Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kathleen Parker: Obama is just like a woman. Not in a good way

Seems like it was just last week that Kathleen Parker was complaining that conservative women can be feminists too, darnit! Since then, of course, she's agreed to host a TV show with America's most famous patron of prostitutes. And today she offers up the theory that President Obama is a bit of a girl.
I say this in the nicest possible way.
Well, sure. She just doesn't mean it in the nicest possible way, though she tries like the dickens to act like she's not being, well, terribly sexist.
Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.
Well, that doesn't sound so bad does it? But that's not really what Parker's getting at. Obama's not like a woman because he talks things out. He's like a woman because he's ... passive.
His lack of immediate, commanding action was perceived as a lack of leadership because, well, it was. When he finally addressed the nation on day 56 (!) of the crisis, Obama's speech featured 13 percent passive-voice constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century, according to the Global Language Monitor, which tracks and analyzes language.

The masculine-coded context of the Oval Office poses special challenges, further exacerbated by a crisis that demands decisive action. It would appear that Obama tests Campbell's argument that "nothing prevents" men from appropriating women's style without negative consequences.

But being a "coalition builder" isn't really the same thing as being "passive." And Parker makes no attempt to show that it is. She'll get no argument from me that Barack Obama has failed to demonstrate better leadership in handling the gulf spill. But Parker has taken generalizations about the way men and women communicate, then fashioned her argument about Obama's "femaleness" based on evidence that has nothing to do with those generalizations.

The upshot is that she insults both the president and women without a good basis for doing so. I'll never say that conservative women can't be feminist. But Kathleen Parker hasn't really shown us how that's possible.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A brief thought about Al Gore's alleged sex assault

Byron York prints plenty of disturbing details from the police complaint against Al Gore, but this is the one I find most infuriating:
Finally she got away. Later, she talked to friends, liberals like herself, who advised against telling police. One asked her "to just suck it up; otherwise, the world's going to be destroyed from global warming."
To that "friend" let me offer up a piece of advice: Go to hell.

Snarky folks at The Corner are treating this revelation as being run-of-the-mill Democratic politics, but honestly the problem here -- as is often the case -- is of power generally. You can see an almost carbon-copy dynamic at play when people angrily defend the Catholic Church against accusations of widespread child molestation. Victims are urged to hush up, to go away, because their truth threatens The Mission of whichever person or movement or institution is involved.

And while it's often true that sacrifices must be made in order to advance a worthy cause, you can easily tell the difference in the worthiness of those sacrifices by asking one simple question: Is the dignity of the individual who made the sacrifice enhanced by that sacrifice? Or is it diminished?

If the answer is the latter -- if a woman is obliged to be silent about a sexual assault -- than the person, or movement, or institution is almost certainly unworthy of the sacrifice. I don't want the allegations against Al Gore to be true -- but that's mostly because I don't want the woman in question to have been victimized. Shame on her supposed friends for valuing her dignity so cheaply.

Lies, damned lies and the Daily Kos poll

Back in February, when Daily Kos released a poll showing that nearly a quarter of all Republicans believe their state should secede from the Union, I scoffed:
I’m no expert on polling, but: nearly a quarter of Republicans think their state should secede from the Union?* Really? Something doesn’t add up here. It makes for a rather convenient narrative from a liberal-Democratic point of view, but is it actually true? Sorry, but I can’t imagine that it is. And if that’s not true, then the rest of the poll results are questionable, to say the least. I’d like to believe the GOP is this crazy, but I don’t.
Turns out I was right:
Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas announced today he will file a lawsuit against MD-based pollster Research 2000, alleging that polls Research 2000 was conducting for the liberal blog were fabricated.

Moulitsas today published a report by three readers he describes as "statistics wizards" that he says shows "quite convincingly" that Research 2000 was manufacturing the results of weekly national polls.

"Based on the report of the statisticians, it's clear that we did not get what we paid for," Moulitsas wrote on his website today.

"We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don't know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can't trust it. Meanwhile, Research 2000 has refused to offer any explanation."
As I said in February: Beware polls that too neatly confirm your biases. I knew that. It's too bad that Kos didn't.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Those out-of-touch elitists at the New York Times don't know a 'Blazing Saddles' reference when they hear one

In a story about RNC chief Michael Steele's visit to San Francisco, reporter Jesse McKinley offered up this quote-and-observation about Steele:
And, of course, he quoted Cole Porter. Sort of.

“It’s time to let you do that voodoo that you do very, very well,” he said.
It's true that those lyrics originated in the Cole Porter song "You Do Something To Me." But seriously: Almost every American male under the age of, oh, 50, probably knows the line a little better from this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One more thought about the Weekly Standard piece about Tea Parties

One has to give credit to Matthew Continetti for appraising Glenn Beck's ideas thusly:

This is nonsense. Whatever you think of Theodore Roosevelt, he was not Lenin. Woodrow Wilson was not Stalin. The philosophical foundations of progressivism may be wrong. The policies that progressivism generates may be counterproductive. Its view of the Constitution may betray the Founders’. Nevertheless, progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States. And not even the stupidest American liberal shares the morality of the totalitarian monsters whom Beck analogizes to American politics so flippantly.

Maybe there's hope for rational civic dialogue, yet.

Tea Partiers look just like America. Except they're richer.

Matthew Continetti's piece about the Tea Party movement replays -- like so many similar pieces before it -- Rick Santelli's famous CNBC rant from 2009. But this quote leaped out at me like it hadn't before:

In Santelli’s opinion, American elites had neglected the people surrounding him, the commodities traders who made up “a pretty good statistical cross-section of America, the silent majority.

We already know that Tea Partiers are wealthier than most Americans, but it's worth pointing out that the median income for a commodities trader in 2008 was $68,680. The median household income nationally the same year was $52,029.

Now: $68,000 a year doesn't put silver spoons in your mouth. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a good income. But the Tea Partiers aren't a "good statistical cross-section of America" -- and the commodities traders who surrounded Santelli that day aren't either. Let's not pretend otherwise.

The myth of liberals hating Sarah Palin's motherhood

At the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker repeats a bit of business that I see often on the right, but have never seen much evidence for:
The reason Palin so upsets the pro-choice brigade is because she seems so content with her lot and her brood. One can find other reasons to think Palin shouldn't be president, but being a pro-life woman shouldn't be one of them.
The idea is that Sarah Palin's fecundity -- particularly with regards to Trig, her special needs child -- is part of what makes her an object of particular scorn on the left. But -- the fevered speculations of Andrew Sullivan aside -- where's the evidence for this charge? I've never seen anybody say: "I'd like Sarah Palin ... but damnit, she's given birth waaaaay too often." I think conservatives have convinced themselves that the liberal contempt for Palin is born out of hoity toity cultural snobbishness. But it's not.

Guess what? Liberals have kids too. Maybe not as often as conservatives. But still.

There are lots of reasons I dislike Sarah Palin's presence in public life, but her motherhood choices have no bearing on them. There's her aura of perpetual grievance. There was her manifest lack of preparation for the job she sought at John McCain's side in 2008. There's her origin of the "death panels" myth during the health care debate -- which revealed her to be either deeply misinformed or incredibly cynical. I could go on ... but honestly, I don't need to. It's going to be a weird universe the day I ever cast a vote for Sarah Palin.

Like I said, her motherhood has no bearing on my dislike of Palin. Except in one sense: I kind of dislike how she and some conservatives think her motherhood is a reason liberals don't like her. That's kind of irritating.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Weekly Standard doesn't think BP loves oil nearly enough.

If you read this Weekly Standard article, you might think it a shocking expose -- shocking, because it's in the Weekly Standard -- of BP's longstanding laxness with regards to safety issues. But what develops is something else entirely: An exercise in schadenfreude that a company that tried so hard to brand itself as "green" has enmeshed itself in one of history's more notorious environmental disasters.

The game is given away when describing Oberon Houston, an engineer who left the company a few years back after narrowly avoiding death on a BP rig. Andrew Wilson's article presents a litany of safety-related reasons for Houston's departure, but tacks this on:
And finally, he told me over the course of several interviews, he was distressed by an abundance of rhetoric—coming from the CEO—about BP going “beyond petroleum” and joining the environmental activists in campaigning for reduced carbon emissions. “To me and everyone I knew, it didn’t make any sense. We were a petroleum company. That wasn’t going to change any time soon, and it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, either. All the talk about windmills and solar power was just PR and a lot of nonsense.”

In short, Houston no longer trusted the company to do the right thing.

The article hints that BP's "greenwashing" campaign is linked to its atrocious safety practices, but never really makes the case. (And couldn't, unless BP's PR department ran the company's maintenance operations.) Instead, what the piece reveals is the extent to which "oil now! oil forever!" might be more deeply embedded in conservative ideology than actual free-market capitalism. It seems not to matter that BP undertook its environmentally friendly push in order to sell more oil; all that matters -- and is worthy of contempt -- is that BP paid any deference at all, even rhetorically, to the environmental movement. That is the sin that cannot be forgiven. At least, not now that BP's sins can be hung on a Democratic president.

Late in the piece, Wilson mocks BP for paying scientists at Berkeley to research energy alternatives:
Thanks to BP sponsorship, 300 researchers in white lab coats at Berkeley are busily searching for ways to make green fuels that will reduce our dependence on oil. In 2007, BP set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, saying it would spend $500 million over the next ten years to support research into plant-based fuels at Berkeley and two other universities. This is the largest corporate donation ever for university research.
Broken down, though, that amounts to $12.5 million per quarter over the next 10 years -- barely a dent in the company's earnings. Even then, it doesn't seem to occur to Wilson that an energy company might consider the cost a prudent bit of R&D -- if not for a post-oil future, then at least to cater to the segment of the market that would rather avoid oil.

Like I said, though, market considerations don't really matter here. Any acknowledgement that massive oil consumption might have a downside, or that alternative energy sources might even be possible or even necessary, is heresy. Conservatives pride themselves on their realism about oil: It's cheap and it's available and we're not going to abandon it because of those qualities. There's something to that argument. But the contempt for BP -- as revealed in the Weekly Standard -- reveals that there's more than admirable realism at work here. It's calcified, closed-minded ideology.

The Nook and Kindle drop below $200

So sayeth the New York Times. And that sounds like great news -- I have the Kindle and Nook apps for both my iPhone and my netbook; I'd really love to own a dedicated e-reader. On the other hand: If the price is coming down this much, this quickly, does that mean dedicated e-readers are about to become extinct? Choices, choices.

Who knew there was an Afghan warlord named Milo Minderbinder?

Washington Post:

The U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country, according to congressional investigators.

It's really not a good day for Afghan war supporters.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Netflix Queue: Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

It's like "Batman Begins" meets "The Empire Strikes Back" in 15th century Thailand. And he beats up an elephant!

Sadly, that pitch is far more interesting than the movie. Tony Jaa is losing his mojo.

Army Major Nathan Hoepner is an American hero

Perusing a recent issue of Military Review, I came across this (PDF) article about a debate (and the results of that debate) among U.S. soldiers working the "Sunni triangle" of Iraq in 2003. Some wanted "the gloves to come off" and to start hitting, beating and otherwise torturing suspected insurgents. But Maj. Nathan Hoepner opposed such efforts, and wrote in support of his position:

As for “the gloves need to come off” . . . we
need to take a deep breath and remember
who we are . . . Those gloves are . . . based on
clearly established standards of international
law to which we are signatories and in part
the originators . . . something we cannot just
put aside when we find it inconvenient . . .
We have taken casualties in every war we
have ever fought—that is part of the very
nature of war. We also inflict casualties,
generally many more than we take. That in
no way justifies letting go of our standards.
We have NEVER considered our enemies
justified in doing such things to us. Casualties
are part of war—if you cannot take
casualties then you cannot engage in war.
Period. BOTTOM LINE: We are American
Soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying
on the high ground. We need to stay there.

Heroes are men and women who can keep their heads about them to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. Maj. Hoepner -- today he is a lieutenant colonel -- is clearly such a man.

And throwing up on cops is like saying "aloha" in Philadelphia

Favorite letter to the editor in today's newspaper:
South African soccer fans who blow that obnoxious and deafening vuvuzela horn are excused, even at the World Cup, because "it's part of their culture."

Yet Philadelphia fans who go a little crazy and run onto the field - which is part of their culture - are tased and arrested. Doesn't seem fair.

Jim Acton, Collegeville

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Will the BP oil disaster destroy Obama's presidency?

Well, I'm unusually harsh about President Obama in this week's column for Scripps:
President Obama might make a great senator someday.

That's the thought that occurred Tuesday night as Obama vaguely described a "set of principles" that would set America on course toward its energy future -- even as he lamely admitted to being "unsure exactly what that (future) looks like." Senators have the luxury of noodling around with legislation, haggling and negotiating until a bill comes into shape. Presidents, on the other hand, are supposed to offer leadership -- a concrete plan of action.

So far, Obama is failing the test.

Unfortunately, there's nothing new to this. Obama spent the first year of his presidency being overly vague about what he would and wouldn't accept in a health-reform bill. The result? Senators took the lead, spending months in confusing and nearly fruitless negotiations while an antsy public grew increasingly angry.

There's nothing technically wrong with this: Congress is, after all, a co-equal branch of government. But Obama's style of vague direction-setting raises two unsettling possibilities about his presidency. A: He lacks confidence in his agenda, so he won't commit to specifics that can be publicly rejected. B: He doesn't actually have an agenda.

Back in 2008, many liberals backed Obama because they felt Republicans would offer obstinate, conspiracy-mongering obstruction to a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency. Turns out they did that anyway. Clinton, at least, might've pursued her agenda with more tenacity -- and Obama might've made a loyal foot soldier, happily engaged in the Senate's give-and-take. Instead, he's meandering into the future. The oil spill isn't undoing Obama's presidency; he's doing fine at that on his own.

Will the BP oil disaster destroy Obama's presidency?

Well, I'm unusually harsh about President Obama in this week's column for Scripps:

President Obama might make a great senator someday.

That's the thought that occurred Tuesday night as Obama vaguely described a "set of principles" that would set America on course toward its energy future -- even as he lamely admitted to being "unsure exactly what that (future) looks like." Senators have the luxury of noodling around with legislation, haggling and negotiating until a bill comes into shape. Presidents, on the other hand, are supposed to offer leadership -- a concrete plan of action.

So far, Obama is failing the test.

Unfortunately, there's nothing new to this. Obama spent the first year of his presidency being overly vague about what he would and wouldn't accept in a health-reform bill. The result? Senators took the lead, spending months in confusing and nearly fruitless negotiations while an antsy public grew increasingly angry.

There's nothing technically wrong with this: Congress is, after all, a co-equal branch of government. But Obama's style of vague direction-setting raises two unsettling possibilities about his presidency. A: He lacks confidence in his agenda, so he won't commit to specifics that can be publicly rejected. B: He doesn't actually have an agenda.

Back in 2008, many liberals backed Obama because they felt Republicans would offer obstinate, conspiracy-mongering obstruction to a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency. Turns out they did that anyway. Clinton, at least, might've pursued her agenda with more tenacity -- and Obama might've made a loyal foot soldier, happily engaged in the Senate's give-and-take. Instead, he's meandering into the future. The oil spill isn't undoing Obama's presidency; he's doing fine at that on his own.

Talking Imprimis and Larry P. Arnn: America was built on the redistribution of wealth

I've recently become a subscriber to Imprimis -- the most influential conservative publication you've never heard of -- because A) I want to keep tabs on influential conservatives and B) it's free. It's published by Hillsdale College in Michigan, and consists mainly of reprinted speeches from notable conservative thinkers and writers. It's pleasantly old-fashioned, a throwback to the olden days of pamphleteering.

Just got my first issue in the mail today, and it's actually kind of a back issue, from back in December, featuring a speech by Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn. In it, he seeks to contrast the bullying and tyrannical nature of the U.S. government today -- exemplified by the mandates included in the Affordable Care Act -- with the liberating nature of the U.S. government in the early years of the republic ... as exemplified by the Homestead Act.

A quick primer on the Homestead Act, from Wikipedia:
The Homestead Act is one of several United States federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (1/4 section, 65 hectares) of undeveloped federal land outside the original 13 colonies. The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, including freed slaves, could file an application and evidence of improvements to a federal land office.
And here's Arnn, describing the act's liberating effects:
What the Homestead Act did was to take the western land of the United States—surely one of the greatest assets ever held by any government in history—and give 160-acre plots to anyone with the backbone to live on them and work them. These plots of land were granted regardless of who someone was and with the certainty that no one settling on them could ever vote for this congressman or that. It is one of the greatest impartial acts of legislation in all of human history. It, and things like it, built America and the character of the people who spread across it.

The principle that justified the Homestead Act has two parts, and both are found in the first 15 lines of the Declaration of Independence. The first is the idea of human equality—the idea that it does not matter what race or what family you come from, it only matters what you do—which has been the source of our greatest struggles in an attempt to live up to it.
Let's stop right there, because Arnn is committing a pretty overt act of historical amnesia in order to frame his critique of modern government this way. He's forgetting -- probably deliberately -- that people used to live on land that was "settled" under the Homestead Act. Native Americans. They may not have held title to the land that was taken by the settlers, but they surely owned it under any meaningful sense of the term.

In order for the settlers to claim and improve the land, the United States government had to send armies west to kill and clear out the Native Americans who'd lived on those lands for centuries, perhaps even millennia.

So the actual history of the Homestead Act is nearly the opposite of what Arnn advocates here: Rather than being predicated on the idea of human equality, it was steeped in racism -- the idea that the "Indians" who'd lived in America before Europeans were here were less than fully human. And interestingly, it may have been the most redistributive act the U.S. government has ever undertaken -- the genocidal-level force of arms used to take land (wealth!) and given to anybody who, well, wanted it.

I'm not suggesting that the land be given back: History has happened.

Maybe I'm being churlish. But Arnn offers up his Homestead Act example in the course of making the case that A) "absolute truth" exists and B) our leaders aren't well-educated or even believers in absolute truth -- and thank God there's Hillsdale College to offer a remedy! Arnn's version of history, though, omits huge swaths of context and fact in order to cast a tyrannical and socialistic act as embodying the most noble traditions of American freedom and equality. His example, it seems to me, greatly undermines the point he's trying to make.

Conflicted about the Friends of Rittenhouse Square

One of my favorite things about living in Philadelphia is Rittenhouse Square. It sits in the middle of a big bunch of hoity-toityness -- the people who live in the towers surrounding the park have a much higher level of wealth than I ever will. But the park is relatively egalitarian, and on a nice day it's a joy to visit: musicians, dancers, businessmen on lunch breaks, sun worshippers, gutter punks, mommies and kids and so much more.

The park itself is pretty spiffy, and I gather that one of the reasons for that spiffiness is a group called the Friends of Rittenhouse Square. The city doesn't -- or won't -- spend all the money needed to keep the park in top condition, the greens manicured and the fountain running, so the private group raises the rest of the money needed to keep the place in shape to welcome that diverse range of humanity.

I appreciate their efforts. Really I do. But.

I'm also conflicted about the fact that the Friends of Rittenhouse Square have basically shut down the center of the park this week -- made it off limits to me, and to my son, and to everybody else -- so that they can do their fund-raising with a black-tie gala tonight.

Rittenhouse Square is a public space. It was created for the use and enjoyment of all Philadelphians. But for a couple of days every summer, those of us who can't afford to attend black-tie galas are reminded that it's not really our park -- it belongs to our betters.

Friendship Socialism

This story in today's New York Times is more than a little disturbing. Apparently educators and adults are working feverishly to keep kids from having ... best friends.
Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”
As somebody who felt -- in junior high, particularly -- on the wrong side of the line of cliquishness and bullying, I've got to say: This is profoundly stupid. It's a weird attempt to create a socialism of friendship -- everybody is everybody's friend! -- that has nothing at all to do with the real world those children enter as adults.

Here's the truth: People gravitate to some people more than other people. I like books, you like books, but Johnny's more interested in football. So you and I hang out, and Johnny finds himself a football-loving buddy. The solution to cliquishness and bullying is not to keep people from sharing interests and sharing time bonding over such interests -- the solution is to teach those kids not to be jerks to people who don't share those bonds.

Because this practice is so at odds with the way people form relationships in real life, I can't help but feel that it's not aimed at reducing cliquishness and bullying so much as it is designed to reduce the amount of time and energy that educators have to spend dealing with cliquishness and bullying. On one level, I can't blame the authorities for that. But on the other, it's very Pink Floydian. Outlawing close friendships at school? You can't have any pudding if you won't eat your meat!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Federalist No. 22: Why the U.S. Senate and Jimmy Stewart both suck

Let's talk about the filibuster.

Back up: There's no discussion of the U.S. Senate or the filibuster by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 22. Hamilton's wrapping up a long discussion of why the Article of Confederation are a bad way to run the United States -- and while he touches on a few topics here, he spends most of this essay talking about one particular evil: Under the Articles, it's all too easy for a minority of states with a minority of the U.S. population to obstruct the will of the majority.

And what becomes clear is this: If the pre-Constitution U.S. government was unworkable because of such problems, well then: Today's U.S. government is unworkable.

Under the Articles, see, each state -- no matter how thickly or thinly populated -- had an equal voice in the national governance. What's more, it took the consent of two-thirds of the states to pass major legislation: In an era where the United States comprised just 13 states, that meant that five states could block action.

And that, Hamilton huffed, was no way to run a republic.
Its operation contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail. Sophistry may reply, that sovereigns are equal, and that a majority of the votes of the States will be a majority of confederated America. But this kind of logical legerdemain will never counteract the plain suggestions of justice and common-sense. It may happen that this majority of States is a small minority of the people of America;3 and two thirds of the people of America could not long be persuaded, upon the credit of artificial distinctions and syllogistic subtleties, to submit their interests to the management and disposal of one third.
He adds later:
The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. ... When the concurrence of a large number is required by the Constitution to the doing of any national act, we are apt to rest satisfied that all is safe, because nothing improper will be likely to be done, but we forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary, and of keeping affairs in the same unfavorable posture in which they may happen to stand at particular periods.
Here's the thing: Hamilton's critique of the Articles of Confederation is precisely applicable to the United States Senate.

Equal representation for each state, regardless of state size? Montana and New York both have two senators each, even though the population of Montana wouldn't even fill out Manhattan.

And a supermajority requirement for major legislation? That's pretty much the case in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to break a filibuster -- and a filibuster is brought, by one account, against 70 percent of all legislation.

George Will, who likes the filibuster, did the math in February after Scott Brown's election to the Senate:
Liberals fret: 41 senators from the 21 smallest states, with barely 10 percent of the population, could block a bill. But Matthew Franck of Radford University counters that if cloture were blocked by 41 senators from the 21 largest states, the 41 would represent 77.4 percent of the nation's population. Anyway, senators are never so tidily sorted, so consider today's health impasse: The 59 Democratic senators come from 36 states containing 74.9 percent of the population, while the 41 Republicans come from 27 states -- a majority -- containing 48.7 percent. (Thirteen states have senators from each party.)
Enjoyable how Will counts the number of states as a majority, and not the number of voters. As the Senate is currently constructed, though, the minority -- both in the number of senators and in the amount of population they represent -- routinely frustrates the will of the majority.

And Hamilton likened this state of affairs to "poison."

Should he have known that his critique would also be a problem under the new Constitution? Kinda, maybe. After all, the Senate was always proportioned to give each state an equal say. And since any legislation that would pass Congress would have to pass the Senate, it was always going to be the case that more-populated states would be proportionally less powerful in the national governance.

Where Hamilton maybe gets a pass: The filibuster isn't written into the Constitution. It's part of Senate rules, which the Senate itself adopts. Every few years there's talk of abolishing the filibuster, but whoever is in the minority -- sometimes it's Democrats and sometimes its Republicans -- usually starts waxing eloquent about the rights of the minority, and nothing ever comes of it.

And I wonder: Why don't they bring up Hamilton's critique of the Articles of Confederation? And why aren't conservatives like Will -- who seem to think they're more faithful than thou on matters of fidelity to the Constitution and the Founders -- the loudest voices on this? True, Hamilton wasn't directly criticizing today's U.S. Senate, but that doesn't matter. The state of affairs he describes is exactly the same.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Deborah Solomon answers questions!

In the New York Times Book Review. An excerpt noted without comment:

How does one train to ask good questions?

It’s probably not a learned skill so much as a personality defect.


Friday, June 11, 2010

President Obama's tin ear about BP

Well, this is just dumb:

President Barack Obama said Friday that some members of Congress should share the blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with POLITICO, the president said: “I think it’s fair to say, if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress and I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic, big-government overregulation and wasteful spending.”

Dumb. Transparently dumb. I know you're taking a lot of heat right now, but blaming Congress for its hypothetical reaction to your hypothetical proposal is ... dumb. You might be right about the hypotheticals, but here's the problem: You never actually took any such proposal to Congress.

Let's remember: I'm someone who wants to support you!

Maybe because of that, I suspect that a lot of the blame headed your way for not fixing the spill is unfair. But this effort to spread the blame stretches credulity. It's so inartful, in fact, that all it really does is embarrass you. Start doing better, Mr. President.

George Washington and Abe Lincoln: Founding Gay Bashers?

Via Andrew Sullivan, a little bit of patriotic gay-bashing:
Yuma Mayor Al Krieger said he spoke from the heart in a Memorial Day speech at Desert Lawn Cemetery. Krieger said, "And I cannot believe that a bunch of limp-wristed, lacey-drawed people could do what those men have done in the past."

Over a week after those comments, Krieger said there's nothing he would change. "I'm reluctant to compare myself to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, but I did get some feedback, and I don't think I said anything different than what they would have said."
Well sure, who can forget the stirring climax to Lincoln's Second Inaugural?
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. Except for the queers.
Or the finale of Washington's Farewell Address?
Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. But at least I'm not a pansy. Wait. Did that sound gay?
Brings a tear to your eye.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What's more important? Cutting the deficit or spurring job growth?

That's the question for this week's Scripps Howard column. I take a slightly fatalistic approach:
Actually, the debate is already over. Americans may be worried about their jobs, but it's possible they're even crankier about the growing national debt. Politicians in Washington D.C. are responding accordingly, with President Obama even calling on most federal agencies to reduce their budgets by 5 percent. With a bipartisan deficit commission now on the job, those cuts may just be the beginning.

Perhaps that's as it should be: The bill for decades of deficit spending – in good times and bad, under both Republican and Democratic presidents – was going to come due sooner or later. It appears now may be the time. But Americans should understand one thing about the belt- tightening: It's gonna hurt.

Federal spending doesn't just prop up unpopular programs, after all: Right now, it's helping keep teachers and police officers on the job while states and cities deal with their own budget problems. Austerity will threaten such efforts. There is even talk the deficit commission will recommend big changes – and, perhaps, big cuts – to Social Security benefits. Americans won't like that one bit, but it's a logical result of efforts to bring spending under control.

The problem, as economist Paul Krugman explains, is that cutting spending during a recession is costly and ineffective. "Costly, because it depresses the economy further," he writes. "Ineffective, because by depressing the economy, fiscal contraction now reduces tax receipts."

So: Job growth or deficit reduction? Austerity now might give us very little of either. But it will still hurt a lot.

Federalist 16-20: Alexander Hamilton's hopey-changey thing

Here we are, once again: The shadow of the Civil War -- about 70 years in the future -- keeps popping up as we make our way through the Federalist Papers. Why? Because Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison keep making the case that the United States under the Articles of Confederation is prone to such a war.

Hamilton revisits this theme in Federalist 16, suggesting that the states under the Articles have so much latitude to act on their own -- instead of falling in line under a central government -- that conflict is more likely to arise between the states. "The first war of this kind," he warns, "would probably terminate in a dissolution of the Union."

There's another possibility, though, as Hamilton admits: If one state went its own way in defiance of the national government, the other states would probably do likewise -- rather than make a big deal and incite war. "And the guilt of all," Hamilton writes, " would become the security of all."

And I admit: I'm having a hard time finding a major flaw in that arrangement. It appears there are two possible ways of insuring against a civil war: building a central government with the power to keep the states in line, or giving the states the freedom to act on their own and not impose laws and rules on each other.

Indeed, the antifederalists argue that building and empowering a centralized government will make a civil war more likely -- and more devastating when it occurs. "A Farmer" is one of those who made the argument.

Whether national government will be productive of internal peace, is too uncertain to admit of decided opinion. I only hazard a conjecture when I say, that our state disputes, in a confederacy, would be disputes of levity and passion, which would subside before injury. The people being free, government having no right to them, but they to government, they would separate and divide as interest or inclination prompted-as they do at this day, and always have done, in Switzerland. In a national government, unless cautiously and fortunately administered, the disputes will be the deep-rooted differences of interest, where part of the empire must be injured by the operation of general law; and then should the sword of government be once drawn (which Heaven avert) I fear it will not be sheathed, until we have waded through that series of desolation, which France, Spain, and the other great kingdoms of the world have suffered, in order to bring so many separate States into uniformity, of government and law; in which event the legislative power can only be entrusted to one man (as it is with them) who can have no local attachments, partial interests, or private views to gratify.

That kind of sounds like what happened, doesn't it? But Hamilton argues for big gubmint. Get this:

The government of the Union, like that of each State, must be able to address itself immediately to the hopes and fears of individuals; and to attract to its support those passions which have the strongest influence upon the human heart. It must, in short, possess all the means, and have aright to resort to all the methods, of executing the powers with which it is intrusted, that are possessed and exercised by the government of the particular States.

There's a lot of talk here about pretty mushy concepts like "hopes" and fears" and "the human heart." It sounds, in fact, almost Obama-like. Hamilton isn't really talking about limited government staying out of the way of citizens, who are then free to make their own way by dint of their rugged individualism. He's talking about using the power of the state in the service of citizen self-actualization. When Democrats talk like this these days, my conservative friends react with horror and contempt. Am I missing something?

Don't worry, Hamilton says in Federalist 15. The federal government under the U.S. Constitution will be too limited to really infringe on the people, or even to displace state governments. And it's here that I confess: My conservative friends are probably right when they say Hamilton et al could never have imagined the huge federal government we have today. Here's Hamilton talking about those limitations:

I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons intrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the States of the authorities of that description. The regulation of the mere domestic police of a State appears to me to hold out slender allurements to ambition. Commerce, finance, negotiation, and war seem to comprehend all the objects which have charms for minds governed by that passion; and all the powers necessary to those objects ought, in the first instance, to be lodged in the national depository. The administration of private justice between the citizens of the same State, the supervision of agriculture and of other concerns of a similar nature, all those things, in short, which are proper to be provided for by local legislation, can never be desirable cares of a general jurisdiction.

Mr. Hamilton: I give you the Department of Agriculture -- which has done more to affect why, how and what we grow and eat than any other institution in human history, perhaps. So there's that.
He keeps going.

There is one transcendant advantage belonging to the province of the State governments, which alone suffices to place the matter in a clear and satisfactory light, -- I mean the ordinary administration of criminal and civil justice. ... This great cement of society, which will diffuse itself almost wholly through the channels of the particular governments, independent of all other causes of influence, would insure them so decided an empire over their respective citizens as to render them at all times a complete counterpoise, and, not unfrequently, dangerous rivals to the power of the Union.

Mr. Hamilton, I give you the FBI. Bank robberies, no matter how third-rate and niggling, aren't really a local matter anymore -- they're prosecuted in federal courts. Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled that federal officials could civilly commit sex offenders who've served out their criminal prison sentences -- a role that used to be exclusively reserved to the states. And that ruling came from a conservative Supreme Court -- based on the so-called "necessary and proper clause" of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to make any law it needs to carry out its duties.

And hoo boy: The Antifederalists saw that one coming. Here's "Brutus," writing in Antifederalist 17.

The legislature of the United States are vested with the great and uncontrollable powers of laying and collecting taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; of regulating trade, raising and supporting armies, organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, instituting courts, and other general powers; and are by this clause invested with the power of making all laws, proper and necessary, for carrying all these into execution; and they may so exercise this power as entirely to annihilate all the State governments, and reduce this country to one single government. And if they may do it, it is pretty certain they will; for it will be found that the power retained by individual States, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States; the latter, therefore, will be naturally inclined to remove it out of the way.

Now it's not true that state governments have been "annihilated." But it is true that the trend has been that federal power has increased and state power has contracted. Which brings us to Hamilton's most flatly untrue statement -- though, perhaps, he couldn't have known it at the time.

It will always be far more easy for the State governments to encroach upon the national authorities than for the national government to encroach upon the State authorities.

It didn't really work out that way, did it?

Now, I don't think that's entirely bad. But if I'm honest here, I've got to say, the Antifederalists were generally right and the Federalists were generally wrong: The government being built under the new Constitution did morph into something big and powerful and giant, reaching into many areas of the lives of its citizens. Maybe that growth is a distortion of the Founder's vision -- probably, to some extent, it is -- but Hamilton's pretty blase about the possibilities. "It can't happen here," is what he seems to be saying. But it did.

Federalists 18, 19 and 20 also concern themselves, ostensibly, with the insufficiency of the Articles of Confederation -- but rely mostly on a verrrry dry reading of history from throughout the ancient world. I'm not familiar enough with Greek or German or Dutch history to judge the interpretations offered by Hamilton and Madison here, so I won't try.

But now I'm faced with a question: Will reading the Federalist and Antifederalist papers turn me into a libertarian weirdo? It's a possibility!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You know what? I hope that Sarah Palin runs for president. And loses. Badly.

I'm so tired of Sarah Palin's sense of grievance. But I know it's not going to go away -- it defines her. It is the reason, at this point, for her political existence. Don't believe me? Here's a Palin post offering President Obama advice on how to handle the BP oil spill.
My experience (though, granted, I got the message loud and clear during the campaign that my executive experience managing the fastest growing community in the state, and then running the largest state in the union, was nothing compared to the experiences of a community organizer) showed me how government officials and oil execs could scratch each others’ backs to the detriment of the public, and it made me ill.
You'd think Barack Obama had never, ever been a senator -- one elected to federal office two years before Sarah Palin became a governor. But you know what? I'm not going to replay the resume pissing match that indeed was resolved by voters two years ago.*

*OK, one item: A big chunk of Sarah Palin's gubernatorial experience with oil companies was using their money to send checks to Alaskans instead of taxing them. That looks nothing at all like the world non-Alaskans  live in.

But, lordy, a little class wouldn't hurt the woman would it? Showing respect for the president's actual accomplishments would be a good place to start -- unless Palin wants us to refer to her primarily as a onetime local sports anchor as the prime way we refer to her pre-2008 experience. It's true, of course, but it's not accurate. And showing a little respect for the voters -- instead of sneering at their judgment as she does here -- wouldn't be a bad second step.

The Flyers and feminism

You don't have to be a Flyers fan or a feminist to think this Chicago Tribune "pullout poster" is simply stupid:

Get it? HE'S A GIRL! Hahahahahahaha!

Jeebus. Flyers play the Blackhawks tonight. Now I doubly hope the Flyers win.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Federalist 15: Do today's Tea Partiers know about this?

I had thought I'd be taking these Federalist chapters in big chunks, rather than one-by-one, but it turns out there's a lot to think about in all of these. So we're going to have to go slowly.

You might remember that I said -- somewhat near the outset of this project -- that I expected some of the context of the Federalist would reveal itself as we proceeded through the papers. I wasn't entirely wrong, because we're now at Federalist 15, and Publius is ready to start telling us why the Articles of Confederation stink.

Not, of course, that he needs to make the case. From what I can tell skimming through the Antifederalist Papers, there's no great love for the Articles among any huge segment of the nascent American society. And Publius -- Alexander Hamilton in this particular chapter -- acknowledges as much.
The point next in order to be examined is the "insufficiency of the present Confederation to the preservation of the Union." It may perhaps be asked what need there is of reasoning or proof to illustrate a position which is not either controverted or doubted, to which the understandings and feelings of all classes of men assent, and which in substance is admitted by the opponents as well as the friends of the new Constitution.
So what's the problem here, exactly?

Well, as Hamilton puts it, the antifederalists know the Confederation doesn't work -- but they're unwilling to countenance a government strong enough to overcome the Confederation's problems.
While they admit that the government of the United States is destitute of energy, they contend against conferring upon it those powers which are requisite to supply that energy. They seem still to aim at things repugnant and irreconcilable; at an augmentation of federal authority, without a diminution of State authority; at sovereignty in the Union, and complete independence in the members.
Hmmm. Let me say right here I'm not trying to score any political points. But I've increasingly suspected -- reading the Federalist Papers and skimming over the Antifederalist Papers -- that today's Tea Party/GOP/conservative crowd might be heir more to the antifederalist tradition rather than the federalists. I'm not ready to mount a definitive case here -- I've not done enough reading, and in any case I've already suggested that Alexander Hamilton may not be the most reliable narrator -- but this passage here adds to my sense of things. Because it sure sounds like Hamilton is describing the kind of schizophrenia that characterizes a movement that roots on a president who breaks wiretapping and torture laws while decrying slightly higher marginal tax rates as "tyranny."

But I might be overreading things. I'm not ready to make the case. So let's move on.

Because of the antifederalist bipolar approach, Hamilton says, he's going to have to show how the Confederation really doesn't work. And he starts off with the biggest problem: The national government has too little power, while the states have too much. That means the states can -- and do -- ignore the laws made by the national government. It's an untenable situation.
The United States has an indefinite discretion to make requisitions for men and money; but they have no authority to raise either, by regulation extending to the individual citizens of America. The consequence of this is, that though in theory their resolutions concerning those objects are laws, constitutionally binding on the members fo the Union, yet in practice they are mere recommendations which the States observe or disregard at their option.
Up till now, Publius has talked long and hard about the need for the United States to remain, well, united. Now he takes a different tack: It would be better for the states to exist as separate nations -- though allied, like the NATO alliance -- rather than allow the national government to continue in such an emasculated state. Otherwise, Hamilton writes, it's time to give a national government the power to enforce the laws it makes -- even over the objections of the states.
Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation.
He continues:
There was a time when we were told that breaches, by the States, of the regulations of the federal authority were not to be expected; that a sense of common interest would perside over the conduct of the respective members, and would beget a full compliance with all the constitutional requisitions of the Union. ... In our case, the concurrence of thirteen distinct sovereign wills is requisite, under the Confederation, to the complete execution of every important measure that proceeds from the Union. It has happened as was to have been forseen. The measures of the Union have not been executed; the delinquencies of the states have, step by step, matured themselves to an extreme, which has, at length, arrested all the wheels of the national government, and brought them to an awful stand.
And here again, I'm thinking of today's Tea Party/conservative/GOP folks who regularly assert the rights of states to nullify federal laws. (Take a look at the states attorneys general bringing legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act.) They claim to be acting in the traditions of the Founders; yet the Founders really did act to centralize power -- take it away from the states -- instead of distributing power to the states.

I have no doubt I'll come up against a flaw in this theory -- or that somebody will point it out to me -- as I continue reading. But so far, I'm finding it harder to avoid this idea: Today's Tea Partiers might actually be heirs to folks who wanted nothing to do with the Constitution. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, assuming I'm right. But it might cast a very different flavor to our modern debates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Does your Miranda "right to remain silent" still exist?

That's the question for this week's Scripps Howard debate between Ben Boychuk and me, asked in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling this week that criminal suspects must speak up to claim their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. My take:

The Supreme Court's ruling boils down to this: Police get to assume you don't want your Constitutional rights. The Miranda warning -- the one you've heard cops say on TV a million times -- is now essentially meaningless.
"Today's decision turns Miranda upside down," Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. "Suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so."
Imagine if the government treated our other Constitutional protections this way. Federal agents would be free to shut down church services unless prayer was preceded by a pastor's public statement that churchgoers were exercising their First Amendment rights. Newspapers and bloggers would have to print the First Amendment on their front page to stave off a crackdown against criticizing the president. Gun owners would have to sign documents affirming their Second Amendment rights, or the government would be free to seize their firearms.
Sounds ridiculous, even un-American, right? So why should the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination be treated differently? Why should the government get to assume that you don't want your rights? Yes, there is a public interest in investigating and prosecuting crimes. But the Founders knew that interest could be abused, which is why they limited the government's police powers in the Constitution. Police don't like that, of course, but they're not supposed to. They're supposed to obey the rules anyway.
Constitutional rights are something that all American citizens are supposed to have. We're not supposed to have to jump through hoops in order to keep them; the government is supposed to jump through hoops in order to take them away. The Supreme Court, ironically led by "small government" conservatives, has now ruled otherwise. The Tea Partiers who routinely decry government tyranny might want to take notice.

Michael Smerconish's crazy, unfactual sympathy for BP and the oil spill

Michael Smerconish isn't joining a boycott of BP -- because if the boycott succeeds, maybe BP will go out of business. And if they go out of business, who will provide the money and expertise to fix the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
I intend to drive out of my way to fill up at a BP pump.

Why? Because it's imperative that the company doesn't tap out before plugging the leak and cleaning up the tens of millions of gallons of crude oil marring the Gulf of Mexico.

If BP goes under before either of those tasks is complete - or if the company can't afford to complete them itself - the federal government will be sucked into picking up the tab. Or worse, actually taking the lead in trying to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf and mop up the mess.
Here's the thing: the mess is proving very costly to BP -- both in terms of its stock market value and in terms of how much it's spending. And yet those enormous costs pale in comparison to how much money BP still has left over. Tuesday's New York Times:
One analyst calculated that in a worst-case scenario, BP’s cleanup liability would be around $14 billion, which would account for the entire loss of all fishing and tourism revenues for coastal states closest to the spill, said Kevin Book, a managing director at ClearView Energy Partners. Even then, Mr. Book said, the market overreacted, and BP can easily handle the cleanup bill.

BP remains a formidable corporation, with the ability to withstand penalties that would easily bankrupt most companies. On April 26, a few days after the Deepwater Horizon rig that it had rented from Transocean sank, BP reported first-quarter profits of $6.2 billion. Because of its considerable profits and size, it does not buy outside insurance for such disasters.

The market drop means that while BP is not at risk of bankruptcy, the crisis could potentially turn it into a takeover target if the slide continues.
So the worst that can happen to BP right now -- aside from the unlikely scenario of the federal government deciding to take it over -- is that some other capitalist will take the company over, not that the company will go under. And honestly: Why should I care if some other Richie Rich is making profits and assuming liability for the oil spill? It's too bad Michael Smerconish didn't decide to use some actual facts in his column, instead of indulging in baseless speculation.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bag O' Books: "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis' great talent is to take abstractly nerdy topics and turn them into bestsellers by grafting a compelling human narrative on them. "Moneyball" took baseball stats revolution and made Billy Beane into a hero; "The Blind Side" took a look at football's left tackle position -- a position that even most die-hard fans don't watch that closely, except in slow-mo instant replays -- and turned it into an Oscar for Sandra Bullock. So it's difficult to read "The Big Short" -- a chronicle of the subprime housing market collapse, and how it nearly took the entire financial system down with it -- ­and not  think of the movie possibilities.

Certainly there's characters aplenty, each with wacky distinctiveness but who share a common bond: They were the few people who saw the collapse coming -- despite the "nobody could've known" rationalizations afterward -- and who got rich because of it. There's Michael Burry, a one-eyed former doctor with Asperger's syndrome whose condition gave him advantage: he was one of the few financial analysts obsessed enough to sift through subprime bond documents to discover how tenuous the market was. There's Steve Eisman, whose great talent in life was to be an asshole contrarian. There's Eisman's sidekick, Queens-bred Vinny Daniels, who entered the financial industry not from an Ivy League school but from SUNY-Binghamton. And there's Charlie Ledley, a "diletantte" who made his fortune with shrewd guesses about which companies would rebound from disaster better than others.

Cross the cast from "The Dream Team," maybe and stick them in "Wall Street," and "The Big Short" is what you get. (And it's probably no accident that two movies from the 1980s fit perfectly here: As Lewis makes clear, the subprime collapse marked the end of the exuberant "financial 1980s" some 20 years late.)

Only Lewis' cast of characters is real. And they got rich predicting the collapse of the subprime market because they did what very few individuals -- and even fewer big banking institutions -- did: They tried to make the subprime market explain itself. Why are subprime bonds given such good ratings? Why isn't there better information about the quality of loans that are bundled into the bonds? Why is the process so opaque? The answers they got didn't make sense, but nobody else was asking the questions because everybody was making too much money. Until they weren't. (The similarity to "Moneyball" is astounding, actually, except that the fate of capitalism itself rests in the balance.)

In the end, the success (until it failed) of the subprime bond market depended on a bit of weirdness: Housing prices had gone up, up, up for 60 years, and nobody thought they would ever go down. Combine that faulty assumption -- computer models used by big banks wouldn't even let you input a decline in home prices to see what would happen to the value of the subprime bonds -- with the collapse of lending standards, and, well, what happened was always going to happen. Lewis describes an immigrant strawberry picker who got a loan to buy a $700,000 house ... on an income of $14,000 a year. How did that happen?

One thing the book drives home -- something that we want to forget -- is how close the entire financial world came to collapsing in 2008. One of Charlie Ledley's partners calculates that the city of Chicago has eight days of chlorine available to treat the city's water supply -- a calculation he makes because he thinks it might be relevant. Other characters come to question the viability of democratic capitalism -- even as they're making a killing -- because the heart of Wall Street's (and thus America's) economic engine was dependent on opacity, near fraud and Ponzi-like scheming for success.

We're still fighting about how to regulate the financial markets, but Lewis doesn't offer much in the way of solutions -- only anger about the messed-up nature of the system. That's ok: movies don't need to offer solutions. And Matt Damon would be great as Michael Burry.