Friday, August 31, 2012

A climate paragraph for Romney

Here's something Romney should say. Conceivably, as his support from the conservative base now seems fairly secure, he will say something like this. (I'm not counting on it but there's a chance.)

"I said recently that 'President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.' Some people seem to think I was making a statement about climate change. In fact, I was making a statement about President Obama and the utter disconnect between his rhetoric and his results. I have said in the past that 'I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that.' I still believe that. I have said 'It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.' I still believe that. I mentioned in my acceptance speech that renewables are part of the solution to our energy problem, and so is natural gas, which has helped lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. As we've seen in the Obama years, no nation with massive debt and sky-high unemployment is going to be an environmental leader. The first step is to end this awful economic malaise, which will enable us to afford a cleaner environment too."

For my earlier speechwriting advice on this subject, see here.

Clint rethought

While I watched Clint Eastwood's convention speech or skit or whatever you'd call it, I was thinking "This is terrible." But I was also smiling and certainly paying close attention, which is more than I can say for most convention speeches, including Marco Rubio's immediately afterward. So, in retrospect, I take seriously the possibility that maybe it was effective after all, as suggested by Jesse Walker among others. I also think that insofar as the political fact checkers are now discussing whether and by what measure the unemployed three and a half years into the Obama administration number 23 million or some other high figure, then that alone makes Clint's unusual presentation a winner for Romney.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Condi 20__

I haven't had a chance to weigh in on the GOP convention, but that Condoleezza Rice speech was the most impressive thing I've seen in the proceedings so far. I'm not convinced (any longer) that being pro-choice would prevent her from being the Republican nominee in whichever year there's an opening. Nor that the party is going to take some Ron Paulian foreign policy turn that rules that out. And the topics were easily wide-ranging enough to put away any notion she's only about foreign policy. The only thing missing was an "I carried a 357 Magnum" line, which the next speech took care of anyway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Condensed Hayek

I recently read my review copy of The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression, by Angus Burgin. Very interesting, as I expected it to be, though I had expected the story to carry through more to the present. Instead, it's basically an overview of the careers of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, with much focus on their work organizing the Mont Pelerin Society.

But it does have current-day relevance, and here's an example that has a bit of irony. One theme is how Hayek was less of a free-market purist than he came to be perceived to be, and one reason for that was the way The Road to Serfdom was condensed for Reader's Digest by the magazine's ideologically conservative editors, while Hayek was not in the country. Burgin:
In their reworking of The Road to Serfdom Hayek's style was simplified and dramatized, his observations were reordered and reconnected, and new sentences were written to impart an appearance of seamlessness to disconnected snippets. As a result, many of Hayek's qualifications were lost. As one critic observed, the text itself had become an enactment of readers' tendencies to take sentences out of context to support their own point of view. Hayek told his audiences that the Digest's editor had performed a difficult task remarkably well, but he also warned that its "faulty editing" posed a "particular danger." He was acutely aware that only a slim proportion of the readers of The Road to Serfdom experienced the book through his own prose. No author can control readers' interpretations of his or her published texts, but Hayek had lost control of the words themselves.
Me: Well, these things happen. But the funny thing is that they can keep happening decades later. Here's Glenn Reynolds today pointing readers to the Reader's Digest condensation, after Richard Epstein has done the same.

Noah K-G's farewell

Noah Kristula-Green has his valedictory post up at David Frum's Daily Beast blog, which Noah is leaving as managing editor in order to become a power broker at the Winston Group. Noah's done an excellent job at the Beast and previously at FrumForum, and his five points are a good summation of what the overall project has been about. (I wish Noah were not right, in point #3, about it being a pipe dream to place hopes in something like Americans Elect, but the results there speak for themselves.)

I think the overall outlook, let's call it center-right, presented in the past and present Frum blogs has considerable potential to influence things over time. There is such political and ideological flux in this country these days that some decent ideas just might have a big impact, even (or especially) when few are expecting it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: Science Left Behind

I opened with some eagerness my review copy of Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left, by Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell. Having spent much time in recent years criticizing conservatives for denial and ignorance of scientific facts, and being a center-right type myself, I am interested in similar failings on the left. But this is a badly disappointing book.

Some time ago, at David Frum’s blog, I criticized Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain for (in my view) overstating its case that science is revealing a broad tendency among conservatives to deny or distort facts. Let me say now that Mooney’s book is a model of fair-mindedness compared to Science Left Behind.

Berezow and Campbell open by setting up their target: "progressives." They quickly unleash a bombardment of stereotypes:
Who  are the people we’re calling progressives? Generally, they’re the kind of people who think that overpriced granola from Whole Foods is healthier and tastier. They’re the people who buy “Terra Pass” bumper stickers to offset their cars’ carbon emissions. And they’re the sort of people whose beliefs allow them to feel morally superior to everybody else who disagrees—even if scientists are among those doing the disagreeing.
The authors distinguish between “progressives” and “liberals” on the grounds that the former evince a social authoritarianism not shared by the latter. I find this rather notional, given the virtual interchangeability with which the terms are widely used. Supposedly, though, whereas liberals favor economic interventionism but “value social liberty,” progressives
seek dominion over issues such as the environment, food production, and education. They endorse bans on plastic grocery bags, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, and home schooling. They hold opinions that are not based on physical reality about how energy and development should work. And, most significant, they claim that all of their beliefs are based on science—even when they aren’t.
So it seems that progressives are antithetical to science as a matter of definition. Oddly, this comes just a few pages after the authors assure us that “the purpose of this book is not to demonize all progressives. We just want to demonize the loony ones.” And: “Though some progressives are pro-science, many within their ranks are not.”

Then there’s a look back to what progressive once meant, but the authors are no better on their history. Consider this:
For a time, progressivism made for good politics. [Theodore] Roosevelt was joined under the banner of “progressives” by Democrats including Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryant [sic]. All of these men aimed to mobilize rationalism and science to promote “progress,” just as their philosophy’s name suggested.
Bryan is better described as a populist than a progressive, and the notion that he “aimed to mobilize rationalism and science” would’ve been news to H.L. Mencken during the Scopes Monkey Trial.

This just scratches the surface of what’s wrong with this book. The authors present various examples of  leftists being out of step with science. Some of these are issues that cut across ideological boundaries (anti-vaccine hysteria, for instance). Some are issues where the left-wing anti-science types have had little success in getting the policies they want or even getting support from Democratic politicians (genetically modified foods). Some are just marginal and obscure issues to begin with (the use of compostable utensils in the Capitol Hill cafeteria).

Berezow and Campbell are right that there are anti-science attitudes on the left. They are wrong to see these as of similar current significance to anti-science views on the right.  They fail to show any issue that is a progressive counterpart to the conservative stance of recent years on climate change—that is to say, an important issue where one side, including its elite, is not only grossly out of step with the scientific community but has succeeded in getting its anti-science views reflected in public policy.

After filling the book with tendentious and trivial point-scoring, the authors close with a chapter on the science-related issues that "really matter." This is filled with banality such as “it is imperative that Americans have a serious debate about the country’s future in space.” Thanks for the tip.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fixing America: how to [updated]

In the Sept. issue of Research magazine, I offer whoever wins the presidential election some advice on what to do next: take "A Bold New Direction," by focusing on radical tax reform.

On Jan. 21, 2013, either a re-elected President Barack Obama or a newly elected President Mitt Romney will be celebrating his Inauguration. In either case, as the champagne corks pop, this much is certain: He’ll have plenty of problems.
The economy, of course, will be troubled. Even if there are signs of an upturn in early 2013—and there may well not be—this will be occurring against a backdrop of longstanding poor growth and high unemployment. Much improvement will be needed over recent baselines to create a widespread sense of recovery, let alone prosperity.
I go on to advise scrapping the income tax and payroll tax in favor of an X tax and carbon tax (call it the X+C plan). Whole thing here.

UPDATE: Some notice here. See also here and here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Political heat map

Interesting: Amazon's "heat map" of political books sold in the U.S., based on categorizing them as red or blue (right or left). Marginal Revolution note here and Wired article here.

More blogging soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Anthropic memories

 File under "Questions I haven't thought about lately, but which remain interesting":
Does the Weak Anthropic Principle make certain assumptions about the nature of sentient biological organisms?
(Found while doing a Google search on my own name, which shows up in the comments. The long-ago article referred to is best viewed here.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Today's last political note (I hope)

I've had my disagreements with Reason magazine, but I agree with this--vehemently: "The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win."

The Obama record is relevant after all [updated]

Niall Ferguson In Newsweek: "Obama's Gotta Go." This article is very strong when it comes to the mediocrity (at best) of Obama's record. It gets weaker when it starts celebrating the alternative, and with the claim that "Ryan psychs Obama out." (I remember the same exact claim re Palin four years ago; even if true, it wasn't a particularly consequential effect.) But since so much of the election is now about Ryan, Ryan, Ryan (or today, worse about somebody named Akin about whom I hope to never hear again), it's valuable to have some attention paid to just what the incumbent has done and not done.

UPDATE: Ferguson's piece gets some pushback here. And Ferguson has more here.

Grumbling about Ryan

Here's some conservative discontent with Paul Ryan, on the grounds that he's a "corporatist" who favored TARP. To me, that has a similar effect to many conservative arguments we were hearing (especially pre-Ryan) against Romney: i.e., liking the candidate that much more after reading it.

Hardware part knowledge

For a lot of questions, there's someone out there who knows the answer. When a hinge on my Ikea desk broke, because a certain youngster had placed his elbows too heavily on it, it could have been difficult or impossible to find a replacement; I didn't even know the name of the desk type (Alve). But a little searching and I got what seems to be a correct recommendation for replacement hinges. Pre-Internet, things would not have proceeded so smoothly.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kyrillos for Senate

Here's a good reason to vote for Joseph Kyrillos, the GOP candidate for Senate in New Jersey:
Many Republicans voice support for simplifying the tax code while lowering rates, but Kyrillos went further and has refused to sign the pledge from Americans for Tax Reform to oppose anything that increases the net tax burden on individuals or corporations. Most Republicans in Congress, and the party's entire New Jersey delegation, have signed that pledge.
Me: Any Republican who refuses to sign Norquist's pledge deserves my vote. Now consider this:
"There's a big difference between increasing revenue by raising taxes and increasing revenue from lowering taxes while closing special-interest loopholes," Kyrillos said in a news release. "A simpler, more efficient tax code will reward hard work, boost job creation and raise revenue by growing the economy."

His campaign would not comment beyond the statement, which also criticized Menendez for supporting higher tax rates. But one anti-tax activist said he appeared to be engaging in damage control.

"If revenues are up, it doesn't matter what you call it, it's a tax increase," said Steve Lonegan, state director of the conservative Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which has funded buses to bring demonstrators to Tea Party rallies in Washington.
 "If revenues are up, it doesn't matter what you call it, it's a tax increase." That desire for lower revenues qua lower revenues is at the heart of Tea Party ideology today. It's not only appallingly fiscally irresponsible; it also departs from the history of Republican conservatism. Recall that supply-siders used to emphasize that lower rates could mean higher revenues (and drew the Laffer Curve on napkins to make the point). That optimism was often misguided but at least it reflected a recognition that lower revenues are not a desirable thing in themselves, and certainly not the answer to a fiscal crisis.

Also, a good piece on why Jersey's governor has an appeal not limited to the GOP base: "Doblin: For One Night It's All About Christie."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Some Ryan, Zakaria links

A couple of election-related pieces I recommend:

-- "Romney-Ryan Wants It Both Ways on Medicare," by Josh Barro, who's emerged as one of those right-wing types who says a lot of things that are discomfiting to the right wing.

-- "How Obama Created the Greatest Threat to His Presidency," by Ezra Klein. That is to say, by hyping Ryan as leader of the opposition.

And a couple of pieces I recommend about the overblown controversy over Fareed Zakaria:

-- "A Very Different Media Scandal (Updated)," by David Frum.

-- "In Defense of Fareed Zakaria," by Bret Stephens.


As for me (Ken Silber), I have my own Fareed Zakaria story. Sometime over a decade ago, maybe it was in the late 90s, I interviewed with him for an editorial position at Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, in the couple days before the interview, I developed some problem with my ears -- an infection or waxy buildup or something -- such that I could barely hear. Instead of seeking to postpone the interview, as I should have done, I showed up, acknowledging the problem and plowing ahead into a conversation that went largely like this:

Fareed Zakaria: Hmmdm mvmvm gvmgm mvmvmvm vmvmvm vmv?

Me: Excuse me?

I didn't get that job, somehow, but I do appreciate that Zakaria was diplomatic in not pointing out how I was wasting his time. I hope his generally laudable career recovers quickly from his recent lapse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Climate political upside

If I were a political operative strategizing for a national campaign, I'd be very interested in this:
·      A majority of all registered voters (55%) say they will consider candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote.
·      Among these climate change issue voters, large majorities believe global warming is happening and support action by the U.S. to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.
·      Independents lean toward “climate action” and look more like Democrats than Republicans on the issue.
·      A pro-climate action position wins votes among Democrats and Independents, and has little negative impact with Republican voters.
·      Policies to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy are favored by a majority of registered voters across party lines.
More here and full report here.

Stockman on Ryan [updated]

David Stockman makes some good points, along with some not so good ones, in this op-ed: "Paul Ryan's Fairy-Tale Budget Plan." Not so good: comparing today's defense budget with that of the 1950s 1961 by adjusting for inflation without noting that defense was a much higher percentage of federal spending and GDP back then And whatever case might be made for cutting the Pentagon budget, citing Calvin Coolidge as a defense and foreign policy exemplar is ridiculous.

Stockman is right, though, in noting what political courage does not consist of: further cuts in the top income tax rate; unspecified eliminations of deductions; and no discussion of alternatives to our current tax system.

UPDATE: Another interesting piece, "Why Demogoguing Paul Ryan is Bad for Democrats," by William Galston. (Answer: because it crushes Democrats' ability to then reform entitlements.) I would've spelled it "demagoguing," by the way.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A good pick by Romney (who's not Ryan)

As I think it's fair to say my reaction to Romney's Ryan pick has been less than enthusiastic, I would like to give the Romney campaign credit where credit is due: for hiring policy analyst Peter Wehner, who has said things too little heard on the right, such as "Conservatives and Climate Change: Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star," i.e., it's real and we shouldn't try to obfuscate that; and "The Most Disturbing Personality on Cable Television," i.e., Glenn Beck.

Obamacon watch

My friend and fellow conservative deviationist D.R. Tucker has made up his mind: "It's going to be something of a weird experience, but for the first time in my life, I'll be voting Democratic in this fall's presidential election." See his post "Breaking Away." Excerpt:

I'm still not exactly a fan of President Obama. If Jon Huntsman had secured the GOP nomination, I would have voted for Huntsman over Obama without a second thought -- because Huntsman seemed to have the backbone necessary to stand up to the John Birch Society wing of the GOP. Romney and Ryan don't have that backbone. So this November, I'll set my differences with Obama aside in the name of saying no to a ticket that stands for nothing.

I sympathize. I'm not where D.R. is, but I can see his position from a not-too-distant vantage point. I too would be voting with some enthusiasm for a Huntsman ticket (Huntsman-Daniels?). I don't really agree that the problem with Romney-Ryan is that they "stand for nothing" -- actually it's more a combination of expediency and (worse) wrongheaded convictions (e.g. that we need more tax cuts) that's the problem. I note that D.R. doesn't have anything particularly positive to say about Obama--and what is the positive case for Obama? In any case, this is a moment of enthusiasm on the right--and it's never been more clear that I'm not on what's now the right.

A couple of other links of interest:

-- "Paul Ryan's V.P. Nomination Kills Off Moderate Republicanism for Good," by Geoffrey Kabaservice.

-- "Ryan: More Powerful Than Romney," by Peter Beinart.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan's debate effects

There are many factors to consider as to how Ryan on the ticket changes the political calculus. One is the October debates.

My idea that the presidential debates will be crucial and will push polls in Romney's direction (and enable him to win the election) carries less weight now than previously, I think. The Ryan pick ensures heightened attention to the Oct. 11 VP debate, and Ryan enthusiasts are touting how he'll wipe the floor with Joe Biden. I'm not so sure. The event might highlight Ryan's lack of foreign policy experience. But in any case, I don't see how the Ryan pick enhances Romney's prospects in the debates. If Romney shows up offering Ryan's fiscal ideas, he looks weak and derivative. If he doesn't, he wastes the supposed advantage in "ideas" that the Ryan pick gave him. The upside is slim, it seems to me.

As for Obama, his debate strategy now becomes talking about Ryan's plans more than about other attack points such as Bain--but certainly not about his own plans and record in any case.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What about climate change?

Those of us who are Republicans and who also believe that climate change presents serious risks that need to be addressed--see my posts here, here, here and here--have had little cause for enthusiasm about the Republican Party on this issue in recent years. Romney, among the primary candidates, was the second-least-bad (Huntsman, also less than perfect, was the least bad). With the selection of Paul Ryan, Romney has added to the ticket someone whose climate record is worse than his own.

Against this, it is important to remember the fecklessness of the Obama administration on climate change. Failing to pass a cap-and-trade bill, and then mentioning the subject as little as possible, is not a good record either. Yes, the Democrats at least don't declare global warming a hoax and prattle on about "Climategate." But when you get to the question of how much carbon emissions would actually be different depending on who wins the election, there's no clear answer, as far as I can see.

Maybe a Romney administration would follow the advice of longtime Romney advisor Greg Mankiw and impose a carbon tax. Or maybe the Obama administration would get some carbon trading set up that replicates the flaws already evident in carbon trading overseas. Results are what matter.

Furthermore, in weighing the respective merits (or lack thereof) of the candidates, I give some weight to  the spectrum of opinion among their supporters. On the Republican side, that includes every shade of denialism and evasion. On the Democratic side, there are those who think the answer is, say, a worldwide "war footing,"with a command economy deliberately set up to depress living standards. The policy emphasis I would want to see--a carbon tax coupled with broader tax reform; and a federal focus on relevant R&D spending rather than Solyndra-like attempts to subsidize corporate operations--is not
on either side's policy agenda currently.

So, bottom line, if I were voting on the basis of climate policy alone, I'd vote for the Democrats. But that's not the case. On the other hand, although I've said I'll vote for Romney, I've also said it's possible I'll change my mind. Watching what the candidates say on climate will be a factor on that score.

The Ryan selection [updated]

Well, that's not the choice I would've made. In fact, as I wrote earlier, the Ryan boomlet seemed like a gift Romney could enjoy precisely by rejecting it. But no. So now where are we? Ryan has a reputation as a serious policy wonk--but he puts out tax projections based on unspecified eliminations of deductions. He voted for TARP (a point in his favor, to my mind) and then spent subsequent years building a reputation as a Randian scourge of Big Government and entitlement spending. Steep cuts in Medicare--beginning years from now--combined with endless tax cuts is not the solution I'd present to America (in fact I will be presenting an article with my own solution a few weeks hence). Of course, there's also the question of what power the V.P. will have anyway.

Will Ryan help Romney win? I tend to think not--in other words, that the increase in conservative enthusiasm will be outpaced by the increase in independents not voting Republican this year. It will be perceived--rightly, I think--as a sign of Romney's weakness and fear of the conservative base. I could be wrong. We'll see.

UPDATE: David Frum has a good post on what's right and what's deeply wrong in the Ryan plan (on the spending side; leaving aside the lack of specificity about taxes). ThinkProgress points out how this GOP ticket just became much less attractive to people who don't think global warming is a hoax. On a brighter note, I doubt many people will vote against Romney-Ryan out of fear they're aligned with "militant atheism."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Conservative frustration

Conor Friedersdorf has a post with which I basically agree: "Conservatives Have No Faith in the GOP Nominee--for Good Reason." Excerpt:
The truth is that, if elected, Romney is extremely unlikely to sign the Ryan budget, or to completely repeal Obamacare, or to act in accordance with his tough rhetoric on immigration, or to significantly reduce the deficit. Conservatives have persuaded themselves out of desperation that a man they know to be unreliable won't have any choice but to advance their agenda in the White House, which makes about as much sense as assuming that a Ryan vice-presidency would influence Romney in a conservative direction rather than co-opting Ryan.
Me: And that's good! While Friedersdorf (being someone with his own set of disagreements with prevailing opinion in conservatism) doesn't make a clear value judgement in his post, I will. A great attraction of a Romney presidency is precisely that he isn't expected to kill the Energy Dept., restore the gold standard or generally strive for a 19th century vision of political economy. If those were his objectives, he would not have won the Republican nomination, let alone have a good chance (as I think he does) of winning the presidency.

As for all the conservative grumbling, I think Friedersdorf has it right: "Partisans, especially of the professional variety, are nevertheless incapable of acknowledging when they're screwed."

It will be very interesting to see how all this pans out after the election. Either Romney wins, and there is much maneuvering to push his administration in a rightward direction; or Romney loses, and there is much complaint that the GOP should've nominated a "real conservative" (as if Michelle Bachmann would've won). Either way, the trouble for ideological movement conservatives is that they're too strong to recognize the need for compromise--and too weak to get the electoral and governing results they want.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Ryan factor

In order to get elected, and also to govern effectively if he is elected, Romney has to show that he is his own man--that he won't work under the direction of the Republican congressional caucus, the Wall Street Journal editorial page or anyone else. From that standpoint, the conservative boomlet for Romney to pick Paul Ryan as his VP choice is a gift to him. Simply by rejecting such advice, Romney gains some credibility as a candidate and prospective president. Of course, if he actually chooses Ryan, the gift is wasted.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

You didn't [blank] that

The controversy over Obama's "You didn't build that" statement has gone on longer than the Romney campaign could have hoped. Whatever the president exactly meant -- whether it was "You didn't build your business alone" or "You didn't build the infrastructure supporting your business" -- it is clear enough that his point was to limit the credit an entrepreneur can rightly claim. After all, business owners are not responsible for the business conditions that enabled them to thrive, right?

So, by the same token, does it make sense to be blaming Mitt Romney for a cancer death that occurred after someone lost health insurance after a plant was closed down--which happened after Romney was at Bain, which he headed when the initial investment in the plant was made? It seems a stretch in any case, but even more so since "You didn't build that" logically also means "You didn't dismantle that."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A few different things

I've just written an article sketching out what the presidential election's winner should do about tax policy, which involves some very fundamental reforms. I'll be blogging about that article when it's available in late August, but for now suffice it to say the approach is one that differs greatly from what either candidate is currently proposing, and yet has aspects that would appeal to both sides of the political aisle. More to come on that.

I am not a political monomaniac (or at least I think I am not). Among the many other topics that have caught my interest lately (besides the Olympics, which I'm pleased to have some time to watch):

-- "Decoding the Science of Sleep." Particularly interesting to learn people routinely used to divide the night into two segments, first sleep and second sleep, doing a few post-midnight activities in between.

-- "From Prison to a Paycheck." A promising program in New Jersey.

-- It's Julia Child's 100th birthday. Even someone like me, whose culinary skills are near-zero, can appreciate her life and achievements.

-- And of course, Mars Curiosity. This is going to be fantastic (assuming of course it lands safely).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just a moment

This blog is having a midsummer slowdown. I will be back.

Pictured: Solarium 2012, taken during a recent visit to Storm King Art Center.