The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture

All Your Sins...

Catherine gives us the Indy IV forgiveness list (spoilers!):

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Who Knew He Had Credibility to Begin With?

At Commentary, Peter Wehner writes:

By now Scott McClellan’s credibility has been damaged. He has shown an inability to handle questions from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, NBC’s Tim Russert, and others.

So, what you’re saying is: Not much has changed since he was White House press secretary?

Rent Control

I have been accused of being too cynical about the American legislative process because I forecast in a prior post that lots of side deals would get cut to allow a carbon tax to get enough votes to become a law.

Anyone taken a look at how the current Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill (a.k.a, the “opaque carbon tax”) has been evolving as we approach a vote?

Here are some of the features of the bill: Allocation to farmers and foresters via USDA based on amount of GHG emissions reduced or sequestered; Transition assistance to workers, using auction proceeds directed via the Climate Change Worker’s Assistance Fund; Transition assistance to carbon intensive manufacturers, refiners of petroleum and natural gas providers; Federal assistance to low-income consumers, via auction proceeds directed by the Climate Change Consumer Assistance Fund; Allocation to electricity and natural gas consumers via local distribution companies based on historic sales adjusted upwards for efficiency; Assisting state economies that rely heavily on manufacturing and coal, based on equally-weighted metrics of emissions that resulted from coal production from 1988 through 1992 and number of manufacturing jobs in the same period; Assisting state and local partnerships for mass transit via auction proceeds distributed by the Transportation Sector Emission Reduction Fund; Energy efficiency and conservation block grant program via auction proceeds; Special allocations to states based on historic state investments in GHG reductions and increasing energy efficiency; Special allocations to states and tribes based on several climate change vulnerability indicators; Special auction with proceeds directed to states and tribes via State Wildlife Adaptation Fund; Special allocation to private sector entities through the Early Action program for emissions reductions achieved since 1994; Allocation to owners of high efficiency buildings, retailers and distributors (based on increase in sales), and owners, operators and developers of renewable energy generation facilities (based on several metrics) via the Climate Change Technology Board; Auction proceeds directed to generation facilities and suppliers of technology components via the Low and Zero Carbon Electricity Technology Fund (as administered by the Climate Change Technology Board); Special allocation for entities that purchase medium and heavy duty hybrid vehicles; Special auction with proceeds directed to vehicle manufacturers via the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program; Allocation to US producers of cellulosic biofuels; Special auction with proceeds directed to federal Firefighting, Wildlife Adaption and similar Funds; Special allocation to foreign countries for the reduction of deforestation; Special auction with proceeds directed to foreign countries and entities via the Clean Development Technology Board (as administered by the International Clean Development Technology Board); Auction proceeds directed to administrative funding via the Climate Security Act Administrative Fund.

Calling some of these carve-outs “transition” assistance is pretty funny, since they extend out to 2030 for the oil, natural gas, power generating and manufacturing companies (six presidential elections and more than three senate terms from now). Do you think that when 2030 rolls around their reaction is going to be “a deal’s a deal”?

Of course, this is the rent-seeking we have now as the regulatory process is about to be kicked off. For this program to work, it has to remain in force for many decades. If this happens, entire lobbying firms will be built up to seek exemptions, allowances and so on. Many nice homes will be built in McLean with the proceeds, and many members of congress will have re-election campaigns financed by the contributions this bill will generate. It will create another income tax code.

what to write on

Rands on notebooks. Superb.


Is Hillary dropping out? Is she staying in? Did the Vanity Fair story on Bill play a part? Will she continue to snipe at Obama? What will the women say? What about the bloggers? Is she just suspending? What does it mean? Isn’t it what Romney did? Does anyone care? Doesn’t this just leave us in basically the same place as before: With Obama headed toward the Democratic nomination? What did Hillary accomplish? Will this play in Peoria? How many blog posts will Andrew Sullivan write about this? How many of them will you read? How many editors at TNR and/or Slate are, after months of hinting that Hillary should quit, working on pieces arguing the case for why Hillary should’ve stayed in? What does Michael Barone think? Is Keith Olbermann to blame? How about Bill O’Reilly? Will it ever end? And if so, how?

Take Control of Your Stuff

Julian Sanchez laments Apple’s abominable customer service.

First, you’ve got what’s obviously a simple physical problem that can very probably be repaired in all of a minute flat with the right set of tools. But instead of letting their vaunted support guys give this a shot, they’re encouraging customers—many of whom presumably don’t know any better—to shell out a ludicrous amount of money to replace it and send the old one in. I appreciate that it’s not always obvious that a problem can be this easily remedied on site, but in the instance, it really seems like a case of exploiting consumer ignorance.

I both believe that Apple would be better off were it to embrace greater transparency and openness, this despite the broad commercial success of its appliancization model, and that the only lasting anecdote [ahem, yes I meant antidote] to this problem is a cultural shift on the part of technology consumers — a cultural shift driven by the likes of O’Reilly Media’s MAKE and Matthew B. Crawford. My guess is that Crawford sees his project as far larger than simply empowering consumers. But understanding and truly owning our technological tools is a good first step towards leading a more mindful economic life.

The Family Paskowitz

Reading this short Daily Intel post on a young family that plans to cut loose from civilized society to live life on the open road reminded me of one of the most wonderful films I’ve seen in ages, Surfwise. It just opened in Washington on Friday (I saw it just after work), and I fully intend to see it again on Wednesday. In fact, I had hoped to dragoon my parents to see it this Sunday, but they were more interested in The Counterfeiters, which was pretty good.

I won’t say that Surfwise is on par with Capturing the Friedmans or The Order of Myths in terms of technical skill, but it beats them both in affectingness, and certainly in its relevance to the kind of questions that keep me exercised and occupied. If you’re looking for sheer fun in a documentary King of Kong might be a better bet, but I must say, the Paskowitz family is pretty damn entertaining — every one of the kids is a character, and Doc Paskowitz, the power-mad patriarch and would-be guru, would be one of the most compelling characters in American fiction, right up there with Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, if only for the inconvenient matter of his being an actual person.

I don’t want to give anything away — you really need to see it — but basically Paskowitz was an extreme idealist who, after leading a conventionally successful life, gave it all up to become a beach bum in Israel, to travel the world in the hopes of mastering the art of giving women sexual pleasure, and finally to keep house in a 24-foot RV with his Mexican American wife and their seven children, none of whom ever received any formal education. Nope. They surfed, read, ate a strange granola-gruel, surfed, and slept. This was the everyday routine as they criss-crossed the country for decades. Suffice to say, this wasn’t an entirely blissful existence, and the Paskowitz children have struggled in various ways with their strange legacy. Like a lot of impish visionaries, Doc Paskowitz seems not to have fully come to terms with the many ways he’s done damage to those he loves most. But I have to say, this is pretty classic — it is the danger of raising children, and investing them with your hopes and aspirations.

I was struck, and this is a theme that runs through the film, by the rigors of leading this kind of “bohemian” lifestyle. Some months ago, I came across a New York “Look Book” featuring Molly Findlay, absolutely the kind of person you’d want to spend long afternoons with.

Do you doctor lots of your clothes?
I guess I do. I come from a sort of crafty family. We were always making things at home. I grew up in Northern California and in the Mojave Desert— my parents were hippies. They liked to keep it moving. We lived in the middle of nowhere, with no television or phone. My parents had a van, and to get our water we would drive in with an empty water bed, fill it up, ride home on it, and then empty it into the water tank.

Do you think of raising Isadora that way?
Right after she was born I said, let’s get a van and drive across Europe. But my friends all pointed out that just because my parents were eccentric doesn’t mean that I am. My parents are just much, much cooler than I’ll ever be.

Do you think your daughter will think that of you?
She seems pretty cool— she may already be cooler than me.

I can sympathize, as my parents are much cooler than I’ll ever be. Actually, considering how cool Findlay clearly is, I have to assume that her parents are cooler than polar bears. As for her non-bohemianism, I guess that’s roughly the right place to end up, but I do hope that somewhere in the Buddenbrooks cycle some future generation of Salams decides to pick up stakes.

Then there is the inescapable fact that nonconformism is, in the economy of cultural capital, a prized commodity. Consider the following letter to BusinessWeek in the latest issue.

It’s funny how the goal of mindlessly climbing the corporate ladder has returned. Stories like these make me fear for the future of our country. I only hope these students represent a very small sliver of their generation. Now more than ever, we need innovators and nonconformists rather than human calculators. (Human calculators get outsourced.) Steven L. May

I get the point. I sympathize! But note that there’s no getting out of the “iron cage.” Mind you, I’m pro-modernity, pro-market. What troubles me (us?) about the Paskowitz story, which of course I invest with a lot of romance and affection, are the constraints on the kids — what was their context of choice, and how could they live full lives in a market society?

Watch the movie, and report back if you can.