Monday, February 28, 2011

Wisconsin Drama

As some of you may know I have roots in Wisconsin. When it came to football the Packers have always been our team (second only to the Broncos). Why? Because my dad's family are Cheese-heads. In fact, before she passed away my great-aunt Margaret would mail us clippings from the local paper about Green Bay's games. And yes, mailing clippings was what you did before there was internet.

Anyway, I have been watching the events in Wisconsin the last few days in astonishment. You would think it was Egypt! Thirteen state Senators have left the state, the unions are busing in people from places like Louisiana, and doctors are handing out medical slips for people who need an excuse to skip work.

Late last year, I went to Europe with a friend of mine from Wisconsin and he broke the story about the doctors. In fact he caught them on film and Fox News did a segment on it the other night.

The bottom line is that this is becoming a hugely important political event. If you don't live in Wisconsin you might be tempted to think that this does have anything to do with you. You are right, if you are strictly talking about the proposed law.

However, this will impact everyone before long and here is why.

This has become a battle of direction for America. When the Democratic leadership pushed Obamacare on the American people, they did so despite unpopularity. The Republicans then swept the elections in November. The reason the Wisconsin drama is so important is that it will show us if the country really wants to deal with the problems like the Republicans are saying or if they really don't want to rock the boat.

We the people need to address the financial problems and that might mean that some good government programs need to go. It might not be fun. But I hope that Wisconsin is the beginning of an “adult conversation” that leads to meaningful change.

I wonder why this is?

“The great political ideologies of the twentieth century include liberalism, socialism, anarchism, corporatism, Marxism, communism, social democracy, conservatism, nationalism, fascism, and Christian democracy. They all share one thing in common: they are products of Western civilization. No other civilization has generated a significant political ideology. The West, however, has never generated a major religion. The great religions of the world are all products of non-Western civilizations and, in most cases, antedate Western civilization.”

-Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Friday, February 25, 2011

Future of capitalism

Check out the discussion on capitalism going on over at ISI. Of particular interest is Melaille's discussion of the modern implintation of Keynesianism:

[I]t was a half-baked Keynesianism, since Keynes called for a stimulus in bad times and a repayment of the debt in good times. But the economy has become addicted to stimulus in good times or bad, and the politicians are averse to repayment.

After the current banking crisis, will we be able to return to half-baked Keynesianism, or are we going to have to come up with a new (or return to an old) model?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Looking at 2012

This post is not as long as it looks. ;-)

The Field:

My favorite potential candidate is now out of the running for the Republican
nomination for 2012. So I thought I’d give my analysis of the race as it stands.

Who are our possible choices? Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike
Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitch
Daniels, Jim DeMint, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Michele
Bachmann, and John Huntsman.

I am intentionally leaving out Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Bob
McDonnell, and Marco Rubio because they are not indicating any interest this time
around and are likely 2016 candidates.

Governor Sarah Palin:
She is a household name and 'celebrity.' She has rocked the political world and has a
very loyal following. The fact that she left her Governorship will open her to attacks
and her combative nature with the “lame-stream media” will make it difficult for her
to expand her audience beyond her current 2.5 million member facebook flowing.
Random fact: Palin seems to have been the most strategic of the ’12 field when it
came to endorsements.

Governor Mitt Romney:
He has the money! Romney’s business career has been very successful and he lead the
U.S. Olympic committee out of scandal. His last presidential race in ’08 ended with a
wall full of “Silver medals,” the term he used for coming in second place. He landed
an arm full of conservative endorsements from people trying to stop McCain, but
he will have to explain RomneyCare to the Republican electorate who I am sure are
very interested to hear what changed his mind… again. Random fact: As his last act
with Marriot Hotels, Romney seems to have secured a policy to stop the hotels from
selling pornography.

Governor Mike Huckabee:
Preacher to Governor. Leading in many of the polls, Huckabee took on the conventional wisdom in the last round. He pulled off an upset and took the Iowa caucuses. The question is, has he
successfully established himself as a reliable face in the lineup with his Fox News
show? Random fact: Mike Huckabee won the Values Voter Straw Poll in 2008.

Speaker Newt Gingrich:
Fallen leader of the Republican Revolution. Gingrich lead the charge against Bill
Clinton in the ‘90s and became the Speaker of the House after the Republican victory
in ’94. He is a prolific writer and speaker, who has been pushing his concept of
supporting issues that the vast majority of American’s agree with. He always pulls
headlines and always draws a crowd. I know my Grandpa is a huge fan, but can he
attract support from the younger generations? Random fact: He was on Dobson’s
show and said he regretted his divorce.

Governor Haley Barbour:
The Ultimate Insider. Barbour is Governor of Mississippi, he was the successful chair of the Republican Governor's Assn., and he is a former head of the Republican National Committee. He is an easy speaker and good communicator. His problem will be overcoming the smoke filled room. Most agree that the 2010 elections were a rejection of "the establishment," so someone like Barbour will have a hard time fitting in with the crowd. Random fact: last year he said it would be obvious that he was running for president if he lost lbs-he hasn't.

Governor Tim Pawlenty:
The Super Hero! Pawlenty has a solid reputation as a conservative and is likely to be considered the "safe" candidate, but many worry that he is too boring for a presidential campaign. That is until he released his recent web ad: here. Now he is interesting. If this is the flavor of his campaign to come, then I take back everything. But until then, he just sits on my list as my first choice for McCain's VP in 2008. Random fact: Pawlenty's pastor is Leith Anderson, Pres of the NAE.

Senator Rick Santorum:
The homeschool dad. Santorum was quick to respond to Hillery Clinton's book "It Takes a Village" [to raise a child], with his own book "It Takes a Family." He also won lots of pro-life points as champion of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban in the Senate. His challenge is that he has been out of the political spotlight because of a 18 point loss in his last Senate Race. That is hard to overcome. Random fact: Santorun has as many children as my parents (7).

Governor Mitch Daniels:
The man who shoots his feet, regularly. Gov. Daniels has a very strong record in Indiana. He has been strongly conservative and in fact good on the social issues. But the fact that he keeps talking about a "truce" on some of the conservative issues will cost him in the end. If he did not keep talking about that and pushing that agenda, I would have him handicapped in the very top tier taking his votes from Huckabee, Pawlenty, and Romney. But that is what he keeps saying, and it hurts him more than he knows. Random fact: Daniels is widely credited among conservatives with saving Indiana's economy.

Senator Jim DeMint:
The Tea Partier who says what needs to be said, even if he isn't a great speaker. DeMint, was one of the first highly ranked elected officials to join the Tea Party movement. He is a strong advocate and a tireless campaigner. Although he is intensely popular, he will have a hard time holding conservatives together. This is not because he isn't solid on their issues, it is because there are so many others out there who can attract them. Random fact: DeMint played drums for a band called "Salt and Pepper."

Congressman Ron Paul:
The King of the Internet. He wins almost every straw poll. His supporters are sure that given a chance he is the only viable candidate. In 2008 the two biggest names endorsing Paul were a brothel owner and a pastor. Bottom line: he is a Libertarian. Random fact: Paul ran for President with the Libertarian nomination in 1988 and received .5% of the vote.

Herman Cain, CEO:
The Pizza Man. Cain has spoken at more Tea Parties than I thought possible. He took on President Bill Clinton in a TV townhall on Healthcare Reform. Clinton fought back and won. Cain fought back and he won. And all this was in 8 minutes. He speaks like a tea partier, and not like a President, will that play this year? I don't think so. Random fact: because he is African American you might get in trouble calling him a "dark horse" candidate.

Governor Gary Johnson:
Running in the shadows. Johnson, as a Libertarian leaning candidate, will be fighting the Libertarian hero Ron Paul for voters. After spending $500,000 of his own money on his campaign for New Mexico's Governor, Johnson made national news with his talk of legalizing drugs. I am sure this will come back in an interesting way considering that according to an interview with the Weekly Standard he smoked marijuana for medicinal reasons. He is also the only R candidate who does not call himself pro-life. Random Fact: Johnson is a triathlete.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann:
They can't shut her down. Bachmann is quick to engage tough issues head on. She has given a voice to many in the Tea Party movement, and she is a go-to person for the media. As a candidate for congress she wowed commentators with the amount of money she was able to raise. Whether you like her or not, she speaks from her heart. Random Fact: She and her husband have provided foster care to 23 kids.

Governor John Huntsman:
The Ambassador. Huntsman recently announced that he was leaving the State Department as Obama's Chinese Ambassador. Some wonder if Huntsman's Mormon beliefs force him to share votes with Romney. He is one of the few candidates running who can claim foreign policy experience (even if it is under Obama), but some believe that he his throwing his hat in half heartedly this time as set up for 2016.

Who do you like? Do you think.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The side effects of progress

Several months back I wrote an overview of progressivism and its influence on President Obama. It was never published until now. With the current budget battles currently taking place all across the nation, as well as a new blog reaching a new audience, the below book review/essay is worth revisiting.

Politics and Progress: the emergence of American political science by Dennis Mahoney explains how our current political science was founded by the German/progressive thinkers and then given an American twist. The first two-thirds especially show where American political science—the academic background that Obama operates under—came from. It’s a combination of German political science, American pragmatism, and progressivism, and it is fundamentally different from the political thought of the founders. The last third of the book gets rather dry, but the chapter on administration is interesting, and the conclusion very nicely sums up the book.

What is especially interesting is the mechanical/organic dichotomy question Mahoney describes—the question of whether the state should be described as a machine (checks and balances) or an organism (developing and growing). The former is a Newtonian understanding while the latter is Darwinian. And while the founders used mechanical terms for government process, they largely weren’t so rationalistic as to try to mechanize people the way the French Revolution did. Edmund Burke, for example, criticized the French for not recognizing the organic nature of society but rather treating it all as a machine to be tinkered with, but he was no progressive.

This evolutionary way of viewing politics means that the state ought to be always developing and growing. The idea of a limited government, then, is repugnant—for organisms naturally grow unless they are sick. Change, a familiar campaign slogan, must be always good. (Mahoney notes that one phenomenon that progressivism can’t comprehend is change for the worse—which is why progressive academia didn’t know how to respond to either Communism in Russia or Fascism in Germany). On this scale, the more developed nations are the ones with the states that have grown more, and thus we see an upholding of European politics. Taking over healthcare, for example, is something that states do as they move along this progression (as demonstrated by Europe), therefore, we need a national healthcare system. However, progressivism holds that such growth and advancement, while organic, is not inevitable; it needs to be guided and steered. Experts are best qualified for this. Obama’s academic background here is insightful—he spent his entire career steeped in this type of thinking, hence, the continual references to his brilliance. (Woodrow Wilson likewise was very influential in higher education before becoming president.)

Progressivism also sees a divide between the political and the administrative, and relegates political decisions to the electorate (hence a focus on popular elections, referendums, and recalls—ways for the people to express their political will). The purpose of the statesman is merely to implement what the people want (shades of Rousseau’s “general will” are showing through here). Principled debates, therefore, will not take place in Washington, because in a clever way of passing the buck, all decisions have already been made by the people. To return again to healthcare—the people spoke (in electing Obama & co.), and it is now up to Obama & co. to put in place what they interpret the mandate. It just so happens that this is coinciding with what more developed nations do, which helps their resolve. The entire question is therefore viewed as one of administration (not politics) and the entire debate is about technique (not principle). To use religious terms (and most political ideologies at some point or another morph into the religious), Obama can view himself as the priest or mediator between the people and Congress (or whoever they need mediating against). Which is to say, he advocates for what he wants, and tries to act as if the force of the people are behind him. Those who get in the way are thus holding us back and impeding this progress.

What is unique about Obama is that he is progressive in a way that we haven’t seen for a while, and certainly in a way the Clintons weren’t. He’s about more than just politics, he has an ideology that he’s pursuing. After the end of what is commonly known as the progressive era, progressivism took a back burner in American politics (although it still dominates academia). Obama is reversing this—he campaigned on going somewhere and wants to bring the American people with him. And the people haven’t seen someone like that since Reagan (Bush had more vision than say, Gore or Kerry, but while he had vision, he did get bogged down in details). The problem is that it was largely unexamined as to where Obama wanted to go.

Fortunately, highly progressive office holders tend to burn out and become ineffective. Their ideological inflexibility makes them lots of enemies, and eventually they become obscure. An inability to compromise alienates Congress, as Woodrow Wilson did in his quest for a League of Nations (he had more than enough votes had he been willing to compromise with those who liked the idea but not all his details). Teddy Roosevelt, for all his popularity, lost his own party and ended his political career running as a third-party candidate for the presidency. The hard-core progressives (or ideologues of any stripe) tend to not be good politicians.

Finally, the progressives’ continually trying to reform the method of government has a history of backfiring. The referendum and recall are both progressive era implementations, but in California they were used to replace a liberal with a less-liberal and in Michigan were used multiple times to override the veto of a partial birth abortion ban, and across the nation have been used in the marriage battles. Similarly, tinkering with election rules led to Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts. The electorate, it seems, isn't quite as progressive as progressivism assumes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pre-View of The Adjustment Bureau.

On Wednesday night I went to a pre-screening of the upcoming Matt Damon movie The Adjustment Bureau. It will be coming to theaters on March 4th, and people will walk out of this philosophical movie scratching their heads and wondering about the nature of Free Will.
No spoilers from the movie, but I wanted to give you a little insight that I gained from watching the movie, talking with the director, and hearing the opinions of Pat Nolan Vice-President of Prison Fellowship’s Justice Fellowship.
The story is about a young Congressman who is running for the United States Senate. His fate is driving him forward, until he meets a ballet dancer (Emily Blunt) who starts to draw him off course.
The plot is propelled by Fate’s legions who fight to keep everything going according to plan. On the other hand love trying to rewrite the future.
Matt Damon, the congressman, reveals to his supporters at one point that they spent $7,500 to hire a consultant to tell them the proper amount of scuffing he should have on his shoes to look real. The political people were horrified at Damon’s character for allowing the voters to see “behind a curtain [they] didn’t know existed.” That speech, however, just made the popular congressman more popular.
When I asked the director, George Nolfi, if he intended any political commentary with the movie he said he didn’t. He did however tell me that he felt that it was important for him to “reward frankness in politics.”
The movie asks the viewer to seriously consider the role of human will over the driving force of fate’s circumstances. “The Chairman” is not really a God like figure, so if you watch it do not get hung up on that. He fits more closely in the realm of the Fates from Greek mythology. Nolfi said he also drew from the Calvin v. Armenian debate. He also made a reference to a line from the Sound of music: "When the lord closes a door, somehow he opens a window."
You might say that the movie is a Matrix movie where they substitute a love story for the action. Despite this being Damon's first romance movie the acting is good. In fact, watch out if Matt Damon ever goes into politics. He seems to take on the role like a fish in water.
Technically, the movie's special effects are strong and the Bureau's strange world seamlessly connects with our own.
In the end, I not only enjoyed the movie but also found it to be thought provoking and a serious engagement of questions of human free will. The movie is a question, do you have the answer?


My high school economics textbook defined capitalism in contrast to what it called "landism" and "laborism." Capitalism, according to the author, is not so much a free market or unregulated system as it is an economy driven by capital., In other words, the most powerful movers aren't those with the largest workforces or most land, but the most available money.

I have been reminded of this while reading about our current economic situation--for banks and other institutions got into trouble because they didn't have the capital necessary to pay back their debts. To maximize their capital, they borrowed more than they could sustain.

The federal government is no different, as the President's budget announcement has reminded us. For a quick review, here is the annual budget deficit calculated since 1960. It is now around $12 trillion.

Yet business and government are not the only two institutions using this model. Average Americans are also. As we can see from a second set of numbers, the federal debt is lower than--but apparently following--another trend. Consider the federal debt placed alongside household and non-profit liabilities (i.e. not business debt), which is now sitting around $14 trillion.

It would appear that, rather than electing politicians who go to Washington and start to spend, we elect those like us who merely continue the habits they practice at home.

And this doesn't even include the trillions upon trillions of business and banking liabilities currently supporting (at least in theory) this capitalistic economy. That is a whole separate post. But Aristotle postulated that there are three types of state (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy), and each type has a good form and a bad form. Might the same be said of economic structures, where "capitalism" may be a type, but having a good and bad form? If so, is it just possible that we are moving into that bad form, something akin to debtism?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Best Superbowl Ad

Maybe it's because I know so many people getting into the film industry, but I thought this was the most cleverly done super bowl ad this year.

However, the title of best ad must go to someone else: Crysler. Normally all car commercials are the same--a car driving down the road with a voice over. And in that respect, this one is no different. Yet the content of the voiceover is, in this case, unusual. No talk of price, or mpg, or how much it costs, or how much it doesn't cost. Rather, it appeals on an entirely different level.

Now, I've lived in Michigan for six months, and this is an attitude I haven't seen much of--which is probably why I found it so surprising. This state is depressed in more than just economics.

But this commercial says something else--beyond the assembly line and waiting for someone else to fix the problem. It appeals to a historic greatness of a particular city; for from the stories I hear, Detroit used to be a great city. And now, this city wants to again take its place with the other great cities. Maybe this formally great city, the city where Reagan was nominated for President, can be great again.

"Imported from Detroit" poignantly reminds us that Detroit is people, Detroit is our neighbors. And it captures not just the suffering, but also the dignity, of those neighbors.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday Reagan!

They will be showing this in the stadium before the Super Bowl tonight. It is a fitting reminder of a great American who proved the American Dream and who truly believed in America.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super TV

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl and, of course, I am rooting for the Packers. But besides my second favorite team being in the game, another thing draws me to this very American holiday: the commercials.

I love watching these 30 second, high production shows. I do not think it is because of the Sesame Street upbringing. I don't think it is because I am a compulsive buyer. And I don't think it is just because marketing is a slight hobby of mine.

I love comparing them. I love guessing what will happen. I love waiting for the Budweiser and FedEx moments. Yes, I know with the downturn FedEx has been opting out, but they always had the best.

In case you haven't figured it out, I just love the commercials. This year, ad that has gained the most pre-game buzz is for a clever, cute, and funny combination called "The Force."

Do you watch the Super Bowl? Why? What is your all time favorite Super Bowl Commercial?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Greetings III

I am the last of the group to pen his greetings. My name is Daniel, and I will be joining these gentlemen in writing for this blog, where we will hopefully deal with the pressing issues of our day. I agreed to participate in this because I was tired of others attempting to co-opt my voice by speaking for me, and so I decided to start speaking for myself.

I too have an educational background in governmental policy, specifically foreign policy, but I chose to pursue a different path. I chose film as the medium through which I could explore and communicate to the world. I look forward to our mutual explorations.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Welcome II

Since we're making introductions, I'll go ahead and introduce myself as well. I am currently a law student who is interested in much more than just law: public policy, economics, history, culture, theology, philosophy, and current events are just some of the topics I may very well end up writing about--especially if they all converge. While I cannot claim expertise on all of them, I hope to use this blog to further my own knowledge as well.

I also anticipate reviewing books on those topics as I have time.

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