Archive for May 25th, 2011

May 25, 2011

Two Sides to Sarah Palin

by Vince

Joshua Green has a great piece out in this months issue of The Atlantic on the two sides to Sarah Palin. He breaks it down into two general categories: her time as a reformist in Alaska and then everything after her VP-acceptance speech at the Republican National convention. I will highlight some points, but it is worth a full read.

Throughout most of its history as a territory and, after 1959, as a state, Alaska was a tenuous proposition, a barren outpost rich in resources yet congenitally poor because the outside interests that extracted them didn’t leave much behind. The main obstacle to statehood was convincing Congress that Alaska wouldn’t immediately go bust. It still relies heavily on aid from Washington, and that, combined with the federal government’s holding title to 60 percent of its land base (the state itself holds 28 percent more), generates a robust resentment of federal power. The colonial mind-set is reinforced by the intensity of the state’s politics, a common attribute of remote settlements like Alaska, as the historian Ken Coates has noted—think Lord of the Flies.

Irony, isn’t it? Next, her political traits that evolved as she left Alaska:

…she displayed all the traits that would become famous: the intense personalization of politics, the hyper-aggressive score-settling—and the dramatic public gesture, which came next.

This score-settling style evolved, in my eyes, from easy enemies (corrupt Republicans in Alaska) to national figures (Barack Obama, et al).

Next, to put some perspective on how Alaska is politically:

Alaska’s parties align differently from parties elsewhere—they’re further to the right and principally concerned with resource extraction. The major philosophical divide, especially on oil and gas, is between those who view the state as beholden to the oil companies for its livelihood, and will grant them almost anything to ensure that livelihood, and those who view its position as being like the owner of a public corporation for whom the oil companies’ interests are separate from and subordinate to those of its citizen-shareholders. “Oil and gas cuts a swath right through ordinary partisan politics,” Patrick Galvin, Palin’s revenue commissioner, told me.

Now, for the reformist in her, she created ACES (Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share), a tax-base program that helped bring Alaska to a comfy $12 billion surplus, as well as enacted other moderate measures:

At first, her team tried to win the Republicans over. But it became clear this wasn’t going to happen. So Palin did something that would be hard to imagine from her today: she pivoted to the Democrats. “We sat down with her and said, ‘If you want to get something passed, it’ll have to be much stronger,’” Les Gara, a liberal House member, told me. “And to give her credit, she did what she needed to get a bill passed.”

In the end, Palin essentially grafted the Democrats’ proposal onto her own. What she signed into law went well beyond her original proposal: ACES imposes a higher base tax rate than its predecessor on oil profits. But the really significant part has been that the tax rate rises much sooner and more steeply as oil prices climb—the part Democrats pushed for. The tax is assessed monthly, rather than annually, to better capture price spikes, of which there have been many. ACES also makes it harder for companies to claim tax credits for cleaning up spills caused by their own negligence, as some had done under the old regime.

She kept herself focused, too: though priding herself on her well-advertised social conservatism, she was prepared to set it aside when necessary. Rather than pick big fights about social issues, she declined to take up two abortion-restriction measures that she favored, and vetoed a bill banning benefits for same-sex partners of state workers.


Her personality traits, as mentioned, went national and marred her image. Some of this traces back to one of her former aides, Frank Bailey:

Palin obsessed over her image, even more than most politicians. According to Bailey, she orchestrated a campaign to inundate newspapers with phony letters praising her. This evidently became a favored tactic. Bailey even includes a letter he says she wrote under another name accusing an opponent, John Binkley, of copying her Web-site design. (Excerpt: “This may not seem like such a big deal, but not having an original idea and taking credit for someone else’s work gives us a clue of how Johne [sic] works.”) In the idiom of the Web, Palin was a troll.

Much of this was harmless (if also pointless) and would not have undermined her political career. Politicians from Nixon to Clinton have been similarly consumed and still flourished. But Palin also committed more-serious ethical breaches. The most notorious of these involved her attempts to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, and included Palin’s removal of the trooper’s boss when he didn’t comply with her wish. An investigation by the legislature found that, in some of her actions, she had abused her powers.

Palin seems to have been driven by a will to advance herself and by a virulent animus against anyone who tried to impede her. But this didn’t prevent her from being an uncommonly effective governor, while she lasted. On the big issues, at least, she chose her enemies well, and left the state in better shape than most people, herself included, seem to realize or want to credit her for. It’s odd that someone so preoccupied with her image hasn’t gotten this across better. And it raises the question of what she could have achieved.

“The thing that strikes me again and again is that she was so single-minded when she got here,” Gregg Erickson, a former senior state economist and co-founder of the Alaska Budget Report, an influential political newsletter, told me. “The problem with amateurs in politics is that they often lack that focus. She had it. She was terrible at running a staff, and given that, it’s amazing she was successful. But on the issues she made the focus of her administration—the oil tax and the gas line—she had good staff, listened to them, and backed them up. She was a transformative governor, no question. If it hadn’t been for her stunning ability to confuse personal interests and her role as governor, she could have gone on to be tremendously successful.”

With all of this past her, below is what most of America in the lower 48 only know when they think of Sarah Palin:

Palin’s old colleagues were stunned. “The speech at the Republican convention that made her a star, that was just shocking,” French told me. “She could have said, ‘I’ll do for the nation what I did for Alaska: I’ll work with both sides and won’t care where the ideas come from.’ Her background supported that. Instead, they handed her a red-meat script she’s been reading from ever since.”

But all of that is overshadowed by the full-throated assault on Barack Obama, rooted in deep cultural resentment, that became the campaign’s ethos and remains Palin’s identity. What resonate are her charges that Obama wanted to “forfeit” the war in Iraq and that he condescended to “working people” with talk of “how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns.”

That didn’t carry her to Washington, but it did reshape the contours of American politics. Today, there aren’t many Republicans of the type Palin was in Alaska; but nearly every Republican seeking the White House strives to evoke the more grievance-driven themes of her convention speech. Regardless of whether she runs too, her influence will be more broadly and deeply felt than anyone else’s. But it’s hard to believe that her party, or her country, or even Palin herself, is better off for that.

Palin might have been the torchbearer of reform, a role that would have come naturally. Everything about her—the aggressiveness, the gift for articulating resentments, her record and even her old allies in Alaska—would once more have been channeled against a foe worth pursuing. Palin, not Obama, might ultimately have come to represent “Change We Can Believe In.” What had he done that could possibly compare with how she had faced down special interests in Alaska?

A final note on Palin, or a wake-up call to the GOP:

Palin’s achievement was to pull Alaska out of a dire, corrupt, enduring systemic crisis and return it to fiscal health and prosperity when many people believed that such a thing was impossible. She did this not by hewing to any ideological extreme but by setting a pragmatic course, applying a rigorous practicality to a set of problems that had seemed impervious to solution. She challenged supposedly inviolable political precepts, and embraced more-nuanced realities: Republicans sometimes must confront powerful business interests; to govern effectively, you have to cooperate with the other side; you sometimes must raise taxes to balance a budget; and doing these things can actually enhance rather than destroy your career, whatever anybody says. True reform—not pandering to the base—established Palin’s broad popularity in Alaska.

In the end, Alaskan Palin seems to me to be a decent candidate and much less polarizing. Then again, she might be better fit for smaller market gubernatorial seats that don’t attract as much attention when her normal craziness occurs.

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May 25, 2011

The Rapture and Religious Faith

by Vince

Andrew Sullivan has some amazing readers. They write to him in legions and include great thoughts. One of his threads gets to the point of asking this: is it nuttier to predict the date of the Rapture or to actually believe it will happen one day? You could even add on to the latter the belief that a man was revived back to life after three days of being dead.

To clarify, there is a difference between the literalist-factual camp of belief and the metaphorical-historical camp. Marcus Borg, a Jesus scholar, would fall in the latter category and his work is worth reading (and is highly accessible) if you want to parse this subject.

I believe that there is far less Biblical support for the Rapture than for Jesus’ resurrection. The multiple gospels speak well of the resurrection while the book of Daniel, Ezekiel, pocket verses from the Epistles, and the book of Revelations are questionable sources for those looking for literal answers.

Also, the prediction of the day when the Rapture will happen has dated back to at least before 1000 A.D. I myself see little point in predicting a date and am similar to Sullivan in that I question if a sudden apocalypse as we’ve come to think of it will really happen.

I am, however, a skeptic of the end-times altogether. Partly because I don’t believe that salvation has such a temporal quality. It is outside of time, as God is. That makes me a heretic in one respect.

Of all people, Harold Camping sums up this point quite well:

Radio evangelist Harold Camping said in a special broadcast Monday night on his radio program Open Forum that his predicted May 21, 2011 Rapture was “an invisible judgment day“ that he has come to understand as a spiritual, rather than physical event. “We had all of our dates correct,” Camping insisted, clarifying that he now understands that Christ’s May 21 arrival was “a spiritual coming” ushering in the last five months before the final judgment and destruction.

If you think about it, how often does Jesus “come again” into our lives? How often does He return, rise again, and bring new life into our beings? We can debate forever on whether the Rapture will happen or the exact date of it. What if we changed gears and got past the back and forth debate and asked: what does this actually means for us today? I would think those living in the early church would have little to take from this subject if they knew the world was going to end on some distant day or if the book of Ezekiel was speaking 2000 years into the future about present day Russia.

God intends to meet us in our lives, here and now, and of course still has some plan for the future. Thinking of the future is fine until it gets out of control and fabricated (Left Behind series).

May 25, 2011

The Generic, Boring GOP Candidate For 2012

by Vince

Tim Pawlenty. Dave Weigel provides a solid piece on him:

This is seriously unfair to Pawlenty, but you can understand what his party’s thinking. If prospective candidates were universities, and the Republican primary voter were a high-school senior applying to college, then Pawlenty would be the safety school. A bland, solid Midwestern land-grant university. The problem with a safety school, of course, is that no one’s in a hurry to RSVP “yes” to it. David Frum, who occasionally predicts that Pawlenty will win the nomination, puts it another way: “Predicting Pawlenty feels like reaching the wrong answer on a math exam. You do the calculation and you arrive at the answer, Pawlenty. You think: That can’t be right.”

This could be a similar issue with Gary Johnson’s campaign. How much do these two need to fire up the respective GOP and Independent bases to get the rousing support they need to compete?

Weigel also compares Pawlenty to Palin/Romney:

Why is Pawlenty such a hard sell to Republicans? It may be a matter of branding. Whatever a candidate seems to be, people try to find it in his speeches. Mitt Romney is branded as a guy who will say anything, so his speeches are combed for evidence of flip-flops. Sarah Palin is branded as an angry mom who’ll say anything and reaches the boiling point after the most minor insult; her speeches, tweets, and Facebook notes are read like the Kabbalah for more proof of the theory.

Daniel Larison sees shades of Mike Huckabee when he sees Pawlenty (as well as attributes possibly anathema or below par for the GOP base):

Pawlenty is a compromise candidate in a party that is largely tired of having to settle for what they can get. The few things that distinguish him and make him somewhat interesting to some conservatives, such as his working-class background and conversion to evangelical Protestanism, are things that make him seem to be just enough of a working-class Huckabee-like populist to give some Republicans pause. This means that people with money are probably going to be disinclined to give some of that money to him just as they were unwilling to support Huckabee financially.
Meanwhile, Pawlenty’s actual record is so reliably and generically mainstream Republican that he appears merely adequate rather than exciting.

May 25, 2011

The GOP In 2012

by Vince

“If Huntsman or Romney wins the nomination, and then Obama wins the election, the GOP will quickly shift from “loosely tethered to reality” to “out of its freaking mind.”Remember, after its crushing defeat in 2008, the party faithful concluded that John McCain lost the election because he wasn’t conservative enough—and that George W. Bush lost his popularity because of his big spending. So the party moved even farther toward its right-wing base, casting away moderates like Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and Michael Bloomberg. And its comeback victory in 2010 seemed to validate that strategy. A Huntsman or Romney defeat would just prove to the party that electoral salvation lies in ideological purity and rigid obstructionism, the kind of conclusion that already appeals to Tea Party activists who consider Obama some kind of tyrannical socialist usurper.” —Michael Grunwald, H/T: The Dish

Ain’t this the truth?

May 25, 2011

The Prison Flood Gates Are Opening

by Vince

The California Supreme Court upheld a decision to release 30,000 inmates. Conor Friedersdorf and Mark Kleiman are hoping they use the GPS-type trackers for these released offenders.

I have mixed feelings about this because I know it’s an imperfect solution. On the other hand, I do know that prison costs are (and have been) exploding. Conversely, I don’t think saving money should always point us towards blanket solutions that may jeopardize public safety

May 25, 2011

Crime Rates Are Down

by Vince


NYT
:

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

In a way, this is contrary to the vibe the Tea Party has given off. It’s been insinuated that they have been so fed up with the government and many other issues plaguing whites over 45 that they are bound to storm Washington and “take matters into their own hands”.

A scientific take on this topic here.

May 25, 2011

70 Pictures of Bob Dylan For His 70th Birthday

by Vince

Rolling Stone has ’em all:

Pictured: Bob Dylan performs at the Singers Club Christmas Party in London, December 22, 1962.

May 25, 2011

Plastic UPS Trucks

by Vince

They are testing them out:

UPS has more than 70,000 vehicles on the road, so gains in fuel efficiency can save the company a lot of money—and reduce carbon emissions for the rest of us. Their latest experiment is a prototype CV-23 truck, which has body panels made of ABS plastic instead of sheet aluminum. That means it’s about 1,000 lbs lighter than a standard truck and can run on a smaller engine. The upshot? It’s 40 percent more fuel efficient. The folks at Triple Pundit estimate it gets more than 14 miles per gallon, which might not sound like a lot, but could save around 84 million gallons of fuel annually.

UPS will be testing five of these plastic CV-23s, made by Utilimaster and Isuzu, through December 2011, on some of the company’s most bruising, high-mile routes. They’ll deal with rough rural roads in Lincoln, Nebraska; freezing temperatures in Albany, New York; and the heat of the Tucson, Arizona desert. If they survive, they’ll be incorporated into UPS’s permanent fleet.

And good news: ABS plastic can, in theory at least, be recovered and reused when the trucks have been retired.

You just hope the trucks don’t melt in Arizona. It will be interesting to see how they react to different types of weather.

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May 25, 2011

Political Cartoon of the Day

by Vince

Some other commandments you could add:

  1. Tho shalt increase the military budget.
  2. Tho shalt protect the fetus but refuse to provide a safety net during the rest of it’s life.