Omakase

Friday, November 09, 2012

2012 election reactions

  • Though I voted for Romney, I'm not upset that Obama won. Both candidates were going to continue busting our budgets and limiting our freedoms. It's just Romney was going to do it with slightly more palatable judicial appointments. This election COULD nudge Obama towards the center and towards compromise. This notion is contrary to all evidence, but one can hope.
  • What I am disappointed about is Elizabeth Warren winning in MA. I liked Scott Brown, and think that Warren is full of ignorant populist crap. I tremendously dislike any politician who is driven by their perception of changing the world to meet her view of what's fair, and sees economic division as the best means to enact their vision. She's the embodiment of the limousine liberal, and while good intentioned, doesn't have any idea of the negative consequences of the policies that she advocates. Yes, her financial regulation ideas SEEM to benefit the little guy, but they have unseen consequences, such as raised costs that reduce access.
  • I don't agree with all of the talk that the Republican party is now sunk by (pick one) demographics, a liberal tidal wave, national acceptance of liberal social policies, or that the party's policies are inherently bad/unpopular. Instead, I think this election is an indictment of Republican party leadership. The whole "next man up" approach to picking a candidate needs to change. Dole '96, McCain '08, and Romney '12 were all nominees mostly because they were next in line. Surprise - they all lost. Obama was eminently beatable, but next-man-up meant that the R's ran a guy who was both the Father of Obamacare and an evil rich white vulture capitalist. Result: Romney couldn't really campaign on health care, even if Obamacare is very unpopular, and Romney was an easy foil to the "ask a little more of the rich" angle. In retrospect, running a candidate with those qualities was flat-out stupid.
    • To support this point, I need to demonstrate that some other candidate would have done better than Romney. It certainly wouldn't have been any of the other announced Republican candidates (Perry, Santorum, Bachman, etc.), but I've got to believe someone (Mitch Daniels? Jeb Bush?) could have been a more effective candidate.
  • It still stuns me that Obama's campaign (basically) ran without touting their first term OR clearly stating what their plans were for their second term. (That's how bad of a choice Romney was, as a candidate.)
  • I now look forward to watching Obama reconcile his policies and tendencies with the looming economic realities. Some kind of dramatic change in economics is inevitable in the next four years. How will Obama balance his core interest groups (such as unions) with economic challenges such as unsustainable public pensions. 
  • If I were in charge of the R's, the first thing that I would do is make Paul Ryan the Speaker of the House. Boehner is the embodiment of all of the party's flaws: old, devoid of new ideas, combative, and definitely not new media savvy or telegenic. Ryan, on the other hand, is vibrant, constructive, and following the presidential election, better known than Boehner. (He's also known for being able to go toe-to-toe intellectually with Obama.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Recent travels: Germany & Scotland

I just spent four of the last five weeks in Europe on business. The bulk of my time was scattered across Scotland, but I also had side trips to London & Cambridge in the UK, and Dusseldorf & Cologne in Germany. Here's a few highlights (click on any picture for a larger view):

Dusseldorf's "World's Longest Bar" in the Altstadt.

I was pleasantly surprised by Dusseldorf and Cologne. I had been told that these two Rhine cities were very industrial and very impersonal. Instead, I found them both to be very livable cities. They don't have high tourist appeal (they'll never be mistaken for Las Vegas, and Berlin and Munich have many more tourist sights), but I think you would be very happy to live in either city. Both cities are oriented towards the Rhine river, with nice promenades surrounded by bars and restaurants.

Speaking of bars, Dusseldorf has a collection of bars, clubs, and restaurants that they bill as the "World's Longest Bar"in the Altstadt. I had the good fortune of passing through the Old City on a Friday night, and I can say that it really might be true to its' name. 
Cologne's cathedral and bridge

Cologne had the same buzz in two separate areas, one with a view of the Rhine, but the real appeal of Cologne is the combination of the Dom (cathedral) and Hohenzollern Bridge, located next to each other.
Padlocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge, with the Dom and train station in the background

One neat thing about the Hohenzollern Bridge is the local tradition of couples in love placing a padlock on the bridge as a sign of commitment. There are literally thousands of padlocks everywhere you look.
While in Scotland, I had a spare weekend which is decided to split between the town of Pitlochry - a gateway to the Highlands - and Loch Ness.
Queen's View of Loch Tummel in Pitlochry, Scotland


Loch Tummel at sunset
Pitlochry is visually stunning. I rented a bicycle for a day to take in some of the scenery, pedaling among Blair Atholl castle, the Queen's View, and Loch Tummel.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
I generally try to avoid obvious tourist traps, and on the bus ride to Loch Ness I was really kicking myself for making the effort to visit such an obvious tourist trap.

Loch Ness panorama


But once the Loch came in view, you could tell that there was something special. For one, it's a beautiful setting. For another, there is something about the water that really makes you think with each ripple that you might have just seen Nessie. I didn't manage to see him (or her), but it was still a worthwhile visit.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I'm voting for.......


Just for my own enjoyment, what follows are my thoughts about the 2012 Presidential election. I wrote a similar post about the 2008 election that you can read here.

2012 is yet another election where our two party system has delivered us two lame choices. One candidate was a 1-term governor of a nothing-special state and his most recent political accomplishment was coming in a distant second to John McCain in the 2008 Republican primaries. The other candidate’s performance as President has been so underwhelming that his campaign ads only come in two flavors: either “I’ve got a plan,” or “the other candidate is really bad, and he’ll do bad things to you.”

(Sorry, Mr. President. You lose the right to campaign on your plan for the future when you haven’t even had a budget passed in most of your term, even when your party controlled both houses of Congress. If you can’t get a budget passed through a Congress you control, why should I believe you will get a series of legislative initiatives through a divided Congress?)

We’ve got two really bad choices, making the election a choice of the lesser of two evils. (Seriously. I can understand if you want to vote for your candidate because he’s not the other guy, who is way worse. I cannot understand anyone, though, who thinks their candidate is actually doing a good job, or going to do a good job. Anyone who thinks Obama is an effective, positive leader has been asleep the last four years, and anyone who thinks Romney isn’t a neocon and a repeat of Bush #43 isn’t paying attention.)


But rather than pointing out each candidates’ flaws (which might take up all of the space on the internet, though I do recommend reading this), I’ll illustrate how I arrived at my choice by describing my ideal candidate, and picking the one that comes closest.

In my opinion, the ideal Presidential candidate is:

-Constructive, and practically principled. My ideal candidate holds clear positions, but is willing to work with, or to do the deal with the other party that gets 70% of what the leader wants, rather than viewing any compromise as a loss. My ideal candidate also doesn’t demonize the other party or any group on the other side of an issue.

-Extremely limited in the application of the US military.  My perfect candidate would get the US out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and reduce American military commitments around the globe. Why, for example, are there still ~100,000 US troops in Europe 23 years after the Cold War and 67 years after the end of WWII?

-Socially quiet. I’m interested in “hiring” a commander-in-chief to execute the policies to improve the country, not to be our conscience-in-chief. On most any social issue our country is split roughly 50/50 (example: abortion). For any President then, imposing social policies is inherently a losing proposition – half of the population is likely in violent disagreement to a given policy. Let social policies work through other channels – state legislatures, for example. (I realize the concept of the socially quiet candidate is a bit na├»ve, but a real leader knows that there are three ways to make change happen, and brute force (i.e. driving a social change through legislation) is the least effective.)

-Fiscally prudent. I still don’t understand why the most prosperous nation on the planet is also the biggest debtor on the planet.  A balanced budget (or something a few trillion dollars closer) should be a central tenet.

-Unequivocally for free trade.

-Against any internet regulation. 

-Consitutionally limited. Once – just once – I’d like to hear a candidate say that something is a problem best addressed by something other than the Federal government. One great place to start: education.

In short, my ideal candidate is a Jeffersonian Democrat. Too bad they went out of style in the Democratic party decades ago. (Jeffersonian Democrats might even be extinct – I can’t think of any Democrats who would qualify.)

Grading both Obama and Romney against my wish list is depressing. Romney comes out at a slight advantage, largely because in some dimensions he’s an unknown, whereas we know how bad Obama is in a given dimension.  

There is one person on the ballot who scores fairly well versus my criteria: Paul Ryan. He’s demonstrated that he’s practically principled in his legislative efforts with Sen. Wyden (D) in health care, he’s certainly fiscally prudent, a free trader, and many of his positions are driven by an interest in limited government. He also is NOT loud or widely known for his stance on social issues.

Unfortunately, though, Ryan is only one the ballot as VP, but I’ll credit Romney with a bit of Ryan’s halo.

Also on the subject of VP, Joe Biden to me is a walking disaster. I don’t agree with his policies, but I am even more alarmed by his utter lack of principles (remember his theft of Neil Kinnock’speeches?), impact (he's been a Senator or VP for the last 39 years - can you name one thing he's done?) or frankly brains. Where are the people who slammed Bush #43 for umm, stupidity, when Joe Biden is a heart beat away from the Presidency, and IMHO a bigger moron? (And a crook, if the stories I’ve heard are even half-true.)

So, comparing Obama and Romney gives a slight advantage to Romney, but mostly because of Paul Ryan.  Really, though, the Presidential candidate that I most connect with this year is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. Unfortunately, he has no chance of winning.

I’m certainly willing to cast my vote for a lost cause, but I live in Virginia – a swing state with a very tight race. It's a tight race in Virginia, with the leader changing daily. State polls show everything from a 5 point Romney lead to a 4 point Obama lead in Virginia, so the only conclusion that I can reach is that it is a very close race. I like the notion that I am going to cast the deciding vote.

The last presidential election was a choice between two mediocre candidates. This election is a contest to decide which Harvard grad will do the least bad job of running enormous deficits. Neither choice is appealing for that reason, and I’m not hopeful that much will change.

But it is very likely that the next four years will see multiple appointments to the Supreme Court, and the next President will have a chance to significantly alter the demeanor of the Court.

Obama has already appointed two Supreme Court Justices (Kagan and Sotomayor), neither is considered moderate. I’m not a legal scholar, but my views are best characterized as a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, with a limitation on government power and against judicial activism. (I’m a believer in the now-radical position that the legislative branch is responsible for writing the law, not the judicial branch.)

So, only because of the Supreme Court impact of this election and a small Paul Ryan halo, I tepidly endorse Mitt Romney for President. If he wins, though, I won’t be celebrating. Instead I’ll be laughing about how the most powerful man on the planet wears magic underwear.

(Polls here in Virginia open in four days, so there’s still time for you to change my mind – leave me a message to set me straight.)

ADDENDUM: CLOSING ARGUMENTS REVEAL THAT BOTH CANDIDATES ARE FULL OF IT.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

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Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous