Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Hope They Give Me A Good Book To Review Next Time

It's been an eventful week workwise, in ways that are mostly good. That doesn't leave much time for political blogging, so why not stuff some of my work onto this blog?

I guess you like negative philosophy book reviews, you can read some of mine. I often get called up as the guy to review books and papers on Nietzsche, but the stuff they send me is of uneven quality.

Here's the review I just wrote. On my philosophy blog, I wrote about how frustrating it is to review unclear books and how I want to take vengeance on them.

This review is from about a year and a half ago, on a collection of papers about Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The last two paragraphs are where I look at papers that kind of go off the rails into absurdity. I say snarky things.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Welcome To The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth!

Here, one man can use the liberum veto to block anything he wants.

I speak, of course, of Senator Jim DeMint. With a comically easy re-election campaign against Alvin Greene ahead of him, he can do whatever he wants, and he's putting a hold on all legislation in the Senate that both parties haven't agreed to.

If you're looking for villains on the Democratic side here, they're the Senators who oppose sweeping procedural reform. People give Harry Reid a lot of crap for the fact that good stuff usually dies in the Senate, but really I think the problem is more with people like Chris Dodd who have a lot of power in the chamber and are tying his hands. As far as I can, Reid is doing the best he can surrounded by a bunch of powerful old men who care more about their Senatorial privileges than getting anything done.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Won't Use The Joke About How It Makes You Cry

The Onion does grim well. I've seen a lot of my facebook friends passing around the one about how 20% of Americans believe Obama is a cactus. But probably my favorite is Mexico Killed In Drug Deal.

Revenue! (Or: Josh Marshall, Don't Cry)

A lot of people are unhappy about the Democrats' failure to pass middle-class tax cuts. I can see how the current situation might be a bad outcome from an electoral point of view and a slightly suboptimal outcome from a short-term fiscal-stimulus point of view (tax cuts are stimulative, but not as much as spending on things like food stamps).

But in the long term, it's good! The government needs revenue to provide useful services like health care for poor people and maybe someday free preschool. Assuming that the current gridlock stands, we've just got $3.9 trillion more of it.

Now, if the Democrats really cave and extend the full set of Bush tax cuts after the election, that'll be really bad news. If they extend the middle-class tax cuts but not the Bush tax cuts, it'll be a somewhat worse outcome than passing it in the current situation, because they'll forgo the political benefits. But if this situation stands, it something that progressives can be happy about on the merits.

One other possibility: what if the current tax cuts don't pass, but Democrats end up passing some kind of middle-class tax cut that doesn't run along Bush tax cut lines? All the better, because now instead of perpetuating the Bush legacy, we end up with something that can be called the "Obama tax cut." And if we're going to cut taxes, we might as well get the credit for it.

Why Are Republicans Bored With Foreign Policy?

One reason why the GOP "Pledge To America" doesn't include much interesting stuff about foreign policy, as Jonathan Bernstein mentions, is that Obama's major foreign policy views probably don't sound that objectionable to a lot of them. Republican enthusiasm for the Iraq War isn't running that high -- according to some Republicans in Congress, all their colleagues in the party think the war was a mistake. So withdrawal there doesn't bother them that much. Some kind of 'surge... then eventually withdraw at some ambiguous future time' plan on Afghanistan probably suits their tastes reasonably well too.

The negative way to say all this is that Obama is just doing Republican-lite foreign policy. The happier way to put it is that the GOP base, for its own reasons, isn't that excited about foreign policy right now. And the fewer things they're excited about, the better off we all are. The best we can hope for in the long term is that some kind of "once burned, twice shy" effect persists, reducing their enthusiasm for expensive and bloody military adventures.

I wonder if high levels of Republican enthusiasm for more war against Islamic countries could've ever persisted under an Obama administration. Part of the flavor of the whole thing for the GOP base was that George W. Bush, Great Man of History and American Patriot, would lead the warriors of the West against the terrorist menace. But you lose a lot of the exciting racist flavor of the thing if you're charging into battle behind Barack Hussein Obama who you think might be a Muslim born in Kenya. Maybe you grumble about how Obama's timidity will make us lose or whatever, but you're really not all that excited about fighting more wars while Obama is president.

This explanation plausibly and depressingly suggests that Republicans will be willing to charge into battle again as soon as they get a president they like.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Health Care Reform Is Good

I'm looking at the 10 major new health reform benefits that take effect today. They look nice! Democratic incumbents who voted for health care reform should let people know about them.

There was lots of media attention towards the long, depressing, grinding process of health care reform and comparatively little towards the actual details of the legislation. Insofar as campaigns can change people's minds about who to vote for, it would seem that there's plenty of upside in proudly explaining the advantages of the bill. Most people may not be aware that it cuts the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 20 years, and will need reminding that it bans discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions. Representatives and Senators who voted for the bill should tell them!

Filibusters And Civil Rights

Jamelle Bouie has good reasons to think Democrats couldn't have passed Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal by introducing it during the relatively brief period when they had 60 votes. (Kevin Drum adds that the 60 vote majority was only functioning for 14 weeks of Senate time total.)

Like Mad Men, the DADT repeal campaign is a window to how things were in less enlightened times. Back in the 1950s, the filibuster was being used to block progress on another civil rights issue -- equal rights for black people. Even if the country had moved far enough that a majority of Senators supported progress, a committed minority could still block the legislation with 60 votes. This week's action shows why the filibuster is an especially big problem for progressives, just as it was back then.

We're trying to change laws that are based on prejudices that most Americans may have moved beyond, but which people wrote into the laws a long time ago. Conservatives, on the other hand, are trying to keep those prejudices in the laws. Things that keep people from changing the laws are bad for us.

I've seen a lot of frustration directed at Democrats after the failure of DADT repeal. Really, Republicans should be the target of the frustration here -- no Republican voted to end cloture, and the only Democrats who did were from Arkansas. But if you're looking for villains beyond Arkansas on the Democratic side, you can also point at people like Chris Dodd who support the filibuster and try to keep their colleagues from getting rid of it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bad Day

Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal is filibustered in the Senate and the Fed won't bring back the jobs. Looking towards the election, one demoralizes the base and the other makes swing voters unhappy with Democrats. Meanwhile, a friend emails that Feingold is down 9% in an average of Wisconsin polls.

I haven't devoted sufficient energy to the grim task of imagining exactly what Republicans would do if they took over both chambers of Congress. I wonder if it'd motivate me to vote, if I were a demoralized Democrat who wasn't going to show up at the polls this November.

When I want to feel hopeful, I think of winning some elections in 2016.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jim DeMint As Republican Nominee?

I just went on Intrade and put $20 on Jim DeMint winning the 2012 GOP nomination, at 50-to-1 odds against. (I also have little bits of Whitman, Fiorina, and Coburn at 500-to-1 against. The Whitman and Fiorina I just plan to flip for a profit if they win their races and there's a boomlet of some kind.)

There's no candidate who has DeMint's combination of credibility with the GOP base and non-buffoonery. He's been National Journal's most conservative Senator in 2007 and 2008, as well as one of the Senators closest to the Club for Growth and the Tea Party movement. He endorsed successful anti-establishment GOP primary candidates in Colorado, Florida, and Kentucky. This hasn't endeared him to some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, but he could easily end up with some love from the Tea Party's favorite new Senators in 2011. And as far as winning over base voters for the 2012 primaries, support from these new guys will count a lot more than support from the GOP establishment figures who couldn't stop them. Wonks talk about Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels or whatever, but I don't know how much those guys are loved by the people who can influence GOP base voters.

Figures like Gingrich and Palin get more headlines, but any strategically minded person in the conservative base will be inclined to pick somebody who's on the right side of all their fights, without the huge negative ratings. And I don't think we should extrapolate from the burgeoning Christine O'Donnell fiasco to think that Tea Party people just won't care about electability in a presidential candidate. They hated Mike Castle, wanted to get rid of him, and had only one way to do it. A Presidential election offers a much broader menu. If there's a conservative with rock-solid issue positions and a special record of helping out the base as well as a more plausible electability case than people of the Palin/Gingrich sort, that'll present a more appealing package.

DeMint says he's not going to run, just like all the candidates do. He's also said he won't run for re-election to the Senate in 2016, so if he sticks to that, all the power he's currently accumulating with the base won't count for anything. It's hard to estimate things this far out, but if DeMint announced that he was running I'd consider him more likely to win than anybody else.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Nicholas Beaudrot and Ursula Elspeth Owen are getting married today!

(More lovely Nick-and-Ursula-in-the-forest pictures are available here.)

The Charmed Life Of Scott McAdams

Usually, it's hard for Democrats to win statewide races in Alaska. Winning a race in a Republican year like 2010 will be extra hard. But things are going really well for Democratic nominee Scott McAdams -- not only did Tea Party opponent Joe Miller beat potential guaranteed winner Lisa Murkowski, but Murkowski is going to be splitting the GOP vote with a write-in-campaign! And the war of words between Miller and Murkowski is bitter.

Between an opponent who opposes Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment benefits, and an angry incumbent doing a write-in campaign, the amount of awesome required from McAdams to win this election just went down a lot. While 3-way polls have him coming in last against Murkowski and Miller, those assume that Murkowski's name is on the ballot for the Libertarians. I have to imagine that being a write-in candidate will free up some voters. And if this all ends in failure, with Murkowski giving up the write-in bid, things could still go well if she's bitter enough to encourage her supporters to vote against Miller.

As for those of us who see internal civil war as a stepping-stone on the path to a saner GOP... well, this is what we have to hope for. If Murkowski manages to stop Miller from winning, the effects on intra-GOP rifts can only be positive ones.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

O'Donnell Conquers Castle

Christine O'Donnell just beat Mike Castle for the GOP Senate nomination. (Rachel Maddow got the video of O'Donnell's anti-masturbation activism from the mid-90s.)

I'd like to see Republicans become a reasonable political party with whom we could have intelligent debates about public policy. But I don't know how we get there from here. Maybe it's by having lots of Christine O'Donnells win primaries and then collapse in general elections. Maybe there needs to be a big intra-GOP civil war, and something coming out of this race will stoke the fires for that, and maybe the election when the civil war really blows up will be one where Democrats make massive gains and pass awesome stuff. It certainly won't be by shutting out Tea Party candidates from ever winning anything -- that ship has already sailed. So the implications of O'Donnell's victory for a non-crazy GOP are hard to determine.

The implications of this for holding onto the Delaware Senate seat are pretty clear, though. The Republican base wasted the national party's top Senate recruit and handed the seat to the Democrats. Unless there's something wrong with Chris Coons, who seems a decent if unspectacular candidate, he's going to Washington.

On balance, a clear win.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thought Of The Day That Is Today

That Bush was better than the craziest Republicans of his time about not stirring up hatred against the domestic Muslim population isn't very surprising -- he was President.

As President, you've got to deal with Muslims abroad, even if it's just to make some of them play along with your ridiculous wars against other Muslims abroad. I imagine that it helps with that if you can not look like an instigator of massive anti-Muslim sentiment within the American political scene.

There's also the possibility that stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment will result in violence from one side or another. While it could play out in such a way that you could politically capitalize on it, that's a dicey proposition.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch Cover

Original Caption: "President Barack Obama holds a working dinner with, clockwise from left, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Tony Blair, the international Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Sept. 1, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)"

Today's Kitsch Cover is Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance". No. Seriously:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Did We Take Our Eye Off The Ball?

Changes in the list of blogs I keep in my RSS reader, coupled with the shift from opposition to governance, mean that I have been almost completely unplugged from the basic blocking and tackling operations of campaigns. I have no sense of where Democrats stand when it comes to recruiting, fundraising, and volunteer operations compared to four years ago. Is OFA yielding any results? Maybe, maybe not. But it has certainly been out of sight and out of mind for this here blogger.

We all know that economic circumstances dominate electoral outcomes. But they're not completely determinative. Campaigns and candidates do matter. I wonder if the unprofessional left should have spent a little more time reminding people that raising money and volunteering are just as important in 2010 as they were in 2006.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Did We Get Here?

Mark Schmitt is a smart guy, but even he gets it wrong some time.
Like Brad DeLong, I too am interested in why Mark Schmitt's November 2008 forecast of what would happen in the the 111th Congress and the first half of Obama's first term proved to be so off the mark. Not because this sort of navel-gazing is more pleasant than contemplating the likely 50-seat swing in the House (which would basically return the House to its orientation as of election day 2006), even though it is, but because we need to understand why Schmitt's model of the behavior of the rump GOP was so far off the mark. I remember reading this piece in 2008 and thinking that while it told the story of one plausible future, there was another plausible future where the small GOP minority was less accommodationist, since the accommodationists had largely been the losers of the previous two election cycles. But I wasn't sure which future we would end up in. I can come up with a number of explanations for why we ended up in the bad future as opposed to the good one.
  • Failure to resist temptation of the straight-line projection. A President or President-elect is always more popular right after an electoral victory than they are during typical day-to-day polls. Schmitt, like many of us, simply didn't do enough to account for the inevitable regression to the mean that Presidents face.
  • Electoral pressure, or the lack thereof. If Janet Napolitano and Tom Vilsack were running for Senate instead of holding cabinet positions, would John McCain and Chuck Grassley be more moderate? It's hard to say, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt. (though Vilsack and Napolitano would have to figure out how to avoid the stain of the sagging economy as their terms came to an end).
  • Overestimating the gumption of moderate House/Senate Republicans. This seems like an obvious error. Mark Schmitt spent many of his formative years during the 1980s, when bipartisan Senate coalitions were still the norm, and during the mid-1990s, when, at least after the government shutdown, Congressional Republicans found themselves forced by the President to engage in a modest amount of bipartisanship, even though by that point partisan alignment and ideological alignment were nearly matched up. Schmitt also probably thought that Obama's style would be conducive to what he called the "1/21 Project" of cleaving the conservative party from the nihilist party, looking at examples of GOP implosion in places like New Jersey and Illinois to predict the future. First of all, Obama has been at least somewhat successful here; getting Arlen Specter to switch parties was a real coup. Second, several remaining possible moderates announced retirements, most notably George Voinovich. Third, the whole idea of successfully separating the Conservatives from the Nihilists relies on their being enough Conservatives to form a cohesive bloc. But with only Snowe and Collins (and now Scott Brown) as plausible negotiating partners, with a rare assist from someone like Dick Lugar or Chuck Grassley, there is no safety in number for the handful of Senate moderates. In the House the situation is worse, with only five or six plausible moderate members trying to buck the entirety of the GOP caucus.
  • Underestimating the depth of the recession. It's true that some people predicted the recession would be incredibly dire. But a lot of people did in fact look at the unemployment numbers and the size of the stimulus and think that the Obama Administration's projections were at least reasonable. The problem is that our economic elite have not yet adjusted to the new reality of recessions wherein recovery in job growth remains incredibly slow even as GDP and profits return to positive territory.
There are certainly other possibilities. Why do you think the Republicans chose the road they did?

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Labor And Greens Win Down Under

    The Labor-Green coalition got the support of the two true independents, so they win! Climate change denialist / homophobe Tony Abbott has been shut out of power for the time being. Julia Gillard wins a fragile 76-74 majority and remains prime minister.

    The WSJ story has a major factor in the independents' decision being Labor's support for a AUS$43 billion national high-speed internet network. Given that the Australian population is 21 million people, we're talking about nearly $2000 per person, which is pretty serious money. One of my Australian colleagues down the hall pointed out that the independents came from rural districts with bad internet access, so this was a big deal for them.

    He also said that this was the best possible outcome on internet censorship grounds. Labor wanted some internet censorship measures that the Liberal Party didn't want (apparently it's an issue of the Liberal Party being in the pocket of ISPs, who are on the right side of this for purely self-interested reasons). Apparently it's less likely that these censorship measures will go through now with the current state of coalition politics.

    On another note, I take Australia to have retained the best-looking head of state in the world. Obviously I'm not the best evaluator of male politician attractiveness, so female readers are invited to offer their thoughts on that score.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Optimal Strategy

    Not knowing much about the business, I'm inclined to doubt the claims by minor Google competitors that Google is knocking down their search rankings in an anticompetitive fashion. However, starting a big splashy news story that causes you to be linked more often probably has search engine optimization benefits, so it may be a smart play in any case.

    Good News For Southeast Asian Primates

    In good news for orangutans and me, Burger King has stopped buying palm oil from one of the companies that's been cutting down the Indonesian rainforest to start palm oil plantations. This directly affects the lives of Singapore residents because the smoke from burning Sumatran rainforest sometimes blows into town and messes up the air quality. (My respiratory system is in pretty good shape so it's not a big deal for me, but once I was hung over and it was miserable.) A lot of other major food producers have either stopped buying palm oil from Sinar Mas, the Indonesian firm responsible for the destruction, or are being heavily pressured to do so. One hopes this will assist orangutan conservation. The islands of Borneo and Sumatra are the only two places with remaining wild orangutan populations.

    I have attached a gratuitous cute animal video about a dog and an orangutan that are friends.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    The First Rule Of Academic Research

    Yglesias talks about how "taking time to help inform a non-specialist audience about political science findings isn’t specifically rewarded, it’s positively punished." This is actually how things go in many parts of academia! And it's a big problem.

    It's a problem specifically for progressives because a lot of the areas where they're concentrated have exactly these norms against doing public intellectual work. Meanwhile, economists are free to go out there and mostly spread right-wing dogma across the galaxy. And it's a problem for everybody, because you'd want the knowledge that's contained in academia to find some way out. Lots of resources are expended on producing this knowledge, and the personal advancement of academics is all about creating more of it, and then nobody has any way of accessing it.

    (I'm lucky that my philosophy colleagues at the National University of Singapore perfectly fine with the political stuff I do. It's an interesting dynamic, because most of them aren't Americans, and they seem to think it's pretty cool that my big extracurricular activity involves trying to get the US government to do reasonable things.)