Tag Archives: Obama

Courageous Ryan Pick Mystifies Me

Does the Ryan pick make Romney a political Jedi Master?

I have combed through dozens of articles, by conservatives and liberals, but I cannot get away from this fact: Ryan was known only for his ‘Ryan Budget.’  Without it he is just 1 of 435 House members.  And I do not know why Romney wants to make the Ryan Plan central to his campaign.  Regardless of whether you like it or not, the Ryan Plan is objectively quite unpopular.

I feel like only a couple of years ago, most everybody, Republican and Democrat, appreciated and respected Ryan, but saw him as politically toxic because of his entitlement reform plans.  In fact, he was never seen as having a chance at President or Vice President, or any greater ambition really.  His was an important voice that deserved applause but not an embrace.  While the Republican party might have changed recently, I do not see his views as any less offensive to moderates and independents.   Romney’s embrace of Ryan also reinforces the narrative that “rich Romney loves tax breaks for the rich” (the Ryan Plan calls for tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by spending cuts in entitlements that come into effect a decade or so later).

This choice also undercuts Romney’s talk about how governorship and business experience (executive experience) is what America needs right now.  As I argue in Boardwalk, Park Place, & Veepstakes, he should have put all his chips into one argument:  America, hire the uber-competent team of Mr. Fix-Its.   There was a degree of magic in a Pawlenty pick.  Though a bit boring, that would have been in fact a strength: it would have made the campaign about Obama’s record instead of an extremely unpopular budget proposal.  (And it looks like the Obama high command was very afraid of a Pawlenty pick too.  But Ryan is great to run against.)  In contrast, Paul Ryan has DC legislative experience only and has “never run anything”–not a business, city, or state–much like criticism someone else received  in 2008 (his name rhymes with Osama).

Maybe Romney picked Ryan to show that he is capable of making tough choices?  This choice certainly makes Romney appear substantive.  Ryan is bold, smart, and offers specific policies, but I’m not sure the substance is something they can win on.  However, this is the one of the best arguments I have read.  Romney needs to look like less of a sleazy hair-do.

Maybe Romney picked Ryan to get Wisconsin?  But Ryan has not campaigned statewide; most Wisconsonians have never heard of him.  And even if picking Ryan does get him Wisconsin, that is only 10 electoral votes.  Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is almost certainly lost because Ryan’s entitlement reforms don’t play well with older populations, and the Ryan pick will drag down the vote in older populations everywhere else in the country.  In contrast, picking Rubio would have helped Romney win Florida (Rubio was a Senator), and help with latino turnout in ever single state with latino populations, including important swing states like Nevada and New Mexico.

Maybe Romney did it to keep the focus on the economy and domestic policy, compared to foreign policy where Obama has a comparative advantage?  But that did not need to be done; the conversation was already going to be about the economy and domestic policy.

Maybe Romney did it because he wanted to leave the party with a legacy of thoughtful articulate conservatism?  He did not want to elevate a Sarah Palin.  Laudable, but I feel that Romney wants to win now.

But Romney is smart and savvy, s0 here I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Until then, this VP pick looks like courageous political suicide.  I am kind of impressed actually.

Romney, we hardly knew you. 

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Boardwalk, Park Place, & Veepstakes

According to Politco’s swing state map, if the general election was held today, Obama would win a whopping 332 to 206 in the electoral college.  If somehow Obama loses all the states where he is currently winning by 4.5 or less points (Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, and New Hampshire) he would still win 271 to 267.  So I do not understand all the hubbub about Obama being super weak.

Of course, while everything can change, some changes are less likely than they might usually be.  For example, it is unlikely that some damaging piece of Obama’s bio comes out.  And though we cannot rule out a major disaster, those unite the country behind its president as often as not.  Also, a series of major gaffes by a typically disciplined Obama is not likely either.

So the economy, already a major factor no matter what, is likely the whole ball game, and we simply do not know what it will do.  Also, as I argued earlier in Political Jedi Master, the economy is the only leverage point with which anyone can beat Obama, and Romney, despite obvious flaws, is best suited to maximize that leverage.

So, with his back up against the electoral wall, what running mate should Romney pick?

I grew up playing monopoly and probably kept playing past the age when normal people stop.  One of the strategies adult-Jer learned seems relevant:

When it is down to the final two players, when you have hardly have any money left and your opponent has the majority of properties with plenty of houses and hotels, it is tempting to slowly sell houses evenly and keep enough money so that you can withstand a hit or two.  Of course, when it is neck and neck, this strategy makes sense: avoid unnecessary risks.  But, when your back is up against the wall, playing it safe will lead slowly, but inevitably, to defeat.  Instead, sell and mortgage everything, even if you do not immediately need to, except for Boardwalk and Park Place and put all your money into building hotels.  Even if you get lucky on your own rolls, if your opponent does not land on Boardwalk or Park Place, you will lose; if your opponent lands on them, but they are not super expensive, you will also lose.  The only way you win is if you get some luck and you were ready to capitalize on it by making Boardwalk and Park Place a mortal hit.

(I won using this strategy several times.  My brother would complain that it was dumb luck.  I would say it was luck…and clever cleverness.)

Romney’s Boardwalk and Park place is the economy; in order for him to win he has to get lucky (the economy has to decline) and he has capitalize on it when it does.  Rounding himself out by picking Condeleeza Rice for foreign policy, African Americans, and women, or Marco Rubio for the Latino vote, Florida, and a compelling biography, is like hedging his bets by keeping houses or hotels on other properties.  Instead, he needs to commit to the only winning strategy that exists for him: the economy is in decline and though he might not have an incredible personal story, snazzy oratorical skills, or middle-class roots, he is supremely competent.  He is Mr. Fix-it #1 and captain of the the Varsity Mr. Fix-it team.

For that reason, I think Romney should pick a former governor (executive experience) with a job creation record, a business record, and a Washington outsider, and they must have a persona of no frills, getting things done; they must exude competence like crazy.  I am thinking Tim Pawlenty or someone similar (Jon Huntsman cannot because “I’m a Mormon from Utah too!”).  I am sure there are other good names out there.  Maybe perusing through their bios and picking one will be another post.

Also, unlike Mccains pick of Palin, Romney needs to make a pick that reflects his main argument against Obama, “Obama is not uber-competent on the economy like me.”  (Mccain picked Palin under the banner, “Country First.”  No matter what you think of Palin, you have to admit that there were other candidates much more qualified to be President, and Mccain did not reinforce his case with his VP pick.)

So I am excited to see who Romney picks as VP.  Maybe it will make my list of brilliant political plays and Romney will prove himself  the ultimate political Jedi Master…or maybe he will not pass go and not collect 200.

Either way, I can’t wait!  This is history happening in front of our faces!

Incredible discussion going on regarding gun control.  I will post more on that soon.  Thanks for your comments!


Political Jedi Master: Bush Tax Cuts & Romney’s Returns

Politics is intellectual football.  Here are two recent and brilliant Obama plays.

#1 Extending the Bush Tax Cuts in 2010

I was pretty upset in 2010 when Obama let the Bush tax cuts be extended without much of a fight, but it was genius.  Not only did it coax a little more stimulus out of the Republicans for an insipid economy, money he could not have gotten for anything but tax cuts, but Obama timed the new expiry date for the extension perfectly.  Right before the 2012 election the Republicans were going to publicly position themselves against the middle class: “if we can’t cut taxes for the wealthy, than nobody gets a tax cut.”  And here we are!

Early on Obama’s team had to know, as all political operatives do, that re-election prospects would most likely be tied to how quickly the economy recovers, and how good the Republican candidate would likely be on economic issues and  related experience.  Even if the economy did poorly, an economy-deaf candidate like Mccain would likely mean an Obama victory.  If the economy did well, Obama’s broad like-ability would mean an Obama victory too.  Foreseeably, the only possible way that Obama could lose a 2nd term is if the economy continued to stagnate and an economic “can-do” Republican was nominated (I think this is why Herman Cain ran).  So, in 2009, what economic “can-do” guys were out for the Obama team to worry about?

In 2008, it was obvious to everyone Romney was that man and that he was going to run again.  In fact, I told people at back then, not because I am brilliant but because it was blindingly obvious, that Romney is likely the only Republican candidate who could seriously have a chance at beating Obama, because he could win on Obama’s only serious weak point.  Afghanistan was not likely to become a big enough problem.  ObamaCare riles Republicans, but not many others.  Pro-life or anti-gay issues?  No way.  That is a losing demographic battle.  Obama’s team was only worried about a Republican economic guru; and a guru happened to be the frontrunner at the time.

So how do you neutralize Romney’s economic bonafides?  Simple: by making him and his party look more like robber barons than Mr. Fix-It.

So, in addition to timing the debate, the 2010  Bush tax cut extensions was a brilliant move by Obama for another reason: while Republican Party holds middle-class tax cuts hostage to upper-class tax cuts, but the standard-bearer for the party, Mitt himself, is one of those wealthy individuals for whom his party is sacrificing the middle-class.  Do you think this debate would be as big of a deal if Rick Santorum was the nominee? If anything, a middle-income standard bearer would give this fight for the wealthy some integrity (though a middle-income standard bearer also would probably not have experience in the economy making millions of dollars).

Finally, while health care was a major campaign issue in 2008, Obama needed a new issue to excite his base.  The obvious alliance between the Republicans and wealth was ripe for political exploitation.

Well-played sir…well-played.

#2 Having Harry Reid Accuse Romney of a Decade of Tax Evasion

According to Harry Reid, a Bain investor called his office and told him that Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years.  Reid then said as much in an interview last week with the Huffington Post and then in a speech on the floor of the United States Senate.  Republicans have gone postal, demanding “dirty Harry” take it back, and have attacked the Obama Team for not denouncing this unsubstantiated claim.

But the Obama team has played it super cool and asked, why doesn’t Romney take 10 seconds, reach into his filing cabinet, and cough up some tax returns to the nearest reporter.  He could prove Reid a liar in seconds; why would he not want to so easily discredit the 2nd most powerful Democrat in the country?

If Romney does not release his taxes, then he, the richest man ever to be a major party nominee, as his party fights for his tax cuts, is seen as hiding something (especially because, between the precedent set by his dad and Nixon, and every presidential candidate for the past 50 years of releasing 8 or so years of returns, he already looks like he is hiding something).  But, if he does release his tax returns, then the media gets to tell lots of stories about how rich he is and how he got his wealth.  (He did not create a conventional business from the bottom up, like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford.  Instead he bought and sold businesses themselves, often after lay-offs, re-organizing, and ‘stripping them for parts,’ though admittedly it is more complex than that.)

Now, I have no evidence for this, but I find it hard to beleive that Reid, an early supporter of Obama who initially encouraged the man to run for President in 2007 when everyone thought Hillary had the nomination locked up, who depended on Obama for his own re-election campaign in Nevada, who is Obama’s staunch ally, would get this phone call from a Bain investor and unilaterally take it straight to the Huffington Post and put it in a speech.  Assuming he got the call at all, he probably g-chated Obama immediately and asked,

Harry_#1Senator:          What should I do?”

Ice.cold.Obama:            Do what you think is best ; )

Well-played sir…well-played.


Mass Murder’s Bright Future

Grief, mourning…blah blah.  I’m trying my best not to cry because tears seem so hypocritical: what about Darfur?  What about the Congo where this happens regularly?  But I can relate to movie theaters and Americans!  And I really do, my heart reaches out to them.

Also, James Holme’s theater shooting is actually kinda unique.  Most killers, even the crazed Joseph Kony, is still trying to get something.  Jihadists are sincerely trying to punish the infidel at least.  James Holmes, he’s just crazy evil.  Doing it for no damn reason because he’s totaly evil.  Right?  Shit…yeah he was a counselor at a summer camp for needy children in 2008, attended UC Riverside as a scholarship student and graduated with highest honors.  “Academically, he was at the top of the top,” Chancellor Timothy P. White said.  Campus police had no run-ins with him.  Niether did the police at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.  It looks like the only problem he’s had with the police was a speeding ticket in 2011 (CNN).  He actually seemed to be doing fine before he dropped out of school about a month ago.  Still, he enjoyed a cold one recently with a friend, which can’t make him too nuts:

“Jackie Mitchell, who lives close to Holmes, had a beer with him on Tuesday.  Mitchell was stunned at news of Holmes’ alleged involvement in the attack.  “You would never guess he was a violent guy,” Mitchell said, describing Holmes as “nerdish” and “a book-smart type guy.” (CNN)

But of course, there was something wrong with him.  Apparently he called himself “the Joker” when he got arrested, had dyed his hair red, and his voicemail was described as a creepy batman-themed fiasco with “evil” laughter.  And also he shot 70 people in a crowded movie theater wearing .

On the first airing of the Factor with Bill O’Reilly, which I watch because I love Bill, “nothing can be done about this; the guy was just evil” maybe four or five times.  I hear this sentiment echoed in the news, and most experts seem to agree, nothing can be done about this.  What can be done about pure evil?

Really?  Ok.  First off, the guy was obviously not totally evil.

Also, it seems that we can do something about this if we wanted.  The guy bought $6,000 of ammo on the internet.  Large volumes of tactical gear was shipped to his house and work in the mail (CNN).  From whom you might ask?  “Chad Weinman, CEO of TacticalGear.com of Chesterfield, Missouri, told CNN earlier that his company had a receipt matching Holmes’ name and his Aurora address.”   The receipt showed $306.22 spent on a bullet-proof vest, magazines, 100 round ammo clips, and a big knife.  CNN reports:

“Holmes paid for a two-day air delivery when he placed the order on July 2, which would seem to indicate he wanted the materials in a hurry, Weinman said.”

The firm sells equipment to military and police personnel — as well as weekend warriors, Weinman said.

The gear that the firm believes it sold to Holmes is manufactured by a company called Blackhawk Company, a “popular brand in tactical circles,” Weinman said.

“We were pretty shocked to have discovered it,” Weinman said.

“Oh, my God, we couldn’t believe it” was how one of the company’s owners reacted, Weinman said.

The AR-15, one of Holmes four weapons, was inherited as a family heirloom from his father’s father father, who bought it from a local fur-trapper and fought with it in the Civil War.  Sometimes he uses it to hunt deer.

Purchasing a 100-round magazine for an AR-15 is unusual, weapons experts said. The AR-15 is designed for easy reloading. “Even without the grand-sized mags, many people who are practiced can reload in 1½ to 2 seconds,” said Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and security and firearms expert.”

James had recently bought the AR-15, as well as 3,000 rounds for it.  CBS News says that he went to a Fed Ex to pick up 150 lbs of ammo he bought at once.  A UPS driver says Holmes had 90 packages delivered to his workplace on the University of Colorado medical campus.  He bought the guns at Gander Mountain Guns and a Bass Pro shop in May.  He had tear gas.  He had smoke bombs.  While shooting people, the police cheif said he wore  a helmet, vest, leggings, throat protector and groin protector (source).   All in all, Holmes spent at least $15,000 in the last few month or so on guns, chemicals, explosives, and ammunition. (CBS)

My point, I guess, is that this guy was obviously prepping for something and had radically changed his life recently for no clear reason.  Why can’t background checks for buying guns and such large amounts of ammo include a short investigation into recent mental health?  Is that too onerous?  Maybe there are better ideas out there.

Now, I am not a big gun control guy, and some 2nd Amendment people make some sense, but obviously everyone, NRA fans and not, are taking crazy pills.  The truth seems fairly simple: James Holmes was not evil, but he did go nuts.  Americans, like all people, have a tendency to go nuts.  But Americans can buy guns, thousands rounds of ammo, combat gear, whenever they want, no questions asked, and go nuts with style.
  1. In 1949, Howard Unruh killed 13 of his neighbors and was committed to mental institution.
  2. In 1966, Charles Whitman kills his wife and baby in the morning and then shoots 46 people, killing 16.
  3. In 1982, 40 year-old prison guard George Banks kills 13 people, including 5 of his own kids.
  4. In 1984, James Huberty kills 21 adults and kids at a local McDonalds before being shot by a policeman an hour later.
  5. Cho Seung-Hui, the VA Tech shooter, looking altogether sane as he calmly describes his rationale for killing random strangers: “I’m getting back at rich fucks” (paraphrase).

    In 1991, 35 year old George Hennard crashes his pickup truck  through a wall, shoots and kills 23 people, and then shoots himself.

  6. In 1999, in Colombine, two students kill 13 and wound 23 others before killing themselves.
  7. In 2007, 23 year old Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 people and wounds many others.  Before killing himself, he sent in a tape laced with profanity citing the need for revenge on the wealthy.
  8. In 2009, 28 year old Michael McLendon shoots 10 people, including his mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle, and then himself.
  9. In 2009, a man named Wong shoots 13 people at an immigrant community center, and then kills himself.
  10. In 2009, at Ft. Hood, Nidal Hasan, age 39, kills 13 people and shoots 32 others.  (Source is CNN)
So, how can we still be shocked?  How can the guy who sells tactical gear over the internet be shocked?  How can Bass Pro be shocked?  How can I be shocked?  But I am.  It is shocking how shocked America is.  Shootings like these have been happening for a long time and will keep happening as long as people become mentally ill and have access to guns.  If they had access to can openers, they would use that.  If they had access to nuclear warheads, they would use that.  Frankly, I am surprised it does not happen more, considering US rates of suicide and depression.
So, what is the solution?  Maybe we should ban guns entirely.  Maybe.  Or maybe we start with just asking some more questions when someone buys an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine.  That is, of course, if it is not too inconvenient.
I’m with Bloomberg.  I want to hear Romney and Obama talk about their position on gun control.

Adams vs. Jefferson Repeat in 2012

In 1800, John Adams was accused of being an out of touch, arrogant, elitist while his opponent, Jefferson, won with the image of a real American, a man of the people, and a champion of liberty.  For example, in a well-publicized national discussion, when the new republic was trying to decide what to call the president, Jefferson pushed for the title “Mr. President” while John Adams was willing to call him “His Excellency” or something that lent the position more gravitas.  Adams, spending years abroad in England and France, was viewed as having been poisoned by aristocratic and foreign sensibilities and communism was to Joe McCarthy’s USA as monarchy was to Jefferson’s.  As part of the Federalist Party, albeit a reluctant member, Adams wanted to consolidate government power while Jefferson, of the people, by the people, and for the people, had spent his whole life in America and was the people’s man.  He wanted their freedom and saw the small-holding farmer, as opposed to industry, as central to American life.

But biography is ironic.  Jefferson was the son of a rich plantation owner.  At age 21, he inherited 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land, 52 slaves, livestock, his father’s notable library, and a gristmill.  In 1768, he used his slaves to construct a neoclassical mansion known as Monticello.  In 1773, the year after Jefferson married a young widow, her father died. She and Jefferson inherited his estate, including 11,000 acres and 135 slaves.  With these additional slaves, Jefferson became the second largest slaveholder in Albermarle County with one of the biggest estates. The number of slaves from this time forward would fluctuate around 200.

Jefferson enjoyed an enormous income for his entire life, yet was almost always deeply in debt.  He spent lavishly and was constantly remodeling Monticello for no particular or practical purpose.  He spent great sums of money while abroad, especially in France, where he enjoyed the French aristocracy and their way of life.  He loved fine wine, expensive furnishings, and speculation, and died 1-2 million in debt.

Adams, on the other hand, was raised by a farmer who farmed the land himself.  Young Adams loved farming and he ran a farm his entire life, which he worked whenever possible, shoveling manure and plowing fields without the aid of slaves.  (Adams thought the only sensible investment was in land.)  As a boston lawyer, he had trouble making ends meet, and had to farm.  He hated taking cases without merit.  In fact, he took the case defending the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre, the case that launched his public career, in part because he was having trouble finding work.

Throughout his public career, Adams was frugal with his modest income, especially while serving abroad in the company of high socieity, which, unlike Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, he hated.  He could not stand the theatrics, the sleaziness, the politics, the make-up, the decadence, or the rich food; it disgusted him and he never fit in.  In fact, Franklin had the Continental Congress recall Adams against his will because he was too blunt and impolite; he was a “bull in a china cabinet.”

Nonetheless, for decades, no matter what he did, Adams could not shake the public image of an elitist snob who had been poisoned by foreigners, and Jefferson won the 1800 election.

Barack Obama has also been called an out of touch, arrogant elitist.  I hear it daily.  Indeed, he has given some fodder for this charge.  During his 2008 campaign, he mentioned that rural Americans can “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”  He called the economy “fine” a few weeks ago.  He spent some parts of his life in foreign countries.  Maybe he is out of touch with real America?

But Obama, we must remember, was raised by a single mom who worked for non-profits.  Mitt Romney’s dad, George Romney, was a successful businessman, a multi-millionaire, Governor of Michigan, Sec. of HUD, and ran for President against Nixon.

Obama finished paying off his school debt in 2004 and, though he is a millionaire now, only became one from book sales after his 2008 campaign picked up.  Romney, on the other hand, is worth over $250 million, making him the richest man ever to run for president — he always has been the 1%.

Obama was a community organizer working closely with underserved populations in Chicago before he became a lawyer, professor, state senator, Senator, and then President.  Mitt Romney worked as a Mormon missionary in France, a high-powered business consultant, a wildly successful venture capitalist executive for 14 years with an initial $37 million, chaired the 2002 Winter Olympics, became governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, and has been running for President ever since.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what “out of touch” is supposed to mean.  Everyone is “in touch” with something.  As for me, I like Obama because he, like me, is multi-cultural and has been exposed to poverty.  Like me, he knows what it is like to worry about school debt and making ends meet since the majority of his life he paid close attention to electricity bills, travel expenses, and food prices.  He understands why they are important.  Romney seems like a good guy, but he has been enormously wealthy nearly his entire life.  Romney is Wall Street to Obama’s Main Street.

Did you hear about the $12 million expansion to his Ocean Front property in San Diego?  It includes a car elevator.  But car elevators can be super cool right?  Romney could be just a rich guy having everyman fun, like Obama when he enjoys the perks of bringing the musicians he loves to perform in the White house, or flying up to NYC for a dinner and a show with Michelle.  But surely all excess does not signal everyday humanity.  Maybe some excess is just excessive, such as the time and ink spent on this whole discussion of who is more ‘out of touch.’

So, vote for Obama?  It’s not really my point.  Instead, let’s just all try mightily not be as out of touch as the electorate in 1800.


Crimes Against Criminals Don’t Count

Crime has fallen precipitously since the high of the early ’90s.   For example, from 1980 to 2005, the estimated incidence of rape fell by 85%.  In 1990, there were 2,245 homicides  in NYC.  In 2010, there were only 536.  Crime has continued to fall even during the recession.

But this is not actually true.  Crime has merely been transplanted and concentrated in our nation’s prisons and, incredibly, crime rate statistics do not include crimes which occur in prison.  This is totally understandable, right?  Crimes against criminals don’t count!  But, lately I have pretended that they do count, which has led to some basic research about the U.S. penal system, to a discovery of an obnoxiously worthy cause, and now I am less content in my ignorance and apathy–a rookie mistake.  (If somebody can explain all this away please let me know!)

In recent posts, I noted the media frenzy around Trayvon Martin’s death and that, while the incident was tragic, murder by strangers, especially neighborhood watch volunteers, is not a top societal problem.  In an effort to walk my talk I am taking the next few posts avoiding the latest stories (Obama’s for gay marriage!?) in order to highlight the critical situation in our burgeoning penal system.  These issues receive little attention, and, in my opinion, could easily be much improved.  For those in search of a crusade, you might consider it.

Thoughtful citizens take note: the U.S. prison population has boomed (this would make a good voting quiz question).  It rose 400% from 1980 to 2007, while the general population grew 33% in the same period, until U.S. prisons housed 2.3 million with about 5 million people on parole–a total population greater than the municipalities of Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco combined.  This makes the United States the most incarcarated country in the world and second most in known history (supposedly the USSR under Stalin just edges us out).  Today, the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated people.  We spend $70 billion of the $200 billion spent globally on keeping people locked up.

Many factors contribute to the rise in the U.S. prison population.  One is the war on drugs.  Another is 3 strike and other laws that demand stricter penalties which the public demanded after the rise in crime in the 80s and 90s.  Unfortunately, offenses that count towards 3 strike laws can be quite minor, such as stealing videos from wallmart, etc.  Life sentences are also given out more often than they used to be.  In 2003, 127,677 Americans were serving life sentences, an 83% jump in 11 years.  For these reasons and others, the prison population grew.

At first, the scale of this prison population spike just seemed strange.  After all, have we really had a 400% increase in depravity in the last 30 years?  Regardless, perhaps the rise is gravy if prison life means simply reading, watching TV, and exercising.  But the truth seems a bit more complicated. (Part 2 to come.)

(Unattributed quotes or stats are pulled from a fairly well-known article by Christopher Glazek.)


The Debt Ceiling Debacle and the New Political Order

In debacles of this sort there is usually plenty of blame to go around, but, this time, the majority of the blame is uncharacteristically concentrated.

Since 1917, the debt ceiling has been raised 102 times.  From what I can tell, these raises have been more or less bipartisan and routine.  More recently, both sides have flirted with playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  Indeed, Reid’s, Durbin’s, and Obama’s voting records in the Senate were nearly perfectly partisan, as they voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans controlled the Senate, and for it when Democrats were in the majority.  Shame on them!

However, the Democrats as a whole never really came close to stopping a debt ceiling raise except for a couple times under Bush (under whom it was raised seven times) when the votes were close.  Overall though, it is fair to say that debt ceiling nay votes were cast on both sides of the aisle nearly exclusively to make a political point.

This changed in 2009.  Here’s some numbers: 55 republican senators in 1997 voted for a debt ceiling increase, then 31 in 2002, then 50 in 2003, then 50 in 2004, then 51 in 2006, then 26 in 2007, then 34 in 2008, then 33 again in 2008.  In 2009, 2 Republican Senators voted in favor of it.  For the second time in 2009, there was 1.  Finally, in 2010, there was 0.  This is how things stood when Republicans took back the house and a showdown was set.  Furthermore, the Republicans returned to power in large part because of the rise of the Tea Party, the majority of which, and please correct me if I am wrong here, see compromising as unprincipled behavior.  No longer were the days when a few errant politicians used the debt ceiling to make a point.  Now it was, “give us what we want or we’ll blow the country up.”  Certainly, both parties were headed in the direction of giving this ultimatum, but the Republicans got there first.

This put the Democrats in the position where they would have to choose between default or letting the Republicans take control of government.

What would you do?  The Democrats, from what I could tell, mostly gave in to Republicans, but they did it too late, so we still had a credit downgrade.   If I was President, maybe I would have fought crazy with more crazy and said, “The debt ceiling is sacred.  If you attach any conditions on raising the debt ceiling, even if it is one lousy $25 appropriation for free Fritos at a movie night for disabled children of veterans who also happen to be Hurricane Katrina survivors, I will veto it.  I do not care.  Don’t f#ck with me.”    But who knows if that would have worked.

What all of this does reveal is what I see as an ongoing fundamental shift in contemporary politics.  While Republicans are being monopolized by their extreme right wing, especially the Tea Party, the Democrats are not being monopolized to the same extent by the extreme left.  What this means is that every moderate in America is now left with a choice: Am I a Democrat or not?  Regardless of your answer, moderates will be Democrats practically, but will bolt as soon as the Republicans uncrazy themselves.  Indeed, I am proud to be one of these reluctant Democrats.  With this perspective, I start to feel sick watching a slew of “I told you so” grins on the faces of 2012 republican presidential candidates.  You get the sense that, after breaking the government, Republicans are claiming, “See, government doesn’t work, so we should make it smaller.”

Yet Obama seems to be getting most of the blame, even from Democrats.  Sometimes it makes me think I am taking crazy pills, “Why do people hate this guy so much?”  and it gets me thinking that maybe I should hate him too.  Why doesn’t he stick up for himself more?  Why isn’t he as disappointed with this process as I am?  Why is he so quick to compromise?

And as I lie here, asking those questions, and thinking about the 2012 election at 7AM, I found this video and I realized this: Obama is still the man.    Seriously, watching it was a spiritual experience.

My conclusion: I need to calm down.  Everyone needs to take a breath.  It’s going to be OK, and we all need to keep compromising.

“Compromise” shouldn’t be a dirty word.  Alicia and I compromise with each other when we disagree.  If we do not, we jeopardize our marriage.  If politicians do not compromise, they jeopardize the country.  But, if they do, for many of them, they jeopardize their job security too, and this gets back to my point about the new political alignment: Republican politicians are dependent on people who think compromise is villainous, and that’s why, right now, all moderates are Democrats.