his decisions were much less costly.

The current crop of candidates doesn't off much hope in this regard. Giuliani is mostly concerned with winning fights and not being shown up. That was an asset in NYC where the place is overrun with petty politicos minding their own turf, and he could tell them to f-off. Not likely to be a very helpful approach in Washington. Romney likes to take charge of things and run them - it's his obsession, and I fear he has a Bush-like need to have accomplishments to brag about, whatever they may be. With Huckabee, the calling of his evangelical faith will often intersect with America's interests, but when they don't I can bet which way he'll go. As for McCain, he's all about being the hero - saying No to soft money, staring down the yahoos (i.e., Americans) concerned about a non-stop Central-American invasion, standing up to the populists (i.e., Americans) aghast at the erosion of American industry under free-trade. But who knows, perhaps if McCain were to actually become president and finally saw what the mainstream press really thinks of him, he'd say screw 'em all and join us yahoos.

Hillary? Edwards? Please. Obama talks a good game, but he's really not. Don't you get the feeling when he speaks that America is a fill-in-the-blank country? He could be giving the same speech anywhere, running for president of any country - France, Indonesia, Kenya. Wanting to 'bring us together' - the 'audacity of hope' - we don't need to be brought together, and we don't need 'hope'. No, we just need a president who will stop doing stupid things, like sinking $200 billion a year into pointless wars, importing a permanent peasant underclass, off-shoring our industrial base, and turning our schools into eternally doomed social experiments. Sure, Obama will get us out of Iraq at some point, but are you sure he won't just send them on over to East Africa to stop the 'genocide'?