Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

BrewDog: Anarchy in the U.K.

In Specific Facts on November 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm

BrewDog’s grassroots financial campaign: Equity for PunksScottish nonconformist beermaker, BrewDog, just released the world’s strongest beer: at 32% alcohol content, Tactical Nuclear Penguin is almost as strong as whiskey and will sell for 30 pounds (about 49 dollars as of press time) per bottle.  Founded in 2007 by 24-year-old friends James Watt and Martin Dickie, BrewDog has been in business for less than three years, but those three years have been loud, boisterous, and whirling: nearly everything BrewDog has done in its short rise to greatness has been very public and very controversial.  From the company’s website: “BrewDog is about breaking rules, taking risks, upsetting trends, unsettling institutions but first and foremost, great tasting beers.” 

In less than three years, BrewDog has won the 2008 Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, a Gold Medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup in the Wood and Barrel-aged Strong Beer Category, the Tenon Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Demonstrating Exceptional Vision and Leadership at the 2008 National Business Awards for Scotland; BrewDog’s beer “The Physics” won the World’s Best Strong Pale Ale Award, and “Rip Tide” won the World’s Best Imperial Stout Award at the 2007 World Beer Awards, an annual competition organized by Beers of the World magazine. 

During its short existence, BrewDog has also had a very public feud with U.K. beer industry “watchdog”, the Portman Group, comprised of representatives of Guinness, Bacardi, Carlsberg, Coors, Pernod Ricard, and Newcastle, among others – in other words, “the establishment”.  From the Portman Group’s mission statement:

(1) the drinks industry has a legitimate and important role to play in combating alcohol misuse; (2) enlightened corporate social responsibility is positively good for business; (3) the consumption of alcohol in moderation (as defined by the current responsible drinking guidelines in the UK) is compatible with a healthy lifestyle; and (4) effective alcohol policy balances legislation, self-regulation and personal responsibility. 

The Portman Group criticized BrewDog last year for “associating alcohol consumption with antisocial behavior”.  Don’t these guys know anything about punk?  Throughout the feud, the Portman Group has continually played directly into BrewDog’s hand, like an inept villain in a B-level skateboarding movie.  From BrewDog’s response to the Portman Group:

Ironically for a body funded by the UK’s leading alcohol producers, those responsible for the supermarket pricing debacle, (the Portman Group has) decided to target a small craft beer producer for the apparent evils beyond imagination contained on our labels.

According to their website, one of their beliefs is:

“Enlightened corporate social responsibility is positively good for business” Anyone who can understand that callous concoction of management paradigms and in fashion corporate buzzwords which were pieced together by a marketing agency deserves an honorary PHD (and maybe some free beer)…

BrewDog then goes on to mercilessly make fun of the Portman Group, like any good punk, enhancing its street cred in the process:

…Anyway, we are in breach of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks.  I quote directly from the correspondence:

PIPC considered Rip Tide to be in potential breach of Code rule 3.2b for the following reason:“The product is described as a “twisted merciless stout” associating its consumption with anti-social behaviour”

PIPC considered Hop Rocker to be in potential breach of Code rule 3.2j for the following reason “Description of the product includes “nourishing foodstuff” and “magic is still there to be extracted from this drink” implying it could enhance mental or physical capabilities”

PIPC considered Punk IPA to be in potential breach of Code rule 3.2b for the following reason:“This product is described as an “aggressive beer” thus associating its consumption with anti-social behaviour”…

…What is the new meaning of anti-social behaviour (which BrewDog is apparently encouraging) if it is not some new buzzword to replace crime by some lame criminologist with a PHD and zero real world experience? In fact anti-social behaviour is not coming out of your room for supper when all your friends and relatives have dropped by.

The Portman Group’s contentions are indeed laughable: while consumption of alcohol in moderation is not something to joke about, an organization comprised of stuffy industry types complaining that an up-and-coming “beer for punks” encourages “antisocial behavior” is strikingly ironic and self-defeating.

The 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin is only BrewDog’s latest attempt to stick it to the Portman Group: in 2008, BrewDog released “Speedball,” inviting the Portman Group and the Scottish Parliament to conclude that drinking BrewDog could only encourage consumption of that potent mixture of cocaine and heroin responsible for the deaths of John Belushi and River Phoenix.  Speedball was subsequently banned

BrewDog responded by suing the Portman Group for defamation (yeah right) and releasing “Tokyo*” this past July.  At 18.2 percent alcohol, Tokyo* was then the strongest beer in the U.K., and one bottle contained twice the recommended daily maximum amount of alcohol.  The establishment tried to ban the beer after receiving several anonymous complaints from the public, one of which, it was discovered (not surprisingly), came from BrewDog co-founder, James Watt, who subsequently covered himself: “complaining about our own beer was intended to illustrate just what an elaborate and ridiculous waste of time the Portman Group really are (sic).”  Tokyo* was subsequently banned in the U.K., the official reason being a provocative passage on the label which stated, “Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess.”  BrewDog responded to the ban like typical punks: the company released a beer with 1.1% alcohol content called “Nanny State.”


A Rumination on Deflation and Savings

In Specific Facts on November 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm

This is the second part of a two-part series.  For the first part, please click here.

People have started saving recently, after years of taking on debt. However, the fact that the savings rate has increased recently seems inevitable: from zero, there’s nowhere to go but up.It is often suggested that deflation encourages savings over investment or consumption.  This is because as the value of currency rises, or, as people notice the value of currency rising, they forego unnecessary purchases like new automobiles and that extra Christmas present, and instead save, that is, do not invest and do not consume.  This analysis makes sense logically, however, the impact of deflation largely depends on the decisions of individuals relative to an awareness of persistent deflation.  If individuals were rational in an aggregate sense, they might hold on to their money, but most people are too excited about ten-dollar DVDs and supermarket sales to wait for prices to get even lower.  Plus, if there is 0.18% deflation now in the U.S., is that really enough to reverse 75 years of persistent inflation? 

Were we to think about currency like any other commodity, getting into currency makes sense during periods of deflation.  Foregoing unneccesary expenses, making deposits to savings or CD accounts, being more wary about stock investments, and thinking twice before purchasing property are encouraged by a deflationary economy.  Those are terrible things, right?  Don’t Americans need to be out buying Cabbage Patch Kids, self-help books, and unaffordable mortgages?  Aren’t we supposed to solve the credit crisis with more spending? (On the contrary, economist Irving Fisher believed that deflationary spirals could occur when there was excess debt.)  Or does it make sense to weather the effects of the economic pendulum’s swinging back to a rational equilibrium?       

For many years in the U.S., saving money has been the ultimate sucker’s bet.  (In the past, saving was often the only recourse for low-income-earners, but for several years now, there have been companies like E*TRADE and Charles Schwab, whereby investing small amounts of money is possible.)  If you deposited 30,000 1964 dollars into a typical compound-interest-yielding bank account in 1964, you would have over 100,000 2008 dollars today; but in real terms, you would have actually lost over 100,000 2008 dollars!  If, on the other hand, you put your 30,000 1964 dollars into a piece of property on the outskirts of a major city or along the new interstate highway system in 1964, you would have profited by over 800,000 2008 dollars.  No wonder Americans don’t save!  We’re finally starting to get it.  Saving is totally illogical in a chronically inflationary economy.  The wealthy, more than anybody, know this, and put their money in assets, like real estate, immune to chronic currency inflation.  Like the lottery, inflation is essentially a stupid-tax, and, if you’ve had a large bank account not tagged to inflation all these years, the joke’s on you. 

Nevertheless, all these years of inflation came back to bite us when asset values dropped dramatically a year ago, because we had nothing to fall back on and instead had to refinance the macroeconomy.  It seems a significant savings parachute would be prudent to save us from aggregate mistakes in the future.  Ironically, a deflationary economy renders central bank monetary policy impotent, which may suggest a conflict of interest. (However, the Federal Reserve and Congress hedged against this by spreading the stimulus through several years.)  Whether one believes in the efficacy of a central bank-led, top-down monetary policy or not, perhaps allowing the deflationary river to break through the dam and adjusting to it is best for now.  Everything in moderation prevails: When the credit crisis hit a year ago, Americans had a near zero saving rate.  Now, they are starting to save a little, and saving a little is good for the macroeconomy; we have something to use on a rainy day as well as money to start new businesses, invest, or treat ourselves to something nice once in a while.  For now, with the stock market rising at a moderate rate, and unemployment still a major problem, a modest, deflation-based reallocation of resources could be good for us.

A Rumination on Deflation

In Specific Facts on November 25, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Recently, the Japanese media has been obsessed with defure, or deflation.  The September annualized rate of deflation for Japan was 2.24%, compared to September annualized deflation rates of 0.18% in the U.S. and 0.80% in China.  Canada, the U.K., Australia, and the European Union had very low rates of annualized inflation in September.  However, it is inconsistent for the media to panic about anomalous low-single-digit deflation while ignoring the well-documented effects of seventy-five years of chronic inflation.  The rationale for the panic is that deflation can lead to a liquidity crisis (government stimulus is rendered impotent) and/or a deflationary spiral (hyperdeflation); yet, in apparent blindness to the lessons of history, inflation is near universally considered a necessary evil, and the idea that inflation could lead to an inflationary spiril is underserved. 

First, an explanation of the relevent terms: originally, inflation meant an increase in the money supply, and deflation meant a decrease in the money supply.  However, modern understandings of the terms are more nuanced; now inflation and deflation are related more to purchasing power and price levels.  Because when there is more of something it becomes less valuable, inflation is now understood as a devaluation of currency.  Deflation is when a currency becomes more valuable.  Usually during economic booms, there is a robust rate of inflation as people move their collective wealth from cash-based resources into assets; there is more cash around, so people treat it with less respect and tend to spend frivolously.  During recessions, people tend to value security over potential profits, and attach more value to cash-in-hand; a dollar is worth more as a result.  Deflationary periods indicate increasing aversion to risk among the population, but not neccesarily recession: in the late nineteenth century the U.S. experienced both persistent deflation in the absence of a central bank and high rates of economic growth.

Some regard the Great Depression as an example of a deflationary spiral, but the concept is largely confined to theory and controversial: there has never been an instance of hyperdeflation in recorded history.  From 1929 to 1933, prices in Great Britain fell 33%, but this was in linear – not hyperbolic – fashion.  On the other hand, there have been many documented instances of hyperinflation, especially in the twentieth century in countries with central banks and often associated with war and/or ethnic cleansing.  In the years during and immediately after World War II, Greece, Hungary, and China experienced rapid devaluation of their currencies.  In July 1946, prices doubled every fifteen hours in Hungary.  Other examples of devastating hyperinflation include that of the Weimar Reichsmark in 1923, leading to the rise of Hitler, Yugoslavian hyperinflation in 1994, and the 2008 hyperinflation in Zimbabwe.

There are actually many arguments in favor of a liberal, sometimes deflationary currency: one is that deflation makes necessities more affordable, thereby reducing poverty along with the length and severity of a particular recession.  Often, as in the Japanese case, an active central bank policy is the only thing preventing deflation.  Let us not forget that currencies deflate all the time – relative to other currencies.  Why are they not allowed to deflate relative to soy beans or new cars?  In Japan, after World War II, the exchange rate was fixed by the occupying authority at 370 yen to the dollar as a way to foster the development of a cheap Japanese manufacturing exports industry.  When Nixon ended the gold standard in 1971, thereby ending the era of fixed exchange rates, the yen took off, reaching a high of 80 per dollar in 1995 before the Japanese central bank began purchasing dollars en masse to save Toyota et al.  During this period of Japanese yen deflation against the U.S. dollar, Japan experienced one of the more rapid rates of economic growth in world history and developed a quintessential middle-class economy.

The most obvious argument in favor of allowing deflation is that deflation is the currency market’s attempt to correct for chronic undervaluation.  A good metaphor for this would be building a dam against the flow of a very powerful river.  It had been the policy of the Japanese government for nearly fifteen years of stagnation to purposely devalue the yen to make Japanese exports more attractive to foreign consumers.  When Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan took power this past year, Japanese currency policy changed: the dam fell into disrepair and the river’s water began gradually leaking through.  As such, the Democratic Party of Japan seems to believe the maintenance of the dam – i.e. persistent purchase of U.S. dollars to artificially devalue the yen – is more costly than letting the dam be overrun by the force of the river and taking advantage of the effects of a flooded valley.

Progressives: Where To Begin?

In General Principles on November 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm

With the most liberal President since Carter in office, huge Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate and health care reform through the House and rounding third in the Senate, progressives should be ecstatic.  Yet, there is a pervading sense of dread and infighting in the liberal community.  For some the problem is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  They were nervous when President Barrack Obama’s popularity was down 18% in less than a year and panicking after Republicans won decisive victories in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey; for these progressives there is a sense that it is all too good to be true.  Seeing parallels to 1994 when President Clinton’s overreach on health care led to landslide Republican Congressional victories, many progressives now look forward to the midterms in 2010 with trepidation.  For others, the problem is a lack of accomplishment after the supposed realignment of 2008.  President Obama seems poised to send more troops into Afghanistan – hardly a break with the militaristic tendencies of his predecessor.  He also extended the Cuban embargo, has made no progress on overturning the Defense of Marriage Act or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” iced the Employee Free Choice Act for the foreseeable future and has struggled to pass health care reform – let alone cap and trade – or improve education.  What was all of that work and hope business about – to pass a stimulus package that enriched the banks while unemployment climbs towards 10%? 

What is it about progressives and the progressive coalition that invites Chicken Little worrying and hypercriticism of the home team?  The Republicans rarely broke rank with President George W. Bush, a seemingly more controversial figure, who managed to get education reforms, Iraq War funding and huge tax cuts through a far more hostile Congress.  Ever since Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shall speak no ill of a fellow Republican,” the Democrats have seemed fractious and incompetent compared to their opposition.  The reality is more nuanced.  While the Republican alliance of social conservatives, business leaders, neo-conservatives and free market libertarians seems like an odd marriage, it is far more homogeneous than its Democratic counterpart.  The hodge-podge alliance of classically liberal organizations like the ACLU, organized labor, minority interest groups, technocrat progressives and the descendents of the socially progressive 1960s – hippies, in other words – has a broader issue base than the conservatives, even with narrower idealogical roots.  The reason the Democrats seem less united, is because they actually have less in common.  So what can progressives do besides hunker down and ride out the inevitable backlash? Perhaps by starting at the beginning it is possible to find what lessons can be learned from history.

I. A Progressive Nation

Both of the major American political philosophies like to trace their roots back to the Founding Fathers, and to some extent they both can; modern American conservatives would return to the traditions of the Founding Fathers even though the Founding Fathers were the progressives of their time.  Classic liberalism concerns the expansion and protection of individual liberty and economic freedom, and while the Founding Fathers weren’t democratic absolutists – exactly the opposite actually in that they set up a system with many insulations, or checks and balances, between power and the people – the Bill of Rights remains the most robust protection of liberties on the planet.  

This sacrifice of democracy to liberty is perfectly inline with liberal priorities.  A fundamental aspect, perhaps the fundamental aspect, of the progressive philosophy is that society can be improved by the imposition of policies designed by the best informed and most capable members of society, rather than relying on the market or individuals to organically create progress.  Frequently these polices are unpopular when enacted, but the popularity is considered secondary to the righteousness of the cause.  Issues that started as progressive causes and moved into the popular consciousness and law include abolition of slavery, prohibition and civil rights – progressives now hope gay marriage and drug legalization follow this path.  The Founding Fathers themselves started this tradition by creating a country far more liberal than the rough inhabitants of it.  They were the original elitists; aristocratic, well-read, Deist philosophers, who used their position as wealthy aristocrats to found a new Eden in the wilderness of a country that was largely poor, unlearned, devout and wild.

The progressive tradition after the Founding Fathers relied on central issues to unite the like-minded, usually elite and erudite, members of the citizenry.  Slavery was the central issue for progressives until the Civil War, though then the Republicans were the Northeastern Progressives and Democrats were the retrograde Southern conservatives.  After emancipation, Democratic progressives, led by William Jennings Bryan, rallied around ending the gold standard – a populist concern as the silver standard would lead to cheap money for capital and debt repayment.  This was the intersection of the progressive axes at the turn of the 20th century: Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt were social progressives and Democrats were populists and fiscal progressives.  

The progressive issues of the early twentieth century, the League of Nations, prohibition, women’s suffrage, conservation, tariffs and the silver standard, nicely presage the different segments of the progressive coalition today.  Then however, no party was home to all of the progressive ideas.  It was a new century and America was newly ascendant, so it is no surprise that both parties were forward thinking and progressive – even if later some their progressive ideas would become conservative dogma.

For much of the roaring twenties progressivism was quiet, both because Coolidge was content to let the good times roll and because with the recent achievement of Constitutional Amendments on prohibition and women’s suffrage progressives were resting on their laurels.  It took the Great Depression to jump start the most ambitious American progressive moment since the Revolution.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal experimented with many programs to get the economy growing again, but all relied on a fundamental philosophy: not only was it appropriate for the government to intervene in the economy in times of crisis, but that it was its responsibility.  This liberal break with tradition would ironically also give birth to American Conservatism – William F. Buckley and other conservatives founded the movement as a response to New Deal overreach.  

While the New Deal was the fullest expression of these ideals to date it was not out of step with traditional Democratic politics; the labor-based economic populism it embodied merely cemented the Democratic Party to those ideals.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964, on the other hand, was a massive change by the Democratic Party, and it caused an equal and opposite reaction from the Republican Party.  Before Lyndon Johnson signed the Act, supposedly in honor of John Kennedy even though he thought it was bad politics, the Democratic Party had been dominant in the South since Andrew Jackson, while the Northeast was a Republican stronghold – in 1932 and 1936 FDR won every state except for parts of New England.  With the signing of the Civil Rights Act, the Democratic Party began a transformation that would culminate in the once proudly pro-slavery party electing the first black President.  They lost the South for a generation or four in the process, but they gained the black vote and came to represent both fiscal and social progressivism, rather than giving half of that away to Rockefeller Republicans.

The final historical component of the current American progressive coalition is the opposition movement to the Vietnam war.  Progressives from Theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK and LBJ all embodied a long tradition of American military interventionism.  Conservatives were generally less imperial in their ambitions, instead advocating limited engagement or isolationism to adventurism abroad (George Washington’s “avoid foreign entanglements” farewell address is the inception of this deeply conservative tradition).  The use of the military for the furthering of American ideals abroad, a position now monopolized by neoconservatives, is inherently liberal, in that it believes a small group of the best informed and most intelligent people can forcefully remake the world as a better place.  However, the huge Baby Boomer generational protests to Vietnam created a new type of liberalism: pacifist, socially libertine, Earth conscious and middle-class.  The “hippies” are often derided – and no wonder; they often seem ridiculous – but their influence on current liberalism can not be overstated.  The most vocal and loyal core of the Democratic Party today, the people who read the Daily Kos and donate to and volunteer for progressives and progressive causes, are basically pragmatic hippies – the revolutionary instincts have found legitimate, established outlets for expression.  In considering the different parts of the alliance of disparate progressives, it seems appropriate to start with the most ideologically unadulterated part of the coalition.

II. The Progressive Coalition: Liberals and Interest Groups

According to Gallop, only 21% of the country self-identifies as liberal; there are nearly twice as many conservatives in America.  Well that is no surprise; its hard work being a liberal!  Conservatives, by definition, would like things to stay the way they are and have been and things seem pretty good right now, especially compared with the future.  There is an existential dread looming in the future, especially when one considers everything that could happen: global warming, increased crime, the rise of China, nuclear war, crushing entitlement debt and maybe an asteroid hitting Earth.  Faced with all of that, things staying the same seems very attractive. Yet, liberals want to change everything: legalize drugs, ban hand-guns (for starters), allow gay marriage, send less people to prison, have the government run healthcare, shrink the military, end farm subsidies (and make meat more expensive), allow lots of immigration, treat terrorists with respect, tightly regulate Wall Street, do lots of stem cell research and, most of all, raise taxes – on rich people, inheritances, carbon dioxide – which means gas, coal and electricity, consumption and imports, among other things.  That is a lot of change, and no matter how well intentioned or reasoned the arguments for it, change is uncertain while the present is concrete and reassuring.  Life is good right now, but after you do all of that – who knows?  

To be a liberal takes a personality that is both open to being convinced of new, radical ideas and yet also capable of stubbornly defending unpopular opinions.  Because their ideas are big, the results are frequently intangible or unsexy, but are usually wide open to specific examples and backlashes – like reduced prison sentences that might save the state money and allow greater individual happiness and freedom, but end up caricatured by the right in Willie Horton – like exploitation.  This is why the Transportation Security Administration makes us take off our shoes, because progressive politicians might think it is pointless, but God forbid there is another shoe bomber.  Progressive idealism can easily be derided as out of touch with reality, a tactic that made the term “liberal” poison after the right turned it into a euphemism for bleeding heart pussy.  As a result many Democrats run right on vulnerable issues like crime and defense, attempting to out-bully their Republican counterparts.  It was the Democrats that passed the draconian Crime Bill of 1994 after all.

One of the biggest difficulties in liberalism is finding technocrat philosopher kings who can run government programs and also run for office.  Liberals are themselves usually idealists more than policy wonks.  Bridging the inherent gap between idealism and political expediency is the tightrope that all progressive leaders try to walk.  Jimmy Carter failed by prioritizing the normative over the positive and thus accomplishing very little.  The ultimate pragmatic technocrat, Bill Clinton, is vilified by many liberals because his centrist politics seemed too willing to take the world as it is, rather than as it should be.  Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign suffered from the defections of liberals who remembered the massive Democratic Congressional losses under President Clinton as partially due to his strategy of “triangulating” himself between the left and the right.  Obama’s charm is that he is a policy expert who can talk like an idealist.  His challenge is to enact policies that are nuanced enough to balance palatable pragmatism – to make the change go down – with attempting to make legislation substantive enough to be worth doing in the first place, or risk losing the electoral base.  It is no wonder why health care reform is 2,000 pages long; just adopting the French model would have been easier but would not have passed.

There is also something akin to a lack of national identity in many liberals that takes the form of pacifist anti-militarism and brotherhood-of-man sorrow at the suffering of non-Americans.  For example, questioning why an Iraqi life is worth less than an American is certainly justifiable and philosophically rich, but does not generate much traction politically.  Illegal immigration does not bother liberals, since America seems more like a vessel than an untarnished ideal.  Europe with its huge welfare state, post-national, advanced international cooperation and significantly reduced militarism is basically fetishized by liberals; the conservative feeling towards our European allies is considerably less warm, as demonstrated by the “freedom fries” debacle in the lead-up to the Iraq War.   The progressive lackluster patriotism is ridiculed as anti-American by the right; Democrats usually counter with an American flag lapel pin.

There are some contradictory positions in this liberal catalogue, which seems likely considering how robust and far reaching it is.  That many poor people – a key liberal constituency who rely on coal for jobs and on cheap coal-supplied power – would be disproportionately affected by reforming energy policy has to be rationalized with curbing global warming.  Human suffering in other countries could be prevented by the taboo military intervention, but since the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia, that card has remained firmly in the deck.  Growing the economy raises standards of living, and low taxes spur growth; yet how to pay for all of those social programs, especially while also paying down the deficit?  

More than anything though, the contradictions of the liberal position come from organized labor.  How to reconcile lax immigration policies with support for labor unions, in essence supplying unlimited cheap labor while supporting labor cartels, is a seemingly impossible question.  Allowing the immigrants to join the unions would kill two birds with one stone, growing labor and removing competition to the unions, though too few organized labor leaders have advocated that policy.  There are also the many industry specific conflicts, like trying to improve schools without annoying the teacher’s unions or reforming health care while tip-toeing around trial lawyers.  Organized labor traditionally was perhaps the single best ally of progressives, but has that alliance become burdensome?

Labor and Liberals

In many cases the only difference between a social conservative and a loyal Democrat is union membership.  Likewise, labor unions traditionally played as crucial a role in the electoral success of Democrats as social conservatives have to Republicans.  Winning the Presidency without the participation of union members in the swath of Electoral College rich “Rust Belt” states of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan has proven impossible for the Democratic Party.  However, union membership peaked in the 1950’s, and as it has declined so has the prestige and power of organized labor.  The rapid decline of the economy of Detroit has become a symbol of union overreach, and the success of the non-unionized South in attracting new manufacturing jobs is touted as proof that unions kill the golden goose.  

As for the power of unions, the signature labor issue in the 2008 elections was the Employee Free Choice Act.  EFCA, or “Card Check” as it is known colloquially, would make the unionization of a work force conditional on obtaining signed cards from 50% of the workforce, creating what amounts to a majority petition.  Labor unions think it is the only way to penetrate union-resistant companies in the service industries, which have replaced heavily unionized manufacturing with the lower and lower-middle classes.  EFCA never saw the light of day in Congress.  Democrats feared that such a controversial bill would spend too much political capital before the fight over healthcare.  National healthcare happens to be another priority of organized labor, so unions were more content to wait than they otherwise might have been.  However, the fact that card check went down without a fight is a clear demonstration of the weakness of organized labor’s current position.  

While the legislation has polled as very popular, the reality is that polling on a subject that practically no one knows about is always fraught with error and the opposition to the movement will be well-funded and well argued.  Because card check requires a public commitment, and in the process bypasses the current system of an employer-organized secret ballot, opponents contend that it is undemocratic.  The unions reply that usually there isn’t a truly secret ballot and management reprisals prevent labor from organizing.  This is probably true in many cases, but it is hardly a gripping argument.  In the old days it wouldn’t have mattered; the unions could have just jammed it through Congress, but now organized labor is taken for granted by the Democrats.  Much like their social conservative brethren, union members are stuck in an abusive relationship, because defecting to the other party is anathema.  It is a Catch 22: unions need new members in order to have more political sway so they can get things like EFCA passed, but they need EFCA passed to get new members.

That isn’t to say that no unions have sway over the Democratic Congress.  In the current fight over health care, the estimated $30-40 billion in savings from tort reform has been entirely absent from the discussion, and most blame the long-time Democratic alliance with trial lawyers.  The assumption that Democrats are in the back pocket of personal injury lawyers seems hyperbolic; the reality is certainly more complicated.  Reforming tort laws federally is a top-down solution to a case-by-case problem, and prioritizing cheaper malpractice insurance over fair payment for those patients who suffer at the hands of negligent doctors is hardly as uncontroversial as it is frequently described.  Even “defensive medicine” is something of a ghost in the machine; doctors often get paid for service, so overtreatment could also be explained as good business practice.  The notion that doctors are actually performing services they don’t believe in, just in case, seems to be an uncharitable view of doctors as much as a condemnation of overzealous lawyers.  

Nevertheless, the Congressional Budget Office believes that the savings would be real, and Democrats are eager to get a get good CBO score, so the omission of tort reform is glaring.  Not throwing at least a token effort at reform into a bill so massive makes it clear that Democrats have a strong interest in not passing tort reform, though considering what else they have been willing to compromise with healthcare, abortion and the public option for example, it is hard to imagine that Republicans could not have gotten tort reform if they were willing to make a deal.  Still, the ruthless Occam’s Razor of conventional wisdom means the unholy alliance with trial lawyers will be seen as culprit.

Interest Groups and Liberals

As labor has seen its power decrease, the Hispanic community has risen to prominence.  The Hispanic community has grown by 500% since 1970, and it is expected to grow by another 25% in the next decade – and over two thirds of Latino voters supported Obama in 2008.  Democrats should not have the Hispanic vote cornered.  NAFTA and immigration reform should be conservative issues; Bush tried to pass immigration reform, though it was after the war in Iraq, and Katrina had sapped him of political capital.  Instead, nativists like Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan have hijacked the conservative position into a nonsensical and racist anti-immigration policy.  The reality of the problem is that illegal immigrants are far to numerous and important to go away and the Republicans have missed an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with an important constituency.  The liberal position on the subject is fairly squishy, since it has to encompass fair wages, fair treatment of illegals and also not alienate union members who view NAFTA as a disaster.  The solution Obama found during the primaries was a “path to citizenship” for illegals, combined with renegotiating NAFTA to include environmental and labor standards.  Obama reneged on the NAFTA renegotiation promise almost as soon as he said it, but the path to citizenship should be uncontroversial.  The most powerful country in the world was built by immigrants.  That should be proof of the power of opportunity and a guarantee that America will remain a beacon of hope for immigrants the world over.  Yet, since illegals can’t vote, that issue will be at the end of a very long line of priorities – perhaps slightly ahead of drug and prison reform.  Illegals were also explicitly excluded from healthcare reform, so for now it seems like Hispanic groups can join union members and gays as Democrats by default, content with lip-service as long as the Republicans use them to motivate its base.

The gay community is visible and financially important to the Democratic party, but it is a relatively small voting bloc.  The vast majority of Americans still do not support gay marriage, with even stalwart blue states like Maine and California voting it down in popular referendums.  However, gay marriage is the final frontier of gay rights, the Democrats have been soft-pedaling on even minor popular changes for a decade.  It was Bill Clinton after all who made “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the policy of the Defense Department.  As long as gay groups do not have a recourse then the Democrats can safely make them sit at the back of the bus, waiting for society to change.  Ultimately full gay participation in society seems inevitable – really who could have believed how quickly things have changed already – but gay complacency at the Democratic Party’s willingness to procrastinate on ever taking a difficult position might run out before the opposition dies off.

Black voters are a crucial part of the Democratic coalition too, but most of their issues, prison reform, education improvement, affirmative action and hate crime laws are all part of the larger liberal heading.  With the exception of gay marriage, an issue where black voters strongly dissent from the party line, the main point of contention between black people and liberals is just getting black voters to turn out.  When Obama is on the ballot that is no problem, when he isn’t – like in 2010 – the Democrats have to try a lot harder.

Female voters lean Democratic, but to conflate feminism with why women vote Democratic seems like a mistake.  The vast majority of feminists, with dissenters like Camille Paglia duly noted, can better be described as liberals and in many ways vice versa.  Nearly any male liberal would be proud to be termed a feminist, while thanks to Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi” caricature of feminism almost no strong female conservatives use the term.  That might be changing with Sarah Palin’s attempt to grab some of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporter vote, but as long as there is that elephant in the room it is hard to imagine too much cross-over appeal for left leaning women.  

If the above summary on the history of progressivism was about broader political phenomenon it could not possibly ignore Roe v. Wade. No issue is nearly as divisive or as intractable.  Most Americans have a fairly nuanced view of when abortion should be legal; definitely in the first trimester but hardly ever in the third.  Yet, because it wasn’t legalized through legislation but rather through a legal decision, the right to abortion is far more robust than the actual support for abortion.  If twenty out of twenty-eight years of control of Supreme Court nominations isn’t enough for Republicans to get it overturned, then it is probably here to stay.  Obama will probably get to replace at least two more justices in addition to David Souter – Ruth Bader Ginsburg has incurable pancreatic cancer and John Paul Stevens is 88 – but that will only be retrenching the liberal wing of the court, not overturning the present, strongly conservative lean of the Court.  Still, having new young, liberal justices means that, barring the unforeseen, any effort to stack the bench with pro-life justices has been set back by a generation.  With no legislative options, the hard right wing of the abortion debate has resorted to bare-knuckled intimidation of abortion doctors to reduce access – culminating in the murder of perhaps the most prominent abortion doctor in the country, George Tiller.  The average age of an abortion doctor in this country is well over 50, and only getting older because only rare true believers would dare enter this low reward and high headache field.  Nevertheless, Democratic support for reproductive rights is probably less of a factor in their electoral chances than one would think.  It limits who can vote for Democratic far more than it motives liberals.  On a national level there is not much that Democrats can do to improve on Roe v. Wade.  In other words, most women support reproductive rights, but that isn’t the reason they vote Democratic.


When surveying the fractious mess of the liberal coalition, most of whom seem to just be along for the ride, a perception that short changes the significant overlap between liberals and the interest groups they support, it is hard to craft a coherent strategy.  However, there is one big reason to be hopeful: the long fight for health care reform is now all but over.  The Senate vote of cloture preventing filibuster means the bill will only need a simple majority going forward, not a supermajority.  With healthcare out of the way, Democrats, and liberals, have an opportunity to sell their goals as political strategy.  Those on both the left and the right who present healthcare reform as a major blow to the Democrats’ electoral hopes in 2010 and proof of America’s inherent conservativism have missed out on the big picture: Obama is going to get health care passed!  This is why political capital is accumulated: to spend it on major legislation.  It is always controversial to pass major legislation, and the sausage making in this process was gruesome even for those rooting for its passage.  However, after the bill passes, there will be no more process stories – which always focus on what Congressmen dislike in the bill – and really almost no reason to focus on it at all.  The bill doesn’t go into effect until 2013, so the opposition’s hyperbole about losing freedom and choice is going to feel very remote from what is actually going to happen after the bill passes: nothing.  This should mean that the backlash against the bill should wane and the Progressive coalition will be bloodied – they did have to give up a lot after all – but triumphant.  Obama will have a major piece of legislation to hang his hat on (can the Nobel Prize committee read the future?), and Congress will still have a whole year to not do anything controversial, or even better, do something that voters will like.  To put it in perspective, when President Bush passed No Child Left Behind in his first year it may have seemed like a major piece of legislation, but by the time he was up for reelection it wasn’t exactly a crucial part of the debate.  The 24-hour news cycle makes the momentary seem historic, but it also has the memory of a fruit fly, by the next time people go to the polls the conversation will be about something else.

There is already speculation that the focus of the next year is going to be cutting the deficit.   Because of the bad economy and the worry over new deficit spending after the stimulus, it has become obvious that some attempt at reducing the deficit has to be made.  This is going to make new social programs difficult for the immediate future, but after health care reform, and the progressive wish list of the stimulus, there was a paucity of good social programs anyway – though education reform could qualify.  However, there are a bundle of non-financial issues that can keep the Progressive Democrats busy for the foreseeable future.  

The party motto on legislative priorities during Obama’s first year has been: the line forms behind health care reform.  Doing all of the little things that seemed too much to risk before will motivate the base to turnout in 2010 to offset the fervor of the anti-Obama right. Even better, many policies can be done without involving Congress; counter-intuitively, the best way to make Democrats in Congress look good is not have anyone look at them.  Ending unpopular and anachronistic programs like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Cuban embargo can be done by executive order, and the backlash against these policies would be minor.  Closing the Guantanamo Bay prison seems unlikely to be completed by the end of the year, per Obama’s first executive order, but should hopefully be completed well before the midterms.  The trials in civilian courts of 9/11 terrorists, like Khalid Sheik Mohamed, will produce ongoing positive coverage and should result in the catharsis of conviction and sentencing.  The plan to end all combat operation by US troops in Iraq by the end of 2010 will be a relief to a country that has been fighting two wars for seven years.  Given the likely troop increase in Afghanistan it seems unlikely that there will be a timetable for withdrawal in time for the midterms, but debating when to leave rather than whether or not to send more troops would be a major turnaround.  The next twelve months should give shape to a long-term, though hopefully not too long-term, strategy for Afghanistan.  Obama was elected as a Progressive change President; that is like being a shark, you have to swim to breath.  These sort of policies are precisely why he generated such enthusiasm, but will dodge the most potent attack of conservative opponents: scaring people that the Democrats have nefarious ulterior motives or aren’t serious minded about national security.

Another tactic that allows progressivism to flourish while minimizing backlash is to use federalism to delegate reforms to the states.  Drug reform and gay marriage are already legal, or less illegal, on a gradient from state to state.  The Defense of Marriage Act should be addressed as federal meddling in states’ rights and should be replaced with a law that allows states to set their own policies on gay marriage without a federal policy beyond a basic set of uncontroversial rights, like non-discrimination in hiring and housing and the right to visit love ones in the hospital.  Overturning federal drug laws would be difficult, however, the Drug Enforcement Agency is in the Executive Branch and rescheduling of Marijuana as a Class II drug, with some medical benefits, could be achieved without legislation.  The Justice Department’s recent announcement of new enforcement strategies for states with medical marijuana laws was an important step towards allowing states to set their own policies on the subject.  It is probably too much to ask for a crime bill that would allow similar delegation, but progressives should advocate for one nevertheless.

Actually reducing the deficit will rely on the economy improving above all else.  Comparing the CBO estimate from before the stimulus to its report at the end of the fiscal year, shows that spending was actually down from the estimate – but revenue was down even more.  More than one hundred percent of the federal deficit then is due to the recession and policies enacted before Obama took office.  Nearly all of stimulus-lowered taxes went to automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and food stamps or reenforced the spending the states would have had to cut.  Only a trivial .1% of total GDP was spent on public works projects.  New spending, either in the private or public sector, is necessary to increase the velocity of capital; fortunately, most of the stimulus is back loaded.  2010 and 2011 will get far more stimulus money than 2009 did.  Whether or not the stimulus will be sufficient to bridge the shortfall in private spending remains to be seen, but without an improvement in the economy, and the subsequent revenue generated, any cuts to the deficit will be trivial.

Progressives should take heart: a few years ago all that has been done would have seemed impossible.  There is much to be done, but everyone does it the same way: one pant leg at a time.

A Response to Jonathan Chait

In General Principles on November 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm

For years now, people far less libertarian than I have been recommending I read Ayn Rand.  While I admit I have no interest in reading her books, I know enough about the author to find her distasteful, iconoclastic, and hypocritical.  Libertarianism is an ideal which treasures self-governance – that is, personal responsibility for one’s actions and the freedom to make really bad mistakes as well as the freedom to believe something stupid.  I was excited when I heard about Jonathan Chait‘s New Republic trashing of Rand, but after I read the article, I couldn’t help but feel angry and offended.

Chait, like many, many political commentators from the left, assumes that libertarianism is a simple, unnuanced ideal, that libertarians are incapable of breaking with dogma, and, in general, are a group of elitists who seek to control the world via some sort of perceived innate ability to be better than everyone else at almost anything.  This is an absurd caricature.  Libertarianism is motivated by different factors for different people, despite the fact that Chait suggests it is a psychological disease resulting from abusive parents! 

My own libertarianism is motivated by two factors: the first is humility.  I don’t think of myself or any other human as capable of deciding what’s best for strangers.  I should be in control of my own life, just as other people should be in control of theirs.  For instance, even if I find gay marriage to be absurd and/or immoral, why should my opinion matter?  Shouldn’t two gay people be able to make that decision for themselves?  It’s none of my business, and I feel the same about heterosexual marriage.  As long as people don’t hurt or encroach upon the rights of others, their behavior and choices are their behavior and choices.  That is why America was founded as a republic and not as a democracy.  Amy Chua admirably explores the tendency of democracy to discriminate against minorities in her book “World on Fire.”  It’s unfortunate that our society has strayed so far from its original purpose that politics has become a popularity contest.  What right do Maine voters have to impose the tyranny of the majority on the institution of marriage, in essence a private contract between two individuals?  Or what right do Massachusetts voters have to decide whether or not someone can smoke marijuana?

The second factor motivating my libertarianism is a strong appreciation for traditional Christian values.  Notice, I didn’t say appreciation for Christian religion.  I find the desire to legislate morality by majority-rules to be morally repugnant and childish.  People should be mature enough to be moral without an external threat, whether that threat is eternal torment in Hell or jailtime.  People who are not moral for practical reasons but only because it is right are the true Christians (or Muslims, or Atheists).  Here I feel the need to repeat my belief that encroachment upon the rights of other people is never acceptable and should be punished. 

I believe the answer to poverty is much more in line with education reform than with welfare, which creates a slave-class of dependents – exactly the opposite of its purpose.  It would be too general to point out that the U.S. has had its least amount of economic mobility since the imposition of the welfare state.  One could counter with the example of the Nordic countries, France, or Japan, but these countries impose welfare in much smarter ways, such as with universal healthcare to create healthy, productive members of society, or with investments in education, instead of just food, checks, and lip-service.  As for poverty, I feel that my understanding of the positive is akin to that of left-liberalism, but my normative is assuredly not; I attach more value to results and unintended consequences and believe in the inherent fallibility of both bureaucrats and elected leaders.  Elected leaders are not neccessarily good at solving problems; they are good at getting elected.  Intentions do not matter to anyone but oneself.  We should therefore create a system based on pragmatic empiricism. 

The ideal figure for libertarians of the Objectivist slant may be John Galt, but for me, it is Jean Valjean.  As such, I am certainly no Randroid.  Objectivist libertarians and libertarians such as myself strongly differ in our belief in the role of luck.  Objectivist philosophy is incompatible with the idea of luck; Objectivists believe a free-market system rewards the hard-working and virtuous, hence free markets are moral.  I believe a free-market system allows people the opportunity for personal development and to take advantage of luck through copious trial-and-error.  This flexibility creates a healthy and happy society of Lacademonian individuals.  On the other side of the coin, I believe capitalism is also the perfect system for people who don’t want to work and instead want to maximize free time.  Objectivists would find the contention that people should be free to do nothing repugnant.

When our capitalist system breaks down via the creation of moral hazard and the doling out of corporate welfare arbitrarily based on elegant – as opposed to accurate – economic models, it loses its capacity to improve humankind.  A capitalism wherein there is no possibility for failure is no capitalism at all; it is a nanny state.  Such a government is like parents that do everything for their children instead of allowing their children to learn about the world themselves.  Certainly there is a middle ground, but, let me ask you, how long would you continue to give your children an allowance with no demands of accountability?  Do you think this would be best for your children?  Would it change things if the allowance came not from you, but from your neighbors?  Isn’t this easier and more politically palatable, though less effective, than “tough love”?  And isn’t every parent’s goal for children to make the right decisions not out of fear of reprisal, but out of strong, individual moral grounding?  

Jonathan Chait’s article casts libertarians such as myself as members of a radical right-wing fringe of an almost religious sort.  On the contrary, I would describe myself more as a political agnostic: the default position is to be skeptical of the efficacy of government, while hoping for real results someday.  For this reason – and for the overwhelming moral imperative to end the Iraq War – many libertarians of my slant voted for Kerry and Obama respectively in 2004 and 2008, putting hope before the teachings of experience.  Such behavior is hardly right-wing, as Chait would suggest. 

In conclusion I would just like to say to everyone: stop blaming Wall Street.  Wall Street is greedy and inept, like everyone else, which is why Wall Street firms especially should be allowed to fail.  Wall Street got especially greedy ten years ago and started lending to people who it shouldn’t have been lending to, and instead of being allowed to pay for its mistake via the natural trough of the business cycle, Wall Street was given billions of dollars that Wall Street’s allies in government took from taxpayers so the same people can do the same stupid things all over again. 

There is a bias within our culture against finance, as though financiers leech off the productivity of others.  Nevertheless, Wall Street has financed every important technological change for the last hundred years, including the internet, which allows you to read this article, and the advances in medicine that allow me to write it (I’ve had pneumonia twice and suffered a collapsed lung when I was 16.).  The beneficial effects of finance on society would far outweigh the negative effects of finance on society if only we allowed the bankruptcy laws which developed over hundreds of years of trial and error to take effect instead of propping up our corporate empire with taxpayer dollars.  Chait misses this central tenet of many forms of libertarianism, lumping us all into an extremist corporatist sterotype while representing his own naive ideology as the center.


Top Ten Moments of the Decade

In Empires of the Mind on November 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm

This is a graphical representation of the internet. See if you can find the Inductive.Believe it or not, the decade is almost over.  It seems like only yesterday we were complaining about Jar Jar Binks and stockpiling canned goods and guns in preparation for Y2K, but today is November 23rd, 2009; there are only 38 days left in the decade that we still can’t agree on a name for, much less an image.  Going back in time, we have clear images from the 1920s (flappers, gangsters, and jazz) to the 1990s (pastels, CDs, and hip hop), but this current decade is different, maybe because most of us haven’t left our rooms, or maybe just because we haven’t distanced ourselves in time enough to construct false, catalogued memories. 

A friend and I were discussing the idea of decades last week.  We agreed that the concept was an absurd attempt at stereotype, like the “Dark Ages”, which were largely the creation of anti-Catholic 17th-century historians.  But there is something to historicity, whether that something is nostalgia or embarrassment.  Indeed, many of our images of particular decades are just plain mistaken.  For example, the hippie culture, so quintessentially 60s, actually peaked in the 1970s.  The political correctness zeitgeist grew to prominence in 1980s – not the 90s.  The Japanese stock market, harbinger of the 1980s, hit its peak on December 29th, 1989, and Japan was still the most expensive country in the world in 1995.  The 50s rock and roll songs “Louie Louie”, “Surf City”, and “Walk Like a Man” were released in 1963, just two years before “Satisfaction”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “My Generation”.  The Beegee’s “Jive Talkin'” and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” competed in the same billboard chart in 1975.

My friend and I seemed to agree that the years 2000 through 2009 would probably be most remembered for the growth and personalization of the Internet, but given the previous examples, in 40 years we could be talking about the “aughts” in terms of preppy clothes (90s trend) or sheer-fabric clothes (2010 – 2019 trend according to  Recently, the Webby Awards released a list of “Top Ten Influential Internet Moments of the Decade“, but, for a generation that largely spent its formative years searching for new ways to download pirated music and video, this list could effectively be the “Top Ten Moments of the Decade”.  In chronological order these are:

1. In 2000, Craigslist expands outside San Francisco, allowing unprecedented access to classifieds on a national level.

2. Also in 2000, Google AdWords launches, making it easier for small businesses to advertise and for small websites to raise revenue.

3. In 2001, Wikipedia launches, revolutionizing the way we get information.

4. Also in 2001, Napster is shut down, starting a technology race that puts the criminals two steps ahead of the law to this day.

5. Google IPOed in 2004, allowing the company to transform itself from just another search engine into Big Brother.

6. 2006 marks what the Webbies refer to as the “online video revolution,” in which faster bandwidth, cheaper recording devices, and YouTube joined forces to create a boom in the importance of video information on the internet. 

7. Facebook expands past college students and Twitter takes off in 2006, allowing regular people to inform the world that if George W. Bush isn’t impeached soon, they’re moving to Canada.

8. In 2007, iPhone debuts. 

9. The 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign uses the internet like none before.  Candidates like Barack Obama and Ron Paul become household names, while videos of Sarah Palin being exorcized and Obama dancing to Rick Astley circulate.

10. Just a few months ago, Twitter allowed personal film footage of the Iranian riots following the doctored elections to circulate over the internet.  The Obama Administration asked Twitter to delay maintenance to avoid cutting off tweets from the protest.

Overall the Webby Awards created an excellent list that really puts the decade in perspective.  From jobs to research to sharing information about our lives to politics, the internet has defined the “zeros” like nothing else.  With so much having been accomplished on the internet in the last ten years, I wonder what the next ten years could possibly have in store, but if I knew that, I’d be a billionaire.

I think, however, it’s worth qualifying the Webby Awards’s list with a warning: the 2008 election marks the first time politicians really began using the web for campaigning.  Around the same time, the internet began to challenge big media business and big media bit back.  Google and AT&T are currently engaged in all-out warfare over the future of the internet.  Politicians have tried to regulate both the format and the content of the internet in the past.  No doubt, there will be more threats to the internet from politicians and their big-business allies in the future. 

As especially highlighted by the Iranian Twitter protests, the power of the internet lies in its promotion of freedom.  While recent MySpace-related bullying has resulted in teen suicides, and ever since the days of AOL chatrooms, the internet has been a haven for perverts, the internet has never hurt or killed anyone.  The internet is a great human frontier for creativity where anyone can succeed if they have the drive and a good idea – the internet is invention’s wild wild west.  As such, it will be important in the next decade to keep the internet out of the hands of politicians and business leaders who seek to impose their wills upon and control digital “serfs”.

Lieberman’s Rock Bottom?

In Specific Facts on November 20, 2009 at 1:00 pm

On Sunday night, over 500 protestors gathered in front of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman’s Stamford home and held a candlelight vigil to convince the Senator to rescind his promise to join the Republican filibuster of any healthcare proposals including the “public option.”  Among the protestors were leaders of Stamford’s Unitarian, Baptist, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, as well as the enterprising Mayor of Stamford, Dan Malloy, who recently announced he is running for Governor.

According to David Gibson at Politics Daily:

Rabbi Ron Fish of Congregation Beth El in Norwalk said he normally avoids political discussions but said Lieberman’s stand against health care reform left him no choice.

“I feel passionately about the subject of health care,” he explained. “I’ve avoided entering too closely into the conversation because I fear that when we clergy speak in political terms, we quite often do a disservice to politics and religion. But when Senator Lieberman spoke about his conscience impelling him to stop even a vote on this . . . crucial instance of hope, my conscience could not allow me to be silent.”

“The moral imperative for our time is clear. Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious traditions should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal health care in America,” Fish said, reading from a letter signed by more than 70 other clergy. “It happens we are all also citizens of Connecticut. That fact leads us to ask you, Senator Lieberman, what is it that you stand for?”

Indeed, what does Senator Lieberman stand for?  Lieberman has been in the national spotlight for much of his Senate career, but especially recently for his staunch support of the Iraq War and 2006 break with Democrats.  In 2006, neophyte Ned Lamont defeated Lieberman in the Connecticut Senatorial Democratic Primary.  Instead of being a good Democrat and conceding to Lamont, Lieberman ran as an independent and captured a cross-section of moderates to defeat Lamont and regain his seat in the Senate.  Since then, he has generally allied with Democrats, but supported John McCain’s bid for President in 2008 – allegedly being considered for McCain’s running mate – and spoke at the Republican National Convention in favor of McCain that same year.  Lieberman describes his experience thus far as an independent as “liberating.” 

Recently, Lieberman has pledged to ally himself with Senate Republicans and vote against cloture on the recently passed House healthcare bill.  Senate Democrats need sixty votes to block a filibuster, and, if Lieberman follows through on his pledge to ally with Republicans, it will leave them one vote short.  Lieberman describes his position in a recent interview with Chris Wallace: 

Well, there’s some good things in the House-passed plan. I think we ought to do health care reform this year to deal with the two great problems that President Obama and others have talked about. There are unsustainable continuing increases in the cost of health care; we’ve got to stop that. And there are millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance.

But I’m afraid our colleagues in the House added a lot onto that that subtract from the genuine purposes of health care reform, and one was to create a public option plan. A public option plan is unnecessary. It has been put forward, I’m convinced, by people who really want the government to take over all of health insurance. They’ve got a right to do that; I think that would be wrong.

But worse than that, we have a problem even greater than the health insurance problems, and that is a debt — $12 trillion today, projected to be $21 trillion in 10 years.

Studies from the Congressional Budget Office and Medpac suggest the House-passed bill would actually save the government money starting next year, so, either Lieberman doesn’t believe the studies or has other reasons for opposing the “public option” besides cost.  Without going into too much detail, there are plenty of valid arguments against the public option as envisioned by Harry Reid.  It is not as open-and-shut as many pundits on the left might suggest.  The current bill barely passed the Democratic-controlled House by 220-215, and only one Republican, Joseph Cao (R-LA), supported it.  Both sides are being monolithic. 

Many in the press speculate that Lieberman’s choice to ally with Republicans on healthcare is effective political suicide, or liken his decision to the actions of Olympia Snowe or Zell Miller.  There is speculation that Lieberman is being paid off by insurance companies and that he’ll lose his fragile chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, which he was barely allowed to keep by a Democratic-controlled Senate after his support for McCain in 2008.  It seems that Lieberman’s insubordination is costing him both crucial support from the establishment and from voters.  According to Politico:

Richard Blumenthal, (Connecticut) attorney general, said he’s getting more encouragement from Democrats in Connecticut to consider a challenge to Lieberman in 2012. A February Quinnipiac poll found that Blumenthal would beat Lieberman by a 28-point margin. 

A September Research 2000 poll found that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell would defeat both Blumenthal and Lieberman in a potential three-way 2012 matchup; the same poll found that 68 percent of the state’s voters support the public option.

It seems Senator Lieberman is in dire straits, yet I believe his position is strong.  As an independent, Lieberman can broker an agreement between both sides in the Senate and allow both monolithic Democrats and monolithic Republicans to save face, by, for example, compromising on the triggers or adding tort reform – a Republican cause – to the Senate healthcare bill.  While it will be a tremendous sacrifice for Democrats, who have already sacrificed much of their original vision, the public option will most likely have to be neutered in order to pass the senate.  If Lieberman paints himself in the process not as a force of retardation, but as a force of compromise, it will endear him to his moderate base and give him the flexibility to continue running as an independent.  Otherwise, Lieberman’s use of his position as the sixtieth member of the Democratic Caucus looks like political muscle-flexing and the tyranny of Democracy: it shows both Republicans and Democrats how important he is.  Like Lieberman or not, someone with an independent mind is good for this country.  Healthcare costs Americans 2.2 trillion dollars annually and is growing.  While the public option as conceived by Harry Reid would possibly end this trend, it would definitely polarize the country.  Perhaps, for the time being, it would make sense to agree to just patch the holes in the hull before we escape the storm of two wars and a recession.  We can wait to make full repairs once we’ve found a safe harbor.

The Daily Routine

In Dispatches from the Wild Wild East on November 20, 2009 at 9:31 am

After a breakfast usually consisting of plain bran or wheat cereal mixed with granola with a banana on top in skim milk, as milk is good for my skin, I take a hot shower.  On my hair, I use an Herbal Essences Shampoo, which I throroughly work into the scalp as this prevents dandruff and removes volume-reducing salt, also thereby lightening the hair.  I also feel this shampoo makes my hair smell healthy, as though it’s well taken care of.  I then apply an Herbal Essences Conditioner, which I leave in for a few minutes while I cover my face with Gatsby Cool Facial Foam.  I usually wash off the conditioner and facial foam simultaneously as the conditioner mixes with the facial foam to both cleanse and moisten my face.  I then apply a St. Ives Apricot Facial Scrub, which comes with small natural mineral particles to remove flaky or dry skin and to penetrate pores.  After this, I apply Old Spice Red Zone Cool Ice 8-Hour Scent Protecting body wash with a plain, undyed loofah.  I will usually use the Gatsby Cool Facial Foam again on my face, before exiting the shower and drying both my hair and face with patting motions and my body with vigorous rubbing using an off-white natural cotton twenty-five dollar Valentino Garavani towel.  After this, I apply a pre-shave lotion to my face to soften hair follicles.  I shave only in the direction of the hair using Gillette cream, not gel, as gel fails to effectively saturate all the hair follicles and can cause irritation and even painful ingrown hairs.  I use a four-bladed Gillette Fusion vibrating razor as I don’t have to push down as hard, which can also cause irritation.  I always shave the sideburns and moustache last as this area is the most sensative and needs extra time for the shaving cream to soften the hair follicles.  I am strongly considering buying an electric razor to use on my neck as even the aforementioned routine fails to prevent mild outbreaks of shaving irritation, which disgusts me and makes me feel nauseous.  I also personally dislike the skin color of my neck, so, if there’s a little stubble, it’s for the best.  My neck skin looks yellow compared with the rosy hue of the cheek area of my face.  I also think dark stubble creates a unique contrast with the blond shade of my hair.  In Japan, this further amplifies my more unique and desirable facial qualities.  Yesterday I paid sixty dollars for a haircut.  My stylist was a professional makeup artist in London and told me I looked like a Beatle and that Japanese people think my hair color is very beautiful. 

After shaving, I brush my teeth with a mixture of Colgate Total anti-plague, anti-cavity, whitening toothepaste and arm and hammer whitening toothepaste as too much baking soda tends to erode tooth enamel, but not enough baking soda fails to prevent most cavities and mild outbreaks of the gum disease known as gingivitis.  I use a blue Reach swivel-neck brush with a small bristle area as this allows me to more effectively cleanse the finer areas of my gumline.  After rinsing my mouth (I just rinse, since toothepaste residue around the lip area reduces dry skin and acne.), I apply an ample amount of eight-dollar-an-ounce Lucido Facial Milk, which helps to considerably moisturize my skin and to give my cheeks a healthy, ruddy glow.  After setting my long, blond hair gently across my forehead, I take out exactly two upper and two lower Crest Whitening Strips.  I put one set onto my teeth.  I then put on one of my many Ralph Lauren white cotton undershirts and JCrew boxer shorts.  Next I determine which suit I am going to wear, being careful to match well but not to match an argyle vest with argyle socks, since this looks too studied.  I will, however, often wear a white shirt with a lime green tie and my lime green socks, which violates most rules of conservative fashion.  However, I am careful to never repeat a look.  I will next take my iPod, which is always charging by my laptop, and place it in its Pacific Design brown leather case, select an album to listen to, most likely something by Talking Heads or Huey Louis and the News, and place the ensemble into my left blazer pocket.  The last few weeks have been spent enjoying the work of jazz master Nat King Cole, of whose work I am particularly fond of “Nature Boy” and “The Ruby and the Pearl”.  

After this, I apply a Burt’s Bees Lip Balm to my lips and the areas around them, which protects from both sun and wind, as well as strengthening the skin at the volatile corners of the mouth, often trouble spots.  I will then exit my apartment with my backpack containing a variety of reading material for my break at work and hop on my bike and ride twenty-five minutes to my office.  Depending on the weather, I may or may not break a sweat during this mostly uphill ride, however, I am in very good physical condition due to near-daily visits to the gym followed by steeplechase up the mountain next to my house and morning anaerobic workouts and most of the time do not break into a sweat.  However, if I do sweat, my skin has been thoroughly cleansed and moisturized and I am so overly hydrated that nothing but water comes through my pores.  Despite this fact, once I arrive at work, I head directly to the third-floor bathroom down the hall from my office, rinse my face with mineral water, and then apply a Gatsby Facial Paper, before applying another layer of eight-dollar-an-ounce Lucido Facial Milk .  After this, I often look at myself in the mirror, admiring the soft, ruddy skin and the blond, virile chesthair which often pokes out the front of my shirt.  Often, if there’s no one else in the bathroom, I lift up my shirt and examine my six-pack, stoicly noting whether I need to concentrate on crunches, a medicine ball routine, or pilates throughout the coming week.  I calmly walk to my office, flirt with the staff, plan my day, and start openly and loudly criticizing company policy.  

For lunch, I usually have a Metrix Whey Protein Supplement bar with creatine or a shake made with protein-creatine blend pouder, which my parents have sent from home to supplement my daily intake consisting mostly of Japanese rice along with fruits, vegetables and sashimi.  I go through six-week cycles on and off the protein-creatine blend.  When the cycle is on, I concentrate on high-weight, low-repetion exercises at the gym and make sure that my dinners contain extra protein.  When the cycle is off, I concentrate on multiple repetitions with low weights and eat mostly vegetarian dinners.  My breakfast doesn’t change.  When the cycle is off, I usually drink a five-dollar liter of vegetable juice for lunch instead of a protein shake.  I used to eat lots of almonds but have since stopped once I discovered they were bad for my skin.  I have replaced the almonds with a liter of milk a day, along with the aforementioned protein charger, which effectively balances my diet, maximizing vitamin, mineral, and Lysine Amino acid intake while minimizing fat and sugar intake.  Spread throughout the course of the day, this protein and vitamin ration gives me enough energy to be at my best always, in terms of work performance, mood, and appearance.  I have effectively eliminated butter, mayonaise, and any sort of fried food from my diet, and now find the thought of such food disgusting and look down upon those who are willing to so engorge themselves.  In fact I am so digusted even at the sight of anything fried, or with butter or mayonaise and of the people that eat such food, that I often feel the urge to vommit and must excuse myself from whatever it is I am doing at the time.  When I return to the United States, I will find it difficult not to insult the fat people I see at McDonalds who are not ordering salad Macs.  At lunch, I alternate between flirting with the staff in Japanese, reading a book in English, listening to my iPod, and studying Japanese, usually enjoying one or two of these activities at a time.  I often alternate between studying grammar, vocabulary, and Kanji (Chinese characters).  I am now able to read and write over one-thousand four-hundred Japanese characters, including the entire hiragana syllabary at probably a high school level.  This puts me about 65% percent of the way to the average Japanese adult but a mere 12% of the way towards the full range of Japanese characters, both ancient and modern.  It puts me maybe 4% of the way towards being able to read the works of Tokugawa Ieyasu, first Shogun of Japan after the warring-states period.  This is my final goal.  

After work, I often walk around the supermarket which is on the first floor of my building, looking for end-of-the-day deals on Sashimi and other Japanese food.  The Japanese are scared to death of expiration dates and if the expiration date is five days from now, the item is considerably discounted and very few Japanese people will buy it, even western foods which theoretically have no expiration dates, such as yogurt and cheese, are considerably discounted late at night.  After buying a few items, I bike home and usually enjoy a nice, reheated nabe, which is a Japanese soup containing a lot of vegetables and usually shellfish, that, like lasagna, gets tastier with age.  It is extremely high in vitamins and minerals and extremely low in fat and salt, and is quite delicious.  Just a few days ago I made a 32-serving nabe with a base of tomato juice, whole clams, squid, two types of baby potatoes, three types of peppers, white onion, Japanese giant carrot, daikon radish, daikon radish leaves, shitake mushroom, Chinese cabbage, diced tomato for thickness, udon noodles, a considerable amount of garlic as garlic is excellent for the immune system, a considerable amount of black pepper sprinkled on top along with basil, oregano, and Japanese red pepper spice, which stimulates the metabolism.  

I try to eat mostly soups or sashimi for dinner.  As for the former, in their cooking, they eliminate no vitamins and minerals, and they fill me up considerably due to their high water content.  This also provides extra hydration, which smoothes my skin, cushions my organs, and gives added energy for the following day.  The nabe which I usually make has two types of seafood: one white, one purple, as well as red, brown, green leafy and nonleafy, white, orange, and yellow vegetables represented.  This should provide the requisite amounts of B12, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Thiamin which the body often lacks, as well as omega-3 fatty acids to help prevent Alzheimers and maintain a proper skin moisture level. 

After such a dinner, I sometimes pour myself a glass of one of the many fine whiskeys I have or enjoy a delicious Japanese beer.  whiskey in Japan is considerably cheaper than in the US.  A handle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Bourbon in Japan costs a mere eighteen dollars, Crown Royal twenty, Makers Mark twenty six, Jameson nineteen, J&B twenty, Laphroaig thirty-five.  I usually drink my whiskey on-the-rocks, since this form allows me to both enjoy the pure taste of the whiskey and to avoid the added calories of a coca cola or pepsi cola mixer.  At this point it is usually past ten o’clock, very late by Japanese standards.  Drunken businessmen are stumbling home, the prostitutes that hang out on the corner down the street from my house are dutifully soliciting customers, and the hentai shops are entering rush hour.  At this time, I often decide what I am going to do with the evening: whether or not I am going to watch the latest pirated episode of Lost with friends, play Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat on my vintage Japanese Super Famicom, for which I also have purchased Sim City Jr., Final Fantasy IV, and Final Fantasy V–the latter three games I have been using to study Japanese–practice Japanese with friends, or go out to an izakaya 

Usually about three times a week however, I decide to have an onsen in my apartment.  My water heater is manually controled and I can set it to produce a specific temperature if I want.  I usually keep it set for 44 degrees and though this is quite hot, I think I might try to up it to 45 to produce an even more desirable effect on my skin.  The procedure I follow for an apartment onsen usually takes an hour and a half to two hours and involves filling my large, deep, Japanese tub (my bathroom is about three times as large as a typical western bathroom.) with 44 degree bath water.  I then take a shower in my seperate shower, making sure to thoroughly cleanse both my hair and skin.  After this, I will wet an onsen towel with cold water and place it around my hair to prevent drying out of the hair and scalp, then I will pour myself a large glass of cold water, put on a Japanese language listening exercise tape, place exactly one set of Crest Whitening Strips on my upper and lower front teeth, and sit in the forty-four degree tub at first for fifteen minutes, then later for twenty minutes, until I have worked up an ample sweat, my heart is beating fiercely, and my cheeks become flushed.  

After this, I exit the tub and rinse the salt and oil from my skin with warm to luke warm water in my shower.  I repeat this process two more times, the last time following the normal procedure of my daily showers.  After this onsen, all the blemishes and soon-to-be blemishes on my skin become readily apparent and I use an acne-clearing Australian Savlon Anti-bacterial cleanser to spot-treat them.  I allow the cleanser to dry, then remove it a half hour later along with the Crest Whitening Strips, next applying an ample amount of eight-dollar-an-ounce Lucido Facial Milk, which helps to considerably moisturize my skin.  Although I never touch my face during the day (if I do, I immediately use a Gatsby Facial Paper, which, despite the fact that it is at the top of the market as far as facial papers go, can not hope to undo the damage that one causes to one’s complexion by touching one’s face), I make sure that nothing makes contact with my face after I have applied the final layer of eight-dollar-an-ounce Lucido Facial Milk, which helps to considerably moisturize my skin.  Sometimes I am still sweating at this point, in which case, the apartment onsen could potentially have a counterproductive effect on my skin.  I usually stand out on my balcony for fifteen minutes or so if this is the case, as the night mountain air tends to considerably cool me.  After this I read an informative or enlightening book in English, such as Life of Pi by Yan Martel, the Complete Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, Collapse by Jared Diamond, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, or American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.

I have almost completely eliminated television from my life, although my Japanese teacher recommends fifteen minutes of Japanese television a day.  Instead I spend more time reading books, studying, and drinking various Chinese and Japanese teas, including Chinese Golden Throat Ginseng Oolongcha, Midori Angel no Nihoncha, and Lychee no Kocha, which are great for my immune system, protect my skin, and help to slow down the aging process.  When I go to sleep, I keep a bottle of water next to my bed which I periodically drink as I fall asleep.  This oversaturation protects my skin and immune system and allows me to wake up in the morning to a good piss.

Bombay: One Year Later

In Specific Facts on November 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm

A landmark burns.It has been almost a year since “India’s 9/11”, the terrorist murders in Bombay – a fitting description considering the similarities.  Both attacks were perpetrated by low-level foot soldiers of larger extremist Muslim conspiracies, spreading out in small teams to maximize the carnage inflicted on the population to achieving the goal of massive destruction and loss of life and paralyze the respective countries with fear.  

The level of technological sophistication employed in organizing and carrying out the attacks was striking.  The terrorists used modern gadgets to coordinate their violence.  Blackberries, anonymous email accounts, GPS tracking systems, and satellite phones all contributed to the methodical precision with which the attacks were executed. A few months after the attack, the Indian government released the transcripts of cell phone conversations between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan.  These conversations raise tough questions about the ease with which these attackers were able to enter the country undetected, aided only by common technology and the chilling instructions of their handler.  How difficult is it really to carry out a terrorist attack like the one in Mumbai?

To enter the country, the 10 terrorists hijacked a fishing trawler off the coast of Mumbai, killed the crew, and, guided by a GPS device, made their way to shore in a rubber dinghy. They split into two groups and made their way to the respective targets, including the world-famous Taj Hotel.  Using satellite phones and cell phones that contained SIM cards purchased weeks before, the men were able to receive instructions for the attacks and updates about police activity.  Using guns and grenades, they killed 174 people, injured more than 300, and started an incident that could have escalated into a calamitous conflict between India and Pakistan.  What could’ve been done to stop them?  Short of maintaining a vigilant watch on every mile of coastline in the city, how can these men be prevented from entering the country?  It isn’t difficult to find funding for the meager capital and technology necessary, so the only hurdle is finding young men that are willing to die for the cause.  If that is the limited agent, the cell phone conversations highlight a very grim reality. 

The attackers were young men in their twenties from desperately poor areas of Pakistan.  Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist captured alive following the attack, hailed from Faridot, a village in the Okara District of the Punjab province.  Most of the villagers are uneducated, and jihadist graffiti lines the walls of some buildings.  The Guardian describes it as an area rife with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organization behind the attack.   In the article, a villager interviewed discusses the influence of the organization:

A villager, who cannot be named for his own protection, said the village was an active recruiting ground for Lashkar-e-Taiba. ‘We know that boy [caught in Mumbai] is from Faridkot,’ he said. ‘We knew from the first night [of the attack]. They brainwash our youth about jihad, there are people who do it in this village. It is so wrong,’

The calls from the handler reveal the extent to which the organizers of the Bombay attack were able to convince their soldiers of the righteousness of their mission:

Pakistan handler: Brother, you have to fight. This is a matter of prestige of Islam. Fight so that your fight becomes a shining example. Be strong in the name of Allah. You may feel tired or sleepy but the Commandos of Islam have left everything behind. Their mothers, their fathers, their homes. Brother, you have to fight for the victory of Islam. Be strong.

These words sound almost cliché when trying to understand the motivations behind the terrorist attack.  Is that really all it takes to get someone to commit mass murder?  The most revealing of all is the conversation between a member of Indian intelligence and the wounded and recently captured Pakistani following the attack:

Unidentified male: Didn’t you ever ask, won’t I feel pity for these people I’m killing?

Kasab: Yes, that’s true.

Unidentified male: Well, did you ask?

Kasab: I did but he said you have to do these things. You are going to be a big man and get reward in heaven.  I asked, have you done these things, too? He said he had. I thought, well he’s done it, I should do it, too.

These are impressionable young men that, for one reason or another, fell under the spell of manipulative religious zealots intent on destruction in the name of holy cause.  They are the real weapons of mass destruction in the war on terror, and they are aimed indiscriminately by the real evil of radical Islam.   The handler on the other end of that line have not been found, and never identified. His name is Wasi, and for now, there are no shortage of poor and impressionable young men to brainwash into carrying out the terrible visions of men like him.  This is not to say that these men are blameless – they are brutal killers that coldly carried out an act of mass murder.  Ajmal Kasab, the only attacker captured alive, was a petty criminal who committed armed robbery before joining with LeT.  But without their handlers calling the shots, it is hard to imagine that these 10 men would’ve ever made it to the shores of Bombay in the first place.


Pay Attention to the Number of Zeros

In General Principles on November 18, 2009 at 4:58 pm

We’ve all heard the stories of primitive humans only possessing words to express “one”, “two”, and “many”.  Yet most modern people still think of numbers in terms of these basic units.  When we visualize three of something, we think of one group of one and one group of two.  Four is two groups of two.  Five is two groups of two and one group of one, etc.  Certainly, for things like money, we have relative anchors to which we assign values.  For example, one dollar is roughly the amount of money that buys me one pack of M&Ms.  Ten dollars buys me a used Bloodsport DVD.  300 dollars buys me a Playstation 3 or pays for one-month’s rent in a mediocre apartment.  7,000 dollars buys me a ten-year-old economy car in decent condition.  A 100,000 dollar loan puts me through business school.  If I’m lucky and work hard, in ten years, 200,000 dollars could be my annual salary.  If I make the right choices, use my money effectively, and save, I might even be able to buy my one million dollar dream house in twenty-five years.  This is the absolute limit for 95% of Americans.  Numbers above this limit often are simply assigned the value of “many”.

So it’s no surprise that people all over the country are getting all up-in-arms about stimulus scandals and banker bonuses.  But, to put it in perspective, here is a list of “many”s expressed in terms of dream houses:

0 – total 2008 revenues of the U.S. hemp industry

0.15 – the cost to the RNC of wardrobes for the Palin Family during the 2008 Presidential campaign

0.17 – a Senator’s salary

0.23 – amount donated to the McCain campaign by Goldman Sachs

0.98 – amount donated to the Obama campaign by Goldman Sachs

33.00 – Rush Limbaugh’s 2007 salary

53.97 – Lloyd Blankfein’s 2007 salary

388 – total amount spent by the Obama campaign

398 – estimated cost of the proposed “Bridge to Nowhere”, which was never actually built

1,843 – worldwide box-office revenue for “Titanic” 

3,000 – amount alotted by Congress for the Cash for Clunkers program

6,000 – annual budget of the National Cancer Institute

8,639 – the 2007 GDP of Cambodia

8,960 – total amount spent on specialty coffee in the U.S. in 2003

10,000 – the amount of federal stimulus money received by Goldman Sachs

18,700 – NASA’s entire 2010 budget

35,000 – estimated cost of universal preschool for three and four-year-olds

46,000 – amount spent on diets and self-help books in 2004 by Americans

50,000 – the amount of federal stimulus money estimated to have fallen into the hands of con men

50,000 – the cost of the Iraq War as estimated by the Pentagon in 2003

65,000 – losses to investors of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC

107,300 – book value of Exxon Mobil

115,300 – total cost of the Marshall Plan adjusted for inflation

217,000 – total cost of the Louisiana Purchase adjusted for inflation

262,300 – the 2007 GDP of Argentina

500,000 – total cost of the New Deal adjusted for inflation

1,000,000+ – total cost of the “War on Terror” 

1,426,000 – 2007 GDP of Canada

2,200,000+ – 2007 cost of healthcare in the United States

3,600,000 – total cost of WWII adjusted for inflation

So there you have it: the difference between the Palin Family wardrobe and healthcare is like the difference between a stick of gum and Shaq’s house.