Impressed with Obama’s Adjustment

I am impressed with Barack Obama’s recent adjustment. After being criticized by John McCain for expanding welfare (increasing payments to those who do not work)… Obama improved his position, dropped those payments, and focused on a class which we used to call the deserving poor:

Political Radar: Obama Tweaks Tax Plan to Rebut McCain
Facing criticism from John McCain that his tax plan constitutes “welfare,” Barack Obama recently added a work requirement to one of his proposals.

“They started saying this was welfare,” said Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee. “So, just so they would absolutely not be able to say that, we decided that for the last two percent we’ll simply add a work requirement.”

Goolsbee referred to the number of non-working Americans who would benefit from the original understanding of Obama’s plan as an insignificant “sliver” when compared to the much larger number of working Americans who would benefit from Obama’s plan.

Our brains are wired to detect cheaters. Cheater detection is the part of human nature that revolts at providing subsidies to those who do not contribute fairly. One big problem that old-style tax-and-spend liberals had is that they wanted subsidizes for all those who were poor, whether they were deserving or not.

People naturally are repelled at providing to charities to encouraging social cheating, such as shirking responsibility, and it is virtuous for people to refuse to support such institutions. Too many old-fashioned Democrats were never able to see that, so potentially good social programs were either trashed out of concern the Democrats would let the cheaters in, or become magnates for cheaters themselves.

Obama, by shifting his position to try to freeze out the ‘undeserving poor,’ seems to understand that. And that’s a good thing.

Disappointing Sequels

Watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yesterday. I had been hearing bad reviews of it for some time, with most debate focusing on whether or not it is worse than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The South Park satire finally gave me no choice but to watch.

Crystal Skull made me think of Oblivion, another piece of art that was the fourth in the series and much worse than the third. Their similarities do not end their. Both are lobatomoizations of what had come before: both Oblivion and Crystal Skull maintain the art direction and “world” of what had come before. But the logic is gone. The game preceeding Oblivion, Morrowind, presented players with a fully realized world where one could play for 100 hours, save the world, and never die. The movie preceding Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, expertly mixed a romantic view of archaeology, a romantic view of Christian traditions, and a romantic view of European lore to tell a story of a father and son.

Crystal Skull is unfiarly panned for many elements which could have made an excelletn Indian Jones movies. Crystal Skull is set in the 1950s, so its use of an early Cold War mythos is fully appropraite. But nothing makes sense. It’s a Mummy movie that somehow stars Indiana Jones. Like Oblivion is a puzzle game that somehow takes place in Tamriel.

International Institutions

Two international institutions that have been in the news these days are the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Union State of Russia and Belarus (USRB). The IMF, created by America after World War II and run by Europe, is in the process of turning the financial crisis into an opportunity, forcing market reforms and increased openness in exchange for large government loans. The USRB, a relic of Yeltsin’s foreign policy, seems to exist only to show the destruction that Vladimir Putin has done to Russia’s power in the world.

Consider, for example, Belarus going to the IMF for a loan, after empty talk of Russia bailout out Iceland was shown as just another of Putin’s bizarre stunts. (Iceland went to the IMF, too.)

Or that the Republic of Kosovo, sliced out of Russia’s former client Serbia, will also join the IMF. Or that all Russia could do to help its Union State partner Belarus was to suspend collections of natural gas payments.

It pays to have friends. Russia’s nemesis Georgia will get $200 billion from Japan. And Kosovo is getting rule-of-law assistance.

Talk of a “new cold war” is so laughable, because Russia’s in no position to fight one. During its heyday, Russia was able to prevent Poland and Czechoslovakia from joining the Marshall plan. Now half of the consistuent members of the USRB are going to the IMF. Putin may be Saddam with nukes, but Russia’s is also just an exceptionally beligerent Portugal. Like a driveway that collects ice, Russia’s a real danger to those who live in Europe. Russia must not be ignored, and Europe should take steps (such as increasing nuclear power and photovoltaics) to limit the danger. But there’s no need to hyperventilate about Russia, either.

Time is our friend. Russia’s demographic collapse is now compounding: the baby bust of the fall of the Soviet Union leads to an even greater baby bust now. Meanwhile, Chinese and Muslims increase as a fraction of Russia’s population. Russia is essentially a central Asian state, and the sooner it falls into China’s orbit (with the rest of the khanates), the better.

The IMF grows in influence. The Union State of Russia and Belarus is split. The Core grows, and the ability of the Gap to cause trouble shrinks.

Update: Russia slaps sanctions on Belarus, while Belarus pushes for a Belarus-EU Free Trade Area. Belarus increasingly looks like a “Seam State,” bordering New Core (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia), Seam (Ukraine), and Gap (Russia) states and being able to work in any of those environments.