Sunday, August 31, 2008

FEMA and Gustav

This article is good news. It would appear that FEMA is a great deal better prepared for this storm than they were for Katrina. Gustav may well be an even stronger storm than was Katrina, so all the preparations will likely be tested. But it would appear, for example, that the evacuation is already going quite well. It will be impossible, I imagine to get absolutely everyone out, but it would seem that all those who want to evacuate to safer groud will be able to do so.

Another article pointing out that Emergency teams around the nation are on alert to help out.

Another article from the Wall Street Journal is somewhat less rosey about the revamped FEMA, but still somewhat encouraging. The next week or so will show us what has been fixed and what still needs to be done.

Our thoughts go out to the people of the region and we hope that the worst of the problems have all been solved. May there be no loss of life and the people there be safe and secure.

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The post I'm writing was triggered by this post from Mark Kleiman. It is a good post, fondly remembering Lyndon Johnson on the 100th anniversary of his birth, which was last Wednesday. Read the post, it is a good reminder that the failure of Vietnam is not LBJ's only legacy and he should be remembered for a whole lot more. On balance history should remember him better than it does, at least to date.

But one thing in the post struck me with regard to one of the Republican talking points about Barak Obama (at least among the class of Republicans who comment on blogs and such). Specifically that Obama gives good speeches, but there is nothing else there. But Mark's post indicates why this criticism of "just giving speeches" does not get much traction. An essential skill a politician needs is to be able to persuade people to do stuff by talking to them, you know, speech. So to quote from Mark's post
But Caro, who started his project of writing LBJ's biography with such a pronounced anti-Johnson bias that he made the segregationist Coke Stevenson the hero of the first volume merely because Johnson had defeated him, does LBJ justice now. He recounts the story of Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" speech to a joint session of Congress, the speech that drove the Voting Rights Act to passage.
Martin Luther King was watching the speech at the home of a family in Selma with some of his aides, none of whom had ever, during all the hard years, seen Dr. King cry. But Lyndon Johnson said, "We shall overcome" - and they saw him cry then.

Making speeches is hardly a trivially important part of the job, and Obama is very good at the task. Also, for those who critique him as one who makes speeches, how many also remember as vital parts of their legacies the speeches of Clinton, or Reagan or Kennedy, or Lincoln, or ... the list goes on.

Now while speech making is a vital part of the job, at which Obama is supremely well qualified, it is not the only part of the job. Among the skills needed are the a steady hand, cool judgement, knowledge of relevant affairs and the ability to pick good people to serve under you. I think on those areas Obama also is, more every day, standing out as the superior candidate.

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Well the Gulf coast is facing another massive Hurricane. It does look like the region and the country is better prepared than it was three years ago. Here is wishing safety and security for all in the area.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Looking Up Other Things

I was following links on McCain's use (overuse, underuse?) of his POW status and came upon this link at MSNBC's First Read. In it Kelly O'Donnell is laying out the McCain campaign's planned response to the Biden pick for VP, the "Houses" flap, and other recent events. I was struck by the following with regard to the "houses" flap. Speaking of the McCain campaign advisors
They say Americans think most people in presidential politics are wealthy and will point out that Obama "made himself a multi-millionaire after he entered public life."

So they plan to "...point out that Obama "made himself a multi-millionaire after he entered public life." So they are going to try and persuade Americans to support the guy who doesn't know how many houses he owns because he married into money, over the guy who "...made himself a multi-millionaire..." by writing books. I'm not up on my Horatio Alger, and I am a liberal, but I thought the later option (making yourself a multi-millionaire) was the one to admire.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Karma on Biden

This is a good diary arguing in support the choice of Biden for VP. Karma for All points out that Barak Obama has already made clear that his criteria for his VP choice included someone who would disagree with him and challenge him. As I've argued elsewhere, this is a central characteristic of success, looking for evidence and arguments that challenge your existing conclusions. In short McCain, and the press, will frame this as a negative on Obama. The counter argument is that Biden will provide critical review, an essential element to a success.

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Ok, so the VP choice is Biden. Fine by me. There will be plenty of discussion as to the significance of this choice pros and cons, but I personally doubt that the VP choice is going to be very significant. Biden will not alienate any large segment of the voting population as far as I can tell. I know that Kos doesn't think much of Biden for VP for example, a position confirmed by Jerome Armstrong at MyDD. (Although check both Kos and MyDD for other more favorable opinions as well.) But I see no sign that anyone is so hostile to Biden that the electoral consequences will be large in either direction. Also, note that while some folks will dislike the Biden pick, others will be happy. Some votes may be lost, others will be gained. Total affect will be small. I think that the common wisdom that the VP pick has little affect on election day is certainly correct.

Another point regards the framing of this discussed by Jerome Armstrong at MyDD. The NYT is already framing this as indicating weakness for Obama, he needs Biden to give him support on foreign policy.

I think, however, that points up a common error we on the left have been making for some time now. It is always possible to frame an action in a negative light. Yes by picking a Biden it will reinforce the frame that Obama needs help with foreign policy. By picking a non-Biden it will reinforce the frame that Obama is an arrogant newcomer who thinks he is above everybody else. You can frame any choice as negative. The trick is for Obama supporters to provide the best defense of Obama's that we can. Biden is a useful old hand in Washington, Biden is a good campaigner, Biden will challenge Obama's views on foreign policy providing useful critical review, and so on.

There is a joke out there, I've seen a few times, saying that if the Democrats were to nominate Jesus Christ for president, the Republicans would say "Never held an elected office, the guy has never held a job, never met a payroll and does nothing but stir up trouble." This is odd enough, but the real problem is that the Democratic response would be "That is so true, what were we thinking. Couldn't he at least have worked at Burger King for a while. Our guy is no good." That's where the problem lies. We need to defend our choices. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to come up with solid Democratic defenses of Jesus Christ.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

This Is Just Stupid

Ok, I've never been a big fan of Newt Gingrich, for any number of reasons, but this is really just stupid. Newt is arguing, in apparent seriousness, that

Well, I got a very funny e-mail from a retired military officer in Tampa who pointed out that most tire inflation is done at service stations and you pay for it. And it’s actually a higher profit margin than selling gasoline. So Sen. Obama was urging you to go out and enrich Big Oil by inflating your tires instead of buying gas.
Let me make this simple so that even those with the intellectual capacity of a Newt can understand.

1 Big Oil is not enriched by profit margin, it is enriched by profits. Under any normal set of circumstances you will buy very little air from Big Oil (or anyone else) by keeping your tires inflated. So even with a huge profit margin, Bit Oil is going to get four, maybe five, dollars from you in a year. If it is much more than that, you need to patch or replace your tires.

2 By inflating your tires you use less gas. This, though it may have a smaller profit margin for Big Oil, is a much bigger source of revenue. You likely spend two to three thousand dollars a year on gas. (Note that the smaller figure for gas, $2000 is much bigger than the larger figure for air, $5).

3 If your savings from inflating your tires is even 0.1% of your fuel consumption (and experts suggest it might be more like 2%), you will buy $20 dollars less in gas.

4 Note that for an additional $5 of enriching Big Oil, you spend $20 less on Big Oil for a net loss to Big Oil of $15. Big Oil loosing $15 does not enrich Big Oil.

5 Note to Newt. That $15 figure was obtained by assuming a rediculously low fuel savings for the consumer. If you were to actually read and comprehend this it would be clear that the expected savings for the consumer (and loss to Big Oil) would more likely be about $400. Loosing $400 per consumer is not going to enrich Big Oil

6. This is actually an important point. We on the left do not actually care that much about whether or not Big Oil (or anyone else gets enriched). We are currently rather ticked at Big Oil because
  1. it profitability depends so much on public assistance (the military and State Department in the Mid East, dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, oil spills off shore, etc.)
  2. is so huge in spite of its dependence on public assistance
  3. its whining about how much more public assistance it needs
so we aren't too sympathetic to its concerns.

But if Big Oil came up with a huge new, high profit margin technology, that would double everyone's gas mileage, we on the left would be thrilled even if Big Oil became super hugely wealthy.

Let me put it this way. Big Oil becoming wealthy, we don't much care one way or the other. Big Oil becoming wealthy by dumping crap into the environment free of charge bothers us. Can you see the difference.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Mass Transit

Just to have a link to someone else talking about the rise in the use of rail transport, check out this post by Kevin Drum. Ridership is up, fuel consumption is down. This is good.

As someone who has switched to public transport here in Baltimore for the past few months, after years as a car commuter, I'm a bit familiar with both modes of transport. I'd like to make clear one point that should be obvious, but nonetheless often seems to get glossed over. If you do drive, and need to drive, or just want to continue driving and have no interest in using rail transport, or other public transport, that doesn't mean that rail transport has no value to you. Most everyone I've ever know, who drives, would prefer to drive with fewer other drivers on the road, rather than with more. Traffic congestion is pretty universally felt to be a pain. Likewise, most everyone who drives would prefer lower gas prices to higher. Even if you want to stay in your car, more people on the train means fewer people congesting your traffic and lower demand, and thus in general lower prices, for gas. Building more commuter rail, will benefit drivers. In our political discourse there is this very mistaken meme that we can either spend money on roads and help drivers, or else spend money on rail and help only rail passengers. While this idea is useful (wrong but useful) for some conservative positions, it seems to be universally accepted.

So, if you are a driver, and want to keep driving on uncongested roads with realatively cheep gas, we should build more commuter rail.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Josh Gets It

Check out this Josh Marshall post at TPM about Bob Shaffer, the Republican running for Senate in Colorado.

A bit of background, Bob Shaffer has made himself famous over the past several years supporting the sweat shop and sexual slavery operations in the Mariana Islands, back when Abramoff was a favorite within the Republican party. Shaffer is currently running for the Senate seat in Colorado and has recently been in the news over a web site his son set up at college, in which the son promotes the positive side of slavery. As Josh points out, one of the things that distinguished Shaffer in the Mariana Islands episode was Shaffer's support of the slavers. Josh is sensing a connection.

I believe that Josh's basic conclusion is essentially correct. I've written myself before (see here, here and here) that the basic character of the Conservative view of the world is to have a society composed of a Privileged class (Comprised of well-to-do, well-connected conservatives natch) and a Servile class supporting them (Comprised of the rest of us). That would match up closely with what Josh is seeing from Bob Shaffer and his son.

To understand modern conservatism, and the current state of national politics, we really need to get a grasp on this idea. There are probably 20-30% of the population that does want what I refer to in the posts above as a Servile Society. Those are the current crop of Bush dead enders and the majority of McCain's support. The rest of the country does respect a free and basically egalitarian society, but opinions within that 70% of egalitarians range from quite progressive to traditionally conservative. (I'm using the phrase 'traditionally conservative' to mean conservative opinions that are consistent with a free and egalitarian society, as opposed to the supporters of a Servile Society). The past decade or so has seen the conservative wing of the egalitarians lining up with the Servile Society (largely due to the skill with which the Servile Society supporters have masked there actual views), but they are open to being won back at this point. This election, I believe, is focused on winning back a governing majority dedicated to the principals of a free and egalitarian society. It also appears that we are well set to win back just such a majority.

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