What’s really destroying America

Randomly found this on-line.  I’d take issue with the obligatory bipartisanship, but otherwise, pretty damn good:

What is really destroying America?

Republican Bizarro World

So, I was just reading that John Thune has decided not to run for president.  I’m pleased, as despite knowing very little about the guy, he struck me as among the more formidable challengers– no more crazy than your typical Republican elite, just very standard issue conservative, and a photo from central casting:

Anyway, what struck me about Chris Cilliza’s wrap-up was this bit:

And Thune’s voting record in the Senate — particularly his 2008 vote in support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — may well have been the primary stumbling block in his consideration of a presidential bid.

The idea that voting for TARP should disqualify you among the Republican primary electorate truly speaks volumes about how completely out of touch with reality said Republican primary electorate is.   Congress passing TARP (signed by President Bush) quite evidently saved us from a genuine economic freefall at the time.  Not voting for TARP was extremely irresponsible.  Further evidence of the Republican Bizarro World.

State Secrets

So, the government was apparently bamboozled out of $20 million on computer technology to catch terrorists, but the technology was essentially a hoax.  What to do when you’re the government officials and you want to avoid embarrassment and accountability?  Why invoke “state secrets” privilege of course.  Pretty disgusting story.  From the Times:

WASHINGTON — For eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists. Now, federal officials want nothing to do with him and are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his dealings with Washington stay secret.

The Justice Department, which in the last few months has gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of the technology out of court, says it is guarding state secrets that would threaten national security if disclosed. But others involved in the case say that what the government is trying to avoid is public embarrassment over evidence that Mr. Montgomery bamboozled federal officials.

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

What’s so crazy about State Secrets is that there’s not even any judicial oversight.  I.e., the government just gets to claim it, without even proving there really are state secrets at stake to a single judge.  How does this happen in a democracy?  Well, it does start with one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever– United States v. Reynolds (not to be confused with Reynolds v. US– a Mormon polygamy case).  In this case, Air Force widows sued to learn the truth after their pilot husbands were killed in an accident.  The Air Force claimed State Secrets.  Not until many years later was it learned that the “secrets” were all about covering up the totally non-secret mistakes that led to the accident.  And yet, this is the basis for the troublesome doctrine.  There was a great story about it on This American Life a few years ago.  Listen.

Scent of a woman

You’ve probably heard the oft-reported scientific finding that men find women more attractive when they are ovulating (purely on a sub-conscious, pheremonal level).  Turns out, there’s a fairly interesting twist on this.  From Science Times:

Each of the young men thought she was simply a fellow student at Florida State University participating in the experiment, which ostensibly consisted of her and the man assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks. But the real experiment came later, when each man rated her attractiveness. Previous research had shown that a woman at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle seems more attractive, and that same effect was observed here — but only when this woman was rated by a man who wasn’t already involved with someone else.

The other guys, the ones in romantic relationships, rated her as significantly less attractive when she was at the peak stage of fertility, presumably because at some level they sensed she then posed the greatest threat to their long-term relationships. To avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves she wasn’t all that hot anyway.

Pretty interesting.  And, in two totally unrelated facts: 1) my wife reads this blog (at least the non-political stuff); and 2) Of course I never find any other women attractive, regardless of the ovulatory status.

It’s the revenue, stupid

So, I’ve been grading midterms from my Distance Ed Public Policy class and the first question is about the deficit.  For starters, definitely shows the problem of teaching a Distance Ed class in such a dynamic discipline as Political Science.  The students watch streaming lectures that were recorded when I taught the class in Spring 2009.  The basic facts I explained about the deficit then are still very much on point.  Alas, the political discussion as of today has gone in an entirely unexpected direction.  Clearly, a lot of my students are more influenced the the hyperbolic political rhetoric on the deficit today than on my more sober and realistic explanation of things from two years ago.  Also, reflecting the changing political dialog– in most semesters a good number of students, including many Republicans,  advocate more taxes to address the deficit, but this time around that’s much less common.

Additionally, all the deficit talk is about spending, spending, spending, when the truth of the matter is that, for the most part,  our huge deficits are due to massively declining federal revenue from the shrinking and then painfully slow economic growth.  Obviously (as the likes of Krugman and my favorite bloggers have repeatedly pointed out), then, the key is to really do all we can to get the economy growing.  Cutting public TV/Radio budgets and planned parenthood isn’t exactly going to do that.   If this was a “real” class, I could make that point to my students fairly clearly during class sessions.  Alas, when most of their interactions with me are via lectures from two years ago supplemented by the occasional email link and discussion forum post, it’s pretty hard to do this.

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