The Happy President

Watching the news conference last week, one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president’s seemingly effortless high spirits. He’s in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn’t seem to be suffering, which is jarring.

Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn’t Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president’s since polling began. He’s in a good mood. Discuss.


Beginning of the end?

Two prominent Republican senators, John Warner and Dick Lugar, have crafted a bill that would require the White House to draw up plans for a U.S. redeployment OUT of front line combat and INTO border security and counterterrorism roles. The bill would require the White House to present these plans to Congress in mid-October.

Is this the beginning of the end for our combat involvement in Iraq? Obviously, the bill doesn’t contain any real teeth to it (no cut-off of funding, no firm withdrawal date, etc.). But, it does show a willingness to break with the White House that heretofore had been absent amongst prominent Republicans. Warner and Lugar are smart guys who see that the political progress we had hoped would accompany our troop surge in Iraq just isn’t happening. I think Warner and Lugar are hoping to serve as a “third wheel” that plays a significant role in the coming months as a mediator between the Democratic congress and the White House in regards to a substantive shift in our Iraq policy. One other consideration is that Warner is up for re-election in ’08 and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of the political fallout over Iraq that will probably continue from ’06.

Three-Lane Highway

Mirrored at Another Loud Blog.

Steven Perlstein had a great article (that I missed from 3 months ago–sorry) in the Post about the constant struggle in Northern Virginia of getting out of what we’re putting into Richmond. He had a great and sneaky proposal:

Here’s how it would work: First, push through the 1 percent regional income tax. Then, dispatch the Northern Virginia delegation to Richmond with a revolutionary proposal to reduce the statewide income tax by one percentage point. Having preached for decades about the evils of taxation, Republican leaders would be hard-pressed to resist the idea. The net result would be that Northern Virginians would pay no more or no less in income taxes, but would get to keep $700 million of their own money rather than sharing it with those moochers downstate.

This goes pretty well to my point about what’s missing from the NVTA: tax relief from Richmond.

It’s really a travesty, and it makes me wonder if it would better to go back to a classic City State model like the Ancient Greeks. At least we would have only one entity to pay taxes to. Currently it’s a long list:

* HOA fees
* Town Taxes
* County Taxes
* NVTA Taxes (**NEW!!**)
* State Taxes
* Federal Taxes

Sooner or later we’ll add:

* UN dues
* Solar System Taxes
* Milky Way Galaxy Taxes
* Intergalactic Local Group dues
* Virgo SuperCluster assessment

And again, I’ll ask: How many Governments does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Religion News: Catholicism Reigns, Evangelicals are talking to Muslims

Two stories out of the Washington Times caught my eye yesterday:

The first was Pope Benedict XVI reminding the world that Catholicism is IT in the world of Christianity. That whole Protestant Reformation thing was irrelevant to Christianity, and the Real Church is all that matters. `

The statement brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders. “It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity,” said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.

Yeah, it does sort of go against the whole “Unity of Christendom” theme resulting from the Second Vatican Council back in the 60’s. I wonder if the Communion bulletins you get at mass will change:

“Non-Catholic Christians: You’re not welcome here; Protestantism is a Bastard Religion, and you should go back to worshiping sticks or whatever you people do.”

The second story comes from none other than Benny Hinn, who orchestrated a meeting between Evangelical Christian and Muslim leaders in Egypt. Billed as an “historic” meeting, it was still the first of its kind, which means there was a little talking past each other:

The meeting…focused on two issues, though the two groups had differing priorities. Whereas the Americans wanted to discuss the lack of religious freedom in Muslim countries, the ambassadors wanted to know whether Christians could become more “balanced” in their support of Israel.

The Christian attendees were almost all famous evangelists (or their sons: Falwell, Robertson, Crouch), or executives from the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals), but the article wasn’t able to produce names from the Muslim side of the table, just countries they represented: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Kuwait, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt…plus the Arab League.

SO, to sum up: While the Pope was doing his dead-level best to insult people within his own faith of Christianity, the Right-Wing-Christian-Fundamentalist-Idealogues were starting a dialogue with Islamic leaders.

Go figure.

Update: By the way, today is Orangemen’s day. So if you’re part of the British Commonwealth and Protestant, I believe you’re supposed to run around and antagonize Catholics. And even though I’m not in the Commonwealth, I feel obliged to antagonize my Catholic wife all evening in honor of the holiday.

The Washington Times (Pope) & The Washington Times (Evangelicals)

Prediction Markets for Politics

This article details a few of the better-known political prediction markets. These markets (at least some of them) allow participants to buy real($$$) contracts based on certain election outcomes. One of the sites, Intrade, also offers the opportunity to wager on a variety of subjects (weather, current events, etc). I’m not advocating for or assessing the legality of placing wagers (although I will say that this SHOULD be 100% legal), just pointing out that these sites will be a valuable source of information as the 2008 election approaches. By the way, the markets currently expect a match-up between Clinton and Giuliani. Yikes!

Enough, by Juan Williams

When Gahagan posted the other week about the recent Supreme Court Decision on integration, I caught a link to an article by Juan Williams (can’t remember how) celebrating the idea that the Brown decision had earned its keep, but had become obsolete. It reminded me that I had Juan Williams’ latest book sitting on my shelf, so I picked it up and read it over this past weekend.

It’s definitely worth the read, and it’s obvious from the subtitle what the book is about. What isn’t really obvious from the title is the fact that it’s only really Juan Williams book in name. It’s more accurately Bill Cosby’s book. The entire book stems from his speech at the 30th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education at Constitution Hall in D.C.

Williams obviously has serious feelings of his own on the matters of civil rights, race relations, poverty, etc., but Cosby is referenced so much, it’s hard not to consider it really Bill Cosby’s book. The speech in question was billed as a “wake-up call” by his supporters, and “blaming the victim (poor people)” by his detractors. A big point of the book was how little support Cosby got (at first) from those he had spent 30+ years supporting.

Williams spends a good time blasting the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and various other “civil rights leaders” who spend all of their efforts blaming and trying to get money from the white establishment on the grounds of “systemic racism,” and not enough trying to actually improve the lives of the black poor community. Also, black rap artists are sincerely castigated as continually feeding stereotypes of poor blacks as thugs and sex-crazed convicts. Williams seems very passionate about this issue in particular.

There’s a lot of statistics that we’ve all heard before, but the most important part isn’t the diagnosis as much as it is the prescription which Bill Cosby offers which is pretty simple: Having babies after age 21 and in conjunction with marriage. Parenting based on good manners, education and learning instead of materialism. Taking control of neighborhoods and holding family, friends and neighbors accountable for criminal activity.

Williams goes a little further in talking about the failures of housing projects in concentrating poverty and crime and hopelessness all in one place, and even offers examples of programs that have worked before that “integrated” instead of isolated those the government is giving a helping hand. He also astutely points out the difference between government programs designed to help the middle class black community that does very little for the poor black community (Affirmative Action, minority business grants, etc.) but comes to the defense of this black middle class, which is often chastised as “uncaring,” “abandoning the race”, or the least defensible, “not authentically black.”

Overall, the sort of “tough love” approach of Cosby’s speech and Williams’ book kind of reminds me of the whole feminist concept: “you have to be twice as good as men in order to be thought of as half as good.” In other words, if systemic racism is still a reality, then that means blacks have to work twice as hard. Cosby’s and Williams’ view seems to be that if that’s the case, it’s better for blacks to simply work twice as hard instead of waiting for racists to join the modern enlightened world and all of a sudden become not racist. Williams also points out that the world has gotten MORE globally competitive (and the good jobs that much harder to get) that it’s pretty obvious those who hold the reins have even LESS incentive than before in letting the good jobs go to minorities for the sake of recompense.

Since I’m not black and I’m not poor, it’s real easy for me to agree with these concepts, but it’s more important to see how much of Bill Cosby’s time, money, and effort has been focused on town hall meetings and seminars in poor urban black communities (with, according to Williams, exceedingly positive feedback) since he gave his famous speech. Cosby has been side by side with the Civil Rights Movement from the beginning so his opinion counts and Juan Williams serves as a good conduit.

Just wish the book would have been officially coauthored by Bill Cosby.

Dispelling Conspiracy Theories

Caught this link from Johnny’s last post. In addition to exploring the autism/vaccine issue, it’s an interesting exploration of the psychology behind conspiracy theories in general and how hard it is to successfully influence someone once they’ve gone down that road. Here’s a couple of key passages on the latter topic:

People who study irrational beliefs have a variety of ways of explaining why we cling to them. In rational choice theory, what appear to be crazy choices are actually rational, in that they maximize an individual’s benefit—or at least make him or her feel good.

Another explanation for the refusal to face facts is what cognitive scientists call confirmation bias. Years ago, when writing an article for the Washington Post Magazine about the Tailwind affair, a screwy piece of journalism about a nonexistent attack on American POWs with sarin gas, I concluded that the story’s CNN producers had become wedded to the thesis after interviewing a few unreliable sources. After that, they unconsciously discounted any facts that interfered with their juicy story. They weren’t lying—except, perhaps, to themselves. They had brain blindness—confirmation bias.

Slate Magazine