Tag Archives: Politics

Wisconsin Fight Club

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Governor Walker has a terrible problem that no one is talking about. He is an awful negotiator.

This goes to the core of his political problems. It is the one skill that is absolutely fundamental for a politician in a democracy. And he doesn’t know how to do it.

People who can’t negotiate often do one of two things, depending on the strength of their bargaining position. Either they walk all over the other party and create lasting ill-will and enmity that will become an obstacle to achieving future goals, or they give away the farm to anyone who makes them feel good enough about themselves.

I am astonished that the pro-business groups that supported Walker’s election didn’t and still don’t see this. Or it may be that they did see but considered themselves to be in the latter category, the soon-to-be recipients of the farm.

Unfortunately for them, Governor Walker had to walk all over some other interests in order to get rewards for his supporters, and the result has been a political firestorm.

Apparently forgetting about another business concept, “sunk costs,” they’ve decided that the only way to rescue their investment is to double-down and invest in his recall campaign too.

But surviving a recall won’t magically bestow negotiating skills upon Walker and his hold on the legislature has weakened, taking his bargaining strength with it. That means Wisconsin is increasingly likely to see the kind of inaction and stalemates that characterized Milwaukee County politics when Walker was the County Executive.

His stint as Executive ended in financial disaster for Milwaukee, a result that Walker blamed on some of the politicians that he had to work with, in other words, blamed on his inability to negotiate with them.

Walker has demonstrated this inability visibly and well. It’s right in front for all of Wisconsin’s citizens to see, if they would stop fighting about the issues long enough to notice.

This fatal flaw isn’t going to go away and it means that no one will get what they want, unless political conflict is its own reward.

Image: “Just Another Saturday in Wisconsin” by Flickr profile Jonbloy

Living for Babies

too many babies

It can get weird listening to liberals and conservatives talk past each other. Misunderstandings lead to frustrations and then the decibel levels rise.

Conservatives, who have been in full counterrevolution reactionary mode lately, have learned that ideas expressed in provocative language can trigger passions among their members.

Liberals struggle with the contradictions that they sense in the emotional terms used by conservatives.

Perhaps nowhere is the confusion more tangible than in the conflict between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who call themselves “pro-choice.” Often, it seems to pro-choice advocates, the pro-life legalized abortion opponents are also in favor of death dealing in the form of the death penalty, of war, and of torture. Moreover, pro-lifers seem to show little concern for the life and health of women and children.

Liberals are further confused when they see that the people who most loudly profess anguish that unborn babies are being “murdered” are often the same people who are against provision of birth control and who want abstinence to be taught in schools in place of sex education, despite growing evidence linking abstinence focused education with higher pregnancy rates. If abortion is murder and the goal is to reduce abortions then these things are counter-productive since sex education and birth control reduce abortion rates.

Pro-choice advocates say they are actually seeking to reduce abortions through sex education and birth control and so they object when pro-lifers describe them as “pro-abortion.” Why would anyone be for abortion, they ask.

It doesn’t help when legislators then seek to define “personhood” as beginning at conception on the premise that life begins at conception. Biologically speaking, eggs and sperm are just as alive as zygotes and embryos; there is never a moment during the reproductive process when the components are not alive.

But all of these seeming contradictions dissolve if the goal of pro-lifers is instead described as birth rather than life. Opposition to sex education is pro-birth. Restriction of birth control and abortion is pro-birth. The death penalty, war, and torture become unrelated issues. Poverty and quality of life, physical and emotional health are irrelevant to a pro-birth position. Gay marriage becomes a relevant issue as a threat to birth because gays would no longer be forced into a traditional marriage where they would be more likely to reproduce.

As for soaring rates of single motherhood, a pontificating Rick Santorum or a ranting Rush Limbaugh see single mothers as being to blame for making themselves available to men without a publicly blessed commitment. Men are supposed to couple with every fertile female available to them, that is their job. The female’s job is to be fertile and to carry and care for the resulting babies. Making sure that she has sufficient resources is her problem to solve. The pro-birth position is unconcerned on her behalf.

In this sense, the members of the pro-life movement are nothing less than the modern guardians of fertility, a firmly entrenched and primeval instinct in the human psyche. Once upon a time virgin females were sacrificed to appease this instinct, a clear incentive for young females to couple-up, and fast.

For these reasons clarity will be enhanced if we recognize that the pro-life movement should instead be referred to as the pro-birth movement. Then people have a better chance of talking about the actual issues instead of feeling baffled by the other side’s positions. Neither side is primarily for or against abortion (or life) per-se because abortion is not the real issue. The real issue is birth.

In the end it may come down to this: Some of us want to be married. Some of us don’t. Some of us want to have babies. Some of us don’t want a baby right now, or maybe not ever. And some of us want to force everyone else to marry and produce babies, all other considerations be damned. Whatever side that we find ourselves on, let’s call it what it is and allow our arguments to stand on their own merits.

Because true freedom and liberty require and deserve honesty and clarity.

Image: “too many babies” by Djuliet, on Flickr

It Was All Too Complicated To Understand, part 3

The Lady and the Tiger, 11/07/1917

“The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim.” – New York Times, “Why Vote” by Freakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

Politicians understand the value of Over-Simplified Solutions for Over-Complicated Problems too.

Because of slim odds, a large segment of the voting age population doesn’t even bother to vote. Yet across the country, politicians would have us believe that the odds are not so slim that mobs of coordinated criminals would willingly line up to commit felonies and risk prison in the hope that their illegal vote could sway an election.

In my state of Wisconsin and in some other states, politicians sold a Voter ID Bill as the simple solution to the over-hyped problem of voter fraud, despite a near complete absence of cases of fraud that might have been thwarted by the bill.

There was no evidence that the problem actually existed. Laws already existed to address it, should it ever actually happen.

The real result is that politicians have managed to create an additional barrier, raising the bar to voting enough to allow 89% of the national population to easily clear it, potentially culling some 3.2 million Americans from election day polls.

This certainly simplifies things for the politicians. They now have fewer voters to bother with or care about.

Image – The Lady and the Tiger, 11/07/1917 by The U.S. National Archives, on Flickr

It was All Too Complicated for Anyone to Understand, Ctd

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‘Never invest in a business you cannot understand.’ – Warren Buffet

Over-Simplified Solution, meet Over-Complicated Problem.

Marketers have known this forever. The key to selling a solution is to create a problem for it to solve. Hence, the mundane everyday realities of being human: dandruff flakes, under-arm odor, imperfect teeth, are portrayed as monstrous things that could get you shunned. No one will date you, mate you, hire you. You could be voted off the island. The quality of your character is as nothing compared to these superficialities. If you suffer from anything that may impair your attractiveness, you must correct this problem now, if it takes the last cent you have! Even if you have to access credit and take out a 2nd mortgage on your home.

After all, the solutions to these suddenly enormous problems are so simple. It’s merely a matter of money.

In the buildup to the financial crisis, the simple solution for the risk-averse and fudiciarily responsible was the Triple A rating. Any bond with such a rating was certified gold. No further investigation would be necessary. Behind the rating on a mortgage-backed bond was a world of complicated calculations. The truth of the bonds would not yield to any but the most dogged, possibly emotionally disordered, financial detective with weeks or months to spend digging.

Almost no one bothered.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet has famously advised to never invest in anything that you don’t understand.

Thousands (millions?) of investors substituted ratings for understanding, having no idea that the ratings agencies didn’t understand either.

The bonds appear to have been designed that way.

Image from Flickr commons – Professor Phillips and his machine to model an open economy

Mad yet? Vote for Spud Smasher!

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But the pension fund was just sitting there

Salon interviewed author Ellen E. Schultz, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, on her new book, “Retirement Heist,” which details the mechanisms that big companies have used to loot their own employee’s pensions and earned benefits. See: The Theft of the American Pension : Salon – Economics

From the looks of this interview, the book doesn’t go far enough. The theft of retirement savings is bigger than this, as the entire credit and mortgage scheme that collapsed the global economy was about siphoning pensions and global savings from their protected pools through fraudulently overrated and priced investments. Now politicians want to sell the idea that Social Security earned benefits are just another promise that must be broken. Don’t believe it!
Cash

From the mouths of babes: The curious changes of Sarah Palin

How a Personality Profile Helped Uncover John Edwards’ Lies

It’s easy for a confident liar to lie. Getting that same liar to tell the truth is another story, a story told by David Perel, former Editor-in-Chief, National Enquirer, in a recent post.

As Perel recalls, no one wanted to take the National Enquirer seriously when it published a piece about the pregnant girlfriend of a married presidential candidate. The man, John Edwards, denied it. Edwards’ aide supported the lie by claiming paternity himself. And with the supermarket tabloid’s long history of reporting ‘news’ about such fantasy figures as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, displaying photos of Satan’s face in a black cloud, denial was an easy sell for Edwards.

Incredibly, the Enquirer team had not expected the denial or the creative cover story. Edwards was betting that only his confession could validate the unsavory story. He wasn’t about to do it.

Unwilling to write off an actual news story and all of the effort and high-tech resources that getting it entailed, the Enquirer hired a mental health professional to help them to understand why Edwards was lying and how to gain his confession.

The analyst told Perel that Edwards was a man who prioritized and controlled his own carefully constructed image. He would never confess to anything unless it was the only way to keep some of that control. This knowledge changed the way Perel handled the growing evidence.

Perel held most of the evidence back but let Edwards know that the Enquirer team had stalked and photographed him throughout a recent encounter with his mistress. Edwards was given just enough information to realize that the Enquirer’s claims were true. From there his own imagination and guilty conscience could take over. Not knowing what else the Enquirer had, Edwards confessed to the affair but continued to deny fathering a child with his mistress, keeping some small control of the extent of his betrayal.

It was enough to validate the Enquirer. Thousands of man hours and the use of the best technology available had still come down to one thing: understanding Edwards and predicting his reactions.

According to Perel, letting Edwards imagine the worst was the only way to get him to tell some truth.

If we spent $3 million dollars on a planetarium in Iraq, would McCain notice?

My favorite class in high school was astronomy. That’s because my high school housed an actual planetarium, an unusual feature that attracted field tripping students from across the city. I still remember taking constellation and star quizzes in darkness so enveloping that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone my pen crawling cautiously across my notebook. My biggest fear was that I’d write one answer over the top of the previous answer and that when the lights came up I’d find a big scrambled scrawled illegible mess. Fortunately that never happened and the memory of stars circling in the darkness still brings a smile.

I guess Senator McCain never felt that way about astronomy because the incredulous comment he made last night about Senator Obama requesting a federal earmark for the famed Adler Planetarium in Chicago is only the most recent of many attempts to single the Adler out as an example of wasteful spending.

I’ve been to the Adler and I’ve taken my children there. They were as excited as I was to visit it. I don’t know how many millions of people, young and old, students, would-be or someday astronomers have visited the Adler Planetarium since it was opened in 1930 but it doesn’t seem that Senator McCain is one of them.

Visit the Adler Planetarium website here.

The Adler Planetarium released this statement to the press about Senator McCain’s remarks in the debate last night.