Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The "Loyal" Opposition 2

Some, at least in the GOP, seem to have realized that intellectual bankruptcy will, if continued, give rise to electoral bankruptcy.

Here's some (off-the-record) strategy from Byron York at the DC Examiner:

"You're seeing a major doctrinal shift in how Republicans are going to focus all these debates," the strategist told me. "The key is to focus on winning the issue as opposed to winning the political moment. If you win the issue, people will think you are ready to govern."

I asked him to elaborate a little. "With the political moment, it's how can you find the one thing that gives you the momentary upper hand in terms of the coverage for the next six hours -- as opposed to engaging the electorate in creating a structural change in their opinion on which party is better able to handle an issue."
Whether this "change" in strategy makes it through the next news cycle will have to be examined, although York noted that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) apparently changed the subject rather than continue to talk about the stimulus package.

Worth remembering -- despite all the hot air about how effective the New Deal was or wasn't in combatting the Great Depression, there's one area where it was brutally effective: voting Republicans out of office.

In the 70th Congress (elected in 1928), the GOP had 56 Senate seats, against 39 for the Democrats (1 Farmer-Labor).

In the 71st Congress (elected in 1930), the 96 Senate seats were split 48 GOP, 47 Dem (with 1 Farmer-Labor).

In the 1932 election, 12 Republicans lost their seats, making the split 59 Dem, 36 GOP, 1 Fam-Lab.

By 1937, (i.e., just after the FDR re-election), the number of GOP had been reduced to 16.

Said another way, almost three-quarters of Republican Senators serving when Herbert Hoover became President were unseated within eight years.

The "Loyal" Opposition

Intellectual bankruptcy is not limited to Republicans inside the Washington Beltway.

Last night's rebuttal to the President's Address to Congress by LA Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) provided more of the same.

With the bottom of the economic fall-out from the eight years of the Bush Administration still nowhere in sight, Gov. Jindal had a remarkable policy prescription: the country needs less regulation, less oversight, and in effect, less guvr-mint.

In an courageous attempt at revisionism, it wasn't Bush Administration incompetence that exacerbated Katrina -- it was "some bureaucrat" that required rescuers to have insurance. (One does have to respect Jindal's chutzpah, however; you would think that the GOP would want to leave Katrina well enough alone.)

It's not an out-of-control financial system that brought the country's economy to a stand-still, but rather those who refuse to believe that "Americans can do anything."

And in a time when consumer confidence is at a historic low (according to the Conference Board, the index is at 25, down from 37 a month ago, and one-third the 75 from one year ago), the recipe is more of the same: less government, fewer taxes.

After the electoral losses in 2000 and 2002, many Democrats argued that the party needed to return to its roots. Gov. Howard Dean rode the borrowed line ("I'm from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party") to early fundraising and poll success in 2003. But Dean eventually flamed out, and it was Bush, not Kerry who was elected in 2004.

Jindal's message last night was eerily reminiscent of Dean's. The GOP problem was not that its policy prescriptions -- less government, less oversight, deficits don't matter -- were wrong, but rather that the GOP abandoned the hymnbook. The argument that the policies themselves are flawed in these times seems to escape both Jindal and the rest of his party.

Obama touched on the point last night:
A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well, that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
In fact there's only one group that currently seems able to summon organized opposition to President Obama: Wall Street.

While the POTUS tried to brush off the vagaries of the market with a line ("I understand that, on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives bank bailouts with no strings attached and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions, but such an approach won't solve the problem"), the market does have an effect on -- and reflect -- consumer wealth and consumer confidence.

This morning's opening -- DJIA down 150 at mid-day -- seemed to reflect Wall Street's continuing depression. And reflected that even as the President talks up the long-term future, in the short-term there's more pain to go.

Finally, Jindal's delivery was also a problem, as noted by even Fox News. But the style should not be confused with the substance. And the substance was bad enough.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All-Time Prescient Insights

Lansdale seized on the idea of using [Former VP Richard] Nixon to build support for the elections [in Vietnam], really honest elections this time. "Oh sure, honest, yes, honest, that's right," Nixon said, "so long as you win!" With that he winked, drove his elbow in Lansdale's arm and slapped his own knee.
David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, 1972.

Friday, February 20, 2009

'Terminator'-style Military Robots?

Attention given to military robots by the mainstream press attention has increased recently. Drones such as the Predator, a robotic drone (actually semi-autonomous, as it is actually tele-operated) have become an increasing part of the "G**T"(*)

Then just last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed that Predators have been operating out of a base located on Pakistani soil, causing a diplomatic row last week. And shortly after that disclosure, a drone attack killed 30 people in Pakistan, although the intended target (a Taliban leader) was apparently not killed.

On the heels of all of that comes a new report issued by the Office of Naval Research (part of the US Navy) and by three scientists at Cal Poly (Patrick Lin, PhD., George Bekey, PhD., and Keith Abney, M.A.) The study, entitled “Autonomous Military Robots: Risk, Ethics, And Design” appears to be the first of its kind produced by the military on the ethics of military robots, and covers a wide range of topics.

The mainstream press has picked up on the potential for a robot turning (or being turned) against its makers. The Times of London quotes one of the report’s authors, Patrick Lin, as saying “There is a common misconception that robots will do only what we have programmed them to do.”

FoxNews is running (as of this writing) a similar story on the report, entitled "Experts Warn of 'Terminator'-Style Military-Robot Rebellion."

The onus for the ONR Report may be the increasing use of robots by the military, a trend that will only increase in coming years. According to the ONR report, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 requires that by “2010, one-third of all operational deep-strike aircraft must be unmanned, and by 2015, one-third of all ground combat vehicles must be unmanned.”

The Report also explores the role that the Laws of War (LOW) (generally) and Rules of Engagement (ROE) (specific with respect to a mission or engagement) may play with an autonomous robot. While certain of the LOW/ROE may be challenged by autonomous robots (for example, who bears responsibility for a battlefield decision by a robot), the authors also indicate that unemotional robots may be less likely to commit atrocities.

The entire report is available here.

(*)- The struggle against terrorism that may become 'formerly known as' the "Global War on Terror"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Game On

Ten days ago, in the midst of the debate over the stimulus, Peggy Noonan -- the poet laureate of the GOP-in-exile -- wrote: "[Obama's] political mistake, which in retrospect we will see as huge, is that he remoralized the Republicans. He let them back in the game."

With the perspective of just a few days' time, Noonan's words ring true, but for a different reason. It's still a game. And GOP is still treating it as such.

Continuing a pattern that put the final bullet in McCain's presidential campaign in the fall, Republicans sense the fiscal crisis, and jump in with a gimmick. McCain himself suspending his campaign to rush to Washington on the eve of the first debate, then reversing his course. John Thune's stack of dollar bills. Eric Cantor's use of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" (subsequently revoked by the band.)

And finally, a roll call on the stimulus that found just three Republican Senators -- moderates all -- against 176 Members of Congress and 38 Senators all voting "No."

The result: a GOP that is in favor, at least institutionally, of continued bad news on the economy. Newly-elected RNC Chair Michale Steele said:
“I’m telling the party leadership around the country, don’t believe the hype,” he said. “There will be a slight uptick, it will flat-line, and it will continue to go down.”
That's great, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to the Great Depression II.

And to think that Pres. Obama was criticized for talking down the economy last week.

But once upon a time, the GOP was all for supporting the U.S.A., right or wrong. In 2007 (and perhaps unfairly), then-candidate John McCain did not pull any punches when he criticized those Democrats who opposed the Surge:
"I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering. A defeat for the United States is a cause for mourning not celebrating."
Unless, of course, GOP seats are at risk.

And the Game Goes On.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pulling the Thread

One loose end from President Obama's Inaugural Address: the mysterious quote that George Washington ordered read to the troops.

So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At the moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people:

'Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].'
In 1776, Washington and the Continental Army had abandoned New York (and Philadelphia) and near the Delaware River ("the shores of an icy river"). Thomas Paine, who was in camp, began writing (at Washington's invitation) a series of papers that became "The Crisis."

The first of these papers (from which the above quote was taken) was published in Philadelphia on December 19th. Less than a week later, Washington and his men climbed into wooden boats, rowed across the Delaware, and surprised the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, a moment captured (and turned iconographic) by painter Emanuel Leutze.

But it should come as no surprise to learn that previous presidents -- and in particular, Abraham Lincoln -- have made reference to the Delaware Crossing.

On his way to his Inaugural, Lincoln took a whistle-stop tour down the eastern seaboard (a trip repeated, in part, by Obama and VP Joe Biden last month). While in Trenton, Lincoln spoke to the New Jersey State Senate, saying:

May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, Weem's Life of Washington. I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New-Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in according with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.