Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

Avoid a Government Shutdown

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

The conventional wisdom is that if the Federal Government shuts down because of the inability o thef Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratically-controlled Senate to reach an agreement on the 2011 budget, that Republicans will be blamed. This conclusion is reasonably based on the experience of 1995. When the Republican Congress and the President Clinton could not reach a budget agreement, Republicans were blamed.

Few remember that there were extenuating factors then that may not be duplicated now, differences that made bode better for Republicans. First, the titular head of the Republicans, House Speaker New Gingrich, was a conspicuous and to many an unpopular target to which the media could point. In addition, there was the story that perhaps a petulant Gingrich wanted a government shutdown in part because he was disrespected by being given a bad seat on Air Force One.

The story now is a little different. Some Democrats like former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean look forward to a government shutdown calculating that it would help the Democrats. Republican House Speaker John Boehner is not the character of Gingrich and will likely not appear petulant. Moreover, the House has passed a 2011 budget. The Democratic Senate has not, so there is no alternative budget to split the difference with.

If Republicans can manage to portray the debate properly, the Senate can appear to have acted irresponsibly. Moreover, if the Democrats had passed a budget last year, when they held both houses of Congress and the Presidency, there would be no chance for a government shutdown now. Instead, Democrats avoided their responsibility. They feared passing a 2011 budget that was so unpopularly large before the elections in 2010.

Despite the different situation now, Republicans would be prudent to take the best offer they can get on the 2011 budget and settle. The differences are relatively small. On Sunday, House Budget Chairman Republican Paul Ryan will layout the Republican 2012 and the long-term Republican budget vision.

The new budget will likely call for significant reform of entitlement programs. Republicans will need all the political capital they can muster to make their case. A government shutdown would be a unnecessary diversion. If given a choice of acting responsibly to come to some agreement on entitlement reforms and scoring political points, history suggests that Democrats will choose the latter. Indeed, some are in denial that any such problem exists. In preparation for the media-assisåted demagogic assault, Republicans need to focus on the new budget.

A Real War of Choice

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Some who criticized the Iraq War maintained that it was a war of choice. Whatever the merits of that argument, there can be little doubt among those who support or don’t support the current action in Libya that it is a matter of choice. It the broadest sense all wars are wars of choice. However, the intervention of the US in Libya is a war of choice in that the sense that the US is not acting to protect the US or US interests. It is not a war of self-defense. It is war conducted for humanitarian reasons.

Unfortunately, justifications for the action are not as well articulated as they should be. Are we there to remove longtime tyrant Muammar el-Qaddafi? Is it to keep the “rebels’’ from being overrun? Is it to protect civilians? Do we protect civilians if the rebels threaten them?

Just War Theory requires that before engaging in the evil of war, there must be convincing evidence that the likely outcome of the war is less evil. Will the Libyan people be more free? Will less civilians be killed?

One can imagine circumstances where there would be a moral obligation to use military power for humanitarian purposes. However, given the blunt instrument that military action is, it is necessary to have a high degree of certitude that the the outcome will be positive.

In such circumstances clarity is necessary and the Obama Administration has not lived up to this standard. When euphemisms like “kinetic military action’’ action instead of “war’’ are invoked, moral clarity suffers. When missiles deliver large amounts of ordinance on the ground it is an act of war. When B2’s fly from Missouri and drop bombs on military targets, it is an an act of war. Perhaps the acts are justified, but they are acts of war, nonetheless.

When the Bush Administration took the country to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it went to Congress, explained its purposes and was granted authorization to use force, a de facto declaration of war. The advantage of going to Congress is the discipline that it imposes. It forces an Administration to place its reasons on the record in a clear and consistent way. Moreover, if we are going to commit US service personnel, a commitment that may cost their lives, they should enjoy the full support of the country. One step in solidifying this support is obtaining Congressional authorization. If the Obama Administration had sufficient time to make their case for action in Libya to the United Nations, there was time to consult Congress.

It would be easy to score political points, by pointing out that then Senator Obama said that his interpretation of the Constitution required Congressional authorization to use force unless US citizens or interests where under immediate or imminent threat: a case no one is arguing for Libya We could indulge in guilty political amusement by playing back the video of an sanctimonious Senator (now Vice-President) Joseph Biden bravely declaring that he would support impeachment of President Bush if Bush used military action against Iran without Congressional authorization. More important, however, is whether a Congressional authorization would have made the action in Libya more likely to succeed. We submit here that the clarity of intention required to obtain such authorization would have benefited the Obama Administration and made success more likely.

If actions drag on in Libya, the US and the US Administration will suffer politically and Libyans may physically suffer. The US military may find country-building difficult, but it is has proven adept at deposing of governments and destroying other military structures. We may be fortunate if Qaddafi is deposed and there is not too much disorder after his fall. Victory heals wounds. In victory, Americans will forget exactly how the action began. However welcome such an outcome would be, it will not affect the validity of the case that Congressional authorization should have been sought.

Growth May Not Be Enough

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

This year the budget deficit will be $1.6 trillion. Total spending will be $3.8 trillion. For every dollar we spend as a country we will have to borrow 42 cents. This level of debit accumulation does no seem prudent or sustainable.

A budget deficit is the consequence of the difference between the amount of spending and the revenues generated. A plot of revenues and spending over time, shown below may be revealing. The red curve represents spending, and the blue curve represents revenues. Since 1980, the spending has been generally higher than revenues. Fortunately, at the end of the 1990’s there was a surplus. During the period of the surplus, spending increases moderated, but not much. The increase in revenues caused by increased growth bringing in increasing revenue largely accounte fro the surplus.

The recession in the early 2000s reduced revenues, and spending did not abate, so we had widening budge gap. However economic growth kicked in an we approached a balanced budget. For all intents and purposes we were in near balance. It is hard to believe that the budget deficit was only $160 billion in 2007, less than the budget deficit accumulated this month alone.

A combination of high gas prices and an over-leveraged mortgage market caused a large decrease in GDP with a loss of revenue. The government decided to increase spending to stimulate economic growth, but growth has been anemic, with only very modest increase in federal revenues. Spending rolls on and the deficit balloons.

If we had revenues equivalent to what we had in 2007, this years deficit would be $1.2 trillion. If we maintain the same revenues as 2007, and same rate of increase in spending from the previous few years, the current budget deficit would be $500 billion, very large, but a third of the current deficit. Therefore, spending increases more than revenues shortfalls have been the primary cause of the current deficit.

It is clear from the graph, that spending has risen too quickly and revenues have not. It would seem that the wisest course at this point to reduce the rate of spending increase. However, even if we had no increase in spending for the next few years, we would require very high levels of economic growth to narrow deficit to more historic levels.

We have a $14 trillion GDP and the federal government brings in revenues equivalent to 20% of GDP per year. We gain an increase in revenues of about $30 billion per year for every 1% increase in GDP growth. If we can grow by 4% a year over 10 years that would represent a $1.4 billion revenue increase. Remember, the long-term growth rate of the US has been about 3.5% and it may be hard to achieve such a rate as more people move to retirement.

In other words, a very high ten year growth rate of 4% per year would balance the budget only if we froze spending at current levels for a decade. However, given that Social Security and Medicare costs will inexorably grow just because of the entrance of new retirees into those systems, and the increase debt payment will have to be paid, all other government programs from the military, to education aid, to food stamps would have to undergo dramatic decreases to maintain a freeze.

No one expects government spending to be constant over ten years, given only modest increases we will still need extraordinary rates of growth to bring total debt levels to even a more reasonable fraction of GDP. It used to be we could endure deficits, because growth would rescue us from ourselves. We are rapidly approaching spending levels , where no reasonable rates of growth can bends the two lines in the curve back together.

The Right Level of Income Inequality

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Overtime, income inequality in the US has experienced an increase, at least in comparison to other Western countries. Some of this has been the consequence of high income women marrying high income men spreading the household income distribution, as well as the move away from heavy industry to a emphasis on new high-tech skills sets. The question posed here is: If people are freely able to sell their labor at whatever price others freely accept – a natural meritocracy – what would be the level of inequality?

One traditional measure of inequality is the Gini index. The index varies from 0 to 1 where 0 is total equality, everyone makes the same income and 1 is one person making all the income. The index is not linear and one can find its definition here.

There must be a natural Gini index associated with a open meritocracy. If the actual Gini index is much higher or lower than this natural value, it takes an outside force like that of the government to compel a different result. At one end, a government could claim all income and distribute it equally, yielding a Gini of 0. At the other extreme, a government could force most people to receive little income and a bulk of the income could be distributed to a few people, probably with political pull. A government could also force an intermediate result.

The US Gini index for income was stable, a little less than 0.40 from the end of World War II until about 1980. From that point, there has been a steady increased to about 0.47 in 2006. More recently there has been a small dip in the Gini index.

The US is always compared unfavorably to our European friends for having a higher Gini index. Their Gini indices tend to be in the 0.30 to 0.35 range, with notable exceptions like Sweden in the 0.25 range. However, that complaint begs the question. What would the optimum Gini index be? The actual Gini index is a complex function not only how much the government determines wages, but of the age and cultural distribution of a society, of the variety of different industries, of geographical diversity, and whether there exist new industries growing rapidly with the need for specialized labor. A growth in the Gini index could be a positive or negative result depending on the cause.

One way to estimate the natural Gini index is to look at sports, which is as close to a meritocracy as we can expect. For Major League Baseball with no salary cap and with free agency, the Gini index is about 0.50, far more unequal than the US general population. In individual sports like golf and tennis the inequality can be greater. Indeed, in some studies the more unequal the distribution in a team’s payroll, the better its performance.

The point here is not to argue exactly what the level of inequality there should be in a society, but simply to caution that it is not necessarily true that the narrower income distribution the more equitable or more optimal.

The Times Narrative

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Over time humans build up internal narratives that help explain the world and keep things in order. When observed events are consistent with these notions, our narratives are confirmed. Other events are dismissed or ignored. This is even a problem with supposedly objective scientists. Experimental results consistent with our previous notions are accepted with little thought, while results that are inconsistent with currently held theories are given additional scrutiny. This scrutiny is in direct proportion to the difference between new results and what was expected.

This resiliency of ideas and world view serves us well. Without it our lives would be all sail and no rudder. However, to this intellectual underpinning we need to bring an openness to new evidence. This is especially true in journalism. Journalists are not only constantly called upon to provide the facts about a story, but to decide what stories are important, and perhaps speak to larger truths. A news organization might always print facts, but a slanted selection of stories provides a distorted view of the world.

On the pages here, we have noted how columnist Paul Krugman leaped blindly to the conclusion that the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was caused by harsh political criticisms of Conservatives. It turns out that the shooter was delusional and of confused political opinions at best. Krugman has a world view and the shooting of Giffords so resonated with his notions, that he felt he could fill in the relevant information without bothering to wait for the details to emerge. The facts that surfaced were inconsistent with Krugman’s world view.

One can partially excuse the rash writing of a columnist. After all, they are paid to be opinionated. Why, as scientists would say, let data get in the way of good theory.

However according to William McGowan, in Gray Lady Down: The Decline and Fall of the New York Times, the Times has succumbed to the temptation to let internal narratives shape the news. McGowan is not a reflexive Times hater, gleefully jumping on the paper as its circulation plummets. The Times has been liberal for decades, but for many years this liberalism did not taint its news coverage.

Former executive editor Abe Rosenthal recognized that New York is Liberal and so are many who write for the Times. To keep the news straight he sometimes had to tack a little Right. The result was balance in the news side of the paper.

Indeed, even while the editorial page was distinctly Left and while the infamous Vice-President Spiro Agnew was railing against the press, and the Times was endorsing Senator George McGovern for President, the National Review, the quintessentially Conservative magazine, found the Times news coverage fair. They conducted an audit of stories that had a “distinct left-right line,” and concluded that:

“The Times news administration was so even handed that it must have been dismaying to the Liberal opposition… Were the news standards of the Times more broadly emulated, the nation would be far better informed and more honorably served.’’

Rosenthal was given broad authority to run the Times by publisher Arthur Sulzberger until Sulzberger’s passed on publishing responsibilities to his son Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. The younger Sulzberger is a sixties-era Liberal who has overseen the journalistic and economic decline of of the Times. He has systematically changed the Times from the national newspaper of record, to the party organ of the Left wing of the Democratic Party.

In Gray Lady Down, McGowan documents this decline, beginning with the excessive political correctness in news room hiring and followed by the collapse of journalistic standards. Sulzberger has been embarrassed by stories revealed as fraudulent, but he seems oblivious to the relationship between the reduction journalistic standards, in general, to the all too frequent sensational journalist failures.

Perhaps the clearest example of systematic and persistent narratives driving the Times to embarrassing behavior was the case of the Duke Lacrosse Team. A young black woman accused some members of the Duke Lacrosse Team of rape. It did not take too long before the woman’s story began to fall apart, but the story resonated so well with the Times’ internal narrative that it could not cover the story straight. As McGowan explained, in their coverage, “the Times’ script reflected a pattern of white supremacy deeply embedded in American culture…’’

Responsible press coverage would not have jumped to a single point of view and would have calmed the waters with careful fact-based dispassionate posts. Instead, it inflamed the situation both in news coverage and editorial comment. Ultimately, without help from the Times, the accused individuals were declared innocent and the prosecutor was sent to jail for of prosecutorial misconduct. A vigilant Times would have led the country toward the truth. Instead, their coverage dragged its feet, unwilling to give up its preferred narrative of Southern white racism by the privileged.

The Times will probably not collapse financially despite its current precarious position. It has too much momentum and respect garnered in earlier decades. In addition, there are probably too many liberals in New York whose internal narratives resonate with that of the Times for circulation to collapse entirely. However, until there is a new publisher and a return to journalistic standards of the Times under Rosenthal, the paper’s influence will wane into loud and embarrassing irrelevance.

Krugman Deconstruction

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

We can mark the specific time when the political controversy surrounding the “Tragedy in Tucson’’ began. Just a couple of hours after the news broke, Dr. Paul Krugman posted a blog blaming the attack in Tucson on a “climate of hate” presumably perpetrated by the Right.

Krugman’s accusations were soon undermined by the facts, though Krugman’s own grandiosity makes him incapable of conceding an error. The alleged perpetrator, Jared Loughner, apparently suffers from severe mental disturbances. There is no political connection to any group. Loughner is profoundly delusional. The cause of his actions arise entirely from his intensely disturbed mind.

Charles Krauthammer recently wrote the definitive piece describing the Left’s predisposition to leap to accusation with little proof and with less thought, especially when Conservatives are a convenient target. Nonetheless, if only out of intellectual curiosity, it is of some interest to deconstruct further Krugman’s instant analysis.

Krugman concedes that there are extreme and intemperate voices on all sides of the political spectrum, but “Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the [R]ight.’’

From the standpoint of argumentative effectiveness, we would expect the clever Krugman to offer the clearest and most persuasive example of a prominent Conservative or a Republican inciting violence. This is what Krugman managed to conjure up: “It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be `armed and dangerous’ without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.’’

Perhaps, Krugman was ill-informed, but his example is terribly weak. It turns out that if one looks at the entire quote and not the three words carefully excised by Krugman, Bachman wanted her constituents to be armed with information with which to make their cases. —Oops. And this was presumably the sharpest arrow in Krugman’s rhetorical quiver. Is that too martial a metaphor?

Much more subtly, Krugman speaks of those on the Right of using “eliminationist’’ rhetoric to de-legitimize political opposition. The word “eliminationist’’ is not a common term and its use by Krugman is curious and revealing. The term was coined in 1996 by Daniel Goldhagen in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, referring to deep-seated anti-Semistism of pre-War Germany and its exploitation by Nazi propaganda to make the German people accomplices to the Holocaust. Later is was used by David Neiwert in his book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right to draw a connection between Nazis and the American RIght.

Krugman borrows this association of the Right in the US with Nazi behavior by the deliberate use of the term “eliminationist.’’ It is is a skillful way of demonizing and de-legitimizing his political adversaries, precisely the same acts of bad faith he accuses the Right of. Perhaps this is rank hypocrisy or perhaps something more.

With the tragic events of the last week, we are all becoming more familiar with psychological terminology than we care to be. I am sure that Krugman is a fine fellow who appreciates beauty, basks in the aroma of flowers, and enjoys the sound of children at play and the softness of puppies. However, his impromptu blog last week probably says more about Krugman than it did about the situation in Tucson. When speaking of the Right, Krugman’s political mania is touched, and he reverts to the mechanism of “projection.’’

Keep Your Hands Off My Social Security

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. — Thomas Jefferson, 1785.

Last year during the protests by the Tea Party, some on the Left smugly mocked the protesters who wanted the government to keep their hands off their social security. At face value, this appeared to be hypocrisy or stupidity. On one hand, one of the key themes of the Tea Party is limited government. On the other hand, some Tea Party followers wanted to make sure that the government program they benefited from was unaffected by any new government action.

However, the confusion of some of these protesters can be traced to the fact that they have bought into the government’s myth of Social Security. It is not portrayed as an income transfer program paid for by taxes, but rather as a social insurance program into which people invest, much like any retirement program. Many social security recipients are convinced they are just getting out what they put in. Hence, they believe they own the same proprietary interest another person might have in their 401(k) investment. The Roosevelt Administration and successive administrations have deliberately cultivated this view of Social Security so that people would not feel that it was an income redistribution program which might loose popularity. The government wanted Social Security recipients to feel an entitlement to the payments rather than the an embarrassment about being beneficiary of welfare program.

While the Franklin Roosevelt Administration described Social Security one way in public, they were forced to argue something else entirely in court. The Federal Government does not have the Constitutional authority to institute a mandatory social insurance program, so they argued that payments into the social security system were really taxes. Even so, it was not clear that the Federal Government had the authority for this tax. In Helvering v. Davis an intimidated Supreme Court acquiesced to this large increase in Federal power.

At present, there is a similar misrepresentation about the nature of the medical reform package passed last year. During the 2008, presidential campaign, then Senator Barack Obama made a “firm pledge” to not raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 per year.

The final medical reform legislation included an “individual mandate’’ compelling people to pay for some form of health insurance. In an seminal interview George Stephanopoulos challenged President Obama on whether this mandate constituted, in effect, a tax increase on those at all income levels, including those making less than $250,000. Here is the exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: That may be, but it’s still a tax increase.

OBAMA: No. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase…

Recently, there have been a number of suits challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The Administration has now argued in court that the mandate is essentially an exercise of Congress’s power to tax.

If a policy requires one public face and a contradictory legal argument to buttress it in court, even if wise, such a policy serves to undermine trust in government and weaken the moral authority important for the implementation of that policy.

Palin Derangement Syndrome Spreads

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

In his book Up From Liberalism, the late and sainted William F. Buckley observed that most liberals were sane and nobel souls, unless one struck upon their mania. He wrote, “that in most respects the Liberal ideologists are, like Don Quixote, wholly normal, with fully developed powers of thought, that they see things as they are, and live their lives according to the Word; but that, like Don Quixote, whenever anything touches upon their mania, they become irresponsible. Don Quixote’s mania was knight errantry. The Liberals’ mania is their ideology.’’

In the last Administration, commentator and lapsed board-certified psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome’’ (BDS). This new Liberal mania, as defined by Krauthammer, is “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.’’ This condition is probably rooted in lingering anger over the perceived lack of legitimacy with regard to Bush’s presidency. Bush was never forgiven for winning the 2000 election with a majority in the Electoral College, but not in the popular vote. This anger and BDS persisted, indeed intensified, after Bush won the presidential election over Senator John Kerry, this time with a popular majority as well.

There now appears that some Liberals are suffering under an analogous “Palin Derangement Syndrome’’ (PDS). The best guess is that this mental condition is the result of the fact that Governor Sarah Palin is an attractive women, who has clearly managed to juggle successfully work and a family, is a Conservative Republican. This fools the internal barometer of Liberals who believe that such women are the natural constituency of Democrats. Their only explanation is that she must be an hick from the sticks. She had no right to run for vice-president.

One measure of the severity of this condition, is how normally clever and learned people make foolish mistakes whenever the subject of Sarah Palin comes up. For example, Richard Wolfe, MSNBC commentator and Oxford graduate made smug fun of the statement by Sarah Palin that she receives divine inspiration from reading C. S. Lewis. Perhaps Wolfe had forgotten that Lewis was a famous though deceased member of the Oxford faculty. Perhaps Wolfe had forgotten the Chronicles of Narnia was not just a series of children’s book made into modern moviesbut a religious allegory. Perhaps Wolfe had forgotten that C. S. Lewis had written Mere Christianity a classical work of Christian Apologetics. The only plausible explanation is that in his hurry to prejudge Palin as somehow shallow he reveal that he was only up to his ankles in the literary pool.

Not be out done, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews dissed Palin for reading for the news. (He excused her for reading the Wall Street Journal.) Though Newmax has a clear, strong Right-ward tilt, it is no further Right than MSNBC is Left. Moreover, if Matthews ever ventured to the Newsmax site, he would realize that a large section is devoted to straight AP News releases. I dare say if one read only Newsmax daily, they would likely be better informed than if they only watched MSNBC.

One may like or dislike TLC’s television series Sarah Palin’s Alaska but the Huffington Post’s Aaron Sorkin, famous for his production of the Left-wing fantasy television series West Wing can’t distinguish Sarah Palin hunting a caribou from a “snuff film.’’

Now I am sure that Wolfe, Matthews, and Sorkin are smart likable people who even pet their dogs at night when they return home, but Palin has made them bananas. The irony in all this is that such symptoms of Palin Derangement Syndrome are likely to make Palin more popular. Nothing pleases Conservatives so much as see Liberals angry and befuddled and Palin seems the bring those qualities.

Freedom and DNS

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Any time the Motion Picture Association of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Screen Actors Guild agree on a piece of legislation, it is time to grow concerned. On November 18, the Senate Judicial Committee reported out the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) to the full Senate for consideration, by 19-0 vote. The bill represents an overt disregard for due process, probably violates the First Amendment, and is an embarrassing surrender to monied interests.

The COICA grants the Attorney General the discretion to determine if the primary purpose of a website is the illegal distribution of copyrighted material and to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to remove the site from domain name servers (DNSs). A DNS is the service that maps the name of a site to its IP address. For example, if you want to visit the web site to find a copy of this malicious bill, your computer asks a name server what the IP address for this site is (in this case Your computer then connects using this number. Without DNS services most people would not be able to find the sites they are interested in.

The bill is wrong on many levels and at best will only make it difficult for innocent non-copyright infringers to navigate the Internet. First, the COICA grants authority for the Attorney General to punish the owners of a site without any judicial determination of wrong doing. The rough equivalent would be if the Attorney General could arbitrarily remove your listing out the phone book or refuse to grant you access to highways without bothering to have to prove to a court that you had committed a crime.

One can conceive of useful sites like Dropbox that let people share files for legitimate purposes being effectively unreachable if an Attorney General decides that such sites are too useful for copyright infringers. The genius of our democracy is that does not allow individuals such summary authority. The COICA ignores this principle.

Removing a site’s DNS listing might make it difficult for average people to find the site, but IP addresses could easily be transferred between people serious about illegally passing around copyrighted materials. The bill would not even be effective at stopping the most serious part of the problem it is purported to alleviate. It is the honest who will be most inconvenienced.

Perhaps most significantly, without a judge in the process, an unscrupulous Attorney General could effectively silence a site to the general public by using charges of copyright infringement as an ostensible excuse. It is, therefore, not likely that the bill would survive First Amendment scrutiny, especially in an age when more and more content is moving to the Internet.

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has said that he will block the bill from coming to a vote this year, so perhaps the bill’s submission to the full Senate was just a costless way for Senators on the Judiciary Committee to offer up a bill for powerful constituencies. If this was their motivation, we should not be quick to forgive them. Rather than engaging in pandering, the Judiciary Committee should be especially sensitive about such overreaching bills

There are already legal and effective remedies available to stop copyright violations. The First Amendment and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty’’ should not be scarified at the altar of the Motion Picture Association of America or even the US Chamber of Commerce.

Palin’s Problem

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

It is hard for Conservatives to not like Sara Palin. It is not so often that there is such a match between Conservative ideology and charismatic appeal. Sarah Palin is a political rock star. She demonstrated this by her ability to raise funds and draw crowds for candidates in the mid-term elections a few weeks ago. Though the historic Republican sweep cannot be said to be her doing (there was substantial help from President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi), Palin deserves credit for vigorous labor on the behalf of candidates. She certainly was able to make substantial deposits in her bank of political favors, ready for withdraw later.

It is also easy for Conservatives to feel protective of Palin. She has been unfairly depicted as being a dim bulb by people of limited wattage themselves. This line of political attack is part of a broader critique of middle-class America by the self-anointed elites of the blue states. However, is precisely because Palin has been somewhat successfully caricaturized as unserious that she should spend more time as a policy wonk and less as a lightning rod.

Palin should learn from the experience of Ronald Reagan. He changed careers from actor to politician, and was dismissed as “just an actor’’ for his entire political career. Overtime the criticism lost its saliency because Reagan led a large state for eight years. Palin unfortunately withdrew from the governorship of Alaska, probably for personal financial reasons. The decision may benefit her family, but not her prospects for higher political office.

Reagan spent years providing regular radio political commentary where he thought through his ideas and nutured his political voice. Sarah Palin has exploited the new social media with a presence on Twitter and Facebook, but in not quite the correct way. She needs to twitter less, and use Facebook more as Reagan used radio.

Palin would be well-served by thinking through and regularly writing serious political pieces on Facebook and perhaps even delivering her ideas on a regular podcast. Palin has the star power, she needs to persuade others that she can back up with policy credentials. She should use social media in much same way as Congressman Paul Ryan does: less for political attention and more for explaining ideas. The public elected a novice pretty political face for president in 2008, who hid is political radicalism. In 2012, the public will be more concerned with ideas.

Palin took a step backward this week with Sarah Palin’s Alaska: a show on the TLC channel. If the show had focused entirely on Alaska in documentary fashion, it might have helped Palin.

Instead of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’’ the show would be more aptly named “Alaska’s Sarah Palin.’’ There was beautiful scenes of Alaska and Palin’s family in Alaska. Unfortunately, program devolved too much into a reality show. Sarah Palin may be attractive to look at walking in shorts around her expansive new house, but the view of her family was just too intimate. It was not that there was any pathological present. On the contrary, the Palins were dealing with children and other family issues, much as we all do, in an appealing – if contrived – manner.

However, we want leaders who, as in Kipling’s phrase, “can talk with crowds and keep [their] virtue, [and] walk with kings’’ while not losing, “the common touch,’’ there needs to be an emotional distance for leadership. Sarah Palin’s Alaska shrinks that distance.

There is a saying that no man is a hero to his valet. Similarly, it is hard to entrust weighty issues to your next door neighbors, no matter how appealing. Palin’s show is making her more a neighbor we might like, and less a leader we would believe in.