Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Shoot The Vote Counter

It looks like Norm Coleman's going down. Even though the Coleman campaign will continue to mount "legal challenges", it's pretty clear from tactics like whining about procedures that the whole effort is just an attempt to de-legitimize Al Franken's victory. We've seen this play before here in Washington State, where Chris Gregoire (D) won on the second recount and sustained that victory in court after Republican attempts to gin up "fraud". Apparently "recount procedures" are this years' "fraud".

It should be noted that these water-muddying tricks down't work. Al Franken is no idiot; if he wins by 49 votes, he knows he's going to need to reach out to Coleman or Barkley voters in some fashion in order to win reelection. Gregoire did just that with her "business climate" initatives. Rather than blindly cut taxes or deregulate, the now has a number of staff members whose job it is to help small businesses wade through regulatory barriers, especially during the business's startup period. She won the rematch with Rossi by more than 6%, proving "we wuz robbed" is not a winning campaign platform.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mitch McConnell: Bully (but Only If Democrats Let Him Be One)

We're getting close to put up or shut time for Harry Reid. Mitch McConnell wants to stall the stimulus package for at least a week, which is all fine and dandy. The real question is whether or not McConnell will try to delay the bill using the Gingrich tactics from the Clinton health care plan
  1. Find some tiny provision of the bill that is modestly objectionable.
  2. Hold endless press conferences about how this particular provision, if passed, will show that Democrats want to take away your foot massager, destroy the American economy, and lead to the destruction of the institution of marriage.
  3. Force Democrats to remove the provision, potentially having cascading effects elsewhere in the bill.
  4. Return to step (1) and repeat.
Now, history does not repeat itself, it merely rhymes. There are three big reasons to think that Dems are in a stronger position than '93 and should treat McConnell's words as an empty threat,
  • 57% of the country did not vote for Bill Clinton; while the evidence suggests that Clinton would have won a two-way race, many more voters had little or no attachment to Clinton as a President.
  • While the headline unemployment figure is not terrible by historical standards, it's pretty clearly on a trajectory to get worse, which was not the case in
  • McConnell just doesn't have plausible case to filibuster anything that's remotely popular.
In 1993, Democrats held 57 Senate seats, but that 57 included between seven and teen Southern Democrats who would today be significantly to the right of the Nelson/Bayh/Landrieu triumvirate of centrists. This bloc outnumbered the handful of Republican moderates (Chafee, Danforth, Durenberger, Kassebaum) that might be tempted to work with a Democratic President.

Today, however, even the most conservative Senate Democrats are unlikely to feel political pressure to show independence from the White House. Meanwhile, Arlen Specter and George Voinovich face reelection in 2010 in states that went for Obama by non-trivial margins, one of which (Pennsylvania) is now a fairly safe state for Democrats, while the other (Ohio) will be one of those hardest hit by the slowdown in the auto industry. Throw in Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and if the moderates decide that their electoral fate lies in playing nice with Barack Obama, these are just empty threats. Reid should just put money in the stimulus package for SUPERTRAINS and dare Specter to vote against the needs of his suburban Philadelphia constituents.

What Does Amy Klobuchar Have Against Buffy?

Ken Avidor and Pam Spaulding tip us off that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has requested a $500,000 earmark for "Minnesota Teen Challenge", an organization that distributes pamphlets urging teens to stay away from the Satanic influences of Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Korn. Getting kids to not listen to Korn is a fine thing to do, but it doesn't look like the organization is doing this out of enlightened cultural tastes. And even if they were, the meager hipster points you score by being anti-Korn are swamped by your losses from dissing on Buffy. And then when start dissing on gay people, well, I can't get behind that.

In any event, I'm willing to run on the assumption that Klobuchar herself isn't personally a fan of these retrograde cultural sentiments and will rescind the earmark when she figures out what these people are up to. If anybody lives in Minnesota or knows Klobuchar's people, please do your part to make this happen.

Your Republican National Committee Candidates, Ladies And Gentlemen

Two guys who think it's fun to be racist:
  • Katon Dawson (was in a white-only country club for 11 years, until the media found out)
  • Chip Saltsman (mailed everyone "Barack the Magic Negro")
Two black guys who lost statewide elections in 2006:
  • Michael Steele (lost the Maryland Senate race)
  • Ken Blackwell (lost the Ohio Governor race)
"two guys who just eliminated themselves from this race" for criticizing Chip Saltsman's decision to send out the "Barack the Magic Negro" CD, according to an RNC member:
  • Mike Duncan
  • Saul Anuzis

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bomb (Uninhabited Parts Of) Palestine (Instead Of Killing Hundreds)!

Ezra, who's written a bunch of sensible stuff on the Gaza bombings, says that people keep asking: "What would you have Israel do in response to non-lethal rocketry?" Hamas, after all, didn't kill a lot of Israelis with the rocket attacks that got the Israelis killing hundreds of people. All the casualty counts I've heard from Hamas rockets have been in the single digits, with most of that coming after Israel started bombing.

If I had to think of a proportional response, it'd probably be dropping a bunch of bombs on some relatively uninhabited part of Palestine where there aren't any people. This, of course, would be annoying and bad, just as the Hamas decision to shoot rockets at Israel that don't kill anyone is annoying and bad. But it wouldn't be as bad as killing hundreds of people.

Thinking you can destroy Hamas by bombing hundreds of people is like thinking you can destroy the Democratic Party by killing a bunch of Democrats. The political institution will live on, and attract popular sympathy because of its members' martyrdom.

Replacing The Diamond

A bunch of people in my social circle have gotten married in the last year or so, and some of them didn't do the diamond ring thing that people often do. I don't know if rings with other kinds of rocks were involved or what. I'd be happy enough to see the social custom of diamond-giving fall by the wayside, both for blood diamond reasons, and because there are a bunch of better ways to use the money.

My tentative plan for the time of my life associated with diamond-ring-giving is to make some kind of big splashy charitable contribution out in the Third World that I can put my wife's name on -- maybe a village school named after her, or a scholarship for poor farm kids. (A US dollar goes really far in places like India.) I'll give her a pretty ring with some far less valuable stone that I can somehow connect to the charitable act, perhaps with the name of the school inscribed on the inside or something like that. Then I'll obnoxiously go around telling all my single friends what I did, with hopes that people will show me up by making a bigger charitable contribution than me when it's their time. That, after all, is how you change social customs for the benefit of mankind.

For all this to work out, I'd have to find myself a woman awesome enough to appreciate this sort of thing. But that's part of the plan anyway.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Won't Get Fooled Again

As Digby points out, Newt Gingrich's sudden desire to play the good cop is driven almost entirely by his personal political calculations. Newt's rise to power consisted largely of being in the right place when white Southerners stopped voting for Democrats for all federal elections, not just the President, and demagoguing things like midnight basketball and welfare reform (in fairness, Newt had plenty of targets, the most famous of which is somehow blaming liberal Democrats for Susan Smith killing her children). He has made some effort to get black Republicans elected, but as you can tell from the Republican caucus, it hasn't had much effect.

But if you are a Republican and wanted to win elections without changing your platform, Newt's your man. The easiest way to do maintain the party's policy status quo would be to win the Presidential nomination and then say to the country "I'm not as racist as those mean ol' Democrats say I am" and then maybe put together a 2000-era Bush tax cut where you have mammoth tax cuts for the rich, "but I'll get my $300". If you can find a few African-American Republicans and give them prominent roles in your campaign and convention it might work. For the Republican donor class and conservative apparatchiks who are still heavily invested in Bushism, that's a much more palatable path to victory the embracing a Grand New Party/Christian Democrat approach or a Teddy Roosevelt-esque small-but-effective tack. Fear Newtism, for it is perhaps the only way Republicans can end up in power while still leaving in place the ideas and people who have wrecked the country over the last decade-plus.

Flossing And The Glare Of The Doctor

Yglesias is surely right about this:
A general practitioner who develops an effective method of nudging people toward quitting smoking or exercising more during his brief post-checkup chats would save many more lives at dramatically lower cost than would all of Dr House’s heroics.
I only took up flossing a couple years ago, after withering under the disapproving glares of oral hygenists who had been prodding my gums with that pokey thing. It's kept me free of dental issues for as long as I've been doing it. (I've actually come to enjoy it, because the minty floss is kind of yummy.) Anyway, I hope that whatever fixes we design for the health care system result in the doctor's glare hitting more people who need it. There are lots of reasons why poor people are often overweight, including the high calorie density of cheap foods, but I'd imagine that their inability to buy time with doctors who will put pressure on them to adopt more healthy habits is part of the story.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Competitive Balance

While I carp about the Yankees spending too much money, Dan Drezner makes the appropriate points. It's a rather curious phenomenon that baseball remains the most competitive sport, despite having the weakest salary cap rules and the largest revenue disparities. In other sports news, I take back all the bad things I said about the Giants, who have given the Falcons a glimmer of hope that they will win the NFC South (though I cannot figure out how the tiebreakers make this happen). Now, it's an unlikely scenario, but just having the chance has felt nice.

Thread topic: The experiences of Atlanta and Tennessee this year have put an end to the "mobile quarterback" era; Defend or refute.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Progress-Related Budget Activities

Via demoinesdem, WaPo on stimulus: "Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has circulated a 41-page memo seeking $85 billion worth of projects over the next two years. The largest chunk of that money, more than $30.2 billion, would go toward highway funds, while $12 billion would go to local public transportation funds. ... Smart-growth advocates are happy that the percentage of funds in Oberstar's proposal devoted to roads is not the 80-20 split in the current highway funding formula, but they still see a system tilting toward old-fashioned projects." And indeed it is. But then again, suburban and rural members outnumber urban members even in the House Democratic caucus, so unless your commuter rail projects go into a number of districts, rail is in trouble. But we're already up to 70-30, and that just Congress's first offer! With a little luck, the White House will want something closer to a 50-50 split, and we can compromise at 60-40, and dare Arlen Specter to vote against the SUPERTRAIN (with Franken winning, we just need one vote in the Senate).

The Only Poll That Matters Is ...

I still don't know what to make of Barack Obama's absurdly high approval ratings. 82% is a full fifteen points higher than the marks Dubya or Bill Clinton received. The number barely makes sense; we're approaching something close to Bush-after-9/11 figures, and while the economy is in a downturn, there's no way it's in enough of a downturn that one third of all Republicans would (after all, Bill Clinton took office in an economic crisis). So, say half of those fifteen percent who didn't approve of Clinton approve of Obama due to the rougher economic times and the lack of a third party candidate. That still leaves a needed explanation for seven or eight percent of the public, and while I think Obama is benefiting from the fact that the country is eager to hear a President who can string together consecutive related sentences, I have a hard time avoiding the idea that there's some Bradley/Wilder effect going on here. We know that at this point, Americans don't lie that much about black candidates when it comes to horserace polling, but we don't have much data when it comes to approval polling.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Visiting DC

I'm arriving in DC on the evening of December 26th, and I'll be in town until January 5. Let me know if you want to hang out -- the email address is neiladri at gmail dot com.

We're actually going through a new moon during the time I'm there, so there's no risk that I'll suddenly turn into that guy over on the right.

Bearing Gifts We Traverse Afar

Merry Christmas, everybody!

I find it somewhat astonishing how much Christmas music speaks with familiarity of Yuletide practices that hardly anybody alive remembers. Shopping a few days ago, I heard lots of songs in which sleigh bells and sleigh rides figured significantly. Some of them were new enough that I hadn't heard them before. People are writing new songs about how wonderful it is to use a transportation technology from the era of horses. Small carbon footprint, I guess, and for all I know raw oats are not subject to the environmental criticisms dogging ethanol and other biofuels. But I don't think we're going to see Ray LaHood pushing for sleighs as the environmentally responsible conservative's approach to mass transit anytime soon.

It was especially weird when I heard this music in Singapore, which (1) is only 15% Christian, (2) has about the most advanced transit system I've seen in a city, and (3) never had snow for sleighing, since it's barely above the equator and the temperature never gets below 65 degrees. I guess I shouldn't underestimate the ability of Singaporeans to absorb a foreign holiday that involves people buying stuff.

My favorite Christmas music is of two kinds. On one hand, there's the old minor-key standards that are meant to be played on an organ -- Carol of the Bells and the like. We Three Kings is my favorite, because I like the themes of ethnic and possibly even religious inclusion. The other kind I like is energetic peppy music with a female vocalist who seems eager to unwrap me on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Baby, Hurry Down The Internets Tonight

Something seems to be clogging the tubes at the moment, but you can view the North American Aerospace Defense Command's Santa Tracker here.

Never say we didn't bring you the important stuff.

Where Is The Outrage

I'm with Joel Connelly—this is the seventh day that most of Seattle has been effectively snowed in; given the forecast for highs in the mid-30s until Friday, we will probably see days eight and nine. Here's the list of suspended and rerouted buses. In effect, large parts of the city has no bus service, in a town where most people have very little practice driving in the snow, as demonstrated by the number of people who try to drive up a very steep hill next to our house. Now, in the city's defense, we don't get weather this bad this often, and Seattle has more side streets and hills to clear than most of the suburbs, but this is insane. Salting the roads once or twice ever few years is not going to destroy your car; the city should really look at what the environmental impact of occasional salting really is, or consider other methods of street-clearing (Portland has twice as many snow plows as Seattle? Do they get that much more snow?).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saving Social Security Is Easy -- My Cousins Can Do It

Ramesh Ponnuru compares Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, saying
Participation may be mandatory, meanwhile, but having children isn't--and Social Security is actually worse than the typical Ponzi scheme in that its structure discourages the generation of new participants; studies suggest that the crushing tax burden it puts on workers suppresses the number of children they have.
If you're worried about Social Security running short on new participants, there's an easy fix -- import some from other countries! There are tons of bright young people around the world who would be overjoyed to come here in their twenties and pay into Social Security for forty years, keeping the system afloat. We can choose among the best and brightest as we please -- in addition to paying Social Security taxes, we can get doctors to cure our sick, computer programmers to keep our machines going, and scientists (like my father, who was born on a tiny Indian village and came here in the 1970s) to do all the things scientists do.

(If you're okay with saving the system in an entirely illegitimate way, illegal immigrants are even better. Since payroll taxes are deducted from their wages but they have no way of claiming benefits, they're basically free money for the Social Security system. Their presence in the country is worth a 30 basis point increase in the payroll tax rate, or $13 billion per year. Of course, this is wildly regressive since they're some of the poorest people in the country.)

The People's Front For Moderate Republican Liberation

Connecticut Democrats are backing recently defeated GOP Congressman Chris Shays for director of the Peace Corps. Shays is a plausible selection -- he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji for two years and is a strong supporter of foreign aid.

This is one of the nice things that can happen when you defeat a reasonably competent and intelligent Northeastern Republican -- you liberate him from his miserable role as a pawn to John Boehner and free him up to advance the national interest somewhere else. It's too bad Tom Allen couldn't help Susan Collins find a position better suited to her talents this year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Towards The Center, Still OnThe Left

Chris Bowers observes that Barack Obama's Cabinet is to the right of Congressional Democrats, containing a higher fraction of DLC members, plus two Republicans, against only one Progressive Caucus member. But Executive branch always gravitates towards the center. The Bush Administration was to the left of the median House Republican (though not by much), Bill Clinton was to the right of House Democrats; Poppy was so far left of House Republicans they wouldn't vote for his budget; Reagan ... uhh ... I'll handwave over that one since I don't know enough about the makeup of Congress at the time; Jimmy Carter famously feuded with liberal Hill Democrats; and now we are all the way back to Nixon/Ford, and a time when parties were much less ideologically coherent.

The benchmark ought to be whether or not the Obama Administrations's proposals and personnel land him in the center of Congressional Democrats. DW-NOMINATE shows that for the 109th Congress, Barack Obama was just to the left of the median Senate Democrat, and thus was probably roughly in line with the median House Democrat. Hillary Clinton was just to the right of the Senate Median. Salazar was clearly in the rightmost third. Tom Daschle was just to the right of the Senate Median in the 107th. Rahm Emanuel was to the right of the House median, but not by much. It's harder to gauge the leanings of the DLCers who weren't in Congress, but other than Richardson's balanced budget fetish and pro-gun stance he campaigned as a standard issue Democrat. Compared to Bill Clinton's cabinet it is much further to the left.

Sidenote: you may have noticed that links are now bold. It's not Jennifer Palmieri's doing; they were just too hard to see earlier. Sidebar links may go back to non-bold at some point if the prove to be too distracting.

In Which I Save The Magic Of Hanukkah From Noah Millman

Noah Millman of The American Scene doesn't get to make this move:
if freedom of religion means, most fundamentally, the freedom to be a heretic, it equally means the freedom to declare that the other guy is a heretic. In a very real sense, a social environment that is hostile to religious intolerance must necessarily be hostile to religious freedom. So, ironically, the modern transformation of Hanukkah from a festival of intolerance to a festival of religious freedom is no transformation at all!
If we understand "declaring that the other guy is a heretic" to mean "thinking and saying that the other guy's beliefs about God are untrue", that isn't intolerence. That's just disagreement. People disagree about lots of stuff. Jon Henke and I disagree on how effective government intervention in the economy can be, but it'd be weird to say that we're being intolerant of each other. We can perfectly well be tolerant (that is, avoid using coercive power against people just because their beliefs and practices differ from ours) while preserving religious freedom (that is, the freedom to believe and practice a religion without coercion). In fact, the two things go together, contra Millman's attempts to serve up the big counterintuitive conclusion.

Now, if we understand "declaring that the other guy is a heretic" to mean "using the coercive power of the state to have him tied to a pole and set on fire", that would be intolerant. But religious freedom plainly doesn't involve the freedom to declare the other guy a heretic in that sense. Really, I think the multiple meanings of 'heretic' were making Millman's point look more plausible than it was.

Light Snowed-In Reading

We've been stuck in what would probably count as a serious snowstorm even in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland (though not Buffalo), so I've had a chance to read a good bit of the CBO's compendium of health care proposals and their effect on the federal budget. The good news is that a number of fairly standard issue proposals—a pay-or-play system, tweaking the rules on Medicare Advantage plans to reduce overpayments—have a fairly small impact on the budget. And of course some are even revenue positive. The bad news is that most of these options barely put a dent in the number of uninsured individuals. Take pay-or-play. As I read it, the CBO estimates that pay-or-play would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 330,000. And that's with a lower bar for what qualifies as insurance than the Massachusetts plan, plus a higher penalty for not offering insurance; in other words, the CBO is analysing something that's going to have more of an effect than anything you would want to pass.

On the plus side, the government makes some money off the pay-or-play system, which might be enough to pay for insurance for more than another half-million individuals. Call it an even million. That's just over 2% of the uninsured. It's progress, sure, but when you frame it that way it feels like hyper-incrementalist bullshit. Hopefully whatever health care reform we end up passing will have a larger impact than any of the individual proposals the CBO is looking at here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What We Want To Know ...

Okay, this is strictly a DC-centric political junkie post, but I'm really curious who the crybaby is who whined about this and had this posted subsequently. The comments make for entertaining reading if you're bored.

There are two things I don't understand about DC. One is the degree to which one is expected to "defend" all sorts of nominal allies, regardless of what the allies have done on the merits. The other is the fact that these are all grown-ups, many of whom have been involved in fairly rough political campaigns, but yet it's somehow inappropriate to use blunt language to make your point. Isn't one of Rumsfeld's rules (the good Rumsfeld, when he was Chief of Staff and SecDef for Ford) not to get hung up on personalities and grudges, since it's a small town and we all have business to attend to tomorrow. Sheesh.

[Update from Neil]
: So, here's Third Way's management team. Third Way's President and two VPs were previously involved with an organization called "Americans for Gun Safety", but apparently they didn't learn how to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

Replace Rahm Emanuel With Tom Geoghegan?

It's sort of funny that the only Google News hit I've got for this is a blogger who learned about it the same place I did -- a facebook page set up by Rick Perlstein. But it looks like Tom Geoghegan is thinking about running for Rahm Emanuel's vacated House seat. I don't know a whole lot about Geoghegan, except that he's a badass labor lawyer who wrote a book called "Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be For Labor When It's Flat On Its Back" that Ezra liked a lot. And I'm told it's pronounced "Gaygen".

Update: He'd like to amend the Civil Rights Act so that people can't be fired merely for being union members. That sounds pretty awesome.

Rick Warren Pushback: Good For America

It's possible that the whole Rick Warren thing ends up being more positive than negative for gay rights, just because people on the left are pushing back so hard. If you're a religious figure trying to avoid controversy and appeal to lots of people, this whole episode is going to make you a little more wary of dissing on gay marriage. Warren is losing his status as a neutral and uncontroversial figure whose presence on one side of an issue can move the Overton Window, and that's a good thing. Pam Spaulding, every time you put up an anti-Rick-Warren post, an angel gets its wings and flies off to have hot gay sex with another angel.

So far, we've been seeing relatively bad symbolism and good indications of substance from the Obama administration, which fits into a good strategy for getting big progressive proposals through. Gain centrist cred by symbolically annoying progressives, use it to make your policy look centrist. Is this actually Obama's strategy? Time will tell.

Advertising Spending

Has anyone else noticed that magazines have gotten a lot thinner in a hurry? Has advertising spending just fallen to the floor? Does anyone know where I can find measurements of this stuff?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Give Him An Endorsement Contract

It looks like the brand of shoe that the dude threw at Bush is suddenly selling incredibly well.

Obama's Asians

Yglesias notes that the Obama Cabinet will consist of no Jews, though several of God's Chosen People are in high-level staff posts. It does, however, have two Asians. While my sense of tribal identification is much more with xkcd-reading, RPG-playing, Buffy-musical-singing geeks than with people of my race, insofar as it's racial it somewhat includes East Asians as well. (Which has odd consequences for my romantic life -- I think of Asian women as too much like me for any serious heat to develop, while white women from small towns in red states are fascinating people from a mysterious and exotic culture.)

But anyway. Eric Shinseki is a bit of an unusual figure as Asian-Americans go --most of us didn't achieve prominence by rising through the military, though I suppose it fits our stereotype that his greatest moment involved doing the math and sticking to the right numbers when everybody else around him was being a macho idiot. Steven Chu, however, is much more of the type that Asian parents are going to be telling their kids to emulate. His role as Energy Secretary makes me feel unusually represented.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Waxman Puts Dingell In His Place

Henry Waxman is one of the most awesome Democrats in the House, and when he won a contentious vote to replace Michigan's John Dingell as the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, it was a big win for the environment. Dingell's from Michigan, and had opposed curbs on fossil fuel use that the auto industry didn't like.

The Crypt reports that
Waxman continues to be awesome by making nice with Dingell and putting him in charge of something where he's unambiguously on the right side -- health care reform:
By granting Dingell a role as "the lead sponsor" of whatever national health care legislation the committee considers, Waxman is giving the Dean of the House the chance to cap his historic career by realizing his father's goal of universal health care coverage - Dingell's father, a former House member, first introduced legislation creating national health insurance in 1943.
Now, I don't know how big a role the Energy and Commerce Committee has on health care, and the real action is in the Senate anyway. But this is a sweet way for things to go. Update: the committee has jurisdiction over national health insurance.

Recession and the Arts

EA, makers of the annual Madden NFL $60 Roster Update, has announced an increase in layoffs and "plans to focus on hit games with 'higher margin opportunities.'" That means more sequels, video games based on movies, and less effort put into more off-the-beaten path games like Mirror's Edge and Dead Space (which will hopefully earn sequels thanks to their extremely positive reviews; the first Need For Speed title sold very poorly). The recession likely means a similar story in movies, television, and probably books as well.

This shift could have any number of effects. One possibility is that actors, set designers, and writers who feel frustrated by the lack of innovation could move into a new medium, especially if someone figures out how to make money selling content on the Internets. Another is that Hollywood can learn some lessons from Joss Whedon, and figure out how to shoot action films with fewer shooting days and smaller CGI budgets. A third is that we direct some of the coming stimulus package towards funding the Arts, though that's highly unlikely in today's political climate. A fourth is that something completely different happens. Either way, enjoy this year's Oscar Bait ... there may not be this much effort put into movies for quite some time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Realize Now That I Was Wrong

Three weeks after Election Day, I observed "At this point, in order for Franken to be ahead we have to believe that both candidates are predominately challenging Franken ballots (Coleman to get them thrown out, Franken to get them accepted). It's just highly implausible". Alternatively, one could believe that Norm Coleman was bringing a significantly higher share of illegitimate challenges than Al Franken. I didn't think this would happen; once you get into recount and challenge territory, there isn't much incentive to launch frivolous challenges.

I appear to have been wrong. Norm Coleman is just getting creamed on challenges. Even if the current pace slows down by 50%, it's likely that he will be behind once the challenged ballots are counted. Crazy stuff.

Save Us, Government! Set The Journals Free!

Ezra Klein, the rare and wonderful non-academic who reads academic papers, asks:
why is so much content locked up in pricey journals? Much of this research is being conducted on the public dime, but is utterly inaccessible to the public. The journals might have made sense when you needed some sort of archiving and distribution model to store, categorize, and spread research, but with the advent of the internet, their existence serves to foil those efficient dissemination of relevant research. Do they simply survive because the prestige they confer as gatekeepers plays an important role in rankings and advancement? Or is there some crucial purpose I'm missing entirely?
Here's my understanding of the story: All these journals were originally things more or less like magazines. In fact, they still are. The library at your university (because of course you're an academic at a university, or you wouldn't be interested in this stuff) pays a subscription fee and gets mailed a booky-looking object four times a year with the latest research. Journals are pricey and have copyrighting because that's the business model that works for low-circulation high-interest publications being sold to rich institutional libraries.

But now, there's the internet! Instead of the expensive printing, binding, and mailing of booky-looking objects, you can transmit information for free through the magic tubes. Since the editors and reviewers are professors who do this without getting paid by the journal (they regard this as part of the job the university pays them for) the entire process could be done for free. There's sometimes a grad student making a little money as an editorial assistant, but that's about it. We academics would be happy enough to just put our content on the web for free. In fact, a cool new journal in my discipline, Philosophers' Imprint, does that.

But Philosophers' Imprint is a very new journal. The existing journals aren't doing this. The trouble is that a lot of these journals are now owned by big publishing companies that don't make any profit by giving away their stuff for free. So they're clinging to the magazine business model.

I'd love it if the government could buy the journals out of the publishers' hands and open them to the public. I hear that some of that has happened in the sciences. The money taxpayers pay out in doing that would soon be recouped, at least in part, by public university academic libraries not having to pay subscription fees. Bonus: Ezra and other ordinary folk get to read my stuff without paying.

But I'm going to keep sending most of my papers to old-line journals that Ezra can't read and hoping they get accepted. After I got a paper accepted in Philosophical Review two months ago (it's perhaps the top journal in the discipline), one of my colleagues told me that at some places, people can get tenure just for that! I'd love to have more people read my stuff, but if I just put it on the web for free hardly anybody would even know it was there, or that it was worth reading. Get it into Philosophical Review, and I'm assured that my colleagues will see it, my adversaries will respond to it, and people hiring or promoting me will be impressed. But Ezra won't be able to read it. Save us, Government! Set the journals free!

The Obama Theory of Change

I find myself agreeing a fair bit with A. Serwer's more-charitable-than-most-but-not particularly-charitable interpretation of the decision to turn the mic over Rick Warren for the inauguration. In general it seems to go along with Barack Obama's "theory of change", which involves an awful lot of coddling de-fanging the opposition by not saying many mean thing about them, claiming that they're respectable human beings, and then going ahead and implementing your agenda anyway. Now, it's not clear that any of this will work, but before people start pining for the brawling Clinton years, lets recall that Bill Clinton had kind things to say about Tom DeLay's support for increased funding of special needs adoptions.

Caroline Kennedy, Human ATM

I still don't think I support naming Caroline Kennedy to the vacant New York Senate Seat, but Ezra has some pretty impressive arguments. Of course, I haven't had DC Senate Vision® installed and I can't tell you whether she'll be able to commandeer the political capital of her ailing uncle and use it for TedKennedyesque liberal ends.

But the realist in me (98% of me by volume) is impressed by her fundraising chops. Apparently she went out and raised $50 million for the NY public schools. And she strikes me as the sort of person who would be able to go and wring millions of dollars out of rich people that could then be transferred to Democratic Senate candidates who really need it. If the system requires our Senators to spend several hours a day dialing for dollars, why not have some of our safe-seat Democrats from cash-cow states just be fundraisers? She can leave the policy design to other people and just be a human ATM and sometimes a pretty face to go on TV.

Obama's Big Bus

I don't have anything especially original to say about the Rick Warren thing, except that Obama seems to have a deep-seated need for spiritual leaders with screwy political views. Ezra Klein's view that that Obama was wrong to elevate the homophobic Warren seems correct. So my contribution to the discussion will be to link you to this darkly humorous graphic at OpenLeft.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why The Republicans Can Effortlessly Filibuster

Over at Pandagon, commenter mjb explained why Harry Reid can't force filibustering Republicans to perform humiliating acts of phone book reading in front of the cameras, thus displaying their obstructionism for all to see. The answer is that a successful filibuster only requires one Republican on the floor, quietly objecting to unanimous consent for ending debate (they don't have to give long filibustery speeches or anything):
there isn’t really any way to force Republicans to speak to sustain a filibuster. The Senate can only proceed to a vote on a bill either by unanimous consent, or by getting 60 votes to invoke cloture. As long as one Republican is on the floor, all s/he has to do is object to any request for unanimous consent, and the Democrats have to get 60 votes. The threshold required for cloture is a percentage of sitting senators, not senators voting, so the Republicans wouldn’t even need to be there to vote against cloture; they just need to refrain from voting for it. The Democrats, on the other hand, would need to keep at least 50 members on hand at all times to respond to a quorum call, or else the Republican in the chamber would suggest the absence of a quorum and the Senate would adjourn. So Democrats would be bearing the brunt of whatever physical toll this would take, and Republicans would be the ones getting a good night’s sleep, and would have no incentive to cave. After all, Republicans are happy for the Senate to do nothing over the next two years; with Democrats in the majority, a long stalemate like this would be taking time away from work and votes on Democratic priorities, not Republican ones. The Republicans tried keeping the Senate in session continuously a few years ago to try to pressure Democrats to abandon some filibusters of judicial nominees, and it didn’t work. A similar effort in 2009 would encounter the same problems.

The only time a read-the-phone-book, wet-your-pants filibuster like in a Jimmy Stewart movie would take place would be when Democrats had the 60 votes to invoke cloture and Republicans could only stop them by refusing to relinquish the floor so that a vote could be called. Then McConnell really would have to keep talking. But this sort of filibuster never really happens, because it has no chance of working. After all, unless you’re actually in a Jimmy Stewart movie, the 60 person majority can keep being 60 people longer than any one person can stand and talk, so unless some Senator wants to get headlines for him or herself in a losing cause there isn’t any reason to do it.

I asked him why we have the interesting historical filibusters we do, like the one where Huey Long spent hours reading out his favorite recipes and how to make pot liquor, and he explained:

These are generally theatrical, rather than actual efforts to change the outcome. At best, the filibustering senator could hope to raise the profile of the issue, but he had no real hope of winning the vote. Long’s filibuster failed to stop the New Deal bill he was opposing, or to force the changes he wanted. Strom Thurmond’s record-setting filibuster similarly failed to stop the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (which had already been gutted by Richard Russell, anyway). The record he broke belonged to Wayne Morse, who also failed to stop the bill he was protesting against. All three were pretty assiduously self-promoting, even for senators, and they were hoping both to make their point in a dramatic way and to advance their own careers by doing so. And a lot more people remember them and their filibusters than the bills they were fighting, so I suppose it worked.

The Scareness Doctrine

Via Steve Benen, I'm kind of excited to see Anna Eshoo bring up reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Not because I actually want it to pass, but because I want that to be the primary focus of furious right-wing mobilization while we pass the stuff I actually care about.

In general, I don't think there's a limited supply of right-wing (or left-wing) attention to issues, such that distracting it with one issue leaves less for other things. There's always some danger that introducing a new issue will mobilize a new set of political opponents, who then join an opposing coalition and over time absorb that coalition's views on all sorts of other issues. But I don't know who will get mobilized by this Fairness Doctrine stuff other than people who were into politics in the first place. And every Kristol or Krauthammer column that's devoted to the Fairness Doctrine isn't devoted to global warming denialism or distorting Democratic health care proposals.

Byron York On Blagojevich And Obama

I'm happy to see the progress that right-wingers have made since the Clinton era. To wit, Byron York's article on how the Blagojevich scandal could be trouble for Obama:
We don’t know the extent of the investigation into Blagojevich’s allegedly corrupt dealings. Have witnesses been brought before a grand jury? We don’t know. If so, who are they? We don’t know. What witnesses have been interviewed by FBI agents working for Fitzgerald? We don’t know. Do Fitzgerald and his investigators have any doubts about the truthfulness of those who have talked? We don’t know.

But we do know that something big is going on.
Back in the old days when people in the conservative movement didn't have any evidence that a Democratic President had done anything wrong, they'd accuse the First Lady of murder. These days, they come out and acknowledge that they don't have any evidence around which to base their articles. Maybe if I eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, I'll live long enough to see them make a useful contribution to the public discourse.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Chelsea Clinton will be constitutionally eligible to be a Senator in February 2010. Why not cut to the chase, appoint a caretaker Senator, and have her run in two years?

Our Stupid Discourse

Marc Ambinder [emphasis mine]: "Let's stipulate: Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing will give Republicans like David Vitter the chance to bring up various and sundry sins associated with the pater familias." How is this supposed to work? Is Vitter going to claim that the all-powerful Clenis forced him to solicit a prostitute?

elsewhere, Gallup's polling shows the American people are not idiots and despite Blagojevich related hyperventilating, most people think Barack Obama didn't do anything wrong when it comes to Hot Rod.

It's going to be a long four or eight years ...

Chinese Gay Penguin Adoption vs. Arkansas Gay Human Adoption

Melissa McEwan FTW:
if you want to be a parent, you're better off being a gay male penguin in China than a gay male human in Arkansas.

Markos, Meet TED

Markos, here's the TED Spread. It measures how hard it is for banks to get loans from other banks. This is what had Krugman and all the economists flipping out about a gigantic credit freeze that would make it impossible for people to get paid. They thought money might get so tight that banks wouldn't even loan money to banks, let alone ordinary businesses. Without businesses getting credit, people don't get their paychecks.

The TED Spread, historically below 0.5%, hit 4.5%. Then we bailed out the banks, and it went straight down. Now it's below 2%. In one notable case, it took Barack Obama shaking his jaw at Bank of America and an idiot door and window company, but in general people got their money. Without any government intervention, goodness knows where we end up. Maybe Harry and Nancy didn't get the best imaginable deal on the bailout, but they averted disaster and people got paid.


The eerie but wonderful street performer I saw in Cambridge back in 1997 who called herself the "Eight Foot Bride" was Amanda Palmer, recently of the Dresden Dolls!

Orton For Congress

While we're on a football/celebrity candidates note here, I'm hoping that Kyle Orton and the Chicago Bears make the playoffs this year (and I'm a Dolphins guy). Orton's father was Iowa's labor commissioner, and he raised a good Democrat:

Orton said that his beliefs and work ethic came from his father, who he said showed through work like enforcing child labor laws and minimum wage requirements that everyone deserves a voice.

''The biggest influence he had on my beliefs is that there are people working hard every single day that don't necessarily make a lot of money doing it,'' Orton said. ''There should be more people working for them.'

Orton would like to enter politics after he finishes with football, and I'm happy to have sports stars on the Democratic bench, especially if they're the sort who go around to Chicago schools to tell the kids about environmentalism and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Unfortunately, his hometown of Altoona, Iowa is already in a good Democratic Congressional district, so he may not give us maximal advantage. Maybe he could run in Indiana where he went to college.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More NYC Sports Bashing

I swear I'm not trying to turn this into a regular topic, but big thanks to New York Football Giants for laying an egg against Dallas, making it that much harder for the Dirty Birds to make the playoffs. At this point, Atlanta has to win out while hoping that two out of Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Dallas lose one of their final two games. Outcome unlikely.

In (Partial) Defense of Harry Reid

An alternative title to this post might be "Mitch McConnell is perhaps the greatest douchebag in the history of the Senate." And pardon me for questioning the leader of the Democratic quants, Nate Silver: "If Reid can't get [the Senate GOP] to pay a greater public price, then the Democrats ought to find somebody else who can. " Would anyone care to remind Mr. Silver how many Senate seats Republicans lost in this most recent election? Is Silver seriously arguing that Democrats ought to have won races in Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi on the basis of excessive filibustering? And if he is, can I have some of what he's smoking?


Sir Charles lays into Bob Corker, and deservedly so, but seems to be focusing too much on the abstraction that is Corker's shameless attempt to destroy the American economy. What we really need is something that gets people at the gut level. You see, what people really need to understand is that Bob Corker wants to make sure you can never buy another Chevy Silverado, and he wants the guy who makes your Chevy Silverado to make less money, to the point where he might as well go make Toyota Tacoma's. That's a campaign message we can believe in. I know Phil Bredesen is a member in good standing of the Wanker Caucus, but maybe we can convince Tim McGraw to run for Senate in a few years.

(Photo by Flickr user Jacob El Charro used under the Creative Commons license)

Planned Parenthood's Numbers Are Correctly Leading, Or Whatever The Opposite Of Misleading Is

Nicholas has more stuff below, but Ross Douthat's most direct responses to Nicholas and Ezra on Planned Parenthood's work preventing abortion are (like your monkey's Kung Fu) not strong.

Most of the work in Ross' first post is done by Charlotte Allen's line that "The 3 percent pie slice in the 2005-06 financial report, representing 264,943 abortion customers served, can only be described as deliberately misleading." Why misleading? Well, because that doesn't include the cost of pregnancy tests, pelvic exams, STD tests, and a free bag of condoms that they throw in with the abortion. Allen writes:
"An abortion is invariably preceded by a pregnancy test--a separate service in Planned Parenthood's reckoning--and is almost always followed at the organization's clinics by a "going home" packet of contraceptives, which counts as another separate service. Throw in a pelvic exam and a lab test for STDs--you get the picture."
I get the picture! I'm just trying to figure out how it's any sort of argument against the Planned Parenthood numbers. Looking back at the chart, Planned Parenthood expenditures look like this: 38% for contraception, 29% for STD treatment, 19% for cancer screening and treatment, 11% for 'Other', and 3% for abortion. If you're working with those categories, it seems like you should put the cost of the STD test in 'STD treatment' and the contraceptives in 'contraception'. Pregnancy tests cost like $1 if you buy in bulk, and I haven't heard that they're complicated to administer. So if the Planned Parenthood numbers are misleading, that better be one hell of a pelvic exam.

The Economy Is Out Of Ideas

This from Barry Ritholtz is just stunning. Over the past four years, more than 100% of reported earnings has gone into either dividends or stock buybacks. In other words, collectively the companies in the S&P 500 cannot think of a better way to invest money in a way that will produce more money for shareholders than simply giving the money directly to shareholders. This is, I think, a very powerful sign that the U.S. economy hasn't been able to come up with anything to do that is particularly productive. Hopefully a shift in government policy will help change that.

The (Lack Of A) Grand Bargain on Choice

Ross Douthat: "If you want a reason why an abortion compromise isn't possible, try this contrast: My idea of a plausible middle ground on the issue requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade, followed by a move toward a system in which abortion is legal but discouraged in, say, the first ten weeks of pregnancy, and basically illegal thereafter." Later: "After all, liberal, well-off, Planned Parenthood-friendly Massachusetts, had a late-'90s abortion rate roughly twice as high as poor, socially-conservative states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama, and more than three times as high as highly pro-life states like South Dakota and Utah."

My hunch is that this discrepancy may have to do with what our current President might refer to as "conditions on the ground". There are only two abortion providers in all of Mississippi, leaving 91% of women in living in counties without a provider, while Massachusetts has the most widespread abortion access in the nation (source, though I believe since 2005 one of the two providers in Mississippi has closed). Arkansas and South Dakota also rank very low on this metric, and while Utah and Alabama fare better, they're not in the top half. Likewise, states where social conservatism is closer to the front of the political issue mix are more likely to adopt measures restricting or deterring access such as "conscience clauses" for pharmacists, "informed consent" rules, and so forth.

But stepping back from the specific question, yes, as Ross points out, if the whole thing is a debate about the rights of the unborn, then there's an impasse. But the challenge for pro-choicers isn't necessarily to accomodate those who think abortion is about the rights of the unborn. Public opinion on abortion is incredibly muddled. The public doesn't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But they support most restrictions on abortion that you can come up with. A number of people say that they personally would not choose to have an abortion, but that it should still remain legal. In general, as Atrios likes to say, there are a large number of people who think that abortion should be legal but "think it's icky" and thus our laws should somehow reflect the fact that they think it's icky, and the challenge is to peel those voters away from the GOP, rather than tangle in a debate about at what point a fetus becomes a "person" in the legal sense. If you come out with a policy platform that keeps abortion legal but enacts measures that encourage alternatives or prevent unanticipated pregnancies, it won't win over the Ross Douthats of the world, but there are other quasi-pro-life voters that it might impress.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Question: Does It Matter If The Senate Blue Dogs Caucus Up?

Via Matt Yglesias, Evan Bayh is trying to start a Senate 'Blue Dogs' caucus to make special interest money by blocking progressive goals. One thing I don't really understand very well: how does it affect Senate politics if the 'Blue Dogs' caucus up? Do they have more influence than they do as a bunch of disorganized individuals? I'm guessing they get harder to deal with, but I'm not sure what the mechanisms for that are.

Hillary Clinton's Favorability Numbers

NBC/WSJ, December 5-8
Very Positive:27 Somewhat Positive:26 Neutral:20 Somewhat Negative:14 Very Negative:12

CNN, December 1-3
Favorable:66 Unfavorable:33

The NBC/WSJ poll goes back to 1997, and these are her lowest "Very Negative" numbers in the poll since three days after Bill Clinton admitted his affair in 1998. The CNN poll goes back to 2006, and these are by far her best numbers ever.

We don't have any post-election, pre-SoS readings for her, so it's a bit hard to tell whether post-election love for Democrats is playing a bigger role, or whether it's the attachment to a popular president. Both are probably factors.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Change

David Roberts' post on Carol Browner is all fine and dandy, but I always wonder who people are talking to when they feel the need to say stuff like this:
Enviros unhappy with the Clinton administration environmental record -- and that's quite a few of them -- may blanche at this, which taps into the ongoing argument over whether Obama's a real liberal, and what he meant by promising change... My take is, when Obama promised change, he wasn't talking about plucking amateurs from outside government. He was talking about a change from incompetence and stagnation to competence and progress.
If anyone got behind Obama because they liked change in the abstract without having any more concrete sense of what they wanted, they are silly people with silly goals. The nice thing about the 'change' sloganeering of the Obama campaign was that it promised all sorts of concrete things to different people. You don't like the Iraq War? Obama will change our policy so we leave. You don't like Corporate America owning Washington? Obama will change that. You don't like having our government staffed by Regent University incompetents? Obama will change that. Even if 'change' meant something different to you than it did to the next Obama supporter, it stood a good chance of being true either way.

At this point, the campaign is over, and the mass communication benefits of talking in terms of change are gone. Universal health care, climate policy, closing Guantanamo -- let's talk of concrete things like these.

While We're On The Subject of New York

There's no reason for the Yankees to spend $82.5 million on whatever's left of A.J. Burnett's arm. In the absolute best case scenario, Burnett turns out to be Jason Schmidt, who had five-and-a-half fairly healthy years of high-quality pitching after several injury-plagued years. In that case he probably more than earns his money. But the median scenario is much, much worse; Burnett will probably only pitch effectively for three of those years, his contract will make him impossible to unload if he flounders, and five years is just an awfully long time for a pitcher with anything but a stellar health record. The fact that the Yankees are able to outbid every other team in baseball by a factor of 1.5, coupled with their willingness to accept lower profit margins due to higher labor costs, is causing sever market distortions.

Now the Braves are going to be left praying that Kenshin Kawakami makes the transition effectively. And that's their best hope.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Urban ≠ New York

In addition to the selection of the former NYC Housing Commissioner as HUD Secretary, it appears that Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion will be head of the White House office of Urban Policy (who is not, thankfully, informally referred to as the "city czar"). Count me as nonplussed. One of the great challenges New Urbanists face is convincing the rest of the country that they're not engaged in some sort of secret plot to turn every urban area into Manhattan, or even Outer Borough New York. And yet here we have to New Yorkers set to run much of the new Administration's Urban Policy. In addition to the optics of the selections, it's not exactly clear that what works in New York will work in the rest of the country. Here is one of my favorite charts, population density of some major US cities:

As you can see, New York bears only a passing resemblance to a handful of pre-automobile cities on this list, and no resemblance to most cities in the country. What's that you say? "It's not fair to use cities; different cities have annexed suburbs at different rates". Well, let's use metro areas then:

Here, the distance between the New York City metro area are and the rest of the country is even larger. This gap is insurmountable in any reasonable amount of time; you would have to increase the density of the tenth-most dense metro area, Minneapolis-St Paul, by fifteen-fold in order to get close to the density of New York. No policy change could accomplish that in even a half-century. Heck, it would probably require Herculean efforts to get density to double within fifteeen years.

In addition to the tremendous gap in density, New York is the financial capital of the world, something that the rest of the country cannot hope to duplicate. The state also has the highest union density in the country (presumably led by NYC), making business in the state into a different beast. Thus while Donavan and Carrion may be competent public servants, they operate in an environment that looks nothing like the rest of the country, which makes me very uneasy about their ability to make the transition.

Obama HUD Pick Shaun Donovan Has Magic Powers, Can See Future

Glenn Thrush at Politico talked with Shaun Donovan in 2004:

To my surprise, Donovan brushed aside my questions about the city's initiatives and began talking at length about the coming "flood" of foreclosures he anticipated among highly leveraged apartment buildings purchased by recent immigrants -- and a looming subprime crisis for one- and two-family homeowners in up-and-coming neighborhoods in southeast Queens and central Brooklyn.

Now we just need a cleric and maybe another fighter, and Obama's party will be set.


I support making Engrish our national language.

What The Blagojevich Scandal Says About Us

Nate Silver has a nice dissection of the Patrick Fitzgerald tapes, explaining why it is that Obama and his transition team would have been very unlikely to know that Blagojevich was putting the Senate seat on the market.
One needs to remember that the bulk of the criminal complaint against Blagojevich consists of somewhat delusional, masturbatory and half-baked schemes1 discussed between Blagojevich and his advisers. On the other hand, there are relatively few conversations between Blagojevich and representatives of any of the various Senate candidates, and when such conversations do occur, Blagojevich proceeds at least somewhat more cautiously.
Which is what you'd expect. Trying to shake down multiple candidates for the appointment isn't a workable strategy. If you try to extort money from someone, they turn you down, and you end up giving the appointment to somebody else who pays up, the person you denied the appointment is going to (1) be unhappy that they didn't get the job and (2) have some serious dirt on you.

I liked this comment from emailer and commenter Rousseau:
I actually find this whole affair pretty supportive of our democracy. Blago is governor of a large state and willing to sell it to the highest bidder... and he can do so little. He's reduced to fantasizing with his advisors about selling one federal position for another, and makes pretty much 0 progress there. The news coverage so far has completely underplayed how resistant every single federal politician was to his ideas.
Possibly excepting Jesse Jackson Jr., that's right. This isn't because our politicians are wonderful people, but because the anti-corruption norms embedded in the system are strong enough that you just can't go around trying to sell offices. People won't stand for it, partly because they know other people won't stand for it. And so we don't turn into rural India, where my cousin applied for a job where one of the requirements turned out to be "marry the boss' weird-looking daughter." (My cousin didn't marry the daughter and didn't get the job.)

1 Describing Blagojevich's plans to get big money and politically advance himself by selling the Senate Seat as "delusional, masturbatory, and half-baked" reminds me too much of a certain scene in American Pie.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Fun With Maps

Many Eyes continues to be my new favorite toy. Just in time to be ignored by people on the East Coast, here's a picture of the rate of direct employment in the auto sector (autos, plus auto parts, plus "auto and trailer body"), for those states where the BLS has statistics. This isn't just about Michigan, it's about Ohio and Indiana as well (Kentucky, as a right-to-work-for-less state, mostly employs people working for foreign car compainies). I can't see the GOP really wanting to lose ground there.

Friday Kitsch Cover

Haven't done one of these in a while. Ladytron covers Tweet/Missy Elliot's "Oops":

When In Doubt, Post Paul Krugman Content

If you haven't seen it already, Paul Krugman's Nobel Prize lecture is quite good.

Today's useless fact: the story that there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics because Alfred Nobel's wife had an affair with a mathematician is a hoax.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Shorter pro-life movement forced pregancy lobby: de-fund PPFA so that you get pregnant.

Once again, the overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood's budget is devoted to things other than abortion services. The idea low-cost contraception should be on the chopping block in an era of tight budgets is just crazy. Now that pro-choice politicians control the House, Senate, and White House, it's all but guaranteed that The Movement will spend a lot of time and energy working the county commissions and city councils of America to chip away at contraception and abortion access.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Werewolf Sails At Dawn

Well, not sailing, actually, but my flight from Singapore to San Francisco leaves at 6 AM. I'll be in Burlingame with my family -- it's at the south end of the BART so I can go places without too much difficulty -- from the 12th to the 26th of December. Then I'll go to DC from the 26th to January 5. Back for a quick stop in San Francisco, and I'll be back in Singapore on the 9th in time for our first department meeting of the new year.

If you live in either of those areas and would like to hang out with me between now and then, send an email. I'm neiladri at gmail dot com.

I leave you with a photo I took tonight at Mustafa Center, the 24-hour shopping area in Little India. The legend of Horny Goat Weed is more or less what the name suggests -- it, like one third of substances discovered by humans, is "alleged to have aphrodisiac qualities. According to legend, this property was discovered by a Chinese goat herder who noticed sexual activity in his flock after they ate the weed." Sadly, I must leave Singapore without testing the powers of Horny Goat Weed. But maybe when I return, I will partake of the substance and wake up in the morning next to a very confused she-goat.

Bring On Schakowsky, And Other Blagojeblogging

With Blagojevich refusing to resign, my hopes are that the state legislature boots him out of office, and that Pat Quinn appoints a replacement. That's basically the hope of the national party, for good reason:
Other Democrats in Washington edged away from calls for a special election to fill Obama’s place in the Senate, hoping that Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn would soon become governor and fill the vacancy on his own. That would assure the party of holding the seat, and on a far faster timetable than any balloting would allow.
Harry Reid is telling Blagojevich to resign and not try to appoint anybody. He and other Democrats are threatening not to seat anybody who gets appointed by the corrupt governor. However, he doesn't say anything about choking the person, which, as Ezra mentions, differs from how he did it in his younger days.

As I've mentioned before, I'm hoping that Quinn ally Jan Schakowsky ends up in the Senate. Really, the possibility of this is my big reason for wanting Quinn to do the appointing. No guarantee that he'll pick her, but I have to imagine that the chances aren't bad. Says wikipedia:
Schakowsky is one of the most (by some accounts, the most) liberal members of the current US Congress. She is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She frequently gains ratings of between 90 and 100 from liberal and progressive interest groups and lower ratings from conservative groups.

Schakowsky has been known for her support of women's issues while in Congress, and is a close friend of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA). She reportedly phoned every female partner of a law firm in Chicago during her first run for office in 1998, and has gained national acclaim for her fundraising prowess.

The Nation endorsed her for vice president in the United States presidential election, 2004, stating that she is 'the truest heir to Paul Wellstone in the current Congress.' She was, however, not selected as John Kerry's running mate.

Schakowsky has been outspoken in her opposition to the Iraq War.
So: Solid liberal, good fundraiser, Pelosi ally, feminist, Iraq War opponent, and 'truest heir to Paul Wellstone'. And as far as we can tell, she's untainted by the current scandal. Gimme some o' that.

The Underutilization Of Academia

Yglesias wonders how Amity Shlaes managed to become a senior fellow in economic history at the Council for Foreign Relations. Her academic credentials end at a bachelors' degree in English from Yale. She also has a book on the Depression which Publishers' Weekly calls "plausible history, if not authoritative, novel or deeply analytical."

The academic world contains multitudes of well-trained historians who can produce material that is authoritative, novel, and deeply analytical, and who can relate current events to a history that they've rigorously studied for their entire professional lives. These are the people who should be getting senior fellowships in economic history at the CFR, not authors of ideologically charged popular books.

Academia is full of very smart researchers who have spent decades of their lives doing meticulous research on every topic under the sun. It's a shame that so much of our expertise in fields like history and sociology just sits where it is, churning out papers for other academics to read, instead of being used to help people understand issues that matter.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Can We Trust Barack Obama's Approval Ratings?

Indeed, they're quite high. High enough that I'm not sure they're real; as has been pointed out, fewer people disapprove of Barack Obama than approve of George W. Bush. Yes, it's still the transition period when you don't have to make any hard decisions.

If you believe that the President's numbers generally track the right track/wrong track number, recall that prior to the election we were in the single digits on the right track. It appears that almost everyone who thinks the country is on the "wrong track", regardless of what they think the "right track" looks like, belives Barack Obama will take use there.

That, or no one wants to say The Black Guy isn't doing a good job.

Equal Protection

I'm with Barry Ritholtz. The auto industry is being forced to do a number of things which are highly unpleasant for their upper management and shareholders—reduce executive compensation, retool significant chunks of their production capacity, sell corporate jets, suspend dividend payments until the loan is repaid—that banks did not have to sign up for. Yes, there was a feeble attempt to limit executive compensation, but John Thain is doing his best to show that that won't work either. I suppose that if we put real re-regulation of the financial sector into place, the banks will have taken a real bullet, but for the moment, they seem to be getting off scott free.

Bring On Pat Quinn

With Rod Blagojevich arrested for his free-market approach to picking Obama's Senate replacement, all eyes turn to Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. Of course, they're not seeing much of anything, as his site has crashed, so don't bother clicking on that link too soon. Blagojevich has to actually resign or somehow be removed for Quinn to ascend, but I hope that'll happen relatively soon.

I have no idea who Quinn would pick to fill the seat, if he should become Governor.

: "He’s from the progressive wing of the state Democratic party, and is very close with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)" Can I have a hooray for that? Schakowsky would be awesome.

Somebody Else Do The Outraged Thing For Me

Traffic here isn't very high yet, so, shorter Steve Hildebrand: "Sit down and shut up, you stupid liberals, so we can do everything you want and pretend it's centrist!"

To quote the relevant bits of "A Message to Obama's Progressive Critics":
This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making...

As a liberal member of our Party, I hope and expect our new president to address those issues that will benefit the vast majority of Americans first and foremost. That's his job. Over time, there will be many, many issues that come before him. But first let's get our economy moving, bring our troops home safely, fix health care, end climate change and restore our place in the world.
This is an outrage! With chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. I will bite into it. Viciously, I tell you, viciously.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Robert Gates As Defense Secretary

Fred Kaplan's article at Slate about Gates' agenda is good stuff about good stuff. Here's a neat bit:
A year ago, Gates caused a ruckus by halting the F-22 program at its current level of 187 planes, half as many as the Air Force wanted. He should stick to that decision. He may get the support of his new Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, whose background isn't in fighter planes but in airlift: i.e., in planes that transport ground troops and their weapons to the battlefield.
The F-22 was designed to keep us one step ahead of the next generation of Soviet fighters. Then the Soviet Union fell, but defense contractors weren't about to let that keep them from selling something really pricey to America. Gates' general agenda, according to the article, is to shift focus away from expensive Cold War superweapons to cheaper stuff that actually helps with today's conflicts. It's also good to hear that the new Air Force chief of staff does airlift, because that's much more of a useful skill in these Army-centric times than fighter jockery.

I got this article from right-wing blogger Tigerhawk, who also approves of Gates' views. If keeping a figure with Gates' bipartisan credibility in Defense will keep conservatives content about net reductions in defense spending, it's a thing well done.

The Financial Prudence Of William Jefferson

I'm not going to defend the way he got the money, and it's for the good of everyone that he lost. But his ideas about asset allocation were better than those of our top investment bankers, and he deserves credit for that.

In Which I Spend $300 Buying GOP Domain Names

Y'all gather round and see what I got! Don't bother clicking on them, I don't have anything up yet.

That's 15 of the 19 GOP Senators up for re-election in 2010. Mel Martinez and Sam Brownback are retiring, is taken and he's from Utah so a serious challenge is unlikely, and everything McCain related has been taken off the market already. (Jeb Bush is a likely Florida candidate, but everything remotely interesting on him seemed to be taken.)

At present, my plan is to do these things up more or less like my Saxby Chambliss site. I only got that going in October, so there wasn't enough time to do good search engine optimization and drive it to the top of the Google results. This time I'll be able to start early, hopefully getting my sites even higher than the Republicans' own campaign webpages or their Senate pages. I imagine I'll be able to use some of the same material on all these sites, so having one person do all this is actually a fairly efficient process.

Chris Bowers and a bunch of people at Open Left were buying Google ads against Republicans this time around, and I imagine we'll have even more people doing stuff like that in 2010. It helps you get better ad placement for the search phrase "Jim Bunning" if your ad links to a site that has "Jim Bunning" in the URL. Part of my goal will be to create an excellent target page for our team's Google ads.

I've also played a little defense:

I'd like to give these away to the senators or the Democratic Party, hopefully with the message that they need to be a bit more aggressive about domain name defense. I mean, Chris, you were running for president, and you didn't buy up! Sam Brownback (or somebody) bought up, and he's from the 13th century.

Back to the Republicans. I'm probably going to get the real sites on them up in 2010 after the next year has happened. What should I put up there for the time being? Any ideas?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Animal-Eaters And Animal-Huggers Need To Get Together

Now the Humane Society has come out with its list of picks for Ag Secretary. They like "John Boyd, Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack." They're against Stenholm, because he's a tool of the factory farming lobby and opposes any animal protections.

Sadly, there's no common candidate between the Humane Society and the foodie lobby. They should be able to get along, as neither side likes factory farming and the foodies did mention humane treatment of animals in their recommendations.

Clutch Scoring ≠ Fourth Quarter Scoring

I don't know if there really is such a thing as an athlete being 'clutch', or if it's just a matter of chance that some people happen to get lucky at key moments. In any event, looking at people's fourth quarter scoring numbers really isn't the way to measure clutchness. Nothing is less clutch than scoring a bunch of baskets when the outcome is already decided, and looking at the fourth quarter will give you an abominable fusion of garbage time and clutchness.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Food Movement Moves

It makes me happy how the food movement is starting to get organized, with a list of six names for Obama's Secretary of Agriculture signed by lots of cool foodie people. The only one I know is Mark Ritchie, the MN Secretary of State to whom I donated money in 2006 for win-the-battleground-states-in-2008 reasons. Never knew he was an Ag guy, but actually he puts the F in DFL. Ag policy is what he's spent half his adult life doing:

From 1986 until 2006, he served as the president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit organization working with businesses, churches, farm organizations, and other civic groups to foster long-term sustainability for Minnesota’s rural communities. Among other issues, it looked into how global trade rules in fact impact family farmers and rural communities. Ritchie also founded the League of Rural Voters.

In 1994, Ritchie was a co-founder of the Global Environment & Trade Study, located at Yale University, which conducted research on the linkages and potential synergies between international trade and the environment. Also that year, Ritchie organized a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bretton Woods conference. The 1994 conference, held at the Mt. Washington Hotel, featured a return of many of the "old timers" who had attended the 1944 conference or other founding conferences for the postwar economic system.

A dude who comes at agricultural policy from a family farmer / global trade perspective could be an excellent Secretary of Agriculture. I have no idea what his chances are of getting the position, though the fact that he's in the middle of a nasty recount where the Republicans have been making elaborate preparations to whine about a losing outcome probably doesn't help.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bee See Mess

Contra Steve Benen, there may be a plausible case that the BCS system violates anti-trust law. After all, it's essentially a conspiracy by which the BCS conferences hoard the lion's share of bowl game TV revenue, freezing out lesser conferences from a chance at a greater share of the pie. Indeed, the Fiesta Bowl is considering matching up Boise State against Utah, which would prevent the BCS conferences from suffering another embarrassing defeat, giving conspiracy theorists further fodder.

In addition, as Steve notes, the BCS is just a terrible way to pick a national champion. Each year seems to bring a new way in which the third-place team is screwed; this year, we have the Big 12 tiebreaker freezing out Texas, despite the fact that they beat Oklahoma in a head-to-head matchup. I like the irreverent Texas Tech coach's suggestion: use the football team's graduation rate to break the tie. Mid-Majors are effectively barred from winning the national title (query if this ever happened prior to the BCS). The system stinks, and given how many people care an awful lot about college football, it would have broad impact on a lot of Americans if we moved to a sensible playoff.

How Do You Lead Your Party To Minus 27?

Obviously, Democrats are doing well and Republicans are doing badly. But the Gallup data showing that Democrats have a favorability rating of +16 while Republicans are at -fucking27 is still pretty striking.

It didn't have to be this way. The natural thing to do after November 2006, if you're a party being dragged down by an unpopular president, is to run away from the president and have your House and Senate leaders cut deals with Democrats to get stuff passed and take your worst issues of the table. Compromise on S-CHIP. Agree on a plan to get out of Iraq. Let vulnerable Congresspeople assert their independence by talking against the president on cable shows and straying from unpopular positions on party-line votes. If it makes the Democrats look good too, don't sweat it -- you've got 22 Senate incumbents up for election and the Democrats only have 12, so hatred of Congress hurts you more than it hurts the majority party. While I'm willing to give Mitch McConnell credit for being a devious legislative tactician, he has only himself to blame for the strategic blunders that led to Democrats getting to 58 or 59 Senate seats.

I'm sort of curious about how the GOP leadership comes out of watching Democrats win back both chambers in 2006 and keeps doing what they're doing. Is it just that the key GOP constituencies are too stupid to let you compromise? If I were a health insurance lobbyist, I would've given these guys room to bend on S-CHIP in 2008 so that I wouldn't be broken by universal health care in 2009. Or are the memories of victory in 1994 and 2004 so vivid that you can't even think about doing other things as part of a defensive strategy?