"Of course the deficits of the Bush years were irresponsible, but they didn't crash the economy—Wall Street did that. And that crash, in turn, is what really drove the deficit through tthe roof, not the other way around."
Thomas Frank, Harper's Magazine
12/15/12 -- Have a Kule Yule, Y'all.
Any idea what Yule really means or where it comes from? The 14th annual Skelly Family Christmas website explains it all. While you're there, vote your feelings about this holiday season on the Christmas Spirt Index. To visit, click here: www.websitesammy.com/cmas12. You'll be glad you did. Nutrition for both head and heart.
11/17/12 -- Numbers Guys? Really?
How could he lose? He won the Independents. He won the crossover vote. He got more votes from Democrats (7%) than Obama won from Republicans (6%). And the Republican base was more motivated. How did Romney wind up in second place? (Beating out five other contenders.)
It's a question Romney and Ryan both were deeply cogitating by the end of the day. The short answer, that more Obama people voted, is not as simplistic as it seems. If they didn't come from anywhere else, Obama's votes had to come from Democrats. This leads, unavoidably, to the conclusion there must be more Democratic than Republican voters in this country. That is something Romney didn't count on, and it's why he and his camp misread all the polls, and it's why they were so surprised on Election Night. How surprised really? They had bought fireworks.
This is not a way the Romney camp thought their candidate could lose. The Romney people had no strategy for taking Democrats' votes away from Obama.
The notion of Democratic numerical superiority remains incomprehensible to many Republicans. They point to polls where more people consider themselves conservative than liberal. And they conclude there are more of their kind now. Wrong time to fall in love with a poll. Who knows what people really think they are saying?
What they're not saying is how they registered. Seventeen percent of self-identified conservatives voted for Obama in this election according to exit polls. Most party affiliation polls give Democrats a numerical edge among registered voters of between 3% and 7%. The outlier is Rasmussen, the only pollster who puts Republicans in the majority.(See chart.)
Romney scored about a 2 million vote advantage among Independents, and gained 1 million more from the crossover vote. Obama overcame that deficit with 6 million more Democrats' votes than Romney got from Republicans. And that, as they say, was that. A three million margin of victory. Small, but decisive.
Rush Limbaugh said repeatedly that anti-Obama enthusiasm among Republicans would get their ranks to the polls in bigger numbers than Democrats on Election Day. He was sure they had the enthusiasm. But there just weren't enough of them.
So, was it Obama's highly sophisticated, detailed and database-driven voter targeting and get-out-the-vote effort that turned the tide for the President? Was Limbaugh, after all, wrong about Republican enthusiasm?
Don't be too sure. The Obama people get high marks even from Republicans for their ground game. And they did accomplish great things in the battleground states. But nationally, people weren't as excited about this election as they were in 2008. Almost 7 million fewer voted. Romney got half a million fewer votes than McCain did. And Obama's turnout machine was a whopping 7.5 million votes short of its 2008 effort.
Turnout estimates depend on how many Republicans and Democrats respectively you think there are. Opinions differ. And strange as it might seem, it's hard to get a firm handle on the number of registered voters in this country. A number of states don't even record party affiliation when they register voters. Several states are even now still counting their votes.
But there's evidence that overall the Romney campaign did as good a job of getting their vote out as the Democrats did and in some cases a better one. (Republicans generally deliver higher turnout rates, which is why The Washington Post reported that when pollsters tallied registered as opposed to likely voters, Obama would win handily.
The thing with exit polling is that people are like politicians. Instead of telling you the truth, they're as likely to tell you what they think you want to hear. Or even worse, they'll tell you what they think they'd like to hear themselves say. So the Romney people may not even believe in exit polls.
In fact, it's surprising the Republican party is regarded as the party of faith. There are so many things they don't believe in.
They don't believe the employment reports. They don't believe in evolution, they don't believe in climate change, they don't believe in women's reproductive rights, they don't believe in minority voting. They don't believe the President is a Christian, they don't believe he's not a Socialist and some don't think he's even an American.
And they didn't believe the poll numbers. They kept insisting the pollsters were oversampling likely Democratic voters. There couldn't be that many of them. It was an apostasy that would prove fatal.
There are a fair number of Republican apologists offering any range of reasons for the outcome, including Romney himself, but none of their explanations seems to encompass the plain fact that they simply were outgunned. These "numbers" guys needed to learn to count better.
Of course, there was Obama's summer onslaught of negative advertising. The Obama camp smartly began blasting Romney with a blitz of negative ads, particularly in battleground states, as soon as it was clear he was getting the nomination. They tried to define Romney to the general electorate before he could do so himself. He was still recovering from a bruising primary season and lacked ad money to fight back. Campaign finance laws segregate primary and general election spending.
The ad blitz was nicely complemented by a series of self-inflicted wounds on the campaign trail as well as friendly fire from well-meaning but hapless Republican congressional candidates, some of whose gaffs most likely cost Republicans the Senate again, This all kept Romney in a bad public light, and down in the polls, all the way to the first debate, where Obama graciously ceded back the advantage.
Nor did Romney get as big a boost from SuperPAC money as expected. The Republicans did spend more combined advertising dollars than Obama, TV advertising eats up 75% of the money candidates raise. But because Obama's TV money was mostly raised within his campaign organization, he got preferential advertising rates while the Romney PACs had to pay top dollar. In the end, Obama actually ran more total ads than Romney and his supporters.
But you can forget SuperPAC money and ad blitzes, along with ground games,base enthusiasm, "gifts" and givers versus takers. None was definitive. It all just came down to numbers. By Nov. 6 enough registered Democrats had roused themselves, rubbed their sleepy eyes and trudged off to the polls to cast a ballot for their party's candidate. And they gave Obama a 3 million vote winning margin
The economy got just better enough, Romney had to make a big enough ideological pivot between the primaries and the general election to bring his political constancy into question. His own party was an anchor around his neck. Republican leaders and congressional candidates displayed a bewildering propensity for sticking their feet in their mouths on issues like voting rights, women's rights, immigration and foreign policy. Plus it's really hard to beat an incumbent.
But mostly, Obama won re-election the same way Grant won the Civil War. Superior numbers in the field. Not more motivated, more creative or more strategic, just more.
Obama won young voters big time. Women big time. Latinos big-time. Even Asians, big time. Blacks overwhelmingly. But while these outcomes may presage trends for a future that should make long-term Republican thinkers uneasy, still they don't have huge implications for the near future—say 2016. Note to Bill O'Reilly and Bernie Goldberg: by the next Presidential election the "white majority" as a component of the overall electorate is expected to shrink to 70%. Don't fret; you're still in charge, for the time being.
The big charge for Republicans in the next cycle is simply to create three million and one more Republicans. Or expunge three million Democrats. There are numerous paths to meeting that challenge, none requiring large-scale makeovers
In retrospect, trying to discourage as many Democrats as possible from voting was quite possibly the right strategy all along. Failure to execute against it may have cost Republicans the White House this time.
Now they have four more years to sharpen their game.
"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."
"Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble..like never before."
9/29/12 -- Who is He to Simon and Garfunkel? Or Simon and Garfunkel to Him?
September 29: The day in history that the Scarborough Fair traditionally came to an end, back in Merrie Olde England in midieval times. The date is still celebrated in the Christian calendar as the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel (Michaelamas). It was early Christendom's equivalent of the autumnal equinox.
This day also marked the start of a new business year, a time for electing officials, making contracts, paying rent, hiring servants, holding court and starting school. (They had school?)
Scarborough Fair was a huge festival. It would begin on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15) and run for 45 days. The fair originated from a royal charter granted in 1253. Its fortunes started to flag after 1383, records show, but still it lasted into the late eighteenth century.
The town of Scarborough, on England's eastern seaboard in Yorkshire, was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England and beyond. The fair was basically a trading event, attended by merchants from all areas of England, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic states and the Byzantine Empire. In time it attracted not just buyers and sellers but also large crowds of tradesmen, entertainers, food purveyors and pleasure-seekers.
If you make enough of a name for yourself someone will write a song about you, and someone eventually did just that for the Scarborough Fair. No one knows who that was. Those things weren't as important back then. (There were no song royalties.) Centuries later, Simon and Garfunkel recorded it, in a matter of speaking.
Actually the song is written around, as opposed to about, Scarborough Fair The event serves mainly as a marker in the time-space continuum as it were.
The singer urges the listener, who may be going to the fair, to remember him to his former love and to give her a series of improbable tasks to perform if she would like to reconcile. The song was sometimes sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally absurd-sounding tasks to perform first.
"Scarborough Fair" is one of the older traditional folk songs in the English language. And while nobody really understands what it's about, there's been a good deal of information published about it over the centuries.
Stories concerning impossible tasks for lovers or suitors were a popular meme in medieval folk songs. The tasks set forth are possibly riddles, and once the riddle is solved then the tasks make sense. Or maybe it means something else entirely in this case. For instance, maybe the scorned lover is dying on a battlefield and hallucinating as he speaks his last words to his comrades.
As the song spread, a number of different versions evolved, some with different melodies. Only a few are still sung nowadays.
In Medieval times, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme were herbs associated with specific virtues. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.
Parenthetically, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, all members of the mint family, figured prominently in documented contraceptive and abortifacient herbal methods of the period.
They were also the main ingredients to an old witches love potion. The four herbs are also traditionally closely associated with death, as well as being used in charms to ward off the evil eye.
In one interpretation the lyrics refer to the black plague. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme were also used to ward off the stench of the dead or dying. It was popularly believed in medieval times that the smell of the plague(s) (miasma) was responsible for infection and that herbs could be used to cleanse the air.
Paul Simon came across Scarborough Fair while touring in London in 1965. He learned it from a folk singer named Martin Cathy, who in turn had picked up the melody from a songbook by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. It had been recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard.
Simon had accompanied singer Tom Paxton, to a dinner at Cathy's flat. "I wrote the whole thing down, with lyrics and chords, and handed it to him," Cathy recounted in an interview with The Telegraph in 2001.
The song became the lead track of Simon and Garfunkel's 1966 album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Interestingly, the album credits listed only Simon and Garfunkel as the song's authors, which drew some ill will from Martin Cathy. He felt the "traditional" source should have been credited.
The two made up even before the Telegraph interview. It turned out Simon had copyrighted only his revised arrangement and some additional lyrics. He had invited Cathy to sing the song with him at a London concert in 2000, and Cathy pronounced himself reconciled.
The Simon and Garfunkel version is actually a conflation of two songs: "Scarborough Fair" and parts of a song named "The Side of a Hill," written by Simon in 1963. The latter is a mournful lament about the accidental death of a young village child in a battle.
The formal name of their conflated version is "Scarborough Fair/Canticle." It was later released as a single after being featured on the soundtrack for the movie The Graduate in 1968.
Art Garfunkel is credited with interlacing the lines of "The Side of a Hill" (rewriting several as he went) with the verses of "Scarborough Fair," thereby turning the conflated song into a vague anti-war anthem, sort of, maybe. Opinions differ.
What people do agree on is that the most appropriate description of the combination of the melody and Garfunkel's angelic voice is "hauntingly beautiful." Those are the two words you most often encounter when people discuss "Scarborough Fair/Canticle."
Who did Simon and Garfunkel think the singer is, and what is his true intent? It's not really clear what they were going for with this song, other than "hauntingly beautiful." The only significant body of commentary exists in online forums, and those are mostly opinions. There is little that is definitive to be found on websites or in books.
Maybe lyrics don't matter all that much. Joe Williams, lead singer of the rock band Toto, once said of David Paich the group's composer: "He didn't care what the lyrics said. They didn't need to make sense. They just needed to sound good."
The ambiguities of the traditional lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" were the result of centuries of popular evolution. But Garfunkel introduces a number of very specific phrases in "Canticle" that were not in Simon's original lyrics and that are puzzling.
Phrases like "deep forest green" might just have offered a handy meter. But what inspired "War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions" or "Traces of sparrow on snow-crusted brown." Did they have a former life somewhere? Did he just make them up to fit? What is a blazing war bellows anyway? If you look up the term, you'll be referred to the lyrics.
Not Simon, not Garfunkel nor anyone else seems to have much to say about this part of the song. There's more annotation on Simon's whimsical "You Can Call Me Al" than on what is arguably the duo's signal signature opus. Half the time people don't even use the right title. They refer to the song as "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time."
"Scarborough Fair/Canticle" lyrics:
Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
(On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown)
Without no seams nor needle work
(Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
(Sleeps unaware of the clarion call)
Tell her to find me an acre of land
(On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Washes the grave with silvery tears)
Between the salt water and the sea strand
(A soldier cleans and polishes a gun)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
(War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions)
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
(Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
(And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
In 1985 Simon and Garfunkel performed a reunion concert in New York's Central Park, arranged by New York City's Department of Parks Commissioner, Gordon Davis, and rock impresario Ron Delsner. It was called, fittingly, The Concert in the Park and was attended by 500,000 wildly appreciative fans.
It featured 21 songs, and "Scarborough Fair" was naturally among them. The whole thing was recorded as an HBO special and the subsequent live album went double-platinum. It was selling long after the duo had broken up again, this time for good. The video of the "Scarborough Fair" performance is included here for your viewing and listening pleasure.
This inclusion may seem like a bit of redundancy, but the clip makes three important things perfectly clear. One: Art Garfunkel really does have an angelic voice,. Two: Even in a live performance just these two men alone plus one guitar (okay, and a base) really could combine to produce a very full, complete and satisfying sound. Three: Not even Art Garfunkel can sing two different parts simultaneously in a live venue. No "Canticle" in this one.
Still, hauntingly beautiful. And even without "Canticle," "Scarborough Fair" is still pretty ambiguous. After all these years.
Dept. of You Don't Know, Jack
Caveat Emptor. Playing fast and loose with the truth is a political strategy as old as politics itself. That's because politicians know that deciding how to vote is, at root, an emotional decision. Do you actually have any idea how to check this stuff out? Do you really even want to? Relax. They had you coming in the door.
Failing American Workers
Romney Campaign Ad - Aug 28, 2012
"Under Obama, we've lost over half a million manufacturing jobs."
For a full critique of the Romney ad, visit The Fact Checker department of The Washington Post.
U.S. Manufacturing sector statistics from Bureau of Labor Statistics.
-582,000: jobs lost from Jan '09 - Aug '12
306,000: jobs gained since recession end (Jul '09)
512,000: jobs gained since low point (Jan '10)
-3,045,000: jobs lost Jan '02 to Jan '09
U.S. Manufacturing Leads Current Economic Growth As It Has For 15 Years
Seeking Alpha.com - May 20, 2012
"For the last year or so, I've made the case (along with others) that the U.S. manufacturing sector is at the forefront of the economic expansion based on all relevant measures of economic performance: Profits, output, employment and unemployment." Mark J. Perry
Data sources: The Washington Post, www.seekingalpha.com.
9/8/12 -- The Summer of '12.
Okay, there's another summer squandered away because we were too busy, too distracted, too worried, too depressed, or just too hot, to focus and enjoy it the way we should have.
So what's important now is to take a moment and manufacture a few memories to carry along through dying autumn, chilly winter and soggy spring until our hearts can once again soar aloft, lifted by feelings of idyllic, idle youth and the smell of tanning lotion.
This should help. Here's the annual recap of what you were listening to on the Summer Song Jukebox these past months in those few, fleeting moments when you actually found yourself in the dreamy, sun-bronzed moment.
Department of miscellaneous stats: top states or regions
Most listeners are in the US, but significant international audiences this summer included Ireland and, surprisingly, Hungary.
I'm moved to say, in passing, that I feel bad for The Beach Boys. Supplanted in their prime by The Beatles and The British Invasion, and now in their twilight years, superannuated in the fading memories of a younger musical audience. There was a time when they would have simply ruled this list, year in and year out.
Summer Song Jukebox:
Top 11 plays of the Summer of 2012
11 because I couldn't bear not to see the Beach Boys on the list.
1) Here Comes Summer, Jerry Keller (1959)
2) School Is Out, Gary US Bonds (1961)
3) One Summer Night, The Danleers (1958)
4) Theme From Summer Of '42, Peter Nero (1971)
5) Summertime, Summertime, The Jamies (1958)
6) Love Letters in the Sand, Pat Boone (1957)
7) Gone in September, Mike Posner (2010)
8) Summer Lovin', John Travolta & Olivia Newton John (1978)
9) In the Good Old Summertime, Julien Neel trudbol (1902)
10) Summertime Blues, Eddie Cochran (1958)
11) Surfer Girl, The Beach Boys (1963)
The full summer playlist calls to my mind the group Buffalo Springfield, and a song not on the Jukebox, For What It's Worth.
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
Here is the bottom 10 Summer Song Jukebox playlist for summer 2012.
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) Bruce Springsteen (1973 Cruel Summer, Bananarama (1984) Summer Of '69, Bryan Adams (1984) Summer Girls, LFO (1999) Vacation, Connie Francis (1962) Magic, The Cars (1984) Girls on the Beach, The Beach Boys (1964) Summer Song, Chad and Jeremy (1964) Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel (1977) Warm California Sun, Rivieras (1964)
Okay, Vacation by Connie Francis I can understand, but these others surprise me. They could lead me to wonder if I might be getting old or at least out of touch. The bottom is not where one would think to look for a couple of these songs. And yet, the top 10 were pretty chestnutty in themselves. Only one song from the 21st century. Five from the '50s. And one from 1902? Maybe it's you guys who are getting old.
Anyway, you deserve one fleeting last moment here to reflect back on this summer just-past, before throwing yourself into the election and the global meltdown(s) of undefined but epic proportions that will undoubtedly overtake us no matter who wins.
Recall these words from Paul Simon And Art Garfunkel, from the Bookends album (1968).
Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you
(Simon and Garfunkel have been added to the Jukebox. April Come She Will. A little bit of a stretch, but I always liked the song—as well as the movie that featured it, which surely was about the passing of idyllic summer and the onrush of life. And, anyways, hell, I'm quoting them here.)
No wonder some people can't figure out who they should vote for. Evidently, they can't even figure out how they're feeling.
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Declines in August. Now at Lowest Level Since November 2011.
Conference Board press release - Aug 28, 2012
A growing practice among today's hip, politically divided classes is to cleave not just to their own set of beliefs but also to their own set of facts. So when encountering unwelcome news, they can simply ignore it and go off in search of a more agreeable report.
This makes life even harder for the poor, rudderless undecideds, especially when news services like Bloomberg appear to be encouraging such tendencies. Witness these two schizophrenic filings.
Consumer Confidence In U.S. Declines By Most Since October
Bloomberg - Aug 28, 2012
Consumer Sentiment In U.S. Rose To Three-Month High
Bloomberg - Aug 31, 2012
Data sources: Bureau of Economic Analsis, The Conference Board.
9/1/12 -- "Almost Dead Presidents": an Epilogue
In accepting his party's Presidential nomination, Mitt Romney summoned up the memory of an America that existed in a simpler time. Suggesting, by the way, that somehow President Obama had taken that away from us even though it sounded like what he was recalling was the early 50s, and that was 60 years ago.
That would have been Mitt's early childhood, and it is by now farther back than most voters can cast their memories. John Stewart pointed out that his childhood recollections started much later, when they were burning churches in Mississippi and turning fire hoses and police dogs on marchers in Alabama.
With all due respect it's been a pretty rough ride since then, too. They started burning the jungles in Vietnam, then neighborhoods in LA and Newark, then college campuses. And then as if we hadn't had enough, foreign terrorists came next with their knock-off imports.
Plus, we had recessions: in 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1990, 2000 and, let no one forget, 2007.
In point of fact, Mitt may not remember, but there were recessions in the '50s, too: 1953 and 1958. Oh, and troops were sent off to little Rock to integrate the schools, and Southeast Asia to fight the Korean War.
The good old days. It's your great-grandfather's meme. The opposite of the one where he used to walk three miles to and from school each day, uphill both ways. Ah, the mind: they say it's the second thing to go.
Time to start keeping an eye on him, especially around sunset, lest he start wandering. Not the time to be electing him President. We tried that with Reagan. At the end he forgot where Nicaragua was.
Last year, a piece on this website about candidates' ages pointed out that we've elected a President who was 65 or over just three times in 220 years. (12/18/11 -- Almost Dead Presidents) There are reasons for that. For one thing, we can no longer follow the references in their acceptance speeches. And then there's legitimate concern they can't either.
8/29/12 -- Why Do They Call Them Parties? They're Not Any Fun.
America's "Feuding Fathers" were the original Band of Brothers, self-proclaimed and generally-acknowledged. In the 1770s, their heroic display of collegial creativity, collective leadership and group discipline changed the course of history. But they didn't really like each other very much.
As the "Revolutionary Generation" moved from the euphoric abstractions of inspiration to the dull reality of governing, fissures opened and radiated. And the sibling rivalries grew more numerous and more intense.
Beyond such predictable competing interests as region, religion, philosophy, economics and even morality (slavery), the range of intense personal enmities grew downright hateful. They poisoned the young country's public institutions and made the tenor of political discourse harsh and shrill.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had cultivated a close personal bond while shaping the Declaration of Independence. Then they became the first two opponents in America's first contested Presidential Election. In no time they began to slander one another regularly in public. It took years after they'd both left Washington, and the persistent intercessions of friends, to restore the friendship.
Alexander Hamilton, our founding financier, disliked both men and worked energetically to destroy their careers and personal reputations. Adams lost his Presidential reelection bid in part due to a rear guard attack on his candidacy by his own party, guided by Hamilton.
Hamilton could not be truly called the father of political public relations in America (he was but one of many), but he certainly raised it to the level of high art. He published one broadside against Adams's character so hostile and vituperative (not to mention self-serving) that it damaged Hamilton's own political career, it so alienated even his own supporters. This from a guy who wasn't even running.
Jefferson, our third President, was a classic passive-aggressive personality and painfully shy. He may have penned the soaring prose of the Declaration of Independence, but during his whole time in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress (where he was a late substitution) he spoke on few occasions and never memorably. That's why they had him write. They knew he couldn't talk.
Jefferson was a master at operating behind the scenes. Good with the stiletto, you might say. And he spent a good deal of his career conspiring against Hamilton.
Strangely, Jefferson owed his 1796 election over Adams at least in part to Hamilton. After conspiring first against Adams, Hamilton refocused his considerable political communications talents against Aaron Burr, who had tied Jefferson for the Electoral College vote. As bad as Hamilton thought Jefferson might be, he felt Burr would be worse.
(At that time, all candidates ran in one election, and the highest vote-getter became President while the second highest became Vice President. It was understood that Jefferson was his party's choice for President and Burr for Vice President. When they wound up tied, the country belatedly realized there was no mechanism to differentiate between the votes for each office. The election went into the House of Representatives, and it became clear that Burr, prior understanding or no, would happily accept the top spot if Congress should give it to him.)
Adams, a man of outsize intellect, and equally outsize ego, was not insensate to what was going on. He hated Hamilton. He gloated to friends about the deadlocked election: "The very man—the very two men—of all the world that he was most jealous of are now placed above him."
"More cunning than wise; more dexterous than able."
Hamilton on Burr
In truth, nobody, not even George Washington, had a good word for Aaron Burr. And none less so than Mrs. Hamilton. Burr would shoot and kill her husband in a duel arising from mutual personal slanders. (Bergen Co., NJ, indicted Burr for murder; at the time he was the sitting Vice President.)
Burr was eventually tried in federal court for treason, on an unrelated matter. Jefferson was a prime force in bringing the case to trial. Chief Justice John Marshall found Burr innocent. Jefferson and Marshall hated each other, too.
But the crowning rivalry was indisputably between Jefferson and Hamilton. Both members of Washington's Cabinet, these two men despised each other with a seething, blinding rage. For a non-believer, Jefferson was a very spiritual person. Hamilton hated Jefferson because he was afraid Jefferson, left to his own devices, would screw up the country. Jefferson hated Hamilton because he felt Hamilton was the essence of evil.
Jefferson tended not to see things in terms of right and left, or even right and wrong. He was more of a right-and-evil guy. The author Joseph Ellis said this in his biographical study of Jefferson, American Sphinx:
This is how he generally saw his political opponents at the time, as apostates and heretics and traitors to the cause of American Independence. The moral dichotomies were clear and pure. The colors were black and white. There was no room in his mental universe for the notion that honest and principled men could disagree on a landmark issue [in this instance, the Jay Treaty] and make mutually compelling claims to the truth.
Wow, sound hauntingly familiar? It should be no great surprise that the founders of America's two-party political tradition were none other than these two guys. Hamilton led the Federalists, and Jefferson, although he was loathe to admit it in public, headed the Democratic-Republicans.
George Washington disliked political parties and hoped the country wouldn't go in that direction. He thought they served only to feed jealousies and animosity and "distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration." But political parties were a flood tide even the Father of our Country could not stave off. All that hatred needed some productive channeling.
Not that our earliest politicians couldn't be courtly and civil on some level. In the election of 1796, neither Jefferson nor Adams actively campaigned for the office of President. It was considered unseemly and reflective of an excess of personal ambition, and so both stayed at home.
That attitude didn't survive the next election, however. The Founding Father behind the organized political campaign for public office? Why, who else? Aaron Burr. His only founding contribution, actually. While Adams and Jefferson stayed on the sidelines in the Presidential Election of 1800, Burr decided it was time to hit the stump.
And it very nearly worked for him. Which is why, with varying degrees of rancor, they've been doing it ever since.
Scott McKenzie, who crooned the anthem to the 1967 "Summer of Love," San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), died on August 18. If you don't remember the "Summer of Love," ask your parents. Chances are they do, and it might even be a story worth hearing. Children of all ages, in America and around the world, even ones who never got within 1,000 miles of Haight and Ashbury or whose hair never grew out much beyond a crewcut, got permanently impressed that summer with (various sizes of) the same indelible mark. It branded them as members of an eternal youth movement that still shapes American culture and politics to this day. (It was written by John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas.) McKenzie was 73. Well out in front of the bleeding edge of the "Me" Generation. Which seems only right. Ah, Flower Children, your garlands are withered; your locks, what's left, are thin and gray; and now your muse is gone. Your time grows nigh(er).
Summer Song Jukebox #37
8/10/12 -- Weather Report.
What has happened down here
is the winds have changed.
Clouds rolled in from the north
and it started to rain. Louisiana (Randy Newman)
Poor Charlotte. Can't get anything right. People begin to forget about NASCAR just as soon as the city fathers put up a museum dedicated to it right in the middle of town. They make themselves into a banking center and the whole industry blows up before their eyes and comes down around their ears.
And let's not even talk about basketball. This town has even found a way to make Michael Jordan look bad.
Then the nation goes into an historic drought, and it starts raining here. It had been bone dry. Rainfall has been under average, often significantly so, every month going back to October.2011. (June-March is the wet season around here: averaging 12 inches in the period.) But rain started falling in May and has pretty much kept it up ever since.
Charlotte: Monthly Rainfall vs. Monthly Averages
That was just before the air waves began to fill up with the news that 60% of the country was burning up in the worst drought to hit the country in 50 years.
May rainfall just got back up to average, June came in a notch above that. In July almost an inch more rain fell than Charlotte's highest monthly average (Feb: 4.4 in.).
August? It topped July's monthly rainfall in the first 10 days.
It's been hot enough. The Queen City has shared in the ultra-heated summer weather that has baked most of the country. July's average high temperature was 98° , about 10° above normal.
Charlotte: August: Daily Rainfall vs. Projected Average
And the rain hasn't been falling monsoon-like. Most days are sunny and at worst a little overcast. But around supper time every second or third day or so, anywhere from a fraction to over an inch of rain falls in a couple of hours. Then the weatherman says it's going to clear up for the next couple of days, only it never does.
And the rain is starting to get heavier. Nine days in May, 16 days in July and now five out of 10 days in August with three days recording from just under to just over two inches.
So far all this rain has merely brought the yearly total back up to just under average. But one is inclined to wonder, unless the weather gods are planning the meteorological equivalent of a double-dip recession, where we might be headed from here. There's only one big river around here (although with two branches), but there's a lot of creeks. Up until now they've just been kind of cute and picturesque. They look different when they start running through your back yard.
You know, usually when you come to a national political convention, what you want to bring along is a good pair of rubber boots, and tall ones at that. But someone should tell those Democrats to pack a good umbrella, too, this time. Especially if they plan to be out after dark. Perhaps even a boat.
These days I don't do much of anything about anything. But I will talk about the weather.
The fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
Sept. 21, 2010, writing in Citizens United majority opinion.
Feb. 16, 2009, Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender organizes the first Tea Party to protest an irresponsible Congress under the spell of Wall St.
Sept. 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street movement begins in Zuccotti Park, Lower Manhattan, to protest an irresponsible Congress under the spell of just about everyone but them.
Dept. of You Don't Know, Jack
Nobody really knows much about how to boost employment. Other than by going out and hiring somebody. Otherwise, something would have gotten done by now.
International Business Times, June 3, 2012: "Obama, Romney Advisers Point Fingers Over Latest Job Numbers"
"What we really have here is a deficit in leadership. And this President came into office without any prior experience running anything. He never even ran a corner store. And I think it shows in the way that he's handling the economy." (Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom)
"The areas where we are doing well are areas that we've been able to affect policy. The proposals that we've put forward that have been sitting there for nine months. They need to get off their hands and stop rooting for failure." (Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter)
The truth is, even when paired with a Congress that actually does know how to tie its shoes, a President still has little control over the economy's ups and downs.
Even so, how come no one ever, ever, brings up the subject of residential real estate in these slap downs? The answer is, because it's a problem that makes jobs look easy. No one has a clue. Solving it equitably would be trickier than speed-dating a prickle of porcupines.
James Surowiecki writes in The New Yorker: "Mortgage relief would amost certainly [help] all homeowners, not just underwater ones—by limiting the spillover impact of foreclosrues on home prices...."
So long as foreclosures and short sales remain high, a depressed housing market will keep the brakes on consumer demand. And as long as it does, companies (who over the past 20 years have figured out how to run lean and turn a profit) will see little need to expand their workforce.
A viscious circle that you can take to the bank. Ah, if only you could.
Data sources: Foreclosure Sales - RealtyTrac; Unemployment - BLS
5/29/12 -- Go Ahead and Shoot; You'll Be Doing Them a Favor.
The individual's right to own a gun is enshrined in the US Constitution. It wasn't always, but in 2008 in District of Columbia v Heller, the Supreme Court said the right to keep and bear arms is an individual, as opposed to just a collective (armies et al), one according to the Second Amendment.
With this decision the high court reversed 220 years of legal precedent. Ah, activist judges. Reactions varied, but one group that was absolutely tickled pink? The small arms industry.
The US gun and ammunition manufacturing industry comprises makers of guns and ammunition classified as small arms (30 mm in caliber or less). In the great scheme of manufacturing activities, they're small potatoes: about 300 companies with combined annual revenue of about $6 billion. John Deere's revenues in 2011 were $30+ billion.
Major gun and ammunition manufacturers include Browning Arms; Freedom Group (which includes Remington Arms, Marlin Firearms, and Bushmaster Firearms); Olin; Alliant Techsystems; Sturm, Ruger & Company; and Smith & Wesson. Most of these, it should come as no surprise, are corporate sponsors of the National Rifle Association.
The NRA began life in 1897 promoting gun sports and marksmanship. Most of its early efforts were focused on hunting, gun safety and shooting competitions. It didn't start championing the Second Amendment as a guarantor of an individual's right to pack heat until the 1970s, at about the same time it launched its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.
The first Presidential candidate the NRA ever endorsed was Ronald Reagan. Ironically, he was subsequently shot by a madman with a hand gun bought in a pawn shop.
The Washington Post reports that the NRA in the past two decades has spent more than $100 million on political activities in the United States, according to documents and interviews, including $22 million on lobbying and nearly $75 million on campaigns. Its 501c4 spent $21 million on issue advertising, including candidate-drive ads, in 2010, according to crooksandliars.com.
They can afford it. The New York Times reports that the NRA now collects about $200 million a year in dues and donations. "which is a heck of a lot more than it made back in the old days when its principal activity was running marksmanship classes."
There are either 3 million or 4.3 million individual NRA members, depending on whom you believe (the NRA or the NRA: they claim 4.3 million members in general promotions, but they claim 3 million in insurance program promotions. They also use the smaller figure in filing statements for the combined distribution of their magazines, which go to all members as part to their dues.) Annual membership dues are $25.
You can also get a lifetime membership, as Rick Santorum knows. Political insiders say they consider the NRA the most powerful lobbying group in Washington.
The NRA's tilt towards individual rights in its marketing efforts has paid dividends for it, for conservative politicians (and some democratic ones as well) and, you guessed it, for the small arms industry. There are an estimated 300 million guns in private hands in the US today, one for every man, woman and child.
Per capita gun ownership has actually been in decline for some time. According to a recent New Yorker article (citing the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago), in 1980 one in three Americans owned a gun, and by 2010 the figure had shrunk to one in five. Men are far more likely to own a gun than women. What a shock.
So, owners down; ownership up. Net net, business is good for the small arms industry. Many people credit President Barak Obama, who is regularly demonized by NRA honchos despite the fact he's been relatively kind to the small arms industry.
US manufacturers produce more than 4 million guns per year: about 30 percent are pistols and revolvers; about 40 percent are rifles, and about 30 percent are shotguns and other firearms. That according to Hoovers.
This past March, gun maker Sturm Ruger announced it had received 1 million orders in the first quarter and wasn't taking any more until it could fill what it had.
Sturm Ruger sells into several markets including law enforcement, the military, sporting goods and home defense. But the last category has been the primary driver of the company's performance, analysts say.
It has reported four straight quarters of accelerated sales growth. Revenue expanded 45% last quarter. Earnings have risen at least 80% the last two quarters. Its stock has recently been trading at an all-time high.
Bret Jordan, an analyst at Avondale Partners, recently assessed the industry's prospects. He pointed out there's not much evidence that Obama has been a threat to Second Amendment rights, and yet his anti-gun image persists. And evidently that has been good for business. Sturm Ruger Chief Executive Michael Fifer quipped in a conference call last year: "I think half the people in the firearms industry, if asked, would hope (Obama's) not president, but then will secretly go out and vote for him again."
Obama may not deserve all the credit. The trend seems to have been a long time coming, carefully planned and assiduously nurtured.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
For the first 200 years following the adoption of the Constitution, Americans didn't give much thought to the Second Amendment. Or the third, for that matter (which says the government can't make you board troops in your house, at least not in peacetime).
In US v Miller (1939), FDR's solicitor general argued before the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment was limited to the keeping and bearing of arms by the people collectively for their common defense. He opined further that the right "is not one which may be utilized for private purposes..." but was intended for the militia or other military organizations formed for the protection of the state. The court agreed, unanimously. (It had ruled similarly in 1876 and 1886.)
Dennis Baron is a professor of English and linguistics (University of Illinois) who participated in filing an amicus curiae brief in the Heller case, In an article he wrote afterward he ventures that the meaning of the Second Amendment remained uncontroversial until 1960, "... when a law review article using sources like American Rifleman asserted an additional, individual right to bear arms for the purposes of self-defense."
In the '70s, the NRA started funding a steady stream of scholarly research in support of this new position. According to The New Yorker, "at least sixteen of twenty-seven articles that were published between 1970 and 1989 that were favorable to the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment were written by lawyers who had been directly employed by or represented the NRA or other gun-rights organization."
The New Yorker went on to quote former Chief Justice Warren Burger saying that this new interpretation was "one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word 'fraud,' on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."
Meanwhile, many states and municipalities watched in horror the carnage being wreaked on their streets by hand-gun crime and started passing stiffer gun control laws. The NRA reacted with equal horror, seeing in all of these efforts a sinister web of liberty-hating forces at work, trying to take away America's freedoms. Very Sarah Palin.
In 1975 the District of Columbia, grappling with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, passed a law basically outlawing possession of hand guns. The inevitable challenge eventually worked its way to the Supreme Court.
District of Columbia v Heller, as the case was by then called, was decided 5-4 (along party lines, so to speak). The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who declared, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia."
Justice Scalia, being a highly experienced jurist, could undoubtedly have summoned up all kinds of legal precedent in justifying the court's change of heart. Curiously, he chose as one of his chief arguments a linguistic one, which was erudite, articulate and laughably wrong-headed.
Scalia considers himself a student of English usage, and his ideas on grammar and syntax have crept into his legal pronouncements before. (See box below.) Just as in law, he can cite lots of rules, but, he doesn't show the same natural flair for the subject of grammar that he shows for the law.
Lawyers are just like everybody else. What they get really good at over time is coming up with reasons to justify the things they want to say and do and the ways they want other people to think and behave.
A good writer, Scalia is generally, sometimes grudgingly, acknowledged to be the most articulate generator of legal opinion—if mildly offensive in the process—on the court. But stand-up comics are articulate, and clever, too. That doesn't make them grammarians either.
You can't really make much of a language case that supports the idea the Founding Fathers wanted you to own a Saturday Night Special. All Scalia was really doing, whether he knows it yet or not, was boosting the marketing plan the NRA and the small arms industry had been laborously putting into place for 40 years.
On top of that, Scalia was being derivative. The Supreme Court's "writer" was copping from the rather baroque linguistic reasoning of the D.C. Appeals Court opinion, written by Judge Laurence Silberman (also Harvard Law).
Scalia's opinion, in part, herewith:
"The Amendment's prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause's text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms."
Pretty murky. Operative clause? Prefatory clause? Where is he getting this stuff, out of an insurance contract?
The Second Amendment is a simple, as opposed to a complex, sentence. One main clause, no dependent clauses. It is in the passive voice, and it starts out with something called a nominative absolute. The latter is a free-standing noun phrase (noun or pronoun plus either a past participle, present participle, adjective or appositive noun). Wait, it gets worse.
Its parallel in Latin would be the ablative absolute. Don't go yet. You'll be able to understand the following even if you never studied Latin. Urbe capta, Aeneas fugit. The city captured, Aeneas fled.
The interesting thing about such phrase constructions is that they are connected to the rest of the sentence logically but not syntactically. (You can't readily diagram the sentence. But you never could do that, right? And younger readers won't even understand the question.) The role of a nominative absolute is to modify, that is limit, the main clause (Scalia's "operative clause") in some way, by framing its meaning in terms of time, condition, concession or attending circumstances.
In fairness to Scalia and the court's majority, the Heller opinion does cite legal precedents in making its case. Moreover, the District of Columbia wasn't trying to regulate gun ownership, they were essentially trying to ban it altogether. That's probably still a stretch for a majority of Americans. Moreover, Scalia's opinion did concede that his new-found guarantee of the right to individual gun ownership (the Bill of Rights doesn't create rights, it recognizes them) is not absolute.
So gun ownership can be regulated, just not outlawed, according to Scalia's reading of the Second Amendment. No doubt the NRA will, sooner or later, want him to point out to them just where it says that. Guns have been regulated ever since the country's founding, even in places like Tombstone and Dodge City. (The Gunfight at the OK Corral was essentially a dispute over a firearms violation.)
Justice Scalia, like Justice Clarence Thomas who joined in the opinion, professes himself to be a "textualist," critically concerned with what the Founders' words would have meant to most people in their era.
Accordingly, both, along with the rest of the majority, should have been all too aware that it would have been clear to 18th-century readers that (in the words of the U of I's Dennis Baron) ..."the first part of the Second Amendment was bound to the second part in a cause-and-effect relationship, that the right to bear arms was tied by the framers directly to the need for a well-regulated militia."
In point of fact, the Constitution doesn't say anything at all about whether you personally can have a gun. Or whether you can't. Anyone who says otherwise? Well, that's just some people talking. Who'd a thunk it? A Harvard Law grad aspiring to be a political hack, parroting the party line for the benefit of some lobbyist friends. Where's the precedent for that?
Scalia Among the Participles
The case: a suit against the National Endowment for the Arts, which the high court incidentally had decided to not hear.
The complaint: In concurring with the court's refusal to grant cert (as they say), Scalia somewhat crankily attacked the controlling statute. ''That is what my grammar-school teacher would have condemned as a dangling modifier. There is no noun to which the participle is attached.. . .''
The offending passage: ''Artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards for decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.''
The miscreant participle: "taking into account."
No less celebrated a wordsmith than William Safire, who also fancied his expertise as a linguist, wrote this story up. Safire was then a political columnist for The New York Times. As a speechwriter for Vice President Spiro Agnew in the 70s, he had penned the memorable phrase "Nattering nabobs of negativism."
Perhaps to atone for that bit of fingernails-on-the-blackboard magniloquence, Safire also wrote columns on language and usage for the Times on Saturday, when the op-ed page was light.
"Could it be that our lawmakers erred in their draftsmanship?" Safire asks. "Yes," Safire answers. "The solipsistic solons (more fingernails, more blackboard), in choosing to modify the first part of that sentence, should have recast it to provide a subject anchor. Justice Scalia's grammar-school teacher, whose strict constructionism apparently influenced the future jurist, was correct."
Yeah, well, nonsense.
Sentences in the passive voice reverse the roles of their nouns. The subject of a passive sentence is acted upon (termed the "patient"). The object of the preposition following, if there is one, is the doer, or "agent," of the sentence.
A simpler example herewith, without so many words to fog up the issue.
"The bear was killed for the feast, following ancient custom."
In this instance, "bear" is the subject, but the agent (same as in the Scalia example) is "indefinite," as grammarians would say. Not specified. That doesn't mean non-existent. Someone actually did kill the bear.
Why can you not modify that someone, when he or she is implicitly understood even if not explicitly specified? The participial phrase is, moreover, in the right place, closest to where the agent would appear, as an object of the preposition "by," if it had been declared.
There was really no potential for confused or humorous misconstruction in the Endowment statute, which is what would be the hallmark of a dangling modifier. The "agent" may have been unspecified, but whoever it was (obviously the folks at the Endowment) clearly needed to take "into consideration general standards for decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public."
Safire went to his grave with belief unshaken in the rectitude of his grammatical jurisprudence, and Scalia probably will, too. But their objection in this matter could be called, at best, little more than pedantic—or even punctilious, a word Safire would probably enjoy.
As for Scalia, Harvard-trained lawyer and certified smart guy tho he may be, he doesn't seem to know the difference between a phrase and a clause (like in the Second Amendment) and, even less so, the deep inner mysteries of the passive voice (apparently anywhere).
No doubt, it was to bright students like him that Strunk and White (from Cornell, not Harvard) first directed their advice to avoid the passive voice wherever possible. Some just get tripped up (by it).
5/20/12 -- Are You Smarter Than a U.S. Congressman?
John Boehner? Not feeling the love, evidently. Seems he longs for the old days when his name featured prominently on the front page of every newspaper and his countenance was plastered all over the flat screens at every airport, bar and nursing home.
He wants to bring back the debt ceiling debate. Boy, talk about selfish.
God knows what he's thinking. Doesn't he remember? Most of the time he was getting his can kicked all over the place by one side or the other and sometimes by both sides at once.
Perhaps that's what passed for love in the Boehner household when he was growing up. You know, he had it rough and all.
Now once again it falls to us, the unelected, to relive the daily trials of this long national nightmare. Why do they fight? No one ever seems to win.
For many of us, this was a hard debate to follow because we had only a vague directional understanding of all the numbers lurking behind the competing arguments. So here's a set of charts that should give you a more nuanced, if still vague, directional sense of what it all means.
We all accept now we're headed for hell in a hand basket, but where is the overspending, precisely, and which is the waste?
How to know when we're excising bloated fat, to become leaner, fitter, faster, and when are we destroying vital muscle and sinew, to leave ourselves a limp, crumpled heap? Which is creative destruction, and which is just destruction?
And if hard choices do have to be made, whom should we screw? The rich? The poor? The military? The under-employed? The people who voted the wrong way in the election?
Well, maybe you do and just don't get enough credit. Here, at least, is a chance for you to prove it.
The "Full Civic Literacy Exam" is a creation of the Intercollegiate Studies Group, which could possibly be the largest educational organization you never heard of, at least if measured by map pins. It has only about 10,000 student members, but they're on some 1,500 campuses across the country.
The Institute conducts "an integrated program of campus speakers, conferences, seminars, publications, student groups, and fellowships and scholarships, along with a rich repository of online resources." It is unabashedly right-wing. William F. Buckley, Jr., was ISI's first president.
The test is an interesting and fairly straightforward assay of knowledge of civics, current events, history, government, and finance. (Without bias.) Take a shot and see how you stack up. If nothing else, you'll probably learn you are smarter than a whole bunch of college educators. Exactly who's in this category is not immediately clear, but they got an average score of only 55%.
Among those that just missed the cut: Our Last Summer (ABBA), Gone in September (Mike Posner), Summer Rain (Johnny Rivers), Boys of Summer (Don Henley), and On the Way to Cape May (Tommy Zito - What is the matter with you people?)
Check back again after Labor Day and see how your summer went. Meanwhile, don't forget to use sunscreen, stay safe in the water, and be careful when making your memories. They tend to last a long time.
5/4/12 -- 1,000 Words: "Dow Closes Down 168 Points on Weak April Jobs Report" (AP)
It is silly to answer a modern question by imagining thoughts that dead people never thought. The Framers had no intention about gun control because they never thought about it. Neither did the people who voted to ratify the Constitution.... Guns, like limited suffrage, were taken for granted. As Newton could not have imagined a regime where his formulae do not work (Quantum Mechanics), neither could those men have imagined one without private guns or one where women voted.
4/19/12 -- 1,000 Words: 62.5% Say the Country Is on the Wrong Track
Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
4/17/12 -- Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Department
Your mom ever tell you, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is"? Mitt Romney's mom, evidently, did not. Nor did the mom of his press secretary, Andrea Saul, who supposedly did the math on Romney's celebrated women's employment factoid.
"Romney campaign says 92.3% of the jobs lost under Obama were women's jobs."
This claim is based on the same rationale Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom used with "Springtime for Hitler,"
their Broadway play that would make them wealthy because it was sure to be a box office disaster.
How does that work? Simple. People don't pay too much attention to numerators and denominators in their daily struggles. Your head hurts already at the mere mention of numerators and denominators, doesn't it?
Even the jaded are thinking to themselves, "I may not like the man, but could that statement really be true? What could Obama have done, aside from be Muslim, to cause a whole bunch of women specifically, and not men, to lose their jobs?" And the suspicion would be justified.
This type of rhetorical fallacy is called post hoc ergo propter hoc. The math is correct. But the inferential presumption that there's a causal relationship between two separate events (a. Obama walks into the White House in the midst of a recession and b. the employment figure for women as a percentage of total employment goes down by x in y months is neither supported nor persuasive. Having observed the correlation, one is obligated to make the case. (It happened because he did this or that.)
Frankly that would be such a lot of work. And anyway the math is much more fun, so let's just do the math.
How did they come up with that number? It, like the syllogisms you learned to create in college, is valid. But that doesn't necessarily make the conclusion true. Remember syllogisms, way back in freshman year? No? Well, it turns out it's something you should have held on to if you wanted to be an informed political audience in 2012.
Depending on how high you were back then, the following may or may not help you: Syllogisms would have come right after the cursory grammar, spelling and punctuation review but before the study of literary conventions like metonymy or litotes and rhetorical fallacies like argumentum ad hominem or the aforementioned post hoc ergo propter hoc.
A little over the top? Okay, just try this.
The Great Recession officially began Dec 2007 and ended July 2010. Before 2008 we were gaining jobs. And we've been gaining them since Oct 2010.
Basically the economy lost jobs between Feb 2008 and Oct 2010. (Women's employment continued to rise through March 2008.)
If you look at it all together, it looks like this.
Job Losses: The Big Picture
Women's losses as pct. of total: 36%
Here's how that unfolded, broken up into bite-size chunks.
Great Recession Job Losses
wind-up: Jan '08-Sep 08
Women's losses as pct. of total in period: 20%
crash: Sep '08-Jul 10
Women's losses as pct. of total in period: 36%
recovery: Jul '10-Mar '12
Women's gains as pct. of total in period: 26%
So during the entire period, women comprised about 49% of the workforce, and they lost 35% of the jobs, so actually they fared a little better than men. Sorry, Mitt.
Both men and women began gaining jobs in Oct. 2010. Proportionally, more men lost their jobs before Jan 2009, and more women lost their jobs after Jan 2009. The public sector didn't start shedding jobs until 2010 but has still not yet shown any real job growth.
Here is how the Romney folks calculated, using just a slice of that history.
Job Losses: Romney Time
Jan '09-Mar '12
Women's losses as pct. of total in period: 92.3%
There's nothing wrong with that math, but it doesn't tell you very much about what happened. It's merely a reflection of diverging trends between two populations with different characteristics within a narrow (and not representative) time frame taken from a larger historical period.
Whew. A mouthful, no?
(They could have painted an even worse picture by using statistics for private sector employment only, rather than total non-farm employment, which includes public sector jobs. Then the percentage of jobs lost by women would have risen to 150% of jobs lost. But as soon as you saw that, alarm bells would have been going off. Doubtless they thought it would be easier to sell the 92.3% figure. Nobody said they were stupid. (Certainly not Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.)
To measure job loss in a meaningful way it behooves you to measure from when the losses started. Otherwise you're just messing around with numerators and denominators. You can't really divide the recession up into the Bush recession and the Obama recession.
And if you keep measuring after the declines have reversed themselves, well then you're measuring the recovery. Which is also valid, but different.
Ignoring such niggling details just skews up your numbers. A little like pointing out that a man drowned in a creek with an average depth of three feet. Or saying the Yankees should get the "W" because they outscored the Sox in the last three innings. Statistics is funny stuff.
The one thing Obama might conceivably have done wrong is not to take office sooner. If he'd become President in January 2008, for instance, women would have done much better on his watch.
Democrats would probably be quick to argue everybody else would have, too, although that might be leaping to conclusions. Yet again.
3/22/12 -- What Has Romney Learned?
Mitt Romney has dismissed both challenger Rick Santorum and President Barak Obama as economic lightweights, in contrast to him, an economic heavyweight. Ah, two targets with one shot.
It remains to be seen whether the likes of Alan Blinder, Andrew Samwick, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, Christina Romer or Paul Krugman would recognize him as one of their own. Most of those folks have a PhD in economics (not Geithner) and years of service as a practitioner in the field. They have held actual heavyweight positions in academia and government as well as the private sector and are published, recognized authorities on the subject.
A 1984 photo of Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital partners flush with cash, used here unfairly out of context.
More to the point, one doesn't see economists clamoring to be President. They're happy to advise, for a while, but don't generally want the job itself. You don't even see that many CEOs running for President. There were Pat Robertson, Donald Trump (however briefly) and Ross Perot, but mostly one sees politicians. (It's hard to know whether Herman Cain was ever really serious.)
Past performance as an economist or CEO doesn't guarantee future success as a politician. Lee Iacocca thought just the opposite. Maybe there's a reason Romney was a one-term governor and came in second in his 2008 Presidential primary run and in his only congressional race.
There's an arugment to be made that if Romney can convince the Republicans he really is a conservative, there could be no better testament to his political chops. Others might feel it would carry more weight if he'd actually run against any viable candidates. A school of thought holds Romney has won nothing in the primary campaigns; it was inevitable the others would all find a way to lose.
No matter. One wonders what Romney thinks he knows that has escaped legions of highly trained economists. Surely it involves more than just eliminating capital gains, cutting taxes on high-earners and unfettering the country's business and industrial might from the bonds of excessive regulation. These bromides are hawked by every Republican who roams the earth. Could it be, like Sen. McCarthy's list, Romney's knowledge is more concept than construct, perhaps even more ephemeral than real? McCarthy never divulged his list.
Even conservative economists concede there is likely no way out of the deficit problem that doesn't involve increased revenues (See Frum Forum's Conservative Economists: Raise Revenue.) That's because, contrary to the wisdom of the majority in congress, Washington has a bit of an income problem after all.
Indeed it was revenue declines, resulting from the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, that first led the country on its eleven-year sojourn in the parched, desolate land of deficit spending.. Does Romney have a cure for that? And will Grover Norquist approve?
Was it something Romney saw in his brief tenure as CEO of Bain and Co. (1991-92) that gives him a perspective others are missing? Before that, he was without question a gifted turnaround artist and a highly sought-after consultant.
So much so that the company sponsored him in a spin-off that offered out his consulting services and those of about 10 fellow consultants in return for not merely fees but equity stakes in their clients. He had great success but the focus was a bit narrow for a world leader. Or for an economist.
He was essentially a portfolio manager who offered performance-improvement management guidance. Kind of like the financial equivalent of Highly Engineered Risk insurance (for those with an intermediate or above knowledge of the commercial insurance game). He had to give good advice, and he also had to pick clients who had good turnaround potential to begin with. But pretty micro stuff, as economists would say.
It may or may not be experience a President could call upon, but one disconcerting aspect to it is it involves two things Republicans unceasingly accuse the Obama Administration of doing: trying to pick winners and imposing prescriptive constraints on a business's natural creativity.
Romney's got other credentials. He's a lawyer, something he has in common with 60% of US Presidents. And he's got a business degree, something only one President (Bush 43) brought to the White House. (Alan Webber points out in The Christian Science Monitor, that there has never been an American President who was a pure business executive or CEO, at least in the modern sense of the title.)
James Fallows has observed that in the beginning even FDR wasn't FDR. Whoever gets into office has to rely initially on natural skills, most notably intelligence and the wits of a fast learner, and then gradually apply his own judgment, political instincts and life experience to the job.
Obama unquestionably had intelligence and has proven a quick learner. He's politically astute if not, in John Boehner's estimation, the world's shrewdest horse trader. But as for life experience, he didn't really have much. That was one of the objections opponents raised repeatedly against him in 2008.
In the end, maybe it is possible to overrate the value of life experience. Nobody had a finer-looking resume than Herbert Hoover. But perhaps no amount of experience could counterbalance the gravity, and the depth, of the economic catastrophe he faced. One thing FDR took office knowing was to throw conventional wisdom out the window because nothing Hoover tried wound up working.
Poor Ike. He's used to being a general. He's going to come into the White House, and he'll order people to do this and do that, and nothing will happen
Truman on Eisenhower, 1952
How might President Romney deploy his intellect, problem-solving abilities, investment acumen and management skills against the challenges of his new role, a job most experts agree nothing can really prepare you for? Well, a man's got to start somewhere.
One of the things he might conclude—once he got his sea legs under him and could focus on things through his own lens rather than that of the horde of pecking ducks that comprised his advisers—is that the break-up value of the country was higher than its market valuation.
His instincts might tell him what was called for was a massive asset selloff to raise sorely needed cash and a balance-sheet reorganization. He could sell off half the states along with their assets and their populations. Then he could buy back the existing domestic debt, pool it with the cash raised and swap it all into equity, which could then be distributed to the remaining population in the form of equity participation shares.
This distribution would, of course, be in lieu of any further government obligations in the way of Social Security, income security, welfare payments or Medicare. That would go a long way towards balancing spending and revenues, at least in the short term.
He could then just outsource basic government obligations to willing third-party providers in order to cut down on the costs of federal infrastructure. For instance, defense and national security could be sub-contracted to the government of Iran, thereby solving two intractable problems in one brilliant stroke. Any aggression on Ahmadinejad's part would prove disastrous to his nation's new business model. The two countries' national interests would be perfectly aligned. Kissinger would be so proud.
With any luck, the asset/debt equation after the asset sales swaps and balance sheet right-sizing would come out pretty much to a wash, thereby eliminating most of the national debt, although it would shift a tad toward the negative after declaring the inevitable LBO performance bonus for himself and a select group of senior advisers, as a reward for the scope of their financial reengineering services. That of course would have to be financed, at least at first.
With all that in place, President Romney could, picking the appropriate moment, announce to the nation that, his work done, he would not serve out his full term but would instead be retiring with family and several key administration members to the Cayman Islands.
In return for safe passage, he would promise that none of his descendants would ever run for US President. Not that they'd have to, with the payout he'd negotiated for himself and his progeny. Or for that matter would even seek to be allowed back into the United States.
The five-year survival prospects for the leaner, meaner, reconfigured, reorganized country? Probably 50-50. Not much better than the track record of Romney's early LBOs at Bain Capital. After all, no man can be expected to be a total genius in such a difficult situation right out of the box. It would take a little sacrifice from the rest of us to make it all work.
And what good would genius be in a President anyway? The two Presidents acknowledged to possess the most smarts in modern times were, by almost all accounts, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. What good did it do them?
What they did when they weren't being President
other govt positions
Figures add up to more than 100% because Presidents are shameless multi-taskers
3/11/12 -- Shudda, Cudda, Wudda
Rush Limbaugh's meltdown over Sandra Fluke's contraceptives testimony was orchestrated by a White House conspiracy, opines Bill O'Reilly. It was "manufactured to divert attention away from the Obama administration's disastrous decision to force Catholic non-profit organizations to provide insurance coverage for birth control," he charged.
Thus keeping his perfect record intact. The preposterousness of such a notion was encapsulated neatly in a posting on the website News Corpse .
Somehow the President's strategists concocted a plot wherein an unknown law student would manage to manipulate the Republican chairman of a congressional committee to refuse to let her participate, and then she would trick the country's top radio talk show host into verbally assaulting her. What could be simpler?
Darrell Issa (R-CA.) is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Officially it has legislative jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, the government procurement process, federal personnel systems, the Postal Service and other matters.
In practice, the committee has evolved into congress's investigative arm for looking into virtually anything it wants. Its chairman is the only one in congress with direct subpoena powers. Between 1997 and 2002, it issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party, at a cost of more than $35 million.
When Issa became chairman, following the 2010 congressional elections, he promised to launch scads of investigations to ferret out executive branch waste, abuse and fraud, calling the Obama White House the most corrupt in history. So far his committee has held hundreds of hearings and made more than 700 requests for information but issued fewer than two dozen subpoenas. Moreover, The Washington Post has reported that many of the efforts resulted in no follow-ups, hearings or reports.
It would seem like an improbable role for a man whose personal record includes multiple and variegated brushes with truth, ethics and the law (on his way to becoming the sixth richest member of congress). Ah, the ironies of life. (As a congressman now for 11 years, Issa might brush aside such a slur on his past by invoking Big Julie from Chicago, who thusly defends his own wayward youth in Guys and Dolls: "Ever since then I have gone straight, as I can prove by my record—33 arrests and no convictions." Actually, Issa has one conviction.)
In fairness to Issa, his most recent hearings were never intended to examine the appropriateness of women getting access to contraceptives as part of health care coverage. Rather, he wanted to explore whether the executive branch was impinging on the religious freedom of those who make health care decisions at religious-affiliated hospitals, universities and the like.
If anyone questions that, they need only refer to the title of the hearings: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama administration trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"
Issa allotted minority committee members only one witness; he rejected Fluke, however, because she was not a member of the clergy. He also faulted Democrats for not submitting her name in time for proper vetting. He received the request on Feb. 8 for a Feb. 10 hearing.
Subsequently, Fluke gave her testimony at a special, unofficial hearing convened by House Democrats. The rest is history, thanks in large part to Rush Limbaugh's imprudent, even by his own reckoning, tirades.
Whatever one thinks of Fluke, her bona fides, her comments, what she stands for or even her sex life, there seems to be consensus on both sides of the aisle that Issa probably should have taken the advice of the American Christian pop rock band, Capital Lights, and just Let the Little Lady Talk.
The tables were already tilted pretty well in his party's favor, and at a full hearing Fluke would have been just another speaker. Does anyone remember a single thing any of the other witnesses said?
No one forced Limbaugh to go off the deep end, and not even O'Reilly could have predicted it, really. But alone in the spotlight and before a sympathetic panel, with no one to cross-examine her basically anecdotal testimony, Fluke did far more damage than she might have. Reporters covering the stacked-deck format at the full hearing were in full-hunt mode for a story, and Rush Limbaugh, in unusually ham-fisted fashion, obliged them.
Limbaugh was just being Limbaugh. (Remember Don Imus?) The Rush Limbaugh show offers up a brand of exaggerated, crudely-framed and often cleverly comic ideological contemptuousness that plays very well with its base audience (about 80% male and mainly conservative). Usually they are the only ones listening.
But with this story and the way Limbaugh handled it, his rants scorched the ears (and eyes!) of a much broader swath of humanity, populated with far more women. What's funny in the locker room isn't always funny at the mixer after the big game. Many took offense.
In the wake of his raw, and sustained, tarring (of a non-combatant, so to speak, although some will surely argue) and the somewhat weak-kneed reaction by Republicans, Limbaugh's show has lost upwards of 40 advertisers (update), and women's support for the Republican party has plummeted. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised more than $1 million with a new "War on Women" campaign, and Obama's reelection campaign has launched a series of "Women's House Parties" to organize female volunteers.
In medieval times, the media elites, when they got done having so much fun with it, would have settled for an epilogue along the lines of "Hoist with their own petard." Only it remains to be seen whether this story is even over yet. Might the ill-will linger all the way to the election? Obama at this moment trends ahead of his Republican challengers in polls, and on the generic Congressional ballot, Democrats have now pulled even with Republicans, who had hoped to take over both Houses.
Rush Limbaugh isn't going away and will probably even get his advertisers back, either the same ones or a whole new flock. But what's worth pondering is that women comprise more than 50% of the electorate these days.
Women: they're so touchy. No wonder guys don't want them in the locker room.
Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed
Georgetown President John DeGioia
quoting St. Augustine, in a letter concerning Sandra Fluke's treatment addressed to the Georgetown community
3/1/12 -- No Words; Just Music
(right-click for controls)
Well, a few words. (You may as well ask Roger Rabbit to resist Shave and a Haircut.)
This video clip features Floyd Cramer (Mr. Piano) and Chet Atkins (Mr. Guitar) in 1965, possibly on the Jimmy Dean Show. On his show Dean made a sustained effort to give country music headliners mainstream exposure. He also gave Jim Henson his first national media exposure. Rowlf the Dog was a regular on the show.
The lead-off ditty is called On the Rebound, which Cramer wrote and released in 1961, a year after his breakout hit, Last Date. Cramer was by then already a highly sought-after session musician. He originated the "slip note" or bent note piano style, in which two notes are struck almost simultaneously so that one leads smoothly into another. Today it is one of the most identifiable types of riff in country piano playing.
Cramer, who was basically self-taught, once remarked: "Music is emotion, mood, regardless of what you name it. I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed as playing only country or pop."
In his heyday, Floyd Cramer backed up just about every headliner who came to Nashville to record, including Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, The Browns, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, and the Everly Brothers. If they couldn't book him when they wanted, they'd wait.
He played piano on Heartbreak Hotel. You gotta listen; but if you do, his contribution to framing the song is unmistakable, the way Sinatra's "saloon song" piano player, Bill Miller, used to do for Ole Blue Eyes.
Cramer was a musician, not a singer. He wrote Last Date as an instrumental. It peaked at number one on the country chart and at number two on the Hot 100. It was an international hit as well.
And it had legs. Skeeter Davis (The End of the World) recorded it in 1960 with lyrics she and Boudleaux Bryant wrote. Their version was called My Last Date (With You), and it, too, was a top-30 pop and top-five country hit (1961).
Also in 1960, the Davis lyric version was released as a single by Joni James and as an album track by several artists including Ann-Margret and Pat Boone.
In the mid-1960s, Lawrence Welk recorded an instrumental version of the song; the piano-dominated arrangement stuck very closely to Cramer's original version.
In 1972, Conway Twitty recorded the song with new lyrics he'd written. It was called (Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date and was his seventh solo number-one on the U.S. country chart. It spent one week at number one and a total of 13 weeks on the chart.
In 1982, Emmylou Harris recorded the Conway Twitty version as (Lost His Love) On Our Last Date which became her fifth number one on the country chart as a solo artist.
In 1987, R.E.M. recorded the Skeeter Davis version for the B-side of their single It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).
Deborah Harry covered My Last Date on her solo album, Debravation, released in 1993. Her styling of the song, to some, out-Skeetered Skeeter Davis in its plaintive quality. But you can be the judge.
Ah 1960, when everything was still in front of us. Including things like warnings on cigarette packs. A lifelong smoker, Cramer died of lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 64. Too soon.
Okay, he wasn't a rock legend, but Davy Jones (died Feb.29 at age 66) had an enduring charm. And Daydream Believer ('67) was a better pop song than many. (The Monkeys' last #1 U.S. hit, it was written by John Stewart who replaced Dave Guard in The Kingston Trio when the latter left to seek purer art. Could Stewart have made a better statement on his own feelings toward the genre?) An actor from an early age, Davy Jones played the Artful Dodger in the stage show Oliver and got nominated for a Tony. He appeared with the Broadway cast on Ed Sullivan the same night The Beatles made their first appearance on the show. Jones said of that night, "I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that." Well done, Davy. You got pretty close.