Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carnival of Divided Government
Octô et Quadrâgintâ (XLVIII)
Special Apres - Tax Day Edition

Welcome to the 48th edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - The Special Apres - Tax Day Edition. A day of joy and celebration for all patriotic Americans eager to shell over their hard earned cash to our wiser, more enlightened leadership to distribute as they see fit.

"What will my money be spent on?
" the Dividist wondered as he dropped his return into the mailbox and stumbled into the bar across the street. More wars? Reloading the cruise missile arsenal? More bailouts? More"free money" 0% interest rates for banks? More quantitative easing? More bloated public sector union pensions? More subsidized solar energy fantasies? More entitlements to burden our children and grandchildren for decades to come? The Dividist patriotically hopes that all of his taxes will go to paying for interest on our massive 100% of GDP debt, as there is nothing more patriotic and responsible than helping pay for the decades of incompetence and fiscal irresponsibility of the leaders we elected. It also might keep us from further downgrades by the S&P credit agency.

For any Reader wondering about where their taxes are going, Google can help. Google sponsored a contest to help us visually understand exactly what we are paying for. The Data Viz challenge winners were announced yesterday. CNET explains:
"After receiving more than 40 entries, the Google jury has crowned its $5,000 Grand Prize winner. Created by developer Anil Kandangath, "Where Did My Tax Dollars Go?" is "information-rich but elegantly designed," said Google in its blog post. And Kandangath's creation does make it easy for any of us to see how much money goes into each area of the federal budget... The $3,000 runner-up prize went to "Every Day is Tax Day," an online clock that shows you not just how much money you spent in taxes but how many hours and minutes you worked to earn that money. Though they may not take the sting out of paying taxes, these online apps can at least answer some of the questions that befuddle most hard-working taxpayers, especially at this time of year."
The Dividist likes the finalist TaxMapper Application, as it permits easy visualization of the federal budget and spending outlays during periods of divided government as well as both Republican and Democratic single party rule since the Reagan administration. The screen shot from the top of the post is from that App.

Without further ado, time to check in on our happily divided government and see how it proposes to spend our money in 2011 and beyond.

Carnival of Divided Government
As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this the The Carnival of Divided Government Octô et Quadrâgintâ (XLVIII) - Special Patriotic Tax Day Edition, as in all of the CODGOV editions, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media writing on the single topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees). Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for acceptance in the carnival is to explicitly use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts. A criteria that, to our endless befuddlement, is ignored by many of the bloggers submitting posts, which sadly results in The Dividist reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions. Among the on-topic posts, essays and articles we choose our top ten favorites for commentary and consideration. We hope you enjoy these selections, and having paid your taxes on time, can enjoy the three-ring circus over how your money will be spent.

We begin with Boehner's Lament. Speaker of the House John Boehner is holding court from the floor of the House of Representatives, shortly before a historic vote to cut spending by $38B out of the balance of the FY 2011 federal discretionary budget - "Welcome to Divided Government":
"Is it perfect? No. I’d be the first one to admit that it’s flawed. Well, welcome to divided government. I can tell you that the negotiations that went on over the last four or five weeks. They weren’t easy, especially when you’ve got another body on the other side of this Capitol that doesn’t want to cut spending, and clearly an administration that doesn’t want to cut spending. But I’ll tell you that this is the best we could get out of divided government."
Yes, it is a drop in the bucket, but given that a cut of this scope has never been done before, the Dividist will simply lean back, nod sagely, and with a big self-satisfied grin say "It's a start." Welcome to Divided Government.

Gary Glennell Toms reports at The G-Man on The Carney Lament. Press Secretary Jay Carney is asked in a press conference to comment on the President's reaction to having the country downgraded by S&P and the diminishing likelihood of an energy policy bill being pushed through Congress. He responds with a similar civics lesson as offered by John Boehner in "White House Briefs":
MR. CARNEY: "I think that the reaction of all of us is that the assessment of the state of the U.S. economy is one we agree with... we believe the process will outperform S&P expectations on the political side of this, which, we obviously have a certain amount of experience here just in these last two-plus years in dealing with Congress, and in the last several months in dealing with a divided Congress and still getting things done. And there is great historical precedence for that to happen. When you can look and hear the competing statements from members of both parties and think there is no way these two sides are going to find common ground and come together -- and yet there is a way because the American people demand it and the American economy demands it."

MR. CARNEY: "What we have learned since the midterm elections that delivered the House of Representatives to the Republicans is that despite prognostications to the contrary, we can get big things done. We can get important things done. So this President believes very strongly that, yes, there’s a potential for serious work to be done. It’s not necessarily going to be easy. It’s going to require compromise by both sides. It’s a divided government. But that's how our system works, and he remains confident."
Not only does it work, but divided government works very very well. Particularly if you hope to see the federal government exercise some semblance of fiscal responsibility and spending restraint. Welcome to Divided Government.

William McKenzie of the Dallas Morning News tells us something that many of us already knew - "Divided Government is our friend":
"Here's one of Washington's rich ironies: Many of us may see divided government as a recipe for stalemate, but it's actually wonderful for reducing the deficit. Just look at three of the last four major deficit deals: 1990, 1997 and now this year. They happened when Democrats and Republicans split control of Washington. The exception is the pact Democrats passed in 1993, when they controlled the White House and Congress. Otherwise, deficit breakthroughs have occurred with the kind of partisan tension and high-wire acts we've seen the last few weeks. Given the threat that the inordinately large deficit and debt pose to our economy, maybe we should think of splitting tickets at the polls"
Being a born-again divided government newbie, we can cut Mr. McKenzie some slack. He has yet to learn that voting for divided government is not the same thing as splitting a ticket. It probably has not yet occurred to him that voting for divided government in 2012 will likely mean voting to re-elect Barack Obama. Should be fun to watch the learning curve. Partisans only think divided government is a good idea when the other party has all the power. Dividists think divided government is always a good idea. Welcome to Divided Government.

BoBo the Clown of The BoBo Files maintains a long-running weekly political carnival open to all political views. The Dividist appreciates the time and effort that Bobo puts into his carnival and blog, and frequently submits articles for Bobo's consideration. Bobo always prints The Dividist's submission, whether he likes them or not. Case in point - "The BoBo Carnival of Politics - April 17 Edition":

BoBo likes this.
"Dividist – great discussion. I have nothing further to add. Keep up the great work and thanks for submitting this for my followers."
BoBo does not like this.
"Uhhh…nope, not me. I do truly see the benefits of a divided government – and I see where you’re coming from – but – I can’t even fathom another 4 years of Obambi – the most incompetent President in history. I would hope there would be another Democrat contender. Hell, I would vote for Hillary over Obambi at this point. The GOP hasn’t exactly put up any good candidates right now either – of those who have at least expressed some interest in running. 2012 is going to be another bust election – it will undoubtedly come down to a lesser of two evils again – A RINO or A Socialist – neither are good for this country."
You win some. You lose some. The Dividist thinks that only 5% of the electorate voting for divided government can keep the 80%+ partisan vote in check. Welcome to Divided Government.

Brian Montopoli writing at the CBS News Political Hotsheet assesses "How good are Obama's re-election chances?":
"But midterm rebukes don't necessarily portend trouble for presidents in the following election - Presidents Clinton, Reagan and Eisenhower saw their parties face serious electoral defeats two years into their presidencies and went on to victories two years later. Indeed, those midterm elections may even be a boon for Mr. Obama - Americans tend to like divided government, and with the House firmly in GOP hands, they no longer have a unified Democratic Party to vote against."
Only 5% .... Welcome to divided government.

Silverfiddle blogging at Western Hero gets the divided government ethos right while excoriating some Michigan Dems in "Michigan Democrats Busted With Counterfeit Tea":
"Our system of divided government is not natural. The arc of human history shows that power is a centripetal force, drawing all to itself. The Founders set up a system to balance off competing interests and power centers, but the centripetal force has steadily wicked away personal liberty as power naturally accretes to the center.”
And our system of constitutionally divided government is undone when one party rule undermines the checks and balances the founder's intended. Barring some serious constitutional tinkering, the best way to keep our government functioning as designed, is to not given either party all the keys. Not now. Not ever. Not even the political party you prefer. Welcome to Divided Government.

Josh Brokaw at Reason Hit & Run weighs in on the recent budget battle and notes the "Democrat Budget Strategy Lacking The Force":
"Speaker Boehner’s argument is that the short-term resolutions add more opportunities to make cuts, while notable defectors like Mike Pence (R-In.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) want to make a stand now. The split in Democratic ranks appears to be between those who want to do nothing but cry and those who will go along with some cuts as long as certain sacred programs aren’t touched. Divided government can be a marginal improvement over the free-spending ways of an unified Congress and executive. Yet this squabbling over crumbs doesn’t mean jack squat if the only thought given entitlement reform is “consideration."
Um. A marginal improvement is still an improvement. Particularly when compared to making things an order of magnitude worse, as in the last two years of single party rule. Welcome to Divided Government.

Rebecca Costa opines in the local fishwrap, discovers the long and well established libertarian affinity for divided government and wonders "Has America become a libertarian's dream?":
"I was talking to political satirist P.J. O'Rourke when he made one of those curious remarks he's known for: "Gridlock's no problem. What really worries me is when there's consensus in Washington." I had to think about that... Looking ahead toward 2012, if party leaders are smart, they will urge Libertarians to immediately throw their support behind Barack Obama, then back every Tea Party candidate for Congress from here to kingdom come. This would ensure that infighting would continue, and as little as possible would be accomplished. On the other hand, if winners knew when to quit, there'd be no such thing as Las Vegas or doubling down. It's more likely the Libertarian Party hasn't noticed they are getting what they wanted, albeit it not the way they planned. Someone ought to tell them."
Sigh. Yeah. Well, Rebecca - a lot of us have been telling them that for a long time. Glad that you figured it out though. And welcome to the Coalition of the Divided. For the record, the complete comment we left on her post:
Heh. I cannot help but think that Ms. Costa "discovering" the libertarian affinity for divided government / gridlock is akin to the intellectual chauvinism of Columbus "discovering" America - apparently not noticing the millions of people who already live there. P.J. O'Rourke was not inventing a "curious remark". He was repeating a refrain familiar to most libertarians and/or the libertarian leaning. William Niskanen - former chairman of the Cato Institute - wrote an article entitled "A case for Divided Government" in 2003. In every election since then, articles at Cato, Reason, and other libertarian blogs and outlets have made the case for divided government regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats were currently in control. I myself have advocated a divided government voting heuristic for the last five years on my blog.

Although most people use the terms gridlock and divided government interchangeably (including P.J. and myself), it is not true that one necessarily is the result of the other. The definitive work on this question is Yale Professor David Mayhew's "Divided We Govern". In that work he exhaustively documents that there is no correlation between legislative productivity and periods of divided government or single party rule in the modern era. None. You can have periods of legislative gridlock or profusion in both divided and unified governments.

However, for some of us who seek a federal government that is - limited in scope, provides for common defense, protects and respects individual rights, spends and taxes in a fiscally responsible manner, provides effective oversight of all elected and appointed executives and representatives, legislates carefully and slowly, and passes only laws that are tempered in the fire of partisan debate - a vote for divided government is a much more effective means to that end, than wasting a vote on an impotent 3rd party.

At least 80% of the electorate vote predictably as hard-core partisans, split roughly down the middle, regardless of what they call themselves. Cato Institute studies shows that there is a 12% swing vote that consider themselves civil and social liberals but fiscal conservatives. If half of that block votes consistently for divided government, it is enough to swing our otherwise evenly balanced polarized electorate to keep the government divided.

It is the smartest vote that libertarians and true independents can cast.
Welcome to Divided Government, Rebecca.

The National Institute of Health Policy is "advancing health policy dialogue" by asking answering "Is Divided Government the Answer to a Polarized America?":
" Even the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor disaster in Japan set off a wave of right wing radio critique of Obama’s emergency preparedness. So divided government is polarization. And yet, it looks more likely every day that Americans and independent voters especially, will choose to re-elect the president and give us a Republican House and Senate. You have to assume that the problems we face as a country can yield to bipartisan solutions, or that elections actually render mandates on the specifics of spending, taxes, and entitlements. "
Yes, obviously divided government is polarization. Because we all remember those halcyon days of unpolarized non-partisan unity of purpose that we all enjoyed during the last two years of One Party Democratic Rule under Barack Obama with a $1 trillion dollar (fully loaded) partisan stimulus bill steamrolled over the opposition and the $1 trillion dollar partisan Obamacare bill steamrolled over the opposition or the six years of One Party Republican Rule under George W. Bush and a war in Iraq steamrolled over everyone.

Partisan polarization does not start with divided government. Divided government simply assures that everyone in our deeply divided country has a seat at the table when sweeping policies are proposed. If a policy cannot find bipartisan support, then that policy should not be enacted into law. Divided government can help prevent bad policy from becoming law. Welcome to Divided Government.

As long as the Dividist is patting himself on the back, a hat tip to the Dividist for noting Peter Wehner's excellent observation in Commentary - "The Aesthetics of Divided Government":
"The showdown that almost lead to a shutdown is the aesthetics of divided government. We might as well get used to it. What we have, after all, are two political parties that hold different views and represent different interests, negotiating hard and down to the wire to get the best agreement they could. It isn’t pretty or perfect by any means, but it is the natural result of the system of government our founders put in place."
The post stimulated an interesting comment thread. Check it out and Welcome to Divided Government.

Traditionally, we conclude this Carnival by including one "off-topic" submission, as a grudging acknowledgment and proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. Off-topic in this context means - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock.

For this edition, we offer Darwin presenting Why The Union Backlash? Actually, what was the US Waiting For? posted at Darwin's Money, saying,
"There's been a union backlash movement afoot in the US. The question shouldn't be "why now?", but rather, "why did it take so long?"."
With that, we'll conclude this edition, a day or so late. Sorry about that, but getting the tax return in the mail took priority over the Carnival. The Dividist does not f*ck with the Feds.

Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government Novem et Quadrâgintâ (XLIX) - Special Horse Race Edition - on or about May 7th. That would be Kentucky Derby Day and two days after the first 2012 Republican Presidential nomination horse race event. Please submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ministry of Truth issues Deficit Reduction Plan

The Dividist is not in the habit of agreeing with Paul Krugman. Generally we cite his column only to point and laugh, but this time he has a point. Oh sure Krugnman's response to President Obama's speech unveiling his deficit plan was the usual predictable Krugman claptrap - "Spending cuts are bad!", "Tax increases are good!" However, he makes an interesting observation among the several "updates" appended to the post. This first update wasn't it:
"Update: I should probably say, I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire."
Perhaps Krugman did not listen to the entirety of the President's speech. Perhaps he dozed off like Vice President Biden. For whatever reason, Krugman missed the part where the President explicitly stated that his plan was not expected to be the "end result". It is indeed the left pole to the Ryan plan right pole and, if/when a compromise is passed, it will certainly be somewhere between the two:
"I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This a democracy; that’s not how things work. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum. And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground." President Obama - April 13, 2011
This is not hard to understand: "common ground" = field goal kicked between the left and right upright. The President has clearly improved his negotiating skills, erecting his goal post so far to the left that even Krugman can offer up a lukewarm endorsement. Regardless, the ultimate compromise solution will certainly be kicked squarely between the uprights and, to Krugman's disappointment, it will not be anywhere near the left pole.

Krugman's second update is where we find a cogent and insightful observation (Hey - It can happen):
"Update update: I don’t want to step too much on the administration’s selling point, but progressives upset by the claim that there are three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases should be aware that there’s a bit of creative labeling going on. As I understand it, they’re counting both interest savings and reductions in “tax expenditures” — subsidies through the tax code — as spending cuts. It’s a much more balanced plan if you look at the balance between revenue increases and non-interest outlays."
Krugman is calling the administration out for the creative labeling cynical doublespeak employed in the speech. The offending passage:
"I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the Fiscal Commission's model of reducing tax expenditures so that there is enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit... my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code."
"Tax expenditures"??? "Spending reductions in the tax code"??? Hard to believe those words actually passed Obama's lips. It is such a transparent manipulative spin and laughably ham-handed obfuscation that it is difficult to understand why they even bothered.

The political motivation for this linguistic sleight of hand is clear. By a 62%-29% margin, American people support spending cuts over tax hikes to fix the deficit. Centrists and Independents understand that insane out of control spending is the problem. But it still begs the question - Who do they think this is going to fool? It is not the right. It is not the left. It is not the independent center. The only ones who appear to be taken in by this disingenuous rhetoric is the union leadership.

The Dividist would like to understand what they hoped to accomplish with this absurd misuse of language and misrepresentation of reality. Perhaps they simply have not quite grasped the subtle difference between Lakoffian "framing" and Orwellian "doublethink." Perhaps they truly believe they can influence political perception by pretending a word means something that it does not. These phrases should be embarrassing to supporters, are certainly insulting to the electorate, and betrays a real contempt for the intelligence of the American voting public. But on the plus side, they provide fodder for a humorous and well-deserved skewering by Jon Stewart (the good part starts at 4:15):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Slashdance - Democratic Deficit Reduction Plan
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

"Can we afford that and the royalty checks you will need to send to George Orwell?"

We can thank President Obama's political team for the new and improved slogans to be found outside the Ministry of Truth:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Tax Increases are Spending Reductions
There is plenty to criticize about the President's Deficit Reduction Plan above and beyond the doublespeak nonsense. Number one on the list - it is not a plan. At least not a plan in in the same sense as the Simpson-Bowles Plan or the Paul Ryan Plan - both of which offered 70+ pages of detailed proposals unsullied by Orwellian euphemism. There are few details offered in the President's seven page framework, which can be more accurately described as general spending and revenue goals wrapped in partisan political rhetoric.

The saddest aspect of the President's presentation is that on the very point they danced around, the President is right. Revenues will indeed need to increase in addition to massive spending cuts. Unfortunately, the point is undermined by the perverse presentation and the absurd euphemism for tax increase. It is hard to start a budget compromise waltz when one of the dancers is pretending to hear a tango.

Nevertheless, the dance has begun. The administration has taken a dainty step closer to the center after their discredited first movement. Whether our legislators are listening to the same tune remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to hear some pundits from across the spectrum beginning to harmonize:

Clive Crook:
"Bowles-Simpson is the right basic answer. Obama several times said he was drawing on their recommendations, but he did so only partially and incoherently. He has not embraced their overall approach, not by a long shot. Nothing on Social Security. Little of what they propose on Medicare. And on tax reform I think he is actually making it harder for himself to move, eventually, in their direction."
Charles Krauthammer:
"The most serious charge against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget is not the risible claim, made most prominently by President Obama in his George Washington University address, that it would “sacrifice the America we believe in.” The serious charge is that the Ryan plan fails by its own standards: Because it only cuts spending without raising taxes, it accumulates trillions in debt and doesn’t balance the budget until the 2030s... The Simpson-Bowles commission, for example, identifies $1.1 trillion of such revenue-robbers. In one scenario, it strips them all out and thus is able to lower rates for everyone to three brackets of 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent. The commission does recommend that, on average, about $100 billion annually of that $1.1 trillion be kept by the Treasury (rather than going back to the taxpayer) to reduce the deficit. This is a slight deviation from revenue neutrality, but it still yields a major cut for the top rate from the current 35 percent to 23 percent. The overall result is so reasonable and multiply beneficial that it rightly gained the concurrence of even the impeccably conservative (commission member) Sen. Tom Coburn. That’s the beauty of tax reform: It is both transparent and flexible."
If Obama would just quit tripping over his own partisan linguistic feet and follow the spending cut dance steps in the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission ballet he sponsored, we might yet see our elected leaders dancing a compromise budget balancing pas de deux.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Divided government is in the eye of the beholder

Over the last five years your loyal blogger has opined about what divided government is, what divided government is not, the reasons for supporting divided government, why divided government works, divided government and the founder's historical intent, why you should vote for divided government, how to vote for divided government, why divided government is good, why divided government is really good and the market implications of divided government. Your blogger has also taken great pains to defend divided government, review divided government books and pretty much document everything anyone has ever said about divided government.

Yet, over the entire life of this blog, the Dividist has never, not even once, mentioned "The Aesthetic of Divided Government":
"The showdown that almost lead to a shutdown is the aesthetics of divided government. We might as well get used to it. What we have, after all, are two political parties that hold different views and represent different interests, negotiating hard and down to the wire to get the best agreement they could. It isn’t pretty or perfect by any means, but it is the natural result of the system of government our founders put in place... The results matter more than the process—and the process really wasn’t quite as unseemly and upsetting as some would have it."
And in that one short paragraph Peter Wehner nets out everything that the Dividist has expended hundreds of thousands of word to say over the life of this blog. That he could distill it down so elegantly and easily is kind of annoying really.

Blogenfreude aside, Wehner's sentiment is simply true.

While she may be an acquired taste, once you get used to her divided government looks pretty darn good.

UPDATED: 4-18-2011
In the comments, Damon Eris of Poli-Tea takes exception to the excerpted Peter Wehner comment that "it is the natural result of the system of government our founders put in place" - "It" being two parties fighting down to the wire over competing budget proposals and finding a compromise at the last minute. This prompted a spirited discussion with Tully on whether or not our effective two party duopoly is a "natural" or "inherent" or "intended" consequence of our Constitutional form or - for that matter - any democratic form of government.

Re-reading Wehner's quote, it is not clear to me that he was asserting anything about whether specifically two parties are a "natural result of the system of government our founders put in place". Instead he was making the much less controversial point that given the two parties we have, each with a share of power under a divided government, we can and should certainly expect that they will fight for the best deal they can get - right down to the political wire. This strikes me as a brilliant stroke of the patently obvious, and I don't see how it is possible to argue to the contrary.

As far as the historical basis for this outcome (again ignoring the question of a specific number of parties or factions), one must appreciate the inherent difficulty of gleaning founder intent 200+ years after the fact. Nevertheless, it strikes me as incontrovertible that exactly this kind of partisan/factional argument is exactly what the founders designed into our bicameral legislative system.

I am currently enjoying historian Joseph Ellis book "Founding Brothers." Ellis is a blog favorite, and I have quoted him here before. In particular I am enamored of a phrase he coined to describe the nature of our Constitution - the "enshrinement of argument":
"The ideological and even temperamental diversity within the elite leadership group gave the American founding a distinctly argumentative flavor that made all convictions, no matter how cherished, subject to abiding scrutiny that, like history itself, became an argument without end. And much like the doctrine of checks and balances in the Constitution, the enshrinement of argument created a permanent collision of juxtaposed ideas and interests that generated a dynamic and wholly modern version of political stability."
It is just a beautiful way to think about how and why our Constitution is designed as it is.

To return to the question of whether the founders intended or expected a two party duopoly to emerge, that seems unlikely. But the fact that it did emerge immediately with the first election after Washington, and has continued primarily as a two party contest from then until now does speak to something in the system or in human nature that makes it historically inevitable.

This from Ellis' "Founding Brothers" where Jefferson is contemplating the contest for the election of the next President after Washington's farewell address:
"In the present situation of the United States, divided as they are between two parties, which mutually accuse each other of perfidy and treason... this exalted station [the presidency] is surrounded with dangerous rocks, and the most eminent abilities will not be be sufficient to steer clear of them all." Whereas Washington had been able to levitate above the partisan factions, "the next president of the United States will only be the president of a party."
And so it goes.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Flotsam - Government Shutdown and 2012 Apocalypse Edition

UPDATED: 09-April-2011
Time once again for the Dividist to stroll down the metaphorical beach of the DWSUWF blog and take note of the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered this little island of rationality in our great big blogospheric ocean.

The news this week has tended toward the apocalyptic. There is nothing like a pending apocalypse to get the blood flowing, veins popping, teeth gnashing, spittle flecked screens, and broken keyboards flying.

ITEM - The Government Shutdown Apocalypse is Nigh!
OMG! It's going to happen. The Government is going to shutdown for the weekend! Or not. We don't know what to expect. After all, this has never happened before. Well - except for the last 17 times. We just don't know who to blame. It might be the Democrats. It might be the Republicans. It might be the President.

Whomever is to blame, we know this is a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. We know it must be of monumental import because all broadcast networks are displaying countdown clocks while breathlessly counting down the seconds until the shutdown apocalypse. We know this must be monumental import because memeorandum has noticed little else. Our only comfort is the knowledge that if there is any way to avert this catastrophe, the reasoned arguments and cool heads of our elected leadership will find that path.

This would be funny if it was not so pathetic. Scratch that. It is just funny. The real budget debate lies ahead, but this is a good dress rehearsal. When the compromised answer to cuts in a partial year discretionary budget lies somewhere between cutting $38B and $66B, the Dividist does not honestly care where we specifically finish. It is enough to know we are moving in the right direction. At midnight tonight the Dividist will greet the apocalyptic shutdown with a celebratory drink. Perhaps a 15 year old Laphroiag poured neat. The Dividist may even have a celebratory shot if the government shutdown is averted.

It has been an ugly, contentious, uncivil, argumentative, partisan and polarizing process. Exactly the way it is supposed to be in a divided government. Exactly as intended by the founders. Neither party gets steamrolled and we are moving in the right direction. The Dividist could not be happier.

UPDATE: 09-April-2011
Apocalypse Avoided - For Now...
"The end is in sight. Or is it? At the end of the day, Republican and Democratic leaders were able to get past their barbs and come up with a deal that could keep the federal government renewing passports, refunding taxes, and paying the troops."
Either the President caved, or the Republicans caved, but there will be $38 Billion in real cuts. No one seems very happy with the deal besides the Dividist. It's a start. On to the next apocalypse.

ITEM - The December 21,2012 Mayan Apocalypse is Nigh!
You have to admit - as far as apocalypses go, the budget shutdown is pretty lame. If we really want to indulge in apocalyptic fantasy, nothing less than the 2012 end of the Mayan calendar will do. This week CNBC broadcast a new documentary on the the growing frenzy for the Mayan Apocalypse. Un-friggin-believable.

Apparently there are actually a lot of people out there who are willing to shell out millions to hucksters selling the end of the world on December 21st 2012:
"There's obviously a segment of the population that's drawn to this and it becomes self-perpetuating. There will be products out there to buy."And there are—running the gamut from doomsday survival bunkers, doomsday last wills and testaments, doomsday vegetable seeds for food shortages and for those needing something to hug, doomsday teddy bears. Many of the doomsday offerings are seeing record sales. That's because there's no shortage of customers, says Bucknell University sociology professor Alexander Riley, who's done research on end of the world scenarios."
The Dividist wonders just what these people are going to do when they wake up on December 22, 2012 and it all looks pretty much like it did on the 21st? They're going to need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives and how to recover from the financial wreckage they've made of their future. They'll need help, financial advice, counseling, maybe a support group, maybe... a web site... maybe... hey... wait a minute... Hmmm.


Just send us your membership fee, and we'll help you get through the crushing disappointment and post-non-apocalypse depression. Stay tuned!

ITEM - Your Quarterly Peter Schiff Financial Apocalypse is Nigh!
Yeah I know. We've heard it all before and he has been saying the same thing for the last five years. Sure he was right in 2006 -07, 2008, 2009, and 2010. but this chicken little shtick is getting old. Even if the sky really is falling. The Divdist is just tired of hearing it.

Yesterday on CNBC's Fast money:

Bummer dude. I think I'll have another shot of that scotch.

ITEM - The April 27th Ben Bernanke Press Conference Apocalypse is Nigh!
The stock market is supposed to be rational. The price for any commodity or stock as set in the free market is supposed to represent the collective wisdom of the entire market. The price is the truth. But sometimes, the price seems to represent a collective delusion. If enough investors believe something to be true, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy more important as an investment thesis than whether it is true. Last fall, the Dividist noted the impact of Fed manipulation of the currency, highlighting an amusing viral video on The Bernanke and Quantitative Easing II. Apparently investors now fear The Bernake is going to drop a turd in the punch bowl at an apocalyptic event scheduled a few short weeks away. On April 27th - The Bernanke will speak at a press conference:
"Traders are saying the scariest moment of the second quarter will be on April 27, when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold the first ever press briefing following a monetary policy decision by the central bank. This change in the Fed’s communication with the markets alone is enough to give investors the jitters, but the nervousness is compounded by the anticipation of a signal by the Fed chief as to whether the quantitative easing that has fueled this bull market will continue past its stated end date in June.“I think Bernanke wants to continue to ‘QE3,’ but the rest of the Fed does not, and if he has to admit that on the air, it could be the turn,” said Steve Cortes, founder of research firm Veracruz LLC. "
The mind boggles and trader knees turn to jelly at the very prospect of Black Friday - April 27:
"Traders are starting to believe that the most dangerous moment of the second quarter will be April 27. That is when Federal Reserve President Ben Bernanke, will hold his first press conference immediately after a decision on monetary policy. This change in the normal communications between the Federal Reserve and the markets is enough to raise concerns among investors, but there are fears that Bernanke will point out that QE2, the principal fuel of the markets’ rally will end in June."
Be afraid. Be very very afraid. Perhaps two more fingers of that Laphroiag.

ITEM - The Apocalyptic End of the Apocalyptic Vision of Glenn Beck is Nigh!
The Dividist has managed to miss every single episode of Glenn Beck from the first time he appeared on Fox News Jan 19,2009 until his announcement this week that he is leaving Fox News. Nevertheless, the Dividist believes he has seen or heard almost everything of note that Glenn Beck has said or done in his tenure on the show.

The reason is that Dividist reads a lot of blogs from both the right and left wing. and there has been a lot of derivative reporting of Beck across the blogospere. Oddly, most of it from the left. The Dividist seldom sees a right-wing blog touting what Glen Beck says. Some on the right even seem embarrassed. But the left-0-sphere cannot get enough of him. Make no mistake, he was an easy target and richly deserved every sling and arrow. Still, this observation leads the Dividist to wonder if the Left repesents a significant percentage of his audience. With the 30%+ slide in Beck's ratings since the election, the Dividist wonders whether liberals are the only audience he has left.

In any case, Jon Stewart offers Glenn this sublimely apocalyptic farewell....

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ITEM - The "Michael Reynolds still Owes The Dividist a bottle of 15 year old Laphroiag" Apocalypse is Nigh!

Really, Mike. I am almost out. This is getting serious.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Dividist is IN!

President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign kicked off with a YouTube Video and an aggresive Facebook push. The revamped campaign website has the kickoff theme "Are You In?" featured prominently on the home page. That simple motto is pretty good carrot and shtick marketing - if you are not "In" helping Obama's re-election campaign, then obviously you are "Out" - you know - not one of the cool kids.

Sean Parker of TechCrunch summarizes the early social networking push:

"President’s Barack Obama’s re-election campaign just been kicked off, and it – again – makes clever use of Facebook as a tool for spreading the word and amass supporters. When you connect to your Facebook account on the campaign website, an interactive banner will appear on the top of the website that shows you which of your friends aren’t “in” yet, profile pictures included. You’re invited to put post a message to your friends’ walls to prompt them to join the ‘Are You In?’ application. You can easily scroll to your friend list by skipping from one to the next, and you can add an optional message when you opt to post to a friend’s wall...

YouTube is also one of the things that have apparently worked over the past few years. In emails and text messages sent to supporters earlier today, in which Obama announced that he would be filing papers to launch the 2012 campaign, the video below was promoted. Twitter, for whatever reason, seems to be not that big a deal for the campaign."

The launch and video seems pretty basic, indulging in feel-good pablum and straightforward demographic campaign fare. Yet, it still provoked a range of reactions, including excitement (mostly on Facebook), ennui, sarcasm, pundits looking for hidden messages about the campaign, even some wishful thinking.

The "Are you IN?" motto is kind of cute and it might motivate college kids to gird their loins for the campaign, but the Dividist is not sure it will help with the Independents and Centrists Obama will need for re-election. Even with the GOP helping out by doing everything they can to push Independents away.

Given the low probability of the Dems retaking the House, and the high probability of Reps taking the Senate majority, the Dividist suspects the only way to maintain Divided Government into 2013 will be to re-elect President Obama. So the Dividist is grudgingly "IN" - at least right now, and until Mike Bloomberg makes a move. In the meantime, to help the President out, the Dividist has made a few improvements to the Obama campaign graphics featured in this post. The Dividist believes these changes may help the President with those Independent / Centrist / Dividists like himself, who are just not ready to give the Republicans all the keys to the castle yet again. It was not that much fun last time around.

With all the attention and links to the Obama 2012 Campaign launch in this post, it is only fair to offer the GOP some equal time. Presumably in anticipation of the launch, the NRSC fired a preemptive strike with a parody campaign video of their own:

According to Ben Smith at Politico, the parody is getting more action that the real thing.

It'll get easier for the President after the Republicans beat themselves into submission and field a candidate. The Dividist has HOPE. The Dividist is not ready to give One Party Republican Rule another turn at bat.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.