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My contributions here have tapered a little recently, and I should tell you about one change that's contributing to that a lot and one that I hope isn't more than a little.
About a month ago, I took up a new position at a university after seven years in my old billet, and between tying up loose ends at the old place, making the move, and learning the ropes in the new place, time has been at something of a premium. Nevertheless, it's an exceedingly beneficial change, professionally, spiritually, and frankly—from walking around campus—in terms of my health. What's more—and in no way less, I hope—I have also added a second blog to my roster: Motu Proprio. In this year's new year's post, I acknowledged that posting about Catholic issues had increased and asked if there were any objections; while none were made, there have been several times when I've wanted to post about Catholic issues but felt that they were inappropriate for SF, just too much, either in se or in the context of the recent mix of posts. I don't rule out future posts about Catholic issues at SF, especially when those issues are in the public eye (e.g. this) but MP is much more personal and is focused on those issues; I have a post introducing it (and for those who aren't regulars here, myself) here. I hope that some SF readers will join me there and find it interesting, but I also realize that many of you will do neither, and to that end have undertaken to avoid forcing it on the latter group. I've kept quiet about this development because I wanted to see whether I could run MP without it detracting from my ability to contribute here, and now conclude that the two coexist pretty well, taking into account the time constraints just mentioned.
So that's what's happening with me. What's happening with you?
Buried in a lot of crud, Drew Westen gives us this gem:
A second possibility is that [Obama] is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience.... Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
Priceless. How times change! Time was when folks like Mr. Westen would scream "racist!" at anyone who suggested such a thing. Someone's making progress...
When throwing around blame, it helps to see why S&P did the downgrade; why speculate?
* The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.
* More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
* Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon.
* The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.
This is about spending. This is about runaway spending. This is about reducing spending, not just reducing the pace of growth. And the obstacle to fixing these things is not the tea party or the Republican party (although rhetorical commitments to preserving entitlements don't help); it is the Democrats. Previous generations of Democratic leaders created the problem, and their successors today stand athwart the situation, so it's obvious what must be done. Step up to the plate in 2012, America! We fail to get this done at our peril.
Added: My fear about the joint committee is that the automatic cuts are going to be seen as a ceiling. The committee is charged to come up with cuts under threat of automatic cuts that are supposedly painful to both sides, so I worry that it will come to feel that its mandate is to avoid the "unacceptable" automatic cuts, which can only lead to committee proposals that fall short of the automatic cuts. That's a bad result because the automatic cuts are a good start, but they don't go even close to far enough. So the fiscal conservative's best bet is to ensure that the committee either fails to report or that its proposal is rejected, right? Well, not necessarily. In light of what S&P said, that approach has problems too, because S&P is worried about our institutional response to problems, and can't rule out a second downgrade based (in part) on those concerns. That kind of "passive cut" will help our situation on one level, but S&P's concerns make clear that if we want to put our house in order, we must actively and institutionally work to reduce the debt (that starts by balancing the budget next year). And that brings me back to my last point of the main post.
Polly Toynbee in the Grauniad, with my emphases and comments:
Tea Party madness has brought the US to the brink of economic mayhem, [She here links to an article that regurgitates the claim that America was on the brink of default. It was not. The great myth of the debt ceiling argument was that failure to raise the debt ceiling would immediately cause a default, but monthly revenues are and have been adequate to pay U.S. debts—even without a deal. No wonder she thinks that we were on the brink of mayhem, but she has in fact fallen victim to a kind of inverted version of the optical illusion whereby the peak of the mountain always appears to be over the next ridge. The brink wasn't where her misconception tricked her into thinking it was] risking taking much of the world with it. In the face of obdurate unreason, the president of hyper-reasonableness [!] was forced to surrender. The economic credibility of the country that holds the global reserve currency has wobbled. [And it was driven to do so, in large part, by people uncritically accepting the notion that default was on the table when it wasn't.] The political credibility of the world's beacon of democracy has failed in the face of an insurgency of unreason. [We are beset lately by claims that Congress has become dysfunctional (it has, but not in relation to this issue), that the whole system has become dysfunctional. But "the system is broken" isn't a shorthand for "I didn't get my way"; what's going on? Underlying such statements must be a normative claim for what the healthy function of government is. And in this case, I should imagine that the normative claim must be that the job of the government is to adopt the policy preferences of political elites without delay, deliberation, or room for doubt. I disagree. I didn't send Rep. Bucshon to Congress so that he could spend more of my great grandchildren's money; I sent him there to stop other people from doing so. While I remain dubious that the deal was in fact better than no deal at all—failure to raise the debt ceiling would impose an instant de facto balanced budget on the federal government, which is a good distance to where we ought to be—the fact is that the deal wrings real concessions on spending and has shifted the terms of the debate. From very nearly the get-go, the left's desire for tax increases was not taken seriously; the focus of revenue increases became closing loopholes and other tax code reforms, all of which is to the good in my mind. And almost everyone appears to have rhetorically accepted the needs for cuts; instead of talking about endless increases, we are now fighting over whether we shall have real cuts (now or later) or fake cuts—i.e. reductions in the speed of programmed growth—later. Accordingly, from my perspective, the system has worked very well these last few weeks. So you see, whether a system is "dysfunctional" depends on what you think the system's goals are.] Facts, evidence, probability, possibility – none of that matters to a movement founded on ferocious fantasy. [I must say that the Grauniad's editors could likely improve Toynbee's writing by quite some way if they were to discount adjectives when calculating her per-word pay.]
The founding fathers built a constitution of checks and balances believing reasonable men would agree [yes: if the founders had foreseen that the House would have the unbridled temerity to actually check the Senate and the President on so important an issue, they would never have given it such authority!Right?]; how could they foresee Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann or Glenn Beck? [None of whom had any significant influence on the immediate issue, but they're conveniently inflammable namechecks, especially if you're writing for an audience that doesn't know better.] To the British eye, America was always dangerously prone to waves of populism [that much I agree with] and McCarthyite panics. The country has reached a deadlock [wait. Wait—what? How so? We have just agreed to major cuts and, one way or another, further cuts will follow later this year. That doesn't seem like deadlock to me.] that may set it on a faster road to decline as absolute intransigence creates a constitution that no longer functions. [See above. the Constitution is functioning just fine. That you're not getting your way doesn't mean it's broken.] Why bother with the great show of presidential elections when presidents are denied the power to match their pomp? [A good question. Why is our image of the Presidency so divergent from the reality of the institution? A number of articles and books have addressed themselves to this puzzle over the years.] The politics of miasma, where words matter more than facts and actions, lets the Tea Party demand the impossible – debt reduction with tax cuts [entirely possible], spending cuts [entirely possible] without touching the gargantuan defence budget [(1) the defense budget comprises only about 22% of the federal budget; it isn't the problem. (2) I have yet to meet or even hear of any Republican who refuses to touch the defense budget]. Obama believed against all the evidence that his opponents would see reason. That's not who they are. [To the contrary, it is Obama's opponents who do see reason. I decline to be lectured on reason by someone dim enough to (apparently) believe that our accumulated levels of spending and promised future spending are viable or that we can tax our way out of the mess. To be with the Democrats on economic issues is not to be obdurate, or ferocious, or whatever other adjectives Toynbee has in her quiver: It is to be innumerate or in deliberate denial of the numbers.]
I worked in Washington during Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon; even in that national trauma there was not this unbridgeable detestation between the red and the blue. What happened? The rise of the Tea Party owes a great deal to Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV, the foghorn of extremism that changed the nature of political discourse. [Another good question—"what's changed?"—but that's not the answer. It's not even close. Far more effective than Fox has been the internet, which has allowed people of all stripes to talk directly to one another, free of boundaries and (sometimes flawed) proxies like the MSM. By the by, Sister T has some thoughts on this question in her post here, and it's worth reading in full.] Trouncing the competition, its propagandising for Tea Party views misinforms the electorate on just about everything: it is rivetingly frightening viewing. [It's banal, boring, and tiring lowest-common-denominator viewing. Let me not be thought a Fox fan.] It makes our own politics look civil, our commentating measured, our right wing moderate. [By comparison the Tory party looks moderate, certainly (Britain, unlike the United States, has a real far right, if one may use the conventional mis-situation of nazism on the political spectrum). And that's no surprise: One searches the Tory manifesto in vain for some semblance of ideas one could readily describe as conservative of any stripe. Britain's politics remains mired in a failed center-left social democratic paradigm which has achieved intellect-capture on both parties. All things are relative, and the Tories are on the right of this paradigm, but we do not find them advancing ideas with which Burke, Kirk, et al would associate.] But there is little doubt that had News International not fallen so spectacularly from grace, the Murdochs would have intimidated British politicians into changing our laws to allow unbridled political bias in broadcasting. Fox-style television would have battered its way into our living rooms, bringing us Tea Party politics too.
. . . .
She trails off into a rant about global warming (one of those flash-in-the-pan issues people used to care about a few years ago, if you don't remember).
Jonah and Sister T speak for many of us. I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of being called a hostage-taking extremist, a thug, a terrorist, a racist, an extortionist, a kidnapper, a racist, and so forth—all by the very people who presumed to lecture us about the need for civility in January (a disingenuous and ironically uncivil exercise though it obviously was at the time). And all this for what? For insisting that government live within its means. Lector, si tonum novum requiris, circumspice.
featuring Mitt Romney:
While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama’s lack of leadership has placed Republican Members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal....
As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped and balanced — not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table... President Obama’s leadership failure has pushed the economy to the brink at the eleventh hour and 59th minute.
You know what, Romney's statement makes sense everywhere, except of course, the real world, where the sun rises in the East, and two plus two equals four.
AND: This could be a stab in the dark, but something tells me this lady is not happy about this deal either. Geez-a-whiz.
George Weigel calls for wholesale reform of the Church in Ireland; generally, I'm skeptical of such large-scale measures, but in this case, I agree that the situation is too far gone for anything but radical and immediate intervention to work.
I know a few of our favorite guest bloggers and commenters now have Google+ accounts. What is everybody thinking about the new service? My own belief is that Google will ultimately fail at its continuing efforts to break into the social networking realm. I just posted a lengthy comment on the subject somewhere in the bowels of a ZDNet blog, thought I would reprint it here to get your take on it. I haven't bothered to update with links; if you have any questions about specific references, let me know, and I'll get you some more information on it.
What's your take?
Google+ won't succeed because it's just too connected to all of Google's other services. Why would I want to risk access to my e-mail identity, on-line document processing and storage, photo storage, and calendar (among other things) for violating some bizzaro rule about using my "real name" in Google+?
That's the fundamental dilemma for Google moving into the social networking realm. To make any sense, it HAS to tie all of its services together. But most users don't WANT to put all their eggs in one basket.
Relatedly, if I put something in FB, I KNOW that it's not private, and will be shared with at least some people. With Google, how the hell do I know? Is my Gmail status shared with people? I don't know. What else do I do on Google generally that I have to worry about whether it's being shared or not? The confusion of having the same account from the same company for both primarily private purposes (e-mail, calendar, docs) and for significant public purposes (Picasa photo sharing, Google+ posts) is just too much. It's hard for most people to fit it into a conceptual model.
Oh, and will all journalists and bloggers stop paying any attention to this "20 million users in X days" nonsense? The same numbers were trotted out with Buzz, and they were even more meaningless... Google practically forced everybody with GMail into Buzz. Here, they've gotten their 20 million in part by counting anybody who didn't entirely delete their public profile from Buzz (which Google made damn hard to do, the first week or two). A good chunk of the rest of the numbers comes from people going "eh, here's a button, I'll give this a shot for a day." A much better metric would be how much daily activity ON Google+ is going on (and not just activity that is on Google and somehow tied to a G+ profile, perhaps without the user's real understanding).
says Ross Douthatt. Following the story through NPR over the last two weeks, I'd second that; the GOP is losing the air war on this issue, unfair thought it is:
[The President] spent last week posing as the Last Reasonable Man in Washington, contrasting his willingness to compromise on entitlements with the House Republicans’ intransigence on taxes. To conservatives, this has been a galling spectacle. A president who spent his first two years in office taking spending to a historic high is accusing them of fiscal irresponsibility? A president who spent the spring demagoguing House Republicans for their willingness to restructure Medicare is citing a much more modest set of cuts as evidence of his fiscal seriousness?
Whoever said politics was fair?
TP wants you to know that the left is for democracy. Unlike us evil rethuglicans, the left thinks the people should get to decide.
Yeah, you read that right. TP is saying that it's the right that uses the Constitution (or their own self-styled variant of it) to shut out democratic control, that it's the left that's for letting the people make their own choices. The left is for the people making their own choices via the ballot box.* Yep.
*Does not include gay marriage, abortion, school vouchers, capital crimes, school prayer, non-coed schools, apportionment of state legislatures, flag burning, the pledge of allegiance, criminal procedure, speech codes, school conduct, regulation of violent video games...etc
TNR likes Ron Paul's proposal for the Fed to burn $1.6tn of bonds. Not as crazy an idea as it first appears.
Elsewhere, I had largely dismissed Michelle Bachmann as a vanity candidate with a chronic clue deficiency problem; so far as I can tell, she never became sufficiently interesting to say anything about her in these pages. I tend to think, however, that when someone is the victim of one of Matt Taibbi's vitriolic slime jobs (see this month's Rolling Stone, which I shall not dignify with a link), serious people should pause to reconsider the slime-ee, and so this more flattering Weekly Standard profile was well-timed.