Thursday, January 29, 2009
No clue what's going on in North Dakota or Vermont.
Monday, January 26, 2009
[Neil jumping in] So far, other than Nicholas' Gillibrand post, which he crossposted, we've got:
AL-QAEDA IS NOT FEELING THE HOPE AND CHANGE
THE STIMULUS: GOOD DEALS ON PUBLIC GOODS
ZOMBIE ECFA LIES
SOME SCAMS HAVE THAT RETRO FLAVOR. THIS DOES NOT MAKE THEM BETTER
A WAIVER KIND OF DAY
LOCOMOTIVE 8, SOUTHERN CRESCENT, HEAR THE BELLS RING AGAIN
REPUBLICANS WANT TO TAKE AWAY CSI. AND LOST. AND EVERYTHING ELSE
CRAM DOWNS: TO HELL WITH THE MORTGAGE BANKERS ASSOCIATION
THE 155 REPUBLICANS (AND 13 DEMOCRATS) WHO WANT TO TAKE AWAY YOUR TEEVEE
THE NEWS GAP
I GOT A HAND, SO I GOT A FIST, SO I GOT A PLAN, IT'S THE BEST THAT I CAN DO
NOW CAN WE GIVE BOEHNER TO PELOSI?
AND THE THING ABOUT DESTINY IS IT NEVER EVER MAKES MISTAKES
(there were more)
Not that the titles are all that helpful or anything. You might as well just click over to the Ezra-blog.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The median Democrat is 4 slots to the left of their district, and the average Democrat is just over 16 slots away, so by almost measure she's just a tick to more liberal than she "ought" to be. Since Gillibrand's constituents now include New York City, its suburbs and other, more Democratic-leaning areas of the upstate region, if she continues to vote in a way that represents her constituents views she'll be a fine Senator. Of course, if her voting patterns don't change at all, she will be a total waste of a blue-state politician.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Maybe the best solution would be to require that appointed Senators may not run for re-election. The only real disadvantage I can see here is that if one person was the absolute best candidate, the state would be deprived of the optimal candidate's service during either the pre-election or post-election period. But I don't think that clearly optimal candidates are very common in our world.
The black and white animal was turned in to police by a vigilante group, which claimed it was an armed car thief who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.A colleague was telling me this week that in rural areas of Malaysia (not Indonesia -- I checked with him), men who accidently get caught in tiger traps are often regarded with great suspicion, because of concern that they may be weretigers. I must admit to finding it kind of awesome that some people live in a world painted so colorfully by myth and legend.
"The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car," Tunde Mohammed, a spokesman for Kwara state police, told Reuters.
"They pursued them. However, one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," he said. While Mr Mohammed said he could not confirm whether a man had, in fact, turned into a goat, he did admit that the animal was in police custody. A photo of the goat, resting on its knees next to a pile of straw, was published in Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper.
But on the whole, this is a real problem. Much can go wrong in a justice system that relies on roving bands of vigilantes who believe in were-goats.
Friday, January 23, 2009
This brings to mind what Matt told us during the Jennifer Palmieri brouhaha: "if someone was leaning over my shoulder there wouldn’t be all these typos." Cherish each incorrect homophone, for it is a sign of Matt's editorial independence.
"After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples... She also supports the full repeal of the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) law, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and passage of legislation outlawing discrimination against transgender people. While we had a productive discussion about a whole range of LGBT concerns, I was particularly happy to hear where she stands on these issues.”Seems like just yesterday that our Kirsten was voting against repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. I love these stories about the repressed small-town girl who goes to the big city (or in this case starts representing the big city) and gets into all sorts of wild kinky stuff and lives happily ever after.
"It was a complete surprise, completely unexpected. And just like the United States prevailed in that, we'll prevail in this."I'm looking forward to the impeachment trial, where he's going to compare himself to Jesus, Elvis, and Wonder Woman in consecutive sentences.
-- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), quoted by the AP, comparing his impeachment to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The main theoretical issue is that the conditions that sustain liberal democracy also sustain cooperation because they increase trust and accountability. A democratic government needs to deal with a free press and with opposition political parties, which means that efforts to cheat on agreements or hatch secret plots are more likely to be exposed. And because political disagreement takes place out in the open, other countries get to have a sense of what range of policies might plausibly be adopted and have the opportunity to see large shifts in strategic thinking coming around the corner. Similarly, democratic political leaders typical operate under various kinds of formal restraints that make it difficult-or-impossible to suddenly turn on a dime. In a related way, the actual structure of democratic polities is relatively transparent. One kind find out, fairly definitively, what the institutional prerogatives of different officeholders are and therefore what the significance of their views and attitudes are. When faced with an authoritarian system, by contrast, it’s often not clear who the real decision-makers are (or which decisions have been made) especially when you start talking about people below the “one top guy.” A certain amount of “palace intrigue” takes place in democracies and some “kremlinology” may be required to figure out what’s really happening, but there’s a reason those terms all come form authoritarian systems.(note: the 'know' before the late italics should probably be 'lie'. This happens.)
Long story short: democracies can cooperate more credibly, because they’re more transparent and more predictable. Clearly, though, these things are a matter of degree—democracies can be more transparent or less transparent and authoritarian systems can be more rule-bound or less rule-bound. This highlights an important misconception of the conservative movement, namely their view that liberal democracies are hampered in the international arena by their greater difficulty cheating or launching secret initiatives. This is short-sighted. It’s the possession of these very “handicaps” that makes democracies credible allies and partners—even in the eyes of non-democracies—and that gives most countries a reason, at the margin, to prefer that a democratic state like the U.S. play a hegemonic role than a state like China. Much the same is true in the individual context. It might seem like an inability to lie would be a problem in life, but in a lot of ways if it was impossible for you to know and possible for you to signal this credibly that could be a huge asset. Everyone would rather be in business with the “must be honest” guy than with the “might be scamming you” guy.
This is really bad, but my first thought was: Does this mean that the NSA is aware of all internet traditions?
My first article was "Japan replaces Yen with Beef." There actually was an economic argument for doing this. Japan was stuck in a liquidity trap -- the economy had been sluggish for a while, so the Japanese were securing themselves for an uncertain future by saving their money, so there wasn't enough spending, so the economy just stayed sluggish. My thinking was that if they replaced their currency with a perishable meat like beef, people would have to spend it immediately and the liquidity trap would end.
I was looking at this graph from Paul Krugman today, and I was wondering if we need to take similarly extreme measures. Interest rates can't go anywhere below zero, but the Taylor Rule seems to dictate an interest rate more than 600 basis points below zero. We need super-easy money and there basically isn't any way for conventional monetary policy to generate it. This is why people are talking about enormous fiscal stimulus packages.
Not that I actually believe we should do this, but let me ask: what would happen if we printed more money and spent it? This would be wildly inflationary, but if I understand that chart, it's telling you not to worry about inflation. Just throw money into the economy quick!
As far as I can see, the big problem is that it sounds so Zimbabwean that the resulting loss of faith in our currency and the government's monetary authority would be disproportionately large, compared to the actual amount of stimulus we would generate by spending the money. Is that the big reason? Or are there others?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
- To an extent, the 50-state strategy has already achieved some of its purpose. State and local parties in deep-red territory are energized and have larger donor rolls. More Democrats hold office; those officeholders will have incentive to monitor the effectiveness of their local party infrastructure. Bowers would argue (and I would agree) that these areas deserve more resources in the coming years, but they will unquestionably be better off now than they would have been with 4 years of a status-quo DNC chair from '04-'08.
- The 50-state strategy cannot take credit for the nationwide shift in the Presidential race. The Presidential race is largely determined by macro-economic factors; Obama appears to be a uniquely charismatic figure while John Kerry was not, press attitudes about the war shifted, etc.
- In the time between the 2004 election and Barack Obama's nomination, the DNC's attention was fundamentally less divided. They didn't have a Presidential candidate with whose reelection they needed to concern themselves. It's somewhat natural for there to be a shift in priorities now that there's a new President.
- A lot depends on how many "swing states", and which ones, the DNC emphasizes. If they shift resources out of a deep-red state like Utah or Oklahoma and into a state where Obama outperformed his national average, like Nevada or Pennsylvania or New Hampshire, that's a mistake. If he instead moves those resources to Florida or Indiana or Missouri, that's more defensible.
- A certain portion of the local work previously performed by the DNC will likely be picked up by the new "Organizing for America" group.
- The decision to re-centralize much of the DNC's operation seems like a mistake, but it's hard to tell.
- Much of the 50-state project involved reviving the Democratic Party in the Interior West. In 2008, the Democratic party grew very quickly in much of the West, while it contracted in most of the South. Thus many of the states that received newfound attention under Dean will likely continue to receiven attention under Obama. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and Arizona will all be on Obama's red-to-blue map at least until March of 2012.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Continuing the tradition wherein each Presidents seek to dominate new forms of communication, the new Whitehouse web site has several RSS feeds. At the moment there are six linked off the home page; five that seem to come from the Communications Shop, and one from the Office of Management and Budget. Either this demonstrates just how seriously the Obama Administration takes the job of the OMB, or that Peter Orzag is a big nerd.
Likewise, yes, Congress should update the PRA since the fax machine, email, and instant messages have come into existence since the law was written. Most likely, we're going to end up judging that it constitutes "writing" and no one will use it. Pick up the phone.
You don't hire Joe the Plumber to be your war correspondent in Israel.Seems like a truism, doesn't it? The kind of thing somebody would say, and obviously it'd be sort of a straw man in whatever discussion you were having, but they would've made their point.
Of course, that's exactly what the craziest right-wing forces in the media did.
Oh hey, cool! Anyway, I'm looking for more universities to add to my itinerary. So if you're a philosopher, or know some philosophers who would be happy to have me give a talk defending utilitarianism or the Humean theory of motivation or some other view I want to write a paper about, let me know. I'm looking for more places to fly to. Slightly more info including my email address is available at my philosophy blog.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Conservatives often point out the various idiotic things that people say and do in the name of not being racist. I think they're right about some of the idiocy -- the 70s and 80s, in particular, had a lot of earnest white people walking up to unsuspecting African Americans and saying things like: Hey, brother, I'm down with your struggle. They're also right about some of the idiotic excesses of political correctness: my personal favorite example was a brouhaha about a poster that some student group had put up advertising an event that involved (iirc) "a lazy afternoon relaxing and eating burritos", which supposedly implied that Mexicans were lazy. The late 80s and early 90s were full of that stuff.
Where I differed with conservatives who made those arguments was that I thought: well, this is what happens when people come to realize that there is something very wrong with their habitual ways of thinking about, and behaving towards, people they often don't really know at all, and try to figure out how to change their ways. It's especially likely in the case of racism, in which a lot of problems are likely to involve unconscious habits of mind and behavior. (You might think you're not a racist, but wouldn't a racist think that too?)
In situations like that, people say and do stupid things. They second-guess their own motives, and they don't always get it right. They try to establish their anti-racist cred by constituting themselves as the Official Racism Police. They are in no position to distinguish blacks who have discovered the delightful possibilities of being able to make white people feel guilty about almost anything, and have decided to explore them, from blacks with genuine and serious complaints about their conduct. This is all to be expected. But it in no way implies that the attempt is not worth making, or that if we proceed with good will, we won't eventually do better.
If you're white, and you believe that racism is wrong and that you should try to avoid it, and you don't know a lot of black people, I thought, then a certain amount of idiocy is in your future. It just is. And a whole lot of white people of my acquaintance really didn't know a lot of blacks. That was, of course, part of the problem. But the solution to it was not, I thought, to sneer at the whole effort. It was to do your best, observe carefully, think hard, be generous, and accept the fact that you just were going to do a number of things that would, in retrospect, make you absolutely cringe. The idiocy was temporary, and born of ignorance. With time, I thought, it would fade to normal human levels of awkwardness and cluelessness.
This is ... surreal.
Update: And now they're booing the appearance of Dick Cheney on screen. Where are the cheerleaders and the marching band?
I've always been a tremendous Pelosi supporter, and you can count me a good queen's man on this one too. The Bush tax cuts are absolutely dismal as a stimulus measure. The CBO ranks their cost-effectiveness as 'small' on a scale of small to medium to large, while Moody's ranks them as the 12th most cost-effective stimulus measure among the 13 measures they rank. Those statistics are for making the tax cuts permanent, but other than speed (which is ranked separately) I can't see why those cost-effectiveness numbers wouldn't be decisive on the question of when to repeal the tax cuts.
Pelosi hasn't gotten nearly as much love as she deserved from the Democratic base over the last four years. I think this is partly because people carried over their justified Gephardt-era dislike of the House leadership and didn't realize how much things had changed with Pelosi's ascension. Whether the things we're seeing are genuine disputes between Pelosi and Obama or goodcopbadcoppery for the folks at home, I think the base will spend a lot of the next couple years learning to love their Speaker of the House.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
King offered his audience a range of solutions to the problems he outlined above: “a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for all families of our country”; an immediate end to the war that was “allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam every day”; eradication of poverty throughout the nation; and real integration, extending beyond public accommodations to the corridors of power...Long story short, our man didn't just declare victory and go home to play some video games after the Civil Rights Act. Up until the day he was shot (he was supporting a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis) he was pushing for a full slate of lefty policies on economics and foreign policy.
The tragic historical counterfactual of my lifetime concerns butterfly ballots and Bush, leading into a disastrous war. It's harder for me to estimate the consequences, both because I'm no expert on the time period and because the counterfactuals get really murky, but I imagine they're even bigger: What would've happened if not for the assassinations of 1968, both of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy?
With an enormously credible progressive leader like King still alive, would the more wayward elements of the American left have been absorbed into a more productive political framework? And with a giant like him still pushing for the whole slate of progressive goals, how much could we have accomplished? If Bobby had survived, won the presidency, and ended the war, how would the last forty years of American history have gone? The possibilities are so far-reaching that it's dizzying to think about.
There are any number of possible reasons for that ten point gap. For now, let's just enjoy it.
Hassett is currently director of economic policy studies at AEI. I guess it's kind of like the Iraq War, where you can give really bad advice and still hold onto an awesome think tank job. Such states of affairs in the world are beyond my power to correct.
But they're not beyond my power to satirize with Photoshop!* Again, here's the original cover of Hassett and Glassman's book. If you have a blog or some other such thing, you are free to grab this as you wish.
*I actually use an less feature-rich open source Mac program called Seashore. It's pretty good, and I don't know how layers work anyway.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
This might be a good moment to note how weird the Blue Dogs are. As Kagro X points out, they're making all this noise about fiscal responsibility when their re-election prospects depend on the stimulus package being maximally effective. Is this just some way to look like moderates? Or the old Southern racial politics thing where 'spending' has been so deeply coded as 'giving your money to black people' that nobody can see their way out of it?
Friday, January 16, 2009
The punchline, which I think Team Obama seems to be understanding, is that why there may be broad bipartisan intellectual support for much of the Administration's agenda, that's not always going to translate into broad political support. Every economist worth his or her weight in dung realizes we need a substantial increase in government spending, but that's not going to convince David Vitter of anything unless they ... well, I'll let you use your imagination on that one. Thus 80-20 votes just won't be in the cards, meaning Obama needs to sway people like George Voinovich and Chuck Grassley, not Pete Sessions and John Cornyn.
If you keep looking at media figures as the people they're supposed to be, this can be infuriating. But the more you can keep your distance and regard them like hills and trees and rivers -- as mere features of the media landscape -- the easier it is to deal with them. (I think it helps to be taking in more of your media in text form if you're trying to do this.) See them the way they're comfortable being seen, as inanimate objects who act or do not act according to well-defined laws of nature, and you'll be able to predict their motions at least as well as you could otherwise. And when they do something bad you'll be displeased that things went badly, but not enraged at their viciousness.
This is how I've always regarded Chris Matthews. I never could get my head around the idea of him running for Senate in Pennsylvania back when those rumors were going around. What was he going to do? Absorb the dominant media narrative about himself and reinforce it? I mean, I'm sure he would've acted like a fairly conventional centrist candidate, but it was hard for me to get out of my old way of seeing him.
Publius posted Matthews' response to Bush's speech, and I found it kind of neat to watch.
He goes on a nice little tear about the empty-headed president who came into office and the neoconservative intellectuals who filled him up with all sorts of exciting nonsense that got lots of people killed in war. I could imagine him being a person who had come to fully appreciate the folly of neoconservatism.
Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?...The point isn't that Matthews is being inconsistent or anything like that. Norms of consistency apply to people, not to hills or trees or rivers. The point is just that the landscape has shifted dramatically, and things aren't where they were before. Victory exerts a powerful gravitational pull, and I'm sure that if McCain had won, Matthews would still be pretty close to where he used to be. But instead we got a president who opposed the war from the beginning, and huge victories for Democrats at all levels as they came out more forcefully against the war.
He looks for real. What is it about the commander in chief role, the hat that he does wear, that makes him -- I mean, he seems like -- he didn't fight in a war, but he looks like he does....
We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple.
In the laws governing the motions of the pundits, electoral victory is multiplied by a large constant. Today, it is pleasant to watch things move.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
A word of caution that some of this spending is hard to categorize; are subsidies to COBRA insurance "Health Care" or "Safety Net"? Is school construction spending really Education spending or is it really just construction? But in the main this looks correct.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Wow. Just watch this from Nancy Pelosi:
And yes, that's the official version, not some mash-up by a teenager on LOLlerskates
Since I have a day job and little wit I'm not really cut out for this, but maybe our commenters can produced a crowd-sourced transcript. It'll be like those stories you write in middle school English, where one person writes the first sentence, then hands the paper to the next person, etc.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Acting in a clandestine pact, the 49 Democrats in Tennessee’s House shocked Nashville just one hour ago by nominating and then voting en masse for Kent Williams (a moderate Republican from Elizabethton in Carter County) for Speaker to lead the 99-member chamber. The official Republican nominee, Jason Mumpower (a wingnut from Bristol in Sullivan County) was left speechless, clutching the family bible that he had brought in preparation for taking the Speaker’s oath of office.I love the detail about the guy clutching the Bible. Hot damn!
This is HUGE! The R’s had promised bans on gay adoption and fostering, new concealed weapons laws, new constitutional limits on abortion, new anti-immigrant legislation, and mandating the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools. Because the Tennessee House operates under a strict committee system and the Speaker appoints all committee chairs, though, it is unclear whether Republicans will be able to get any of these measures to the floor of the House. In addition, the re-election prospects for the long-serving and widely-respected Comptroller and Treasurer (both Democrats) is now much more promising; the General Assembly votes for these constitutional offices tomorrow.
The ingenuity of the Dems is (very occassionally) something to savor. And full credit is due to the new Speaker Kent Williams, who candidly acknowledged in his address that he would likely be kicked out of the Republican party and lose his next election. But perhaps the loveliest part of the drama should be attributed to the recently-elected Republican state representative Terry Lynn Weaver of Lancaster, who accidentally voted with Democrats on a procedural matter and, owing to confusion about the issue, was unable to change her vote in time — which set the whole process in motion.
I don't intend to turn this blog into full-throated apology for Harry Reid's performance between 2006 and, say, yesterday, but people need to realize that the Senate is not well suited to have a Majority Leader do anything when he has a 50-49 majority plus Joe Lieberman being a douchebag. Bill Frist had a hard time with a 55-45 majority. Having a 59-41 majority in the 111th Congress will make things a lot easier.
(link is NSFW, maybe, depending on your standards).
As Chris Bowers points out, retiring GOP Senators are more likely to vote with Democrats, regardless of their prior ideological bend. Voinovich will no longer need favors from Mitch McConnell or the Republican donor base, so he no longer needs to hew quite so closely to the party line. He's also signficantly more moderate than any of the other retiring Senators, so his office really needs to be on speed dial at the White House of Legislative Affairs.
The essential thing in handling the Blagojevich scandal is to make it absolutely clear to observers that you're not tainted by Blagojevich's corruption. If Harry Reid jumps the gun in trying to block the corrupt governor's Senate nominee, and then Blago tries to simultaneously save his ass and be an ass by appointing a clean guy who Reid can't actually block, Reid looks a little foolish but totally clean. Reid's vigorous but failed attempt to oppose Blagojevich (much like Obama's unwillingness to play the bribe game) makes sure that the taint of corruption is quarantined and doesn't affect public perceptions of the Democratic Party as a whole.
This is the Senator who once choked a dude who was trying to bribe him. You know what I want people saying about my Senate Majority Leader? If you're corrupt around Harry Reid, he'll throw everything he has at you, plus some things he doesn't.
Monday, January 12, 2009
One time when I was riding my bike, someone threw a smallish rock at me from a housing project across the street. As it happens, the kid didn’t hit me and everything was fine. But I suppose if he’d hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured. And depending on what the cars on the road were doing, it’s conceivable that I could have wound up being run over and terribly injured. Long story short, it was a pretty terrible thing for the thrower to be doing. And this has been a sporadic problem in the city for a while. But obviously it wouldn’t have bene right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting “self-defense!” and “double-effect!” And had I done so, and killed some innocent people in the course of things, and then I’d tried to say that the real blame for the deaths lay with the rock-thrower who’d started it everyone would look at me like I was crazy. And this is true even though it’s clear that going to the police would have been useless in that case.Michael Moynihan of Hit & Run criticizes Yglesias a post titled Ceci n'est pas une Analogy, because he thinks what Yglesias is doing in the above paragraph is an analogy. But it isn't! And it's actually part of my skill set as a philosophy professor to tell you what it really is. It's a counterexample.
I don’t believe in analogies, so don’t read that as one. Rather, it makes the point that the existence of a right to self-defense doesn’t authorize just doing whatever any more than the injustice of occupation justifies deliberately targeting civilians.
Here's how counterexamples work. Somebody makes an argument including a premise like, "If you have the right to self-defense and you're faced with violent threats to yourself, you're allowed to do violence in whatever way will eliminate the violent threats." Insofar as the Congressional resolution fits into an argument for Israel's current actions being justified, it's going to involve a premise like this. One way to defeat an argument is to show that it proceeds from false premises. So Yglesias gives you an example that shows why we shouldn't accept that premise. He's giving a counterexample to an important premise of the pro-violence argument. As he says, "I was, rather, offering an example designed to prove a narrow point, specifically that a claim of self-defense doesn’t operate as a blanket license to wreak destruction."
That's different from an analogy, which is based merely on a similarity between two situations. The analogy simply says, "this situation is like that situation, so we should do in this situation what we'd do in that situation." And this isn't a great way of arguing, because it's kind of a mess to decide which things are more or less like other things. As Matt says, one way of trying to deal with this problem is to "specify the analogy so as to exactly mirror the situation you’re debating. In which case you may as well just debate the situation. Long story short—these analogy fights are stupid."
Strive to give sound arguments, and to show that other people's arguments aren't sound. Use counterexamples to argue against general claims. Don't fuck around with analogies. That's how it's done.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
If you're interested in seeing how Pelosi is consolidating power, the post itself is worth a read.
In any event, I'd guess that a more Speaker-controlled House is a good thing for the progressive movement in the long run, for the same reason that the filibuster is a problem for progressivism overall. The fewer places there are where big legislation can get caught in bottlenecks, the better it is for the people who want to pass big new social programs. That's why Europe, with its less bottlenecky political systems, has a much more generous welfare state than we do. Sure, we
Of course, all of this is really speculative at this point. We'll know what's going on after it actually happens. How exactly the mix of people surrounding Obama turns into policy remains to be seen.
The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view.In an Obama administration, Gates' role will be less oriented towards preventing America from going on crazy explosion adventures, and more oriented towards making constructive improvements in defense policy. His interest in cutting outmoded Cold War defense programs is a good example.
Friday, January 9, 2009
I should give some background. One of the big philosophical mysteries that philosophers try to figure out concerns counterfactual claims, also called modal claims. For example:
"If the Democrats had nominated Sharpton, they would've lost."
"If I hadn't worn any clothes to school, I wouldn't have graduated."
Most philosophers think that for a statement to be true, it has to accurately describe some part of reality. So the question is, what part of reality is being described by these statements? In reality, the Democrats didn't nominate Sharpton and I wore clothes to school. We want to say that the above counterfactual statements are true, but it seems that we can't do this unless there's some aspect of reality that they accurately describe. Lots of metaphysicians have theories about what this aspect of reality is. Some of these theories involve nonphysical entities ("abstract objects") that serve the function of making modal claims true. Other philosophers don't believe in nonphysical stuff, so they don't like those theories.
David Lewis had a crazy but interesting suggestion. According to Lewis, there are an infinite number of universes ("possible worlds") out there, one for each possible way the world could be. These universes are disconnected from each other in space and time, and set up so that nothing in one universe can cause events in another universe. Relations between these possible worlds are the stuff that our counterfactual claims were supposed to accurately describe. According to him, here's what makes "If the Democrats had nominated Sharpton, they still would've lost" true: Consider the closest possible world (that is, the universe most like ours) where the Democrats nominate Sharpton. Do they lose in that universe? If so, the counterfactual statement is true. If they win, it's false.
All the other universes, according to Lewis, are real in just the same way as ours is real. They're made of physical stuff just like our universe is, so you don't have to believe in any nonphysical stuff to believe in them. Since there's one of these worlds for each possibility, there are an enormous number of real people out there. Some of them are girls who are thinking of boys from other universes. Starting from there, I show how you can get a one-to-one relationship with someone from another universe. I deal with a bunch of problems -- for example, how can you make sure that your otherworldly beloved is interested in you and not the person just like you from the next universe? (It involves your beloved being immortal and using her immortality to sing out an exhaustive description of your universe.)
This paper was accepted by Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, which is actually a respectable journal. The referee said that it made him laugh out loud several times. It's only eleven pages and I think it's fairly accessible. Feel free to ask any questions you have in comments, and tell me if there are any problems downloading the paper.
Prior to Obama, there were two (and not many more than two) moments in my young political life when I was genuinely happy with the American people for not falling for a gigantic bullshit offensive that the Republican Party had gone all in on. First, there was the Clinton impeachment. Second, there was Terri Schaivo. If this sounds like a harsh judgment of America, well, we're the country that elected and re-elected Bush, and fell for any number of Republican gimmicks along the way to our current terrible situation. But America opposed the Republicans at the fullest moment of their power on the Terri Schaivo issue (63% saying her tube should be removed, and 70% saying that the Federal Government shouldn't intervene). I'd love to see what happens when the Republicans revisit this issue at their ebb.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
much of the problem on Wall Street wasn’t that people stopped looking for dragons. It was that even when people recognized the possibility of dragons, they decided it was in their short-term interests (even if it wasn’t in the company’s interests), to run the risk of getting incinerated anyway.Says Matt, "And, indeed, as best I can tell Prince is still a multimillionaire. Looking back, I think it’s clear that Prince didn’t exactly maximize his wealth with his decision-making. But he didn’t really blunder, either. Nobody’s perfect, and he made out extremely well in the scheme of things."
This reminds me of one of the most underrated reasons for having high marginal tax rates. And I don't mean high as in 45%. I mean 1950s-style high marginal tax rates -- 90% on the top bracket. It forces businesspeople to think about the long-term health of their companies.
Suppose you're a CEO and the top bracket starts at $5 million. If that bracket is taxed at a really high level, discouraging you from even asking for a salary that pushes over $5 million, the only way to accumulate truly awesome wealth is to keep collecting a steady salary of $5 million over time. (I'm assuming in this scenario that we don't give big tax discounts to capital gains as we currently do.) You have to make the sort of decisions that will keep your company in good shape for a long time so you can stay CEO of a thriving firm and keep collecting your $5 million paycheck every year for decades.
But suppose the top bracket is taxed at a much lower level. In this case, you don't need to look after the long-term health of your company to make a huge fortune. You can ride the mortgage bubble hard for a few years and ask for a gargantuan salary, up in the tens of millions, when your bubble-riding has made the profits high. With a low tax bracket, you'll pocket most of it. So what if the bubble pops after a few years and your firm collapses because of your decisions? They can't take all that money away from you.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The chapter read differently than any of his other writing. Franken was presenting an anguished account of how Coleman and the Republican Party had managed to turn Paul Wellstone's funeral into a media story for their benefit, and use that to win the election by 2%. The rest of the book was as lighthearted and funny as you'd expect from a comedian writing about politics, but the dominant emotions of this chapter were outrage and anguish and pain. Before reading the chapter, I didn't even know that Franken was from Minnesota, but it was clear to me afterwards that Franken had been watching the events of 2002 from a front-row seat and that they were driving him crazy.
I imagine that the desire to undo what happened six years ago was a big part of what drove him to run for Senate this time around. Now that he's going to be the next Senator from Minnesota, I'm not only very happy that he won, but very happy for him.
Monday, January 5, 2009
- I'm really sick of the current frame when it comes to taxes, which suggests that the only thing government can do for a large swath of the American public is deliver Yet Another Tax Cut.
- With 59 votes in the Senate, Democrats shouldn't have a problem passing anything; as long as the White House can corral one of the Midwestern or Northeastern Republicans (Snowe, Collins, Specter, Lugar, Voinovich, and Grassley), McConnell won't be able to control his caucus.
- In the same vein, shooting for 80 Senate votes is just silly; the 20th most conservative Senator--someone like John Thune, Saxby Chambliss, or Larry Craig by DW-NOMINATE rankings--does not live in the Reality-Based Community.
- An awful lot depends on the details, of which there are precious few. Clinton budgets frequently included tax credits for hiring new workers, though I have no idea how effective or ineffective they were. We'll have to see what Martin Ginsburg and company have to say about the final proposal.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Sadly, I've had a much harder time finding polling on Israeli public opinion, which is just as important, since it will be difficult to get Israel's Prime Minister to sign an agreement that will end his chances at reelection.
What annoys me about monuments like this is the lack of creativity and personal flair. I can't read the inscription, but it looks like it's just a bunch of political achievements. Fifty years later, you see this monument and you think, 'Here lies a dude who was good at scoring himself offices. Good for him, I guess, but I don't see why I should like the guy. Sure, I'm rooting for him because his success represents the overcoming of some historical injustices, but I'm rooting more for the historical forces at play than the guy himself.'
It'd be different with somebody who built a monument of himself, say, riding an ostrich. I'd see a monument like that and think, 'Here's a guy who was probably a lot of fun to hang out with, and who's still trying to amuse people fifty years after his death.' It would actually feel kind of like he was alive. And really, you don't have to do anything that silly -- I'm sure there's something cool in Burris' life connected to his achievements that would give me a better sense of him as a person.
Friday, January 2, 2009
This will still be a tall order for the 111th Congress. The good news is that Orrin Hatch is happy to go to war against Big Tobacco; if he can corral the remaining Mormon Republicans (Bennett and Crapo) that will help. The bad news is that three Democratic Senators--Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Kay Hagan--represent heavy tobacco producing states. In addition I'm not sure how folks like Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus feel this vote. The really bad news is that Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader; in addition to being little more than a shill for large corporate interests, Kentucky is also a tobacco producing state (the state legislature passed a ban on bans, preventing cities from enacting indoor smoking bans). This means that Hatch et al. would not just be going to war with Big Tobacco, but also with the leaders of their own party (in the House, Minority leader John Boehner smokes, and Minority Whip Eric Cantor represents Virginia.). Given the umpteen other fights pending in the next two years this may also fall by the wayside, unless it becomes part of the mammoth health care deal.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
A while ago I was looking to try a non-Bacardi rum, in part because Bacardi is run by Cuban exiles who give big money to Republicans so that we can have cruel and pointless sanctions on Cuba. (Charles Kuffner has a post that deals with some of this.) So I tried Flor de Caña, the Nicaraguan rum pictured on the right, and it proved to be cheaper and better. I particularly recommend the 4 year gold rum, which I got for $12 a fifth a couple days ago in Maryland where I'm hanging out with my friends. It's got a fairly rich flavor, makes a good rum and coke, and I sometimes drink it straight up or on the rocks. The clear version is pretty good too.
Update: Jan's interesting comments below, on Reagan blocking Flor de Caña importation to hurt the leftist Sandinista government, have been relayed to the happy friends currently drinking it around me.