Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rush Problem

Not totally about policy, but last week Rush Limbaugh was dropped from a prospective investment team to buy the St. Louis Rams. This came after the outcry from many (especially the left) who said that he should not be able to own a team because he's a big fat idiot or something.  This of course, is crazy talk.  Limbaugh, even if you think he's an idiot, should be allowed to own a football team if he has the money.  I'm bringing this up mainly because Limbaugh defended himself in the Wall Street Journal the other day.  It's an interesting defense saying that:
a) He didn't say racist things like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have.
b) He didn't say anything that was pro-slavery.

Now, if he was misquoted, then by all means, set the record straight Rush.  But the fact that I'm sitting here thinking, 'it wouldn't surprise me if Rush Limbaugh said he was in favor of slavery' well... you have a PR problem.  And while Rush apparently didn't say that he's a fan of slavery, he has said a lot of horrible things about blacks, Obama and America.

That said, I've been thinking about Rush for a while now.  He represents the problem the Republican party has with America right now.  Because of the lack of leadership within the Republican party, Rush has almost become the unofficial mouth piece of the party (with assists from Sarah Palin (even though she's been non-existent the last few months) and Glenn "I'm going insane in front of the entire nation" Beck. To most of America, what Rush has to say—"Obama is an "angry black guy"" or "Obama's entire economic program is reparations" or that he wants Obama to fail—does not play well to most of the nation.

And that's the problem for the Republican party right now.  The party cannot separate itself from Rush.  While Rush is very good and getting the Republican base involved and excited, when his message starts to become the only thing that the country hears, it's problematic.  Rush is an entertainer.  His goal is to get high radio ratings which then lead to higher advertisement spots which then means more pills money for Rush's bank account (and the radio stations).  Rush will say things to get people to tune into his show (just as Howard Stern or your network TV drama will).  And because of the lack of leadership in the party, what Rush says suddenly becomes what the Republican party says.

The GOP can easily fix this, they just need someone from somewhere within the party to step up.  They need to have someone who will deliver a kinder, gentler, and more tactful message to America.  That person is some where (it's not Palin and it's probably not Huckabee), but the longer it takes for that person (or people) to step to the plate, the more damage Rush is going to do to the party itself.  Clearly some in the party get this: “We need more voices,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of the party’s up-and-coming leaders. “Our party’s challenge has been that we need to be more inclusive — we need to attract the middle again..."

America is changing, it's becoming more diverse and continues to become more urban.  A party that is seen as narrow minded and for white males only represented and lead by guys like Rush and Beck won't fly.  It won't work.  The GOP has to reinvent itself, even if it means pissing off the base.  The right in Europe has done this successfully by adopting "left" policy positions like being less anti-gay (or pro gay in some cases) and concerned about the environment. Those would be two easy places and positions that the Republicans could adopt today.  Immigration would be another smart move for the party to turn more to the left on.  Sure it would piss off the Rush Limbaugh's of the right, but the base isn't going to leave over issues like the environment and the party will probably pick up some votes for changing positions.    

But I don't see that leadership in the GOP right now. It's a rudderless party that's being lead by the entertainment wing.  And when it comes to winning elections, that's a bad thing, even if the first 10 months of Obama continue to be fairly unimpressive.  So the sooner Rush Limbaugh goes back to being a guy who preaches to his conservative choir, the better off the Republican party, and America, will be.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Chicago Police Department's Image Problem

Second City Cop rips a new program/policy that the Chicago Police Department is undertaking, the “Customer Satisfaction Survey Pilot” Program.  He rips it.  To shreds.

Now, I've never been a cop.  Will never be a cop.  But I'll say this, Chicago Police Officers, for the most part are assholes.  Sorry, but they are.  I can't recount one positive encounter I've had with them. I've never been arrested, never been questioned, but I don't even bother asking them questions because they just look down their noses as if to say, 'I'm protecting you, prick.'

I get it, being a cop ain't easy.  I thank them all for what they do. But they're total jagoffs 90% of the time.  I'm sure they're good fathers and mothers and husbands and wives, but in the uniform, they're pricks.

I'm sick of Chicago Cops running red lights and stop signs because they don't want to wait.  I'm sick of them standing around as if their shit don't stink in the Loop.  I hated when they were total pricks as we ran though the city in high school for cross country practice.  I'm sick of reading headlines them treating protesters as if they were an Iraqi prisoner.  

The CPD has a major public image problem.  Second City Cop can bitch about the customer service survey, but to the law abiding, ain't causing no trouble sector of the population (aka the majority), the CPD is a bunch of jagbags.  And while we appreciate what they do for us as a whole, we also know that you guys stopped policing last year because you were upset about Weis.  We know that you racially profile.  We know all this.  And we don't always like it.

So yes, the survey might be a little misguided, but you guys also have a public image problem.  The public doesn't like you because you guys are dickheads.  We don't like you because you guys turn on your lights every single time you're at an intersection that has a red light, roll though, and then flip them off.  So you might not like the survey and other shit that's coming from 25th and Michigan, but you guys are, in part to blame for the Weis Era.

Friday, October 16, 2009

When the State Gets Local

I'd say, for the most part, I'm more of a Hamilton than Jefferson guy when it comes to the relationship between governments in our federal system.  I don't want the states to have a lot of power.  I'm not a states right guy.  But I'm also not a fan of the bigger government telling the governments bellow it what to do and how to write their constitutions or by laws (in policy speak, I like home rule over Dillon's rule).  If Cook County wants to have a four-fifths threshold to override a veto, let them have a four-fifths threshold. It's their law and the state of Illinois shouldn't tell them other wise.  Same goes for the income tax level... I'm not sure a larger government should be telling a lower government what their tax rates should be.  The Tribune disagrees with me, I guess because they don't like the Cook County tax rate and bylaws.  But just because you don't like something doesn't mean it should not be.

As the Capital Fax points out, it sets a horrible precedent and pretty much invites the state to get involved in other local tax issues.  The Tribune is parading a very undemocratic view: if the people don't like the sales tax in Cook County, they'll have a chance to vote the bums out of office in February or November of 2010.  This is how democracy works.  Getting a larger governmental body just because you don't like it is stupid, short sighted, and undemocratic.

Ladies and Gentlemen... the George W. Bush years

Jones, who was employed by a Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, which was fighting oil fires, recounts a pattern of subsequent behaviour by the company, including locking her in a container under armed guard and the loss of crucial forensic evidence, that she says amounts to a cover-up.

Halliburton/KBR used a clause in Jones's contract requiring disputes to be settled by arbitration to block legal action, a policy her lawyer says has encouraged assaults by creating a climate of impunity.

I mean come on, we really needed the Senate to get involved here? Shouldn't these guys been prosecuted without having to go to the U.S. Senate?  Isn't rape rape even if Halliburton is involved?  Why did the US government turn a blinds eye to this?  Disgusting.  Absolutely disgusting.

And to show just how far the banks have to go, Bank of America lost a cool $2.26 billion this quarter.  This shouldn't be a huge shock since we've known that the banks are in a tough spot.  We aren't out of the woods until the banks are fully deleverage (thus screwing you and me over).  It's clear that the government won't let any of the big banks fail, but also won't do anything that will piss off share holders/the market.  Thus the process is going to take longer than anyone would probably like.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

While most people don't think about s...

While most people don't think about sport when contemplating policy and politics, they do matter.  A lot.  If you don't believe me, go to a local American city and check out all the new stadiums and arenas that the state (ie public tax payers) paid to build.  Those things aren't cheap (and a total waste of public money, but not going to tackle that today (did you get the pun? hahahame)).  Or look at the impact that hosting a major sporting tournament has on a city or country.  Also, as we learn more and more about the horrors of football (American) and what it does to those who play the game, there's a chance that the government may step in some day.  If you read Macolm Gladwell's piece in the New Yorker, you may be like me and consider never watching another NFL game ever again.

Anyway, I have no clue if there are any elections coming up in any of these soccer loving nations, but knowing how fickle democracies are, I'd put any government whose national teams disappointed in qualification on notice.  (Greece and Portugal just had elections and both of those teams made the EURO playoff).  At the moment, it doesn't look like any of the 'big' soccer nations are left out of the World Cup (though the playoffs may change that) so there may be no reason for concern for the major teams/democracies.  However, some of the upstart nations who qualified... maybe that will spark a major policy or political change? I wouldn't put it past a democracy.

As far as the World Cup, it's going to be held in South Africa in what will probably be one of the most followed sporting events of all time.  Not just in terms of fans watching, but also in terms of media attention since this is the great experiment in modern sport: What will a major sporting event be like in Africa?  Will it work?  Will it be wonderful?  Will it be blah?  Will it be a disaster?  It will be interesting to follow next summer.

The Trib's editorial on charter schools is puzzling just because the information on charter schools is so non-conclusive (or inconclusive if you prefer):

One rap on charter schools is that they succeed only because they draw parents and kids who are motivated to succeed. Not so fast: The Hoxby study compared the performance of charter school kids against kids who had applied to a charter but didn't gain a spot through an admissions lottery. Those kids had the same motivation to apply and the same demographic makeup.

But this is only one study.  There are other studies that show that charter schools aren't so hot.  And Hoxby is a controversial figure in education circles.  

Plus the charter schools that don't do well are simply closed—left as if they never existed.  Therefore, it's very hard to do a long term study on all charter schools.  This isn't to say that charter schools are bad, but they also aren't the answer to all our education problems. Longer school days, a longer school year, and more early childhood education would go a lot further in improving education in America than opening more charter schools.

Finally, E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post says something that I've been saying for a while: the most powerful people in American federal politics are Obama, Snowe, and Collins.  Got to love how long it takes the Beltway to figure this shit out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health Care Inches On

The Senate Finance Committee approved a health care bill which will now go to the Senate.  The Republicans, even with Olympia Snowe, can't filibuster the bill.  The Democrats didn't need Snowe's vote in the Finance Committee but picking her up is interesting because if the GOP does try and filibuster, I think they can now count on her to kill it. But I'm not sure the GOP will even try that at this point.  What will be interesting is to see what other GOP Senators will jump on board with this bill.  Susan Collins, also from Maine, seems like she will also support the bill.  Will other GOP Senator's follow?  That all depends on where they live and if their state supports it.  Senators from the Midwest and Northeast who are Republicans may very well join Collins and Snowe... but remember they're doing this for political reasons. The bill has already been passed at this point... their votes will just be so they can go home and tell their constituents that they supported health care reform (and there may be a few Democrats who decide that they won't vote for the bill for the same reason).

I'm surprised there is so much resistance to health care reform in the US.  When, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Massachusetts reformed health care in their state things didn't go as planned, however this isn't a reason to NOT do anything.  Why?  Because health care costs are like a cancer in this country right now.  It will eat us from the inside out.  Something has to be done, and anyone who tells you other wise is basically rooting for America to fail.  Reform is never perfect, politics gets in the way of policy, but a step in the right direct is a good thing.  It may not be exactly what the left wants, and it's probably not what the right wants at all (though if they could tell me what they wanted that would be helpful and I'd actually allow them to enter the debate), but it should help to keep costs down.  Yet as pieces like this WSJ editorial show, the conservatives have yet to say what would be a better option, because doing nothing is the worst option on the table at the moment.

It looks like the fall of the dollar is going to be the next big "story" in the months to come, which is some what interesting because politically that falls into both Bush and Obama's lap.  Conservatives are going to try and pin as much government spending as they can on Obama, but he's only going to be responsible for some of it.  Much of it Obama inherited from George W. Bush, whose cut taxes and spend money ways helped create the financial bubble and put the government into major debt to begin with.  Plus, it was W who pushed and passed his own stimulus along with the (necessary) TARP bill last year. While they both don't equal what the Obama stimulus will end up costing, a half a trillion dollars is a lot of money for a Republican President to spend and try and blame on a Democrat.

Finally, not much of a policy issue but worth the mention.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Congrats! You're Not George W. Bush! Here's the Nobel Peace Prize

The big news, of course, is that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize today.  Now, I know this award isn't always given to the most awesome people (come on down Mother Teresa, Kofi Annan, Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat!) but the committee gets the award right more than they get it wrong.

Which is why Obama winning it is even more confusing.  He won "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".  Which is nice and dandy and great and I'm happy Obama is President (I voted for him in full disclosure). But Nobel Peace Prize?  Really?

But then again, maybe it makes TOTAL sense because between September 11, 2001 and January 20, 2009, the United States refused to listen to anyone about anything.  Obama on the campaign trail and since he has become President has said, "We're going to listen, we might not (and probably won't) do want you want us to do, but we'll listen."  And for that, for just listening, he has won the Nobel Peace Prize.  He won because he did want we should have been doing all along.  Which again, I don't think is necessarily a reason to win... but hey whatever. It's not my award.

Now the right will be pissed off.  Partisan politics will rear its petty head and people will be upset about him winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  Their anger will be something like "he's in bed with the European left" blah blah blah.  (which is hilarious because the Europeans apparently didn't like him last week when they voted for Madrid over Chicago for the Olympics; they hated him last week but love him this week go figure).  But I don't think winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a bad thing.  In fact it is a good thing, and it restores some honor to the United States and the Office of the President (our last two Presidents either cheated on their wives or decided to pick wars or fights with other countries; it hasn't been a good 16 years for the Office of the President).

So to recap:
Did Obama deserve it?  Probably not.
Why did he win?  Because he listens to other countries.
Really?  Yes.
He won because he listens?  Yes.  And he's not George W. Bush.
You're kidding?  No.
That's kind of cool?  In a fucked up way, yes.
But sort of sad?  Yes totally sad that you can now win the Nobel Peace Prize for listening.
Is Obama winning a bad thing?  No.
Should we be upset that he won?  No.
Should we dislike him more now that he won? No.
Then why will people be upset?  Because they're petty and they hate to see the other guys do well (I'll confess, I hate it when the Cubs or Red Wings win).
Does this help or hurt Obama?  I say help him.  But others will disagree. There's really no way winning the Nobel Peace Prize can hurt you.  Unless you go to war three years from now because of oil/distract the world from the fact that you let the real enemy get away.

Until later...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Healthcare and Early Childhood Education

Today should be two separate posts, and maybe if it gets long it will be... away!

Healthcare is going to get done.  And while the left is going to be upset because it's not what they voted for and how much it will control costs is iffy (which is really the main long term problem with healthcare in the USA), it looks like healthcare will get done. I'm not sure what the Republicans will bitch about considering that this bill will reduce the deficit... but I'm sure they'll find something.  Goes to show how weird and hypocritical politics are—if anyone should be upset it should be Democratic voters because what they voted for is not getting done, yet they'll cheer this on as Obama being awesome.  Meanwhile, the Republicans will be against the bill because... I don't know, they're the opposition party and that's what they have to do.  Or something lame like that.  ANYWAYS, the bill coming out of the Finance Committee will be more than cost neutral, it's going to be cost negative, which is something every American should be able to get behind.  And if they don't?  They're idiots.

The fall out from Derrion Albert's beating death on Chicago's South Side continued yesterday (this is the little story that keeps running, three week legs).  But the story is starting to change.  Instead of blaming the neighborhood this took place in, the media is getting it right and focusing on the SOCIAL breakdown and what we can do about it.  There is a parenting crisis in this country, but there is a parenting crisis in every country and has been since the dawn of time so this is nothing new.  So to fill that gap we need to put in place social networks and safeguards to help.  The government can't do all the work, but it can do some of the heavy lifting. This story from the Trib points out:

Many others point to quality early-childhood education as crucial, and President Barack Obama made it a central premise of his presidential platform and has promised to pump millions of dollars into evidence-based programs.

Striking empirical evidence from the Perry Preschool experiment in Michigan showed large differences between the arrest rates of students in the intensive preschool effort and a control group not in the program. Some have estimated that the preschool program generated $13 in benefits for every $1 spent, with most of the savings because of a reduction in the criminal behavior of boys.

Okay, a 1,200% return is pretty fucking awesome and probably a policy initiative we should look into.  And even if you don't buy the Perry Preschool experiment, there are a tons of other places were you can look and find pretty awesome success stories.  Hey, if you don't believe me, believe the Nobel Prize winner.

I'm not going to rail on and on and on about how much human capital is wasted in the Untied States, even though I should, because no one will listen because no one wants to spend money on anyone other than themselves.  I know, it's one of the awesome aspects of democracy. Sigh.  But we have so much wasted talent in the United States that we should all be ashamed.  Maybe the awareness that the Derrion Albert story is bring to early childhood education a bit more to the forefront.  And if something is done and changed, then we all benefit because the more human capital there is, then there is more capital for all of us.