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Wednesday
May052010

Crist defects for "political health"

By: Scott Spiegel

Everyone’s bemoaning Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s “political” decision to run for Senate as an Independent instead of a Republican, since he knows he’d lose the primary to Marco Rubio.

Everyone’s missing the point.

The political rule-bending is tied to the ideology.  Liberals and centrists are more likely to bend the rules to win elections and votes than conservatives.  It’s part of their political philosophy.

Behold the following Democratic party-hoppers in recent years:

•    Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republicans in 2001 to swing the balance to Democrats early in George W. Bush’s first term, after being promised cushier arrangements by Democratic leaders

•    Liberal Mayor Mike Bloomberg switched from Republican to Independent in 2007 to garner greater support for his nanny-state governing style in New York

•    Arlen Specter left the Republicans for the Democrats last year in anticipation of a difficult primary race

•    New York Senate Democrats Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, Jr. became Republicans temporarily last summer in an attempt to enhance their leadership positions, then switched back to being Democrats when their bid failed

•    RINO Dede Scozzafava endorsed Democratic candidate Bill Owens over conservative Doug Hoffman after dropping out of NY-23 last November

Also witness the following liberal rule-bending over the last decade:

•    Al Gore’s campaign pushed for hand recounts using loosened standards in select counties in the 2000 Florida presidential recount

•    Democrats won other elections by finding judges to approve different counting standards in Minnesota (Al Franken, Senate) and Washington (Christine Gregoire, Governor)

•    New Jersey Democrats put Frank Lautenberg on the ballot in 2002 after their candidate Robert Torricelli was hit with corruption charges, despite a law on the books against changing candidates so late in the election

•    Massachusetts Democrats withheld the right of Republican Governor Mitt Romney to appoint a successor in 2004 if John Kerry became president, then changed the rules in 2009 so Governor Deval Patrick could install a Democrat to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat until the special election

•    Mayor Bloomberg successfully pushed in 2007 to change the rule he had argued for in 2001 that had prevented Republican Rudy Guiliani from serving more than two terms, so that Bloomberg could go on to serve three terms himself

•    Democrats recently maneuvered to pass their health care bill, including using budget reconciliation to overcome a non-filibuster-proof Senate majority and an unenforceable executive order banning abortion funding to overcome their absence of a House majority in favor of the bill

In contrast, whenever a conservative abandons Democrats, it’s almost always due to newfound disdain for the party’s agenda.  It also almost always seems to happen at a completely inconsequential time, when there’s no crucial vote at stake or favors to be handed out, or even when the candidate has something to lose.

Alabama Representative Parker Griffith switched parties last December, citing revulsion over the direction in which House leaders were taking the country.  Griffith did not switch to join a majority party like Specter or improve his electoral chances like Crist—he did it because, as he put it, Democratic leaders “continue to push an agenda focused on massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts, and a health care bill that is bad for our healthcare system…  [A]fter watching this agenda firsthand, I now believe that the differences in the two parties could not be more clear, and that… I must align myself with the Republican party.”

New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg rejected President Obama’s offer of Commerce Secretary last year, after having met with Obama about the position and coordinated with Governor John Lynch to name a replacement Senator.  When Gregg got a closer look at Obama’s massive stimulus proposal and plans to politicize the Census, he ran for the hills.  There was nothing opportunistic above Gregg’s move—if anything, it cost him a prestigious position and soured relations with the new administration.

Texas Representative Ralph Hall became a Republican in 2004 after 54 years of being a moderate Democrat.  Rumors had been circulating since the Republican Revolution that he would switch parties, but he didn’t do so when it was expedient, preferring instead to “pull my party back toward the middle.”  Hall was instrumental in forming the moderate coalition of Blue Dog Democrats.  After years of watching his party bash President Bush over Iraq, Hall changed parties, explaining, “When the country is at war you need to support the president.  Some of my fellow congressmen have not been doing that.”  Far from showering him with plumb assignments, Republican leaders refused to allocate funding for Hall’s district—as Hall said, “the only reason I was given was that I was a Democrat.”  The party eventually embraced him; but the point is that Hall did not switch for political opportunism, but rather at great cost to himself.

Virginia Representative Virgil Goode switched parties in 2000 after Democrats gave him hell over voting for three of the articles of impeachment against President Clinton.  Goode is rather ideologically conservative anyway, having voted for the Iraq War, the surge, and tough anti-amnesty immigration and veterans’ rights legislation.  He won reelection in 2000 as an Independent—a politically risky move, but one that genuinely reflected his evolving ideology—before joining the Republicans in 2002.

While hawkish Senator Joe Lieberman did leave the Democratic Party in 2006 to run in the general election as an Independent Democrat, he at least had the guts to face his opponent Ned Lamont in the primary first.  Lieberman did not, like Crist, go around quoting Abraham Lincoln, saying that he was switching parties so he could better serve the cause of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and that his change in party had nothing—absolutely nothing!—to do with his reelection prospects.

There’s a reason liberals and moderates are more likely to switch parties or bend election rules in their favor.  They do not, at their core, all the way down, believe in a stable, predictable rule of law, as clearly stated and adhered to by all citizens in a system of government known as a republic.  They believe in doing whatever they can get away with, if they can convince enough people at the time that it’s right for them to do it—hence the “democracy” in Democratic.

Show me a DINO who bolted for the Republican Party for ulterior motives, and I’ll show you a rare creature indeed.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Thursday
Apr222010

Newsweek's Shameful Smearing of the Right

Newsweek has had its problems over the past couple of years, so I do not want to pile on and add insult to injury. They have some very talented writers and contributors, and I once attended a speech by the editor, Jon Meacham, and found him very intelligent and likeable. All that aside, the story in their issue last week on "hate on the right" is so bad it would be funny if it weren't offensive. And I can accept a good, thoughtful leftwing piece, or even a hit piece, but this was just awful. 

What follows are passages from the Newsweek story "A Surge of Hate," followed by some reaction.

"This is a season, or perhaps an era, when politics seem more intense than usual, and the domestic extremist threat seems more real. Partisan disputes are rarely pretty, but lately they have taken a particularly ugly, menacing turn. Last week the FBI arrested individuals for making death threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington for their votes on health-care reform. A series of expletive-strewn voice-mail messages left for Senator Murray were particularly creepy: "You're gonna have a target on your back for the rest of your life," the caller warned. "How long do you think you can hide?" Federal authorities have charged a man with multiple-personality disorder with threatening in a YouTube video to kill Rep. Eric Cantor; the suspect is not competent to stand trial."

So... people who threaten Democrats are dangerous, creepy, right-wing extremists. People who threaten Republicans are simply mentally incompetent. Got it.

"Economic distress and social change make for fear, and fear makes for anger, now and always... Huey Long, governor of Louisiana, later a U.S. senator who wanted to soak the rich, and Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semitic Catholic priest whose radio show reached 40 million people, seemed a political threat to FDR, until Long was assassinated and Coughlin became increasingly unhinged."

While true, there are two critical pieces of information left out of this piece. Huey Long was... get ready for it... a Democrat. Father Coughlin attacked FDR from the left.

""There was a lot of hatred in the 1930s," says Alan Brinkley, the Columbia University historian and expert on populist movements. But the currentsurge of fear and loathing toward Obama is "scary," he says. "There's a big dose of race behind the real crazies, the ones who take their guns to public meetings. I can't see this happening if McCain were president, or [any] white male." (Secret Service spokespeople reported spikes in threats against Obama after his election and inauguration, but they've also said the president generally receives about the same number of threats as did Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They've declined to comment on whether there's been a spike in threats related to health-care reform.)"

Why is the sentence about the current president receiving basically the same amount of threats as previous presidents in parenthesis? Is this not a fairly significant fact? Doesn't it sort of undermine the whole theme of the article?

"(McVeigh) He has, or had, some potential heirs apparent in a recently indicted group called the Hutaree, a Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio-based militia."

You mean the militia that hated Pres. Bush and whose only member affiliated with a political party is a Democrat? Got it.

"It is hard to know how much such grim fantasies are stirred by the steady stream of conspiracy theories pushed by talk-radio hosts. Rush Limbaugh talks about the Democrats planning to "kill you" with health-care reform and suggests (agreeing with black Muslim minister Louis Farrakhan, of all people) that it "seems perfectly within the realm of reality" that the H1N1 vaccine was "developed to kill people.""

I've listened to the clip they're alluding to here several times. This is misleading, Rush never said Democrats are planning to "kill you" with the vaccine, he was quoting Louis Farrakhan. Rush then put the quote in the context of rationing health coverage and a few other stories specific to the day about lack of respect for life. This was not Rush at his finest or most eloquent, but it seemed pretty clear to me that Rush was being hyperbolic to make a point.

This was the best evidence Newsweek had to offer on the alleged surge of hatred from the political right. Turns out, it was an exercise in the all too common practice of smearing and generalizing.

Wednesday
Apr212010

Are Volcanoes Subject to Cap-and-Trade?

By: Scott Spiegel

As the Senate gears up to introduce its version of the House’s cap-and-trade global warming legislation next week, it’s instructive to consider the impact of myriad geological, meteorological, and astronomic effects on climate change, as exhaustively chronicled in Australian scientist Ian Plimer’s essential new book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science.

Plimer’s book, published last year, boasts 2,000 footnotes from an array of sources including top peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, Science, and Geophysical Research Letters; journals on solar physics, hydrological science, and glaciology; books on climate change, environmentalism, and the history of science; and research by dozens of climate change skeptics.  Plimer also dissects the various contradictory iterations of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports.

His evaluation of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis?  Pure, unadulterated waffle.

If “agnostic” is to “atheist” what “skeptic” is to “denier,” then Plimer would happily plant himself in the denier camp.

Plimer demolishes AGW by broadening the scientific timeline under consideration to incorporate thousands, at times millions, of years to show how climate has been changing through hot and cold swings much wider than anything we’ve seen in recent centuries, and all in the absence of disposable Starbucks cups.

In graph after graph, Plimer depicts the cyclical effects of sunspots, glaciation, tilts in the earth’s orbit, ocean currents, CO2 reabsorption by the oceans, plate tectonics, clouds, and volcanic eruptions on global temperature.  He covers the Medieval Warming period from 900 to 1300 AD, which was warmer than today, and points out the vastly higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere during previous Ice Ages.  He details the beneficial effects that warmer periods historically have had on crop growth, species survival, and human longevity.  He documents the inadequacy and inconsistency of land temperature measurements, relative to satellite measurements, the latter of which show global cooling.  He notes the utter failure of any global warming model to correctly predict that the earth would start cooling in 1998.

Plimer mentions Al Gore’s camp classic An Inconvenient Truth, and cites a British court’s 2007 ruling that there are nine major factual errors in the movie, and that in order to be shown in public classrooms the film has to be accompanied by a written manual and teacher instruction to correct all of the alarmist falsehoods.  One of the nine gaffes is the movie’s failure to note that CO2 emissions have not been shown to cause temperature increases, but rather have historically lagged behind temperature increases.  That’s right—a British court actually ruled that there is no evidence that carbon dioxide emissions, human or otherwise, cause or even precede temperature increases—only that they lag slightly behind.

And Plimer’s book was published before last November’s Climategate, in which a whistleblower in the UK publicly exposed researchers from one of the three leading climate data collection centers in the world as having evaded Freedom of Information requests, colluded to keep skeptics’ research from being published, and failed to be able to reconstruct tortuous data manipulations they had applied in order to generate the conclusions they wanted.

Lest closed-minded warmists dismiss Plimer as a religious, right-wing knuckle-dragger, Plimer has also authored books deconstructing the scientific case for creationism, and has received criticism from conservatives for this line of work.

Plimer’s thesis also happens to be perfectly embodied by last week’s historic volcano eruption in Iceland.  The eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, whose name is almost as long and complicated as the House’s cap-and-trade bill, left Europe covered in clouds of dark ash and shut down virtually all air transportation across the continent.

In his book, Plimer delineates the historic effects of volcanic activity on climate.  For example, in just a few days, a major volcano can spew more CO2, dust, and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere than humans can in a year.  Yet significant volcanic eruptions typically lead to years-long drops in temperature, due to the extra cloud cover and solar reflection they create, which means that skiing in St. Moritz should be lovely this winter.

Last year the Australian parliament considered and, in large part thanks to the efforts of Plimer and other skeptics, narrowly rejected a cap-and-trade scheme that would have crippled the continent’s energy production systems.

Due to U.S. Congressional Democrats’ politically suicidal stubbornness, cap-and-trade is evidently going to be this year’s health care reform.

To reiterate the point crystallized in Plimer’s book: if there’s so much uncertainty regarding whether human carbon dioxide emissions have any measurable influence on temperature increases, and a greater probability that temperature increases are beneficial than harmful, why are we rushing to shoot the world’s greatest economies in the foot?

Molecular biologist Henry Miller wrote in Forbes last week, “Every schoolchild these days seems to be a devoted environmentalist, able to spell ‘sustainable’ before ‘dog.’  However, much of the indoctrination about environmentalism—especially in schools—is of the passion-is-more-important-than-fact variety…  Too often the objective of student projects seems to be ‘empowering’ the kids and giving them a feeling of accomplishment instead of getting the right answer and learning scientific principles.”  In other words, the first step to “empowerment” in the natural world is learning what you can and can’t change through being empowered.  It seems many adults have yet to learn that lesson.

Though I regret the disruption caused by Eyjafjallajökull to Western Europe’s economies (such as they are), I have to chuckle at the fact that terrible, wasteful, carbon dioxide-emitting air travel has been suspended throughout the sacred Continent of the Greens—and during the same week as Earth Day, at that.  I only wish it had happened right before the Copenhagen summit.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Thursday
Apr152010

SCOTUS Conformation Will Be More About Politics, Less About Judicial Philosophy

By: Scott Spiegel

When anticipating Obama’s upcoming nomination to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, there are two approaches conservatives might consider:

Hope that Obama nominates the most conservative candidate, in case he gets confirmed;

Hope that Obama nominates the most liberal candidate, to highlight Obama’s radical ideology and make it easier for Republicans to reject her.

Relatively speaking, the most conservative candidate on Obama’s short list is D.C. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland.  The most liberal is Seventh Circuit Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood.

The problem with hoping for a moderate candidate is that anyone Obama is dreaming of nominating would be a disaster as far as adherence to the rule of law and upholding the Constitution.

The problem with hoping for a leftist candidate is that we cannot rely on Republican Senators to be courageous enough to block even the most egregious Obama nominee—even after the Democrats just declared war by passing a bill taking over the country’s health care system without a single Republican vote.

Given their dismal failure last summer to stand up to Our Wise Latina Sonya Sotomayor’s incendiary record (typical GOP critique during her confirmation hearings: Lindsey Graham’s creepy, drooling paean, “I like you!”), Republicans cannot be counted on to offer meaningful opposition to whichever train wreck Obama picks this year.

Tragically, this whole process should be a cakewalk for Republicans.  America is still a center-right country; the type of crowd Obama hangs out with is, to put it mildly, not.

Yet the New York Times tried to bully conservatives over the weekend in a story titled “G.O.P. Weighs Political Price of Court Fight.”  In the Times’ version of the story, it’s all about the Republicans—not President Obama, not any of his potential nominees—but the stubborn GOP and whether they still want to be seen as the petulant, spoiled party of “No, I don’t want to eat my peas!  I don’t care if they’re good for me!”

The Times opens their story thus: “The retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens presents a test for Republicans as much as it does for President Obama as they weigh how much they want to wage a high-profile battle over ideological issues in the months before crucial midterm elections.”

This is like saying, “The approach of dinnertime presents a test for Mom as she weighs how much she wants to wage a battle over nutritional issues in the hours before the family gets home.”  When is she supposed to worry about nutritional issues—after her children leave home?

When are Senators supposed to worry about ideological issues surrounding a Supreme Court nominee—after the candidate retires?

As congressman Mike Pence noted, depending on the progress of lawsuits filed against Obamacare by 14 state Attorneys General, the Supreme Court will likely rule on “whether the federal government has the power to compel Americans to purchase health insurance…  Now is the time to have a thorough debate over the course and direction of the court.”

This, of course, would require Republicans to insist that Obama’s nominee answer questions about whether the health care bill’s individual mandate requiring citizens to buy private sector insurance is constitutional.  Fat chance of the GOP squeezing a substantial answer out of any Obama nominee on that subject in confirmation hearings this summer.

When Republican leaders aren’t encouraging us to avoid discussing issues relevant to the confirmation process, they have been urging the GOP to avoid being… political.

According to Senator John Cornyn, who had an actual spine during the fight over the health care bill last year, “We need to probably bend over backwards both in appearance and in reality to give the nominee a fair process.”  You mean like the fair process Democrats magnanimously tendered in ramming through ObamaCare?

The honor of being nakedly partisan is apparently reserved for the left: see, for example, Senator Charles Schumer’s recent statement, “One of the most important qualities for the new justice is the ability to win over Justice Kennedy…  Somebody who’s going to be one of the five and not one of the four.”  No thoughtful discussion of judicial philosophy lurking there!

So Republicans shouldn’t be ideological and we shouldn’t be political in considering Obama’s nominee.  Can we at least have a roll of the dice and hope for snake eyes, or do we just have to roll over and play dead now?

I gather no comfort from the tough talk of Senators like Orrin Hatch, who promises “a whale of a fight” if Obama nominates a liberal activist, or Mitch McConnell, who insists that Republicans will demand a justice who gives “an evenhanded reading of the law.”  Whether these few principled leaders are willing to vote down or filibuster a nominee, too many Republican senators will not be.

My advice to Democrats and Republicans: Oh, just do whatever the hell you’re going to do anyway.

You will be held accountable—you on both sides of the aisle—on Election Day.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Sunday
Apr112010

Paul Krugman: Missing the Point

By: John Prothro

Several years ago I thought I’d be smart and argue with a war protester.  I imagined I would approach him, ask him clever questions, and like Socrates walk him through his specious logic.  It didn’t exactly work that way.  To each of my questions the guy had an answer, and instead of putting him in his place, I found myself stammering to keep up.  I listened baffled as he laid out conspiracy after conspiracy, cliché after cliché.  After a few failed attempts to break his stride, I left the conversation perplexed, bested by a lunatic.

I have that same feeling each time I read Paul Krugman.  While he writes from a forceful position, his words never ring true, and the assumptions from which he argues are divorced from reality.  To read him is to read an alien author from a distant planet—a planet where up is down, black is white, and Californians are under-taxed

A debate is only helpful if both sides share a set of assumptions. Without a foundation on which to agree, opponents talk past each other and there is no chance for persuasion.  If, for instance, a debate were held to decide the best breakfast spot in America (Denny’s), it would be helpful to first agree there was such a thing as breakfast.

Here we have my real issue with Krugman: Either I’m crazy, or he doesn’t believe in breakfast.

Case in point is Krugman’s recent piece in the New York Times “Learning from Greece." In it, Krugman ignores the real lesson of Greece’s financial meltdown—that excessive spending and public debt lead to ruin—and instead chooses to remind us of the value of loose monetary policy:

But what are the lessons for America? Of course, we should be fiscally responsible. What that means, however, is taking on the big long-term issues, above all health costs — not grandstanding and penny-pinching over short-term spending to help a distressed economy.

Equally important, however, we need to steer clear of deflation, or even excessively low inflation. Unlike Greece, we’re not stuck with someone else’s currency.


In other words, Krugman may not believe in breakfast, but he does believe in free lunch.  To Krugman, what we need is not lower spending but high inflation to surreptitiously tax Americans and stiff international creditors.  Krugman can’t be bothered with the real lessons of Greece.  In his world resources are unlimited and spending what one doesn’t have is smart monetary policy. 

The saddest part about this is Krugman isn’t some fringe kook blogging from his uncle’s basement.  He is the de facto apologist for the freewheeling big spenders in power.  Covered by loose money seers like Krugman, Obama and his ilk are racing toward Greece’s fate.  Thankfully, Americans are learning from Greece and other debt-ridden lands.  Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike have put aside their differences and are pressuring politicians to turn off the spigot.  Let’s hope Washington puts down the New York Times and starts listening to the people.


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