Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chapter 34. Pusillanimous Pawlenty

"Haagen Dazs could put his picture on vanilla," Bill O'Reilly quipped to fellow Fox newsman Chris Wallace on the June 10 O'Reilly Factor program.  The "his" in their conversation was former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

What an insult to vanilla ice cream.  After all, it's smooth; Pawlenty often looks like the socially clueless dad from a 90's sitcom, as he did while responding to the slight, to Wallace a couple of days later.  Vanilla ice cream is consistent; Pawlenty is an example of the so-called moderate Republican whose modus operandi is triangulating answers to major policy issues, then parsing, mincing, or downright denying when the politically correct vector has moved. 

In 2007 Pawlenty signed on to a regional cap and trade scheme; in 2008 he joined then-Arizona Governor Janet 'Big Sis' Napolitano in a radio ad sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund to promote climate change fiction; and in 2009 he was touting wind energy and ethanol at a farm event "with a down-home message tailored to his rural audience."  Yet, just this week he attempted to shove all of this down the memory hole in in interview on CNBC Squawk Box, in responding to a cap and trade question by Jack Welch, saying that he had "flirted with it for sure, but I've just admitted my mistake."  During the first Republican debate on May 5, Pawlenty said the issue was one of his "clunkers."

Back in 2007 Pawlenty signed into Minnesota state law the Omnibus Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill, which "provided funding for the Health Care Transformation Task Force, a panel of health care experts charged with exploring ways to reduce health care spending, improve quality, and ensure that Minnesota develops a universal health care plan by 2011." (Kaiser Foundation Report)  By 2010, the Governor had backed off the idea, and on June 12 coined the phrase "Obamney care" as a shot across the bow of Mitt Romney's candidacy for president.  But, true to fashion when given the chance to fire again during the televised CNN Republican debate the very next day, he sputtered and withered and ended his bid to become the 45th President of the United States.

Good.  The Republican Party needs a quick and ruthless winnowing fan to separate the candidates from the candy asses, if they are to unseat a President who reportedly will raise $1,000,000,000 to spend on re-election.

Quotient out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chapter 33. The Third-And-A-Half Estate

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."  Thomas Jefferson, 1786
The term "Fourth Estate" generally refers to the press, or in its most modern sense the collective various news media, which has long been recognized as a powerful, unregulated societal check and balance.  An independent and vigorous media is an indispensable protector against a tyranny of the elite or of the mob.

Too bad it no longer exists in America.

On June 9 the New York Times published a post entitled, Help Us Review the Sarah Palin E-Mail Records, in which NYT blogger Derek Willis implores readers to "help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight."  The former governor's emails were scheduled to be (and were) released the next day, and apparently the grande dame of newspapers found the task of reporting on the information dump (which they had requested) too onerous a slog for her aging, ailing bones.

Never mind that so far Mr. Willis' ochlocratic experiment yielded such world-shakers as "Concern about Transformers" and "Offer to Donate a Wedding Dress to Bristol."  No doubt they were hoping for something along the lines of, "Gov. Palin hiding Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa!"  The post-modern blurring between the accountability and privilege of the media's job, and the delustional aspiration of every unemployed, politically motivated journalism wannabe is a continuing danger to our republic.  No less than an Amendment to our Constitution protects the media's right to investigate and report facts that might be unflattering or even scandalous to rich and common alike.  Power and responsibility always go together, a simple lesson that has been tossed aside by the web-based, social mediated, instant gratification, "trust fund" journalists of today.  The best thing the New York Times, and other media outlets that are resorting to this so-called "crowdsourcing" technique can do, is buy a sturdy overcoat, a thick-soled pair of shoes, a miniature tape recorder, and get out there and pay their dues.

Or, change the motto of the paper to, "All the news that's in our inbox."

Quotient out.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chapter 31. Rhetoric Gone Wild

There is a quip which goes, "if I've told you once, I've told you a million times, don't exaggerate."

On Monday May 23, at an event in Des Moines where he announced his candidacy for POTUS, former governor Tim Pawlenty gave a rouser about the Herculean tasks he could accomplish, where others had failed.  At least he tried.  It was really big things like balancing the budget and cutting ethanol subsidies to corn farmers.
"The problems we face as a nation are severe. But if we could move Minnesota in a common sense, conservative direction, we can do it anywhere, even in Washington D.C.  It won't be easy, but it's not supposed to be. This is America, we don't do easy.  Valley Forge wasn't easy. Normandy wasn't easy. Winning the Cold War wasn't easy."

Well.  Not to say that our problems are minor, and not to say that there isn't a well-worn political tradition of drawing on momentous historical events to amp up the drama.  Both of these are realities.  But comparing fairly mundane economic positions to truly extraordinary moments in American history seems a to be a bridge too far in the way of stepping up to "the challenge."  It's the verbal equivalent to Michael Dukakis' infamous tank ride debacle during the 1988 presidential campaign, in which an orchestrated photo op that was supposed to counter the criticism that Dukakis was soft on defense, backfired to say the least.

But, cut Pawlenty some slack. Now that American corn farmers have been reduced to welfare queens, it could be as politically dangerous to infringe on their new ethanol "right" as it is to cut booze and cigs off the list of allowed purchases on EBT's.

It certainly makes one wonder whether the Republicans really have a candidate somewhere with the chops to take down an incumbent; a man who can make history instead of using it as a campaign punch line.  Like the one who really did win the Cold War...

Quotient out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter 30. Citizenship... At The Point Of A Gun

On the traffic message boards on Interstate 94 around the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the following endearing message has appeared recently:

It would seem on the surface to be a polite sentiment from the state known for its "Minnesota Nice" attitude.  In fact, it is an instructive example of "nudge" tactics by the state that eventually dictates behavior that is enforced by punitive threats.

In 1986, the state passed a secondary seat belt law, meaning that motorists could not be pulled over for not wearing the belt, but could be cited if pulled over for a separate, primary offense (e.g. speeding).  The fine was modest, at $25.  As of 2009 belt usage was 87%, according to an NHTSA report.  For nudge-based behavioral modification, however, that relatively high rate of compliance is simply not good enough.  So in June, 2009 the law was "upgraded" to primary status, so that authorities could pull over and ticket a motorist solely for not wearing the belt.  Again, the fine is $25.  Seems pretty reasonable for such an obviously sensible matter.  Nonetheless, this evolution of the power of the state to force motorists into a behavior is an example of the imprudent use of law.

All laws ultimately are enforced at the point of a gun, or similiarly lethal weapon, even in such a small matter as a seat belt infraction.  If you don't pay the $25 fine, and it accrues for too long or you try running away from it, you will eventually be arrested.  Resist arrest and you may be clubbed, tasered or-- if the resistance is severe-- shot.  There is no law that, at the end of some chain of events of disobediance, doesn't end in violence being inflicted on the individual by the government.  This level of seriousness is why passing laws should be reserved to direct those behaviors that truly impact the rights of others:  speeding, robbery, rape, murder, and so forth.

And that is why displaying a disingenuously cordial and Orwellian thank you, when in reality the individual really has no choice but to comply, should be a signal to the citizens that the government really is going too far.

One might imagine a similar sign back in the Hungary 1942:  THANK YOUR FOR SQUEEZING INTO A CATTLE WAGON FOR DEPORTATION.

Quotient out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chapter 29. Unwelcome PLAN

The recent news that President Obama has discovered yet another way to march our country toward a socialist paradise, deserves further consideration.

Last week, the FCC and FEMA announced that under a new emergency alert system, called the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) local, state and federal authorities will be able to send text messages to every cell phone in the country, in the way of alerts about "imminent threats to safety."

"Consumers do not need to sign up for this service," FEMA informs us.  "A PLAN alert will be accompanied by a unique attention signal and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities."  Very thoughtful.  And, the alerts can be blocked by cell phone subscribers. 

Except for messages from El Presidente, of course.

Do we really need the 21st century equivalent of the street-level loud speakers of 1930's European dictatorships, forcing citizens to endure unnecessary and unwanted messages from the fearless leader?  Imagine what the texter-in-chief might consider critical news to share with all of us:

OMG.  i really did it.  hes dead, bin laden dead.  i shot him well it was the soldiers but i gave the order. man this president thing is HARD work i need another vacation.  peace out yall...  p.s. dont spike the football thats my job ;)
We've already had a taste of the nefarious direction that Barack Obama and his Braintrust would take such power.  Remember-- less than two short years ago-- that citizens were urged to turn each other in for suspicious opposition to the President's health care takeover:
"These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to"

Reporting "casual conversations" of fellow citizens, and sending targeted messages to every citizen regardless of their disposition to receive them, is the kind of Big Brotherism that belongs in the chilling history of the last century's totalitarian regimes, not in the United States of America.

Quotient out.