Friday, December 30, 2011

the anti-incumbent election myth

Some perspective on the some of the more idiotic tea leaf reading going around regarding next year's elections from Larry Sabato.

If you hear someone say the words "triple flip" in the context of next year's elections, you know you don't have to listen to them anymore because they don't know what they're talking about.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The End of an Error

The war in Iraq officially ended today. I honestly wasn't sure I'd ever see this day.

I've written, spoken, screamed, argued, spat out, and drunkenly slurred so many words on so many occasions damning this war and those who started it, and now on the day of its end, I'm having trouble finding thoughts to contribute.

It's hard to eulogize a war when one can't even articulate why we fought it. I still don't know. In fact, with every year I think the war has made even less sense. Maybe Bush really did think Iraq had nukes and ties to Al Qaeda. If so, perhaps one day, when we can speak honestly about Iraq, we can take a lesson from it about qualities to avoid in a presidential candidate. It is certainly a warning against electing charismatic dimwits, people with no intellectual curiosity and a philosophy of decision-making "from the gut."

Maybe in the future, Americans will force themselves to keep their cool in the aftermath of an attack, telling themselves: "don't do anything rash or allow yourselves to be conned. Remember Iraq."

Iraq could prove the anti-WWII. Neoconservatives, for instance, think war is always the answer, citing World War II as historical precedent. Every foreign leader becomes Hitler, all of their crimes become the Holocaust, every American president has the choice to be Chamberlain or Churchill.

Perhaps Iraq could become a catch-all reason to keep our cool and not listen to those who would con us into war. Perhaps every "bad guy" could become Saddam Hussein, unarmed and besieged, wrongfully accused of being a threat to the US but unable to admit he has no super-secret nuclear program because it's the only thing keeping Iran at bay. Every ostensible reason for invasion becomes Iraqi WMD, existent only in the fever dreams of the administration. Every warmonger could become Colin Powell, dangling falsified evidence that the proponents of war call "ironclad." And every president is in trouble of becoming George W. Bush, blinded by the need for revenge, manipulated by his underlings and advisors, impervious to all countervailing evidence, firing weapons inspector and weapons inspector when they return to report that the enemy's mobile weapons labs are a myth.

I'll end by recalling that it was the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the need for revenge, that were a primary cause of the war. As of today, 4,487 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, about 1,000 more than the total casualties of 9/11.

Friday, December 09, 2011

money > cans

Interesting research from Matt Yglesias shows that food pantries and charities get much more value out of donations of cash than of canned food. Essentially, charities have cut deals with supermarkets to score food for pennies on the dollar:
All across America, charitable organizations and the food industry have set up mechanisms through which emergency food providers can get their hands on surplus food for a nominal handling charge. Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail.

Beyond the better pricing, Yglesias points out that sorting cans involves a lot more work and space than depositing a check, and the charity can use the check to buy things they know the families will actually like and know how to prepare. Plus, hey, you can document your donations for tax purposes much more easily if you wrote a check.

message to Obama: hire Ron Paul's ad guy

Seriously, this ad is fantastic. Political advertising has gotten pretty stagnant, and negative ads can be so rankling and formulaic: a black background, black and white unflattering photos of the other guy, that smarmy woman or that old dude doing the overacted voice-over: "Mitt Romney saayyyss..."

This could be a movie commercial. Well done.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

a long time coming

Finally dug in and modernized the look of the ol' blog. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

better Plan B than Plan C

The Washington Post:
In a rare public split among federal health officials, the Health and Human Services Department overruled a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to make the drug available to anyone of any age without a restriction.

In a statement, FDA Administrator Margaret A. Hamburg said she had decided the medication could be used safely by girls and women of all ages. But she added that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had rejected the move.

“I agree ... there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential,” Hamburg said.

“However, this morning I received a memorandum from the Secretary of Health and Human Services invoking her authority under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to execute its provisions and stating that she does not agree with the Agency’s decision to allow the marketing of Plan B One-Step nonprescription for all females of child-bearing potential,” she said.

Had Kathleen Sebelius not made the unprecedented move of overturning the FDA's decision, Plan B would soon be available in the same way as aspirin, preventing Lord knows how many unwanted pregnancies and allowing young women more freedom to make their own family planning choices.

This decision has a significant impact on our lives. It's a perfect example of everything conservatives could rightly rail against. This is some bureaucrat wielding the power of government to enforce her personal opinions (Sebelius is Catholic). This is a perfect example of big government nosing its way into our lives and personal decisions. This is over-regulation at its worst, forcing the market's hand because of airy fairy feelings and fear of special interest groups.

Of course, we won't hear anything from them, neither condemnation for the things they claim to believe in nor praise for things they actually believe in. But this isn't really about them, is it? This is about the Obama Administration stopping a major, necessary policy change by the FDA that would grant young women a tremendous degree of reproductive freedom. It would have changed millions of lives for the better, but oh well, what's more important: changing millions of lives for the better or giving parish priests one less reason to bash Democrats in Mass?

Kevin Drum articulates my sentiment pretty well:
This is the first time an HHS secretary has ever overruled the FDA, and it's a blow to those of us who believe that Democratic administrations are more willing to be guided by scientific evidence than Republican ones.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

the BCS: sigh, so we're doing this again.

As many of you no doubt already know, it's time for the BCS to decide for us who will be playing in the national championship game, based on the opinions of coaches who don't watch most of the games and computer formulae that outside observers have generally dismissed as "nonsense math." This year will be one of the worst years for the BCS, as there's only one undefeated team in the country, LSU, so they have to pluck one of the one-lossers up to join them in the national championship. The difference in caliber between the various one-lossers? We have no earthly idea, because for the most part, they haven't played each other, nor have their respective conferences played each other except for one or two games.

Dr. Saturday sums it up thusly:
In the meantime, congratulations to Alabama and Oklahoma State (and Stanford, and Boise State, and Oregon, and Wisconsin) on outstanding seasons. You are all worthy. All but one of you is about to get screwed. This is the system you're forced to play in. As for the rest of us, we don't have to play along.

The whole post is great, by the way. Even better is Dan Wetzel's annual takedown of the BCS, this year brewed a little heartier because the system is exposed even more than usual. If you want to know exactly how the system is flawed, check it out. Wetzel's case is ironclad.

He releases a bracket every year to show what games we'd be watching if we scrapped the BCS for a 16 team bracket, and this year it's going to be outstanding.

But back to the BCS: does anybody still defend this system? Dr. Saturday put it best: holding a vote to decide who's the better team, in a game that keeps score, is stupid. What defense could you possibly muster for this asinine system? Tradition? We should keep engaging in this ridiculous exercise because we were stupid enough to do it last year?

And remember, nobody else does this, not even division II college football. They use a playoff, and there's rarely any scandal about a team unfairly left out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the details matter

A pretty good job by DougJ at Balloon Juice articulating why I've unconsciously purged my RSS of most of its political writers and have stopped reading newspaper editorials:
Establishment media types are innumerate. I doubt that more than a quarter could estimate the US GDP within 35%. The details of pro-Social Security versus anti-Social security arguments, or austerity versus expansionary arguments, are completely lost on them. (It’s possible that I am not as conversant with these arguments as I should be myself, though I think I am reasonably conversant, to be honest with you.)

So they gravitate towards whichever position is more in line with some fuzzier, more qualitative world view; that world view is often that the American middle-class is spoiled and needs tough love. They don’t want to starve the middle-class, they feel they owe it to them. This is about more than making money. I doubt Ruth Marcus or Joe Klein would lose their jobs or suffer a pay cut if they stopped fluffing Paul Ryan. I also think that they genuinely believe that the American middle-class needs to suffer. I am not attributing any malice to anyone here, quite the opposite.

It’s striking that so many economists—even conservative ones like Greg Mankiw and Martin Feldstein—supported the stimulus, albeit with caveats about how it wasn’t perfect and so on, while non-economist pundits were generally critical of it. This happened because economists were more likely to consider the quantitative details while punditubbies (EDIT: h/t) thought gubmint should tighten its belt when Real Murkins do.

I also don’t think establishment media types supported the Iraq War because they wanted to see Iraqis and American soldiers die (with some exceptions, Tom Friedman has explicitly stated that he wanted to tell Iraqi civilians to “suck on this”). They didn’t understand the complexities of a potential war, so they went with what felt good—spreading freedom, keeping America safe, showing the Muslim world some tough love, etc. In some cases, crass careerist or circus dog motivations came into play I am sure, but I bet some of these people honestly thought it was “the right thing to do”.

Most of the people we've put in charge of political discourse don't actually know very much at all about policy. Perhaps that's a trite point. What's more interesting is this link between ignorance of (or maybe lack of desire to discuss) the details of policy, no matter how important to the topic at hand, and the switching of the conversation instead to airy-fairy issues of narrative and morality and horse races. I imagine that mirrors the way most people talk about things they don't know a thing about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


God bless NPR and the internet, because without them I would never have heard any of this: BettySoo.

Congressional pay

Interesting: Matt Glassman compares Congress' salaries to inflation and finds that, contrary to popular opinion, after all the peaks and valleys Congress is barely paying itself more now than it was in 1913.

To the extent that congressional pay is a problem, it may actually be that it's too low. Paying congressional representatives inadequately opens the door to corruption and locks out the non-wealthy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

on the other hand

It makes for great comedy. Nancy Pelosi, responding to Rick Perry's debate challenge:
He did ask if I could debate here in Washington on Monday — it is my understanding that such a letter has come in. Monday, I’m going to be in Portland in the morning, visiting some of our labs in California in the afternoon, that’s two … I can’t remember what the third thing is.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

the War on the War on Poverty

Michele Bachmann in last night's debate, echoing a common refrain among Republicans:
The "Great Society" has not worked and it's put us into the modern welfare state. If you look at China, they don't have food stamps. If you look at China, they're in a very different situation. They save for their own retirement security…They don't have the modern welfare state and China's growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society and they'd be gone.

This rubs me particularly raw since my favorite president happens to be Lyndon Baines Johnson, so I'd like to answer. Putting aside for a moment Bachmann's insinuation that we should be less socialist and more capitalist, ya know, like the People's Republic of China, let's talk about Bachmann's promise to eliminate the Great Society.

I'll start with the obvious and most politically relevant point: the capstone of the Great Society was the creation of Medicare, a program that is not only hugely popular among Bachmann's own constituents, but that she has personally promised to protect on numerous occasions. In fact, she ran against the Affordable Care Act specifically because it cut Medicare funding.

That the moderators would let her suggest eliminating the Great Society without making her answer to the abolition of Medicare is a major reason why I believe these debates are altogether pointless.

Now let's talk about the Great Society as a whole. Despite Bachmann's typically ignorant and cliche point that it "has not worked," the point of the Great Society was to lower the poverty rate. That's the standard by which we should gauge whether it "has not worked." Luckily, the federal government has been keeping tabs on the poverty rate for decades, including during the '60's. Anyone want to guess how the Great Society performed?
...from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century. Since then, the poverty rate has hovered at about the 13 percent level and sits at 13.3 percent today, still a disgraceful level in the context of the greatest economic boom in our history. But if the Great Society had not achieved that dramatic reduction in poverty, and the nation had not maintained it, 24 million more Americans would today be living below the poverty level.

That's right: Lyndon Johnson cut the poverty rate in half within a decade. That's a monumental, jaw-dropping achievement. If there were a contest for greatest presidential achievement of the 20th century, I would nominate this one. It was an expensive achievement as well, yes, but if you're going to propose gutting the Great Society to save money, you should have to contend with this fact.

It's still the social safety net, largely woven from the Great Society, that protects that vulnerable 10+ percent of Americans from destitution, by the way.

The difference between 28.6% of the American population and 17.8% is about 33 million people who would otherwise be under the poverty rate.

Thirty-three million people.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Obama: best in the world?

This is now the second or third person I've seen voice this sentiment. Just throwing it out there. Not sure if I believe it, and not sure we'll be able to say one way or another before the other shoe drops on this Italy/Greece fiasco.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

-Wilfred Owen

Today is Armistice Day.

Yes, yes, we changed it to Veterans' Day, but we shouldn't have. This should still be Armistice Day. Veterans' Day has become nothing more than an annual occasion for everyone to prove how patriotic they are. Have you ever actually thanked a veteran? Did you notice the look on their face? I've seen a lot of veterans have people shake their hands and thank them for their service, and the reaction I see in their eyes is almost never gratitude. I'm not a soldier, so I don't know what it is. It usually looks to me like it's a mixture of annoyance and being reminded of something painful (or nostalgia?). But hey, what do I know? I never served.

Let's face it: every day in the United States is Veterans' Day, such is the nationalistic fervor in this country. When was the last time you were at a sporting event, church service, or social function and someone didn't take a moment to thank veterans?

It's not that veterans don't deserve a day to be honored, of course, but there are lessons for us in Armistice Day. It's much than just thanking soldiers for their service (though it is that!). Armistice Day is not a celebration of war; it's a remembrance of it. It's a remembrance of the day the bloodiest war in the history of the world was called to a halt. No one was defeated, no grand cause was furthered and no nations conquered. After the deaths of millions, there was nothing gained and nothing settled, not even the war itself, and within 30 years there followed an even more horrific sequel.

Armistice Day is a day to remember how awful war is, how awful it is to kill soldiers and civilians, and that in itself makes it a more useful holiday for Americans than most. It's also, however, a reminder of how easy it is to go to war, how little cause our leaders really need to start demanding of our sons and daughters "the last full measure of devotion." It's a reminder of how difficult wars are to end, how wars have a way of expanding well beyond their intended goals and confines. And it's a reminder that things can always get worse.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

debates, cont.

Thinking about it again this morning, I'm not finished with the debate last night. I was thinking more about the question of what a "gaffe" is to me. A gaffe to me is watching a guy like Perry, who claims to be a conservative, breezily list off a bunch of executive departments he'd redline, just write off into oblivion. Uh, that's a little cavalier, don'tcha think, especially considering these departments contain things like the constitutionally necessary Census Bureau, and the National Nuclear Safety Administration, and the US Patent and Trademark Office, as Ezra Klein notes this morning? Sounds to me like we're talking about one of two proposals:

  1. you're going to defund major, necessary programs while laying off a bunch of people during a weak recovery in order to save a relatively paltry amount of money (didn't you just say that all of the budget is tied up in "entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and these other unfunded liabilities?").

  2. you're going to reshuffle the organization of agencies within the executive branch, moving everything in Education to another department, because... well, why? Who cares if the Census Bureau is in the Dept. of Commerce or the Dept. of State? What difference does it make whether or not the executive has a "Dept. of Education" if you're going to keep the agencies and bureaus within it? For that matter, the list of major issues facing the next president include the war in Afghanistan, chronic unemployment, slow economic growth, a collapse Eurozone, climate change, cartel violence on the border, illegal immigration, patent abuse, steeply climbing tuition rates, and high health care costs. What the f**k are you doing fiddlefarting around with the organization of the executive branch? How does that solve anything? Do you really not recognize that it would take an enormous amount of time and work to reorganize the bureaucracy of the executive, time that could be spent dealing the country's actual problems?

Or, for that matter, a gaffe to me is the Eurozone being on the brink of collapse, and every candidate dodging any question related to it. It must be nice, in a way, standing up on that podium and pretending to be president, but being able to dodge every difficult issue sent your way, just changing the subject to something you already have a canned answer for.

Of course, the one guy who doesn't get to dodge this question is the President of the United States. He needs to have an answer, or at least some first principles and a method to arrive at the answer. Our current president has had to answer a number of very difficult questions. Thinking back on the issues he's faced, and watching these guys all dodge the questions they're uncomfortable with, Sarah Palin style, and ramble on instead about how "a dollar should be a dollar" makes them all look like light-weights, clownish pretenders.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


We're going to be seeing a lot of this over the next few days at least, and maybe more depending on the Perry campaign's capacity for damage control. I would not be surprised if this proved to be the decisive stroke ending Perry's status as a legitimate contender.

And, in a way, that makes me sad.

I am unsurprisingly no fan of Rick Perry. I can't decide if a Perry presidency or a Cain one is the worst case scenario, but either case would be a child in the driver's seat. It would be a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Nevertheless, this "gaffe" says nothing. Rick Perry is on national TV, being asked a direct, specific question by the moderator while standing next a line of his adversaries. He was the frontrunner only a couple of weeks ago, and has been watching his numbers decline, perhaps beyond hope, only a scant few months before the first primaries. His other debate performances have been widely panned, and this is one of his last shots to turn his fortunes around before it's too late. It's the eleventh hour for all the candidates, but for Perry most of all.

It's hard to imagine the amount of pressure he's under in this clip, and it's no surprise that someone under that much pressure would lose their train of thought, and fail to recover in the ensuing moment of panic he must have experienced, as well as he did at hiding it.

The worst part of this episode for him is that a "brain fart" like this hurts a guy like Perry particularly hard. It fits the narrative that he's dim, that he doesn't really have a command of policy. Mitt Romney? Hilary Clinton? If they'd had such a moment, we might get a laugh out of it, but there'd be no "story" here because nobody disputes their intellect.

For all we know, they may have! We just don't remember because it wouldn't have been meaningful, just more noise.

As it happens, I believe the larger narrative about Perry. He is dim by presidential standards. He doesn't have a command of policy. This moment, however, is not proof of that, and it's sad that this is what people will point to, rather than, say, Perry blithely stating that he'd dismantle a number of federal departments that have functions even conservatives would find important if they were better informed.

It was no problem when he was proud of having executed innocent people. His birther-curious moments haven't hampered him in the slightest. His asinine, baldly plutocratic tax plan seems not to have sent much heat his way. Losing his train of thought, however, well that's a killer in the era of politics as infotainment.

UPDATE: You want a gaffe? Here's one from tonight's debate: Rick Perry ends one of his answers that stating emphatically, "If you are too big to fail, you are too big." Now THAT, my friends, is interesting. I'm pretty sure I've heard that somewhere.

This whole speech from Bernie Sanders, the only actual, self-identified socialist in the United States Senate, in 2008 is a doozy, but the important part starts around 2:50:
If a company is too big to fail, it's too big to exist.

Think I'm just playing gotcha with a random quote from someone on the opposite side? Well, he's even submitted a bill to Congress under the same name.

So if Perry are Sanders are expressing the same sentiment, how are they really different? Perry would say that Sanders wants massive government intervention while he'd rather just watch them fail. The issue of Perry's veiled support of TARP at the time notwithstanding, there was a consensus among economists that allowing the banks to fail would have plunged us into depression. Was his advice really to just bet with a losing hand and hope everything works out for the best?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


The primer. Kevin Drum lays out, in simple and relatively unbiased terms, what's going on with Greece and what the stakes are.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

flat tax bait and switch

Yglesias hits the real motive behind the movement to create a flat tax. Surprise! It's to lower taxes on rich people. Essentially, having marginal tax rates (i.e., the thing that benefits the poor) isn't what makes the tax code complicated. It's the massive array of loopholes and credits (i.e., the thing that benefits the rich) that makes it complicated. If everyone had the same marginal rate but still had to sift through all the possible deductions, the tax code would still feel just as byzantine.

I realize that sounds conspiratorial, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been watching politics since, I dunno, the turn of the 20th century that the Republican party's primary constituency is the rich. Everything they do is done with the ultimate goal of freeing rich people from the fiscal and regulatory bonds of government.

Friday, October 14, 2011

partisanship isn't the problem

Kevin Drum, in smacking around David Brooks (something I always love to watch), makes a very good point. He notes that, for all the talk of how long it's taken to build the new skyscraper at 1 World Trade Center, it's actually almost exactly the same as the length of time it took to build the original two towers.

We have to be wary about romanticizing the past in diagnosing our current government's ills, an annoyingly consistent problem with conservative narratives. It isn't that our government is more rancorous than in the past. You think Vietnam and HUAC weren't rancorous? It isn't that we're less practical or more blinded by ideology as a people. We've always been impractical, and we've always been tossed about and/or frustrated by ideologues.

Drum thinks our government's real core problem right now is structural: "... our political structure has evolved into a weird hybrid that has the tight party discipline of a parliamentary system contained within the institutional framework of a presidential system that was specifically designed to work best without any party machinery at all."

It's not a bad point. I think there are party-specific problems as well (specifically that one party refuses to fight for its own values and regularly rejects its own core constituencies), not to mention one gigantic procedural problem in the Senate that rhymes with "shmilibuster."

Yeah, I'm finally on board, even if it means President Romney privatizes Social Security and sends John Bolton to the Supreme Court. Down with the filibuster! Let the majority party rule!

the brave new world of solar power

A little known but fast-moving trend of the last decade or so has been the drop in cost and rise in efficiency of photovoltaics -- that is, panels that convert solar power into electricity. This guy finds that under now-current technology, one could supply an average European family's energy usage with 30 lb. of silicon -- roughly $700. Not $700/year. $700 to produce the panels that will supply that family's energy by themselves forever. By comparison, it costs $6000 to produce enough energy from coal to supply such a family for 25 years.

Moreover, he forecasts the continuing price drop in photovoltaics out 7 years and finds it to be the cheapest energy option on the planet.

Seven years.

Obviously there are a lot of "if"'s in his picture. If photovoltaic production continues at its current speed, if the price drops at the same speed as now for the next decade, etc. Still, if it takes twice as long as he predicts, we're still only talking about 15 years.

What if it's true?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

rating system fail

Suppose the number 2 team in the country (Alabama) plays the number 20 team (Kansas State). Alabama wins by 2 touchdowns. In the current system, K St. would drop multiple slots in the polls, and likely fall out altogether.

That doesn't actually make any sense though, does it? Would such a score not actually confirm the polls as they currently stand? Shouldn't the no. 20 team lose by about 14 to the number 2 team? In fact, wouldn't that be a pretty good effort on K St.'s part?

What about a couple of weeks from now when no. 2 Alabama plays no. 1 LSU? What is LSU wins in overtime? Wouldn't that actually confirm Alabama's no. 2 status rather than likely costing them a shot at the Mythical National Championship?

And yet, that's the system we have, and it skews scheduling in a way that makes the season more boring. Alabama and Wisconsin and Southern Cal and West Virginia have little incentive to play other good schools, because they lose slots in the polls whether they drop one to the little sisters of the poor or lose in overtime to the number 1 team. Instead, they take the pragmatic route and schedule their out-of-conference games against Florida Atlantic and UAB and Akron.

What if, instead, number 2 Alabama didn't lose any points for playing LSU to overtime? What if Ohio State had more to gain from playing the best teams in the country than to lose, and less to gain from beating Div. II teams into a pulp to the abject boredom of their fans?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

from NCAA to NFL

For the record, this is pretty much exactly what I want for college ball. No more BCS. No more arbitrary rankings. Wins and losses leading to a playoff.

ND to the B1G would make me very happy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

a toast to empathy, and to Pat Robertson

It appears Pat Robertson's gotten himself in quite a bit of hot water with both his ideological enemies and his fellow travelers in the Christian Right.

The question he was asked:
I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer's. She doesn't even recognize him anymore, and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he's started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people because his wife as he knows her is gone … I'm not quite sure what to tell him.

Robertson's response:
"That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things, because here's the loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So what he says basically is correct, but—I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her—"

Meeuwsen interjected: "But isn't that the vow that we take when we marry someone, that it's for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer?" To this, Robertson replied,

"Yeah, I know, if you respect that vow, but you say "till death do us part," this is a kind of death. So that's what he's saying, is that she's like—but this is an ethical question that is beyond my ken to tell you. But I certainly wouldn't put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship. You're lonely, and you're asking for some companionship, as opposed to—but what a grief. I know one man who went to see his wife every single day, and she didn't recognize him one single day, and she would complain that he never came to see her. And it's really hurtful, because they say crazy things. … It is a terribly difficult thing for somebody, and I can't fault them for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is gone, he's right. It's like a walking death. But get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer, because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I'd do is condemn you for taking that kind of action."

I can't believe I'm defending Will Saletan and Pat Robertson, but Robertson has a point.

Alzheimer's is a horror lacking any adjective to sufficiently describe it, a disease that erases the love of your life's personality right in front of you. I watched my grandmother succumb to it, and my grandfather endure it, ever frustrated in his attempts to help her remember their lives together, or even remember herself.

He would have held up better if he had a woman to get him through the night. Grandma was gone years before her body finally died.

Robertson had a moment of humanity and went off script. Everyone else will tee off on him, as is expected, but for a moment Pat Robertson felt someone else's pain and misfortune, and refrained from piling on.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

the boring truth about Social Security

Ezra Klein with the most important thing you should know about Social Security: it will eventually suffer a relatively minor shortfall due to a decrease in population growth, and will at some point be solved with a combination of raising the payroll tax cap and modest lowering of benefits.

another day

Another chance to stick it to poor people.

Got some people applauding this on my bookface. Last time I checked it was banksters and tax cuts for rich people that f**ked the world economy and blew up the federal balance sheet, not uppity poor people.

all just part of the conspiracy


Friday, September 02, 2011

black resentment and Obama

I suspect this is right (in regards to Boehner's unprecedented refusal to let the president schedule his jobs speech when he chooses):
When Boehner does something like this (that no previous Speaker has done to any previous President), when he refuses to return the President's phone call during the debt ceiling crisis, when he skips state dinners, when he refuses to definitely say that he believes the President was born in the US or is a Christian, or when Boehner coddles a member of his caucus who shout "you lie" during a Presidential address, etc one certain thing happens - black Americans notice it.

African-Americans are especially sensitive to the unprecedented disrespect that white Republicans have afforded to the first black President. Every time it happens, it ripples across black radio, black newspapers, black websites, and in conversations in black communities. It helps cement the ties that Obama has with the black community, and helps overcome whatever doubts and disappoints some may have. It reminds people who have experienced overt racism in their own lives that the President is experiencing the same kind of dehumanizing disrespect. It will help drive strong African-American turnout and overwhelming numbers for Obama next year.

Political pundits may gossip about the rift between Boehner and Obama, but millions of black Americans see something much more sinister when this happens.

And frankly, black people would be right to be sensitive about this stuff. There are numerous motivations for these myriad slights -- power politics, hyperpartisanship, Boehner's own relative political weakness and Cantor standing behind him, garrote at the ready -- but racism is definitely part of the mixture as well. The tropes of the black stereotype surface far too often.

On the other hand, it is true that sometimes calculated disrespect isn't race-related. I'd be willing to wager a nontrivial amount of money that at some point in next year's debates, the Republican nominee (especially if it's the dim-witted Perry or tin-eared Romney) will make a too-cute reference to Ronald Reagan by calling President Obama "Senator" to his face. It won't be racially motivated, but the black community will raise hell.*

*As well they should. In a sense, Rick Perry's motivation won't matter; the image of a white southern conservative governor refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a sitting black president, to his face, takes on its own meaning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

wake up the echoes

Stewart Mandel, one of the better college football writers out there and no Irish booster, picks Notre Dame to return to the Fiesta Bowl this season.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

aspiring Mittheads

It's really starting to feel like a lot of people in Washington are trying to convince themselves Mitt Romney is a sensible Republican, in the sense of a Republican who eschews teabagger wingnuttery for 1980's style orthodox conservatism. Guys, it ain't happening. Romney is running as whatever he thinks will win at the moment. He has no principles.

It's silly to even want that, really. If that's the kind of candidate you want, you already have John Huntsman, not to mention (let's be honest here) Barack Obama.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

libertarian utopia for me, police state for you

Don't know why I keep tempting the largest troll population on the internet. Guess I just can't help myself.

Yglesias looks at a certain candidate's alleged "libertarian" platform and finds it distinctly un-libertarian-y. Something that's long irritated me about calling him "libertarian" is he's only libertarian for dudes. Apparently he's also only libertarian for native born citizens and business types, so basically he's libertarian for people like himself.*

You can't legitimately call yourself a libertarian if you want to strip other people of their right to make their own medical decisions.

*I'm assuming this ob-gyn ran his own practice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DC is a'rockin'

Funny quote on the Tweetster: “More and more scientists are questioning whether that was a real quake. It is a theory that’s out there.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaddafi on his way out

So it appears that over the weekend the people of Tripoli revolted, handing much of the capital over to the rebels and leading to lots of predictions that Moammar Gaddafi's reign will be officially over in a matter of "hours, not days." Since John McCain said that, though, I can't help but wonder if we'll see Gaddafi retake the entire country tomorrow.

I'm of two minds about all this. On the one hand, it's awesome if it's really happening. No more Gaddafi? Self-determination in another former dictatorship? Hell yes. Freedom is on the march! A thousand points of light! Freeance and peeance!

It'll also be another decision in which Barack Obama was right and I was wrong. That's a good thing, really; I'm not the guy with his finger on the button. I want the guy in the White House to be better at this than me.

On the other hand, what precedent does it set?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Miami football

Hard to see how Miami avoids the death penalty for this one.

Last time the NCAA deployed it on a football program (SMU in 1984), the program withered overnight, and was totally noncompetitive for decades. It arguably even contributed to the breakup of the Southwest Conference.

Then again, what's the point of having a death penalty if the most heinous rule-breakers don't receive it?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

city mouse vs. country mouse

I'm getting really sick of some of the implications in articles like this one from Jezebel, in particular the conceit that small towns and rural areas constitute "real" America.

Let's set the record straight: only 16% of Americans now live in rural areas. The vast majority of us live in cities and suburbs.

Furthermore, as cute as David Foster Wallace's comment about 90% of Americans living in flyover country, he was wrong about that, too. The West Coast alone contains 49 million people; the much larger East Coast holds 112 million people, or about 36% of the population on its own. Put those together, and you have over half of the US living on the coasts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

the necessity of parties

A really interesting post from Yglesias on the Monroe presidency in light of many people's assumption that political parties lie at the heart of our government's dysfunction.

Monroe, as it turns out, ascended to the White House right as the Federalist party collapsed, ending the first party system and kicking off the "Era of Good Feelings" in which there were, functionally, no major opposing factions in Washington. How easy did Monroe have it during this period?

As it turns out, not at all.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

doing exactly the wrong thing

Yglesias notes that the real interest rates on government debt have become negative. A sane government would borrow a metric f**kton of cash right now and use it to put people to work, and put off dealing with the deficit until unemployment is under control.

The perniciousness of prolonged high unemployment rates is grossly underestimated by our political class, presumably because they never suffer it. People who are out of work for more than 6 months (and their families!) suffer for it monetarily, but also psychologically, and the damage in both cases more or less permanent. Entire generations bear the economic and emotional scars of hardship, as noted in this great article at The Atlantic.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

David Frum trying to see what is in front of his nose

Here's something you don't see every day: David Frum, a major conservative voice and speechwriter for George W. Bush, publicly expresses a moment of doubt in conservative economics in the face of Paul Krugman's prescience and accuracy.

I point this out not to gloat, but to throw a little kindling on the fire of hope, a fire that's gone untended for too long and -- at least for my part -- has been all but extinguished. People can change; people do get disillusioned with a crazy teabagging Republican party. People trying to see the truth still sometimes catch a glimpse of it.

It's also always good to see writers doing as the title says. It wasn't meant as an insult; as Orwell noted, it's a constant struggle for us all.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Worst. Congress. Ever.

Norm Ornstein of Foreign Policy magazine argues that this is most dysfunctional Congress he's ever seen. The magazine then asks three other experts if they agree.

They all do.

All these experts are of course right about partisanship and the filibuster and teabaggers refusing to govern, but I think we're also seeing something else at work.

We're discovering just how lawless and poorly designed the Madisonian system really is.

For all the rules and regulations in the Constitution about how each branch should conduct its work and what its powers are, the government as designed by the Constitution is easily, and utterly, subverted by even a relatively small opposition. Democratic government in the United States only functions via an elaborate system of gentlemen's agreements not to take full advantage of numerous minor rules that can be used to game the entire system. Until recently, for instance, there was a gentlemen's agreement that the minority party wouldn't filibuster legislation except in extreme circumstances, and that the President would be given broad latitude to appoint judges as he sees fit, and even broader latitude to staff his cabinet. Similarly, there were gentlemen's agreements that the minority can make some political hay out of the debt ceiling, but they wouldn't take the nation's credit rating hostage to extort Democrats into enacting the entire Republican agenda.

Once those agreements are broken, however, they are broken forever, and the government no longer functions. Consider: between this debt ceiling fight, the budget fight after that, the next debt ceiling fight in six months, and the 2012 budget, the Republican Speaker of the House can crowd out the entire remainder of the President's term just holding the country hostage over and over again. If the president wins re-election, he can do the same to Obama's entire second term, denying the President the opportunity to pass any part of his agenda. And the Speaker can do this standing alone; his party controls neither the White House nor the Senate. Not only can the Speaker do it, but 40 rabid members of the majority caucus who believe the government should be nothing more than a Washington tourist bureau with a massive standing army can drive the government to default just so they can watch it burn.

Nor are the Speaker or the teabagger saboteurs even in the strongest position in government. Consider that in the current Senate, being the minority party means your legislation needs 50 votes to pass, while being the ruling party means your legislation requires 60. More to the point, a single senator can put a hold on virtually any vote, preventing it from coming to a floor indefinitely.

Unlike in the House, the Senate can also prevent the White House from even being properly staffed. A single senator can stall dozens of the president's appointees for entire sessions, and then by himself can also prevent the President from using a recess appointment to bring them into the government after the session is over. Last time I checked, the Fed chairman still, in mid-2011, lacks sufficient staff to properly do his work because Mitch McConnell has decided it's politically expedient for the Republicans to have a paralytic Fed through 2012.

It's amazing to think back to 2010, when Democrats held the presidency, a 31 seat majority in the House, and 60 Senators, and was unable to pass an individual mandate that Republicans supported as recently as 2008 without resorting to budget reconciliation. They couldn't pass a totally uncontroversial nuclear arms treaty or the hugely popular repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell without conceding a massive tax cut for the rich, and they couldn't pass the DREAM Act even with that concession.

the herd is scattered

Wow, Boehner failed to get the votes for his bill. That's a pretty strong statement of the lack of confidence in the Speaker. Most of the movement now appears to be going on behind the scenes, so we're not really going to know what's going on until a bill is signed and staffers dropping hints to their sides' blogs and stuff.

If I had to guess, though, I'd say that Obama and Reid are going to publicly announce their opposition to whatever agreement is finally drawn up so Boehner can sell it to his caucus. This is because his caucus is full of complete ruttin' fools who refuse to vote for anything, even their own positions, as soon as Obama signs on.

So some kabuki is in order. It's just hard to tell when Boehner and Obama are really fighting and when they're just playing at it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oslo and Otoya

(image c/o Tong Shuai Xinhua News Agency/Newscom)

A terrorist who targets civilians is one thing; a terrorist who targets a youth camp is quite another. Our heart goes out to Norway today and to a ton of parents who just suffered the unthinkable.

It's hard not to take it personally as a liberal, to accept the pundit boilerplate in times like this that it wasn't about Breivik's politics, that he was just a crazy person, that this is not reflective of a common (if more controlled) desire among nationalists and right wingers to murder liberals and leftists.

And, apparently, our children.

Liberals are asked to accept that premise every time a federal building is destroyed, an abortion clinic is bombed (or, hey, the Olympics!), an obstetrician is murdered, or a Unitarian Universalist Church is massacred by people quoting Glen Beck or Adolf Hitler or The Turner Diaries.

The simple fact is that, whether or not the right can be "blamed" for most political violence, most of that violence targets liberals or is conducted by shooters and bombers expressing rage at liberals. I know it's "intemperate," perhaps even "shrill," for me to say that, but there it is.

It's dangerous being a liberal, raising your voice against the powerful on behalf of the powerless. It always has been. It's dangerous for you just like it was dangerous for civil rights leaders and Freedom Riders and suffragettes and Populists and union organizers and abolitionists and Diggers and Jesus Christ himself, and it's important to be mindful of that fact. Proud, and mindful.

Friday, July 22, 2011

a demonstrable fact revealed to be a grand illusion

Ta-Nehisi Coates reflecting on reading about the 30 Years War as an African American, demonstrating again why I think he's the best writer on the internet.

A piece:
First, it's really startling to read about the utter barbarism which Europe sank to during the War, and then contrast it with popular images of Africa as "the dark continent." I hope this doesn't sound cold, but immediately it occured to me that all the sins the proto-white racists put on Africa--cannibalism, slavery, wanton rape--were very much known to them. The very Germans who fled from Palantinate to a country that derided Africans as savages, were, themselves, the children of such savages.

From that perspective, racism is again revealed as not simply amoral but as phrenology, as Intelligent Design. Its mission is to evade, or conceal a painful past, and overlay with the legacy of the Greeks or the Romans. But the Moors and Muslims have as much claim to classical civilization as the Germans. Any exploration of Muslim scholarship reveals that not simply to be philosophically true, but tangibly true.

This is not schadenfreude. Much to the contrary, it's the continuous realization that humans are humans.

I don't know how to explain this, but it takes quite a bit of intellectual work, as black person--and probably as a white person--to feel that race really doesn't mean anything; that there really isn't anything wrong with you, and upon figuring that out, that there isn't anything wrong with them; that what feels so deeply like it must have some meaning--my brown skin, the shape of your eyes, their blonde hair--has none.

Do you know what it is, not to just to tell yourself that, not to just repeat it as mantra, not to just think it's true, not even to know it intellectually, but to actually believe it? To feel it? It takes awhile for the thing to set in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

sucks to be an omnivore and an environmentalist

Sad but true. Ezra Klein:
Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius (PDF). A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week. That prompted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to recommend that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere. The response was quick and vicious. “How convenient for him,” was the inexplicable reply from a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “He’s a vegetarian.”

Looking at the chart, there are lessons for the environmentalist meat-eater beyond just "eat less meat." Switching from beef to pork cuts that part of your plate's carbon footprint in half, and switching from pork to chicken cuts it in half again. 2% milk, yogurt, and eggs are all pretty guiltless from an environmental standpoint.

All that said, once again the evidence is in: cutting your consumption of meat in general, and red meat in particular, is good for you, your family, and your planet. I can say, too, that I've significantly decreased the amount of meat I eat over the couple of years, especially beef, and it hasn't been nearly as bad as I thought it would be. A bean and cheese burrito, yogurt with blueberries, and an apple isn't a bad lunch!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Worst president of the 20th century?

[Nota bene: George W. Bush is a 21st century president]

Been reading a lot about American presidents lately, and I found this conversation interesting. Ta-Nehisi finds Tom Ricks claiming the worst president of the 20th century was Kennedy.

Ridiculous. It takes a pretty hostile interpreter of events to conclude that the Bay of Pigs, the brainchild of Eisenhower and Dulles launched all of 3 months into the new administration, is all Kennedy's fault, and yet he deserves no credit for the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Civil Rights Act. The former was a moment of national existential peril unequaled by any other in our history; the latter was perhaps the single most important piece of legislation passed by Congress during that century.

I have a different one in mind. I'd like to nominate Ronald Reagan as the worst president of the 20th century. We have Reagan to thank for everything from soaring deficits to voodoo economics to a bloated, unsustainable military-industrial complex. His economic policies contributed to the Savings and Loan crisis, and he put arch-Randian Alan Greenspan in charge of the Fed. That's all, of course, during the periods when his administration wasn't busy trying to purge disabled people from the Social Security rolls.

(Greenspan, of course, is the guy who told Clinton he had to gut the social safety net to keep the deficit from torpedoing the economy, then turned around and told George W. Bush to cash in all the money Clinton saved on tax cuts for the wealthy.)

The failed Star Wars Defense System? Reagan. Redistributing the tax burden from the rich to the middle class? Reagan again. Iran-Contra? Still Reagan. Mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses? Here's Ronnie!

Guess who deployed the CIA's Special Activities Division to Afghanistan? Reagan. Guess who was among the mujahadeen they trained?

Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court? That was Reagan, too! He also nominated notorious Nixon yes-man Robert Bork, infamous for being Tricky Dick's lucky number 3, the dude finally unscrupulous enough to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after both of his predecessors resigned rather than commit such a heinous breach of ethics. We can thank Ted Kennedy -- God rest his soul! -- that the man wasn't further rewarded for his treachery.

That's what I call one hellacious legacy right there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

American politics visualized

Why is that every time there's a showdown the Democrats seem eager to cave and give away the store while the Republicans make totally unreasonable demands? Here's why, c/o Kevin Drum:

I'm gradually coming around to the idea that the problem with our government doesn't lie with parties or politicians or the media. It's the voters. We have the government we voted for.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One nation of welfare queens

Matt Yglesias shows how we're all sucking from the government teat. Next time you hear someone complain about their tax dollars going to welfare, ask them if they take the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, or have ever taken a student loan.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"grow wings, damnit!"

That's what these protesters at the South Bend Animal Care and Control Shelter might as well be demanding.

And why is that, you ask? Because these people apparently want the shelter to expand in size and staffing to accommodate holding strays longer than 48 hours. Yeah, sure! I'd love that, too! I'd also love for the school district not to react to recessions by firing 50 teachers. I'd love for the city to use construction services that pay their workers fairly, so there are no strikes and the roads near my house are repaired promptly. I'd love there to be enough cops to keep our neighborhood safe.

Guess what, kids: you get the public services you pay for. You want better? You have to pay for it.

People who work at animal shelters, I'll wager, love animals almost as a rule. If it were up to animal shelter employees, all shelters would be no-kill shelters with huge playpens, ample blankets and beds, TV and radio channels broadcasting the animals they've recently caught, and lots on veterinarians on site to keep everyone healthy and adorable and playful.

But it isn't up to the employees because they don't get enough money for all that stuff. They take the money that's budgeted, stretch it out as far as they can to keep as many animals alive as possible, and then prep the needles and do what they have to do.

You want the shelter to stop killing in 48 hours? Don't stand across the street like an idiot and demand that they make gold nuggets from dog shit. Tell your friends, family, newspaper, and city council that you think the shelter should get more money, and you'd be willing to pay something for that. Lessen the shelter's burden by keeping your fence in good repair, keeping your dogs collared and getting them chipped. Spay and neuter your pets. And for fuck sake, don't wait several days to go retrieve your dog from them!

One member of the protesting group apparently held a sign saying: "Is your pet's life worth more than 48 hours?" You're the one with the pocketbook, taxpayer; you tell me!

Monday, June 27, 2011

11 ways the Massachusetts reforms are or are not working

Not bad, actually:
1) There has been a dramatic expansion of health insurance, reducing the uninsurance rate by 60-70%.

2) No change in wait times for general an internal medicine practitioners have been observed.

3) The share of the population with a usual source of care, receiving preventative care, and receiving dental care all rose.

4) The rate of utilization of emergency care fell modestly.

5) There has been a 40% decline in uncompensated care.

6) The proportion of the population with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by 0.6%.

7) The rate of employer offers of coverage grew from 70% to 76%.

8) Mandate compliance has been very high: 98% compliance in reporting via tax filings of obtaining coverage or paying penalties.

9) The administrative costs of health reform have been low. Overall implementation costs have been close to expectations.

10) Premiums have fallen dramatically in the non-group market.

11) Though group premiums have risen, they have not increased faster than one would expect from increases in other states in the region.

Just a little reality check. Looks like in general it's been a net positive for Massachusetts. Gotta love that coverage and number of people receiving preventive care rose without increasing wait times for GPs.

Friday, June 17, 2011


So if the government hands you a "voucher" that's good for a certain amount of money's worth of private goods, isn't that pretty much the dictionary definition of rationing?

the Wienerlogues

Bill Maher and Jane Lynch do a dramatic reading of some of Anthony Wiener's emails. NSFW.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

cutting WIC to fund tax cuts for the rich

In an earlier post, I mentioned that, though I'm trying to figure out how Republicans view the world, to get on the same wavelength, I have a lot of trouble with it. I have a lot of Republican friends and have talked with them a lot about their beliefs, but some tendencies I find inscrutable even if predictable.

The recent House decision to slash WIC funding is an example of the limits of my ability to empathize with the Republican mindset. I just don't understand the urge to cut funding from poor children in a recession. I don't get how anyone looking to cut the size of government looks at that line in the budget and thinks anything other than "obviously we can't cut that now, and if we ever do, we'd better cut everything else we want first."

Friday, June 10, 2011

the VHA, best of the bunch

Ezra Klein points out that the Veterans' Health Administration is now getting the best marks of any health care system in the United States. Now chew on this:
The thing about the Veteran’s Administration’s health-care system? It’s socialized. Not single payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals. And though I think there’s some good reason to believe its spending growth is somewhat understated — it benefits heavily from medical trainees, for instance — accounting for that difference still means a remarkable recent performance.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Evan Bayh signs on with the US Chamber of Commerce

Time to get paid, am I right, Evan?
As iWatch News' Peter Stone reports, Bayh has signed on with one of the most corporate-friendly, anti-environment shops in all of Washington, DC: the US Chamber of Commerce. According to an internal memo penned by Chamber president Tom Donohue, Bayh, along with former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card, are now part of the Chamber's anti-regulation messaging team, doing "speeches, events, and media appearances at local venues."

The Chamber's hiring of Bayh, a big name in Washington circles, will only help its efforts to delay or kill new regulatory legislation in Congress. Indeed, Donohue's memo touts how the Chamber has filed legal briefs to challenge the validity of President Obama's health care reform bill; successfully delayed a new Securities and Exchange Commission rule on giving shareholders a say on corporate directors; unveiled plans to undermine the clout of the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and delayed a rule forcing companies to disclose when they use conflict minerals from the Congo in their products. Bayh and Card, the memo says, will help the Chamber push this pro-corporate agenda in Washington and beyond.

It's all a game to these guys.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

the inexplicable GOP support for Ryancare

Ezra Klein asks why on earth Senate Republicans voted en masse for the Ryan budget not two days after it cost their party a normally safe seat and despite knowing that it will never become law. His hypotheses:
1) They thought the pollsters were wrong and the plan either wasn’t unpopular or wouldn’t be unpopular once they explained it.

2) They were less worried — at least at that moment — about what would be unpopular with the electorate and more worried about what would be unpopular with the base.

3) They really believed in the Ryan budget, and were willing to lose seats, and perhaps even the majority, over it.

4) They believed that the details would matters less than their conviction. That is to say, being seen as “making hard choices” would be more popular than the choices themselves would be unpopular.

5) It fit the individual needs of key actors at a particular moment in time: Boehner needed to support something bold and conservative, Cantor needed to be pushing something more conservative than Boehner seemed comfortable with, Tea Party politicians needed to show they weren’t getting sucked into Washington dealmaking, Ryan needed to make good on his promises to take on entitlements, etc.

All good ideas, I think, though I think the true mixture of motives involves some of these more than others. I think the first part of 3 is true, for instance, but I do not believe the Republicans think it will cost seats. In fact, I'm starting to think a combination of 1 and the first part of 3 may be the key.

The worldview of the Republican party, and in particular the psychology of Republican politicians, is something very foreign to me, but I think I'm starting to get some aspects of it. I'm coming to the conclusion that class affects the Republican worldview much more than I've thought before, and may in fact be the primary hermeneutic by which Republicans create their ideology and take stances.

I got to this point by starting from the principle that people are motivated primarily by self-interest and emotion. For all our arguments and complicated rationales, the vast majority of the time people choose their political stances according to fear, resentment, anger, compassion, and loyalty. And almost nobody is aware of this fact.

Our emotional investment in politics, usually grounded primarily in self-interest, combines then with our natural, well-established psychological tendency to take special notice of things that corroborate our views and not notice things that don't. Add in people's natural desire to avoid conflict and thus associate most often with people who agree with them, and we can see how all this leads inevitably to the acceptance of false or inconsistent ideas as absolutely true. Now let's throw in a media that views politics as sport, and that intentionally avoids any attempt to address the substance of complicated political issues for fear of taking one side (more specifically, of being forced to admit that the left is right on any subject).

Now throw in the particular plight of Republicans politicians, who are rich and white almost to a man, and overwhelmingly male. Their most important backers are all rich, white men, and their main intraparty opposition (i.e., the teabaggers) are rich, white men. Being powerful, they are surrounded by coteries of yes-men and sycophants.

In this light, it becomes clear and unsurprising that Republican politicians would come to the conclusion that what's best for the rich is always best for everyone. This explains why even the most seemingly conscientious Republican believes the only thing better than cutting taxes on the rich during boom years is cutting taxes on the rich during bust years. It explains why the answer to every problem is "cut taxes on the rich and gut social programs." It explains why every term of Republican dominance is marked by the attempt to destroy either Social Security or Medicare, no matter how popular the two become. It explains why conservatives cannot separate cutting the deficit from cutting the size of government. And it perhaps explains why Republicans can, in the process of creating a budget with the sole and specific intent to cut the deficit, cut taxes on the rich and not see any inconsistency there.

I'm coming around to the belief that Republican politicians vote for Ryancare because it fits their ideological, emotional, and cynical predispositions so perfectly that they have convinced themselves that its premises are intellectually unassailable. If it is unpopular, it is only because its genius hasn't had time to sink in yet.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NY-26: well, yes and no

Democrat Kathy Hochul wins.

1. Again, I remain baffled by the Ryan budget, and in particular by the gratuitous destruction of Medicare written into it. What the hell were the House Republicans thinking?

Then again, I guess we should remember that the Village idiots in Washington are still convinced that the Ryan deficit reduction plan was "gutsy" and "adult" even though it doesn't even lower the deficit. This is perhaps a lesson more in the incredible classism of the Washington cocktail circuit than anything else. They're the only people in the country who appear entirely unbothered by a plan to replace Medicare with vouchers that won't even cover the cost of insurance.

It also exposes a curious blind spot among even conscientious conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and David Frum. How do you look at a deficit plan like the Ryan one, one with exactly zero options for revenue growth, one that includes a tax cut for rich people, and that boots the elderly into the private insurance system with nothing but an inadequate and slowly depreciating voucher, one that's composed almost entirely of longstanding right wing boilerplate, and come to the conclusion that it's "adult" and "serious?" How can one as concerned as Sullivan is with critical introspection be so blind to such obvious fraud in pursuit of class warfare?

2. I want to take a few moments to ground the various narratives regarding this race in a little reality. The Democrats are contending that they won a "heavily Republican" district that the GOP has held since 1960. NY-26 is an R+6 district, meaning they generally vote about 6 points more for Republican presidential candidates than Democratic ones. That's hardly a bellwether district, but still a pretty moderate conservative edge compared to what many of us think of when we think "Republican district." For reference, it has the same partisan rating as MI-3 (Grand Rapids). IN-2 (South Bend) is only an R+2. TX-19 (Lubbock and Abilene) is R+26.

I will also point out that the district had a Democratic representative from '93 to '03, so the line about "the Republicans holding it since the '60's" just isn't true.

3. My other major point is that it's easy to overstate the predictive power of special elections. Pete Session (R-TX) is right when he says, “If special elections were an early-warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010,” though that's not exactly what Republicans were saying after the Scott Brown victory. Every district has its idiosyncrasies and local issues even when larger national debates subsume the race.

Of more interest to those looking for a better Democratic year is the generic congressional ballot, which flipped back to the Democrats last week after being solidly Republican for the last two years:

The generic ballot's predictive value is similarly limited, but it's at least a more accurate sampling of national opinion than a single House election.

It's entirely possible that the Democrats will have a good year in 2012, and certainly better than the last one. We're still a year and a half out, though, and these elections turn pretty quickly on current economic and political trends. Until we have a better sense of what the economy is going to look like in October 2012, and how that economy is going to be reported, I don't think there's much point in forecasting.

That being said, there is one race that's much closer: the GOP presidential primary. Nate Silver has already demonstrated that Republican presidential candidates leading 6 months out from the primaries usually win (though, interestingly, not Democratic ones). Polls currently show Mitt Romney with a significant lead over everyone but Mike Huckabee, who isn't running. I know, it's hard to imagine Mitt Romney winning, but it's not really any easier to see Gingrich, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Paul, Cain, or Santorum winning, either. The Republicans have to nominate somebody!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"sex scandal"

This strange episode in New York involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn is probably going to make headlines over and over again for the next few years. During this time, can we maybe refrain from calling it a "sex scandal?" Despite the urge European (a to a lesser degree American) journalists will feel to make this about French electoral politics, this isn't run of the mill philandering. The man stands accused of raping a hotel cleaning lady.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

teaching grammar in high school

Interesting article in Salon. She laments the structure of both the regular and accelerating English classes she describes, but I'm not sure I agree. I'm thinking in particular of this passage:
As for the students who did make it to more accelerated English courses, their recollections are a little less disheartening, but only a little. They read Shakespeare, they tell me, usually "Romeo and Juliet," sometimes "Macbeth." They read "Catcher in the Rye" or "Huck Finn," "The Sound and the Fury," a little Melville or Hardy. They read these works and then they talked about them in class discussions or small groups, and then they composed an essay on the subject, received a grade, and moved on to the next masterpiece.

This describes my honors English classes in high school to a T. We read MacBeth, Huck Finn, the Sound and the Fury, and some Melville and Hardy (among other things, of course), then, yes, the discussions and small groups, the essay, and the next book.

And you know what? It worked. I fell completely in love with those books, and with fiction in general. Between my junior year in high school and moving to South Bend six years later, I probably watched less than four hours of television, and filled a bookshelf or two with the "classic" books that make jaded English grad students roll their eyes. I also apparently absorbed enough grammar from seeing the masters do it to string coherent sentences together in college. Admittedly, I probably could not have told you what a direct object or perfect tense was until I began taking Latin, but I didn't need to because I knew what "looked right." Grammar had become intuitive.

This description of regular courses sounds much less helpful, admittedly:
Those who didn't make it onto the honors or A.P. track hardly mention writing or reading at all. They talk about giving oral presentations and keeping reading journals evaluated with a big, meaningless check. They reveal putting on skits, reenacting some scene in a novel or play whose title they can't recall. One student recounts a month of junior English class in which she and her classmates produced digital short film adaptations of the trial in "The Scarlet Letter."

"Sounds fun," I say to this student, a girl who would not know how to summarize a source or correct a sentence fragment if her life depended on it.

I go back and forth on whether this increasing emphasis in pedagogy on "making learning fun!" has been a helpful corrective to centuries of schoolmarm-ey villainy or ultimately done more harm than good. The classics taskmaster in me rolls his eyes at these pointless attempts to make kids enjoy something they're going to be graded on and that still requires being in school. Learning is work, kids. Deal.

On the other hand, teaching five sections of high school grammar and composition, grading hundreds of papers and homework assignments every week and having to drag the students kick and screaming along with you every class, sounds like the kind of godawful teaching load that burns out even the most enthusiastic teacher.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Faulty Towers

Great article from The Nation on dysfunction in higher education, much better than the many less-than-realistic diagnoses offered by the likes of Hacker et al. over the last couple of years.

Students, particularly at state universities, have noticed some of the symptoms for a long time now: graduate students and adjuncts teaching many of their classes, run-down classroom buildings flanked by immaculate, brand new athletic facilities, and a constant carousel of university presidents using the gig to add a feather to their cap and moving on after two years, among other things.

This article, unlike many of the books written on the subject, also deals substantively with issue of adjunct professors. I maintain that is not just a symptom of poor leadership for a university to load up on "academic lettuce pickers" and treat them the way universities do rather than hiring proper faculty for their lower level courses (or, hey, promoting their long-time adjuncts), nor is it merely bad policy; it's unjust, and Deresiewicz is right to fault everyone from university presidents to tenured and tenure-track professors for allowing the exploitation of current and former students.

Much as I hate to say, college football is a parasite to the system as well, leeching countless millions of dollars just on the head coach's salary, nevermind the truckloads of cash spent on assistant coaches, facilities, stadiums, and bowl games (yes, schools usually end up losing money on bowl games even despite the payout from the bowl).

It's interesting that many of the structural problems facing colleges right now are echoed in their football teams: mercenary executives with astronomical salaries seeking success according to a laughably flawed ranking system, and doing so on the backs of overworked, virtually uncompensated kids, whose scholarships can be stripped from them with little to no warning and on no account of their own performance, and the majority of whom will never get the opportunity to make a living wage plying their trade.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Proud Edward's army getting sent homeward again?

While bin Laden's death is sucking all the air out of the room stateside, it's worth taking note that the Scottish National Party just took an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament, clearing the way for a referendum to leave the UK. Alex Salmond, SNP leader, has already promised such a referendum within the next five years.

Meanwhile, in England in a stunning reversal of political trends elsewhere in Europe, the right-wing anti-immigration British National Party was utterly crushed in the midst of a massive debt scandal, losing 7 of its 11 seats (so far!) and likely dooming it as a national party. Good riddance.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Google gets better

Love Firefox, but this really makes me want to switch to Chrome. Google ran this commercial on primetime television during Glee this week.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


On Wednesday, Obama releases his long-form birth certificate, totally annihilating Donald Trump's story about private investigators digging up all sorts of "interesting" things about Obama. On Saturday, he tears into Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, mocking Trump's attempts to pose as a serious candidate who can make important decisions.

And then the big play on Sunday, when Obama reveals that, while he had been mocking Trump's weighty Celebrity Apprentice choices at the dinner, he was himself waiting for word on the hit he'd just put out on Osama bin Laden.

And he had NBC switch to White House coverage 45 minutes early, which meant the program he interrupted was... Celebrity Apprentice.

I didn't know it was even possible to get served that hard.

reality has a liberal bias

Poynter Institute study analyzes pundit economic and social predictions since 2007 and finds that liberals and people without law degrees are more accurate. Leader of the pack? Paul Krugman.

Monday, May 02, 2011

bin Laden is dead

There's way too much hand-wringing on the left, grudge-holding and partisanship on the right, and cynicism and feigned apathy in the middle over last night's incredible news.

Sure, this doesn't mean the War on Terror is over or that Al Qaeda is dead. Yes, we know bin Laden's command over Al Qaeda has been weakened over the last several years. Yes, we know the soldiers and intelligence community are the ones who put this all together.

C'mon, guys. American soldiers just put two in the noggin of the mastermind of 9/11. It's something to celebrate. It's okay to call that justice, to allow it to pass for a little bit of closure for 9/11. It's okay to feel a little patriotic.

Some cool pictures from around the intarwebs:

(Photo: Michael Appleton for the NYT, taken in Times Square)

hiring competent people: Miss Chanandler Bong edition

Kevin Drum points out that FEMA is acting swiftly in Alabama and getting high marks from state and local officials. For those keeping score, that's FEMA garnering praise under Clinton and Obama, and being ridicule as a dumping ground for incompetent cronies under Bushes I and II.

I've said before that I think one of George W. Bush's biggest failures as a president was his inability (or perhaps lack of will) to hire competent administrators, opting instead to pack various agencies with cronies and fellow travelers. Hence FEMA's helplessness during Katrina, but also the malfunctioning, politically craven Department of Justice and the various foxes guarding the federal government's regulatory hen-houses.

Obama, on the other hand, has been reversing this trend for several years now.

Voters are charged with electing executive officers at every level of government -- mayors, governors, and presidents -- and too often the candidates' views of narrow political issues or overwrought-yet-still-vague 12-point plans distract us from appraising the person's administrative skills, their ability to make smart hires and run a large organization effectively. Every president probably has to reserve some positions for patronage, but some people are just better at putting good people in important places, keeping bureaucratic machinery running smoothly and inspiring competence throughout the administration.

The wife and I have been going back and forth a bit about our upcoming mayoral primary, for instance, and she noticed something interesting about the candidates. My wife kept her maiden name when we married. When the Mike Hamann campaign mails out flyers, they only send us one, addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. X," which she testily points out every time is not her name. When Pete Buttigieg sends them out, we get two, one for each of us, even though we're married, we both live at the same address and we're both registered Democrats. The extra flyer, always received on the same day in the same handful of mail, is wasted extra paper. Only Ryan Dvorak's people seem not to be tripped up by spouses who don't share a last name, always sending us one flyer addressed to both of us using our correct names.

The same thing happens with the phone staff: Hamann's people get flummoxed when they ask for "Mrs. el ranchero" and she adamantly argues that no such person lives here. When the Buttigieg campaign calls for me, I hand the receiver to my wife after I hang up, since we always get a second call from them five minutes later.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the birther and the Nixon voter

The inevitable consequence of Obama releasing his "long form" (new media buzzword alert!) birth certificate will not be mass recantation of birther-ism, nor will it be expansion of the birther conspiracy theory to include the forgery of the long form certificate (among Newt Gingrich types, anyway). Rather, it will be the revelation that the birthers never really existed in the first place. Even those people caught on the record questioning Obama's birthplace didn't really think he wasn't a "natural born citizen." It was just the principle of asking for verification of citizenship, you see!

It's the same reason we now know the 1972 presidential election was stolen. Ask everyone in the country older than 58 how they voted, and you'll find that nobody voted for Nixon. CREEP was that good!