Friday, April 30, 2010

American Accents

Americans often have American accents, right? Be careful, Arizona.

I Want To Be In The Minority

Kevin Drum makes the obvious point that, yes, Virginia, being in the House Majority is way more entertaining than being in the Minority. But then he goes here (emphasis mine):
... being in the minority just absolutely sucks. You get nothing. You have no ability to do anything. You're shut out of decisionmaking completely. Your staff is minuscule. Etc. etc. The only way in which it's better than being in the majority is if you just like having the doorman call you "congressman" and literally don't care about the process of lawmaking at all.

This is of course the appropriate time to make the point that the median House Republican's view of the function of government is to deliver tax cuts and deregulation and not much else. But with a Democratic President wielding a veto pen, I have a hard time believing that any bill that Peter King (or Steve King, who I was really thinking of) likes will be enacted into law any time soon. Sure, he can call up hairbrained amendments and make Democrats look bad, but nothing he's in favor of will ever get passed the President's desk. Holding the House when you're the opposition power isn't necessarily a lot of fun. House and Senate Democrats basically let the government run on auto-pilot from 2006-2008, and I suspect Republicans would do the same.

Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch Cover

Original caption: "President Barack Obama meets with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and senior administration officials, including National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, left, in the Oval Office, regarding the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, April 29, 2010."

Here are the Broken Ohms covering Talking Heads "Burning Down the House"

As you can see, I'm starting to scrape the bottom of my barrels, so leave your nominations for kitsch cover in the comments along with caption contest entries.

Update: Wow, how had I missed this. Here's Tom Jones and the Cardigans covering the same song. Win.

Shorter Ross Douthat

I'm not sure I buy Ross Douthat's assessment of Charlie Crist specifically, but I think there is a valid distinction between purging careerist hacks like Arlen Specter (and possibly Dede Scozzafava, who was pretty clearly handpicked by the state's party establishment, even if they assessed her electoral prospcets in a 2-way election correctly) while letting the GOP provide space for candidates that don't hew to the Tea Party line like Mark Kirk and Scott Brown. In some cases, such as Kirk, the candidates have had to swing way to the right in order to win the primary, but still, I'll grant the premise. It's an interesting point. On this side of the aisle, Jim Webb's built up an incredibly moderate record, but no one complains about him the way they complain about Ben Nelson or Evan Bayh.

As for Crist, it's hard for me to look at Southern Republican who decides to restore voting rights to felons who've served their time and say he did so for crassly political reasons. Douthat and I almost certainly disagree on the function of stimulus spending, so what he sees as craven politics I see as good economics. The ed reform bill is a mixed bag, but even if we call the veto a bad move, Crist is two-for-three in terms of issues that have managed crossed my radar.

Update: the snarky version of this post was going to be titled "Grand New Partyism cannot fail, it can only be failed". But of course Douthat points to the purge of Bob Bennett (R-UT), who's primordial sin was to negotiate with wonky Democrat Ron Wyden (D-OR) to produce a wonky left-right health care plan that phased out employer sponsored insurance and replaced it with a system of predominantly private individual insurance. For this, there is a very good chance he will lose his seat in a primary.

Rapid Sustained Growth is Not Yet Upon Us

Beyond the headlines I have two favorite measurements of the health of the economy. The first is median hourly wage. The reason for this is pretty obvious; if the benefits of economic growth are shared broadly, we should see this figure go up rather than down. The second measurement I'm a fan of is the growth nonresidential fixed investment. In plain English, nonresidential fixed investment is the amount of stuff that's being bought to be used to do other productive stuff. Manufacturing equipment. Computers. Office buildings. That sort of thing. Here's a chart of nonresidential fixed investment through Q4 of last year:

In Q4 2009, NFI grew by 6.5% according to the BEA. The current estimate for Q1 2010 has NFI growth at 4.1%, which, while in positive territory, doesn't look like a number that shows we are headed for particularly rapid job growth. Combined with the continued doldrums in the housing market, this doesn't really look like a speedy recovery.

It's very depressing that no one in DC seems to be hopping up and down thinking that this is a problem. The Gagnon plan would do a lot to push private borrowing rates down. The fear is that this will just re-inflate the housing bubble, but banks all across the country are almost certainly looking for better ways to invest their money than in housing right now.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Baseball-Related Arizona Boycotting

As Goldy at Horse's Ass points out, in addition to the 2011 All-Star Game, Arizona is home to the spring training facilities for a large and growing number of baseball teams. Unlike the All-Star Game, spring training is a persistent source of a substantial amount of tourism revenue for the state; Arizona municipalities have been spending serious dough to attract teams away from Florida (the relative lack of rain doesn't hurt either). Should a number of teams, such as the Los Angeles Angels Anaheim (who happen to be owned by Mexican-American businessman Arte Moreno), threaten to relocate to Nevada or Florida, it would draw the attention of a number of local elected officials.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Pain-In-The-Abstract Caucus

At Pete Peterson's fiscal summitwankfest, Paul Ryan (R-WI) comes out in nonspecific support of controlling defense spending:
I'm at the Peterson Foundation's Fiscal Summit today, and one of the big themes is "everything on the table." As part of that, Rep. Paul Ryan got asked about defense spending. "There are a lot of savings you can get in defense," he said. "There's a lot of waste over there, for sure."
It's very kind of Representative Ryan to make these sort of statements. But what happens when the rubber meets the road? Will Ryan vote to reduce the armed forces personnel by tens of thousands? Would he accept cuts to weapons systems that have parts manufacturers in his district? If he will, that's great, and he should say so. If not, this is just another exercise in centrist intellectual masturbation. And I should point out that this sort of pointless deficit hand-wringing isn't limited to Republicans; various Third Way proposals for Social Security reform are equally dead-on-arrival in Congress.

Until people like Paul Ryan are willing to create a faction of wonkish members of Congress ready to stand up to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner's do-nothing-all-the-time legislative strategy, there just aren't enough votes to form center-out coalitions consistently. So we will end up with left-in coalitions for the time being.

As Applied

Via Jamelle Bouie, a nice article at Post Bourgie on how the new Arizona law is likely to be used in practice. It's worth pointing out that Maricopa (Phoenix) sherrif Joe Arpaio already uses the power of the state to harrass brown-skinned people, and the new law will simply give him more power to do so. Read the whole thing.

The local protesters in Arizona aren't worried about harassment in the abstract; they're worried about the amplification of existing harassment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Saqueme al Partido

The prospect of enlisting Major League Baseball to push Arizona to unwind their immigration law is indeed quite tempting. Phoenix is scheduled to host the 2011 All-Star Game, but nothing is stopping the League from finding a new location in an act of official protest. The precedent here is the NFL's decision to move the Super Bowl out of Arizona until the state recognized MLK day. But in addition to the power of the commissioner's office—and I think I'm a little skeptical of Bud Selig's willingness to step into this mess—it's worth noting that a number of individual major league players could step up to the plate and make this into a serious issue. Albert Pujols is a naturalized US citizen. He went to high school in Independence, Missouri, but still speaks English with a noticeable accent. He's the kind of person who pessimists think will end up being pulled over for driving too nice a car.

If Pujols and other All-Stars (even the non-Latino ones!) threatened to boycott the 2011 game in Arizona, it would help bring unflattering attention on the state from a less political arena.

(cc photo by Hjelle)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Boobquake And Human Custom

On July 4, Americans will watch fireworks, drink beer, cook amalgamated meat products over open flames, and eat them. None of this will result any substantial domestic or foreign policy advantages for our country, and it would be silly for anyone to think they've done some great patriotic deed for having grilled things. But that doesn't mean it's foolish to participate in July 4 festivities. It's perfectly fine to do unusual things on a special day to express how you feel about something.

And that's why I think Jen McCreight shouldn't be worried about the fact that Boobquake doesn't actually accomplish any direct political goals. It's like the fourth of July -- it's there for expressive fun reasons, and it doesn't cost anything. Nobody is going to look back on this with regret and say, "We could've gotten contraception for poor women in Central America, but we blew all our political capital on Boobquake!" We shouldn't require feminist holidays to have tremendous political efficacy -- it's hard to see how any cause gets significant mileage out of holidays, anyway. (Now, making Election Day an official holiday where the working class had time to vote -- that would accomplish a whole lot! but anyway, back to the issue...)

Some women feel uncomfortable with Boobquake because of obnoxious male responses to all the boobs. Beth Mann has a response along these lines. And, yeah. I see how that could really spoil the whole thing. Having to understand the significance your body in terms of the reactions of the creepiest guys is a very unfortunate way to be. I'm not sure what's to be done about that, other than guys just being a lot more respectful.

The appropriate way for a straight man to respond to female nudity, I think, involves quiet, appreciative awe and reverence. I've never been in a Catholic Church during Communion, but I imagine that it's regarded as a loutish behavior to yell out, "Wooooo! Show us the Body of Christ!" I would like to live in a society in which male responses to female nudity paralleled the attitude of the religious towards their miracles.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Neil's Head, Blogging

Now he's really gone and done it:

I presume he'll have more to say about his Blogging Heads experience later.

[Update by Neil] Just to get this all in one post, I'll put up some brief thoughts here. First, thanks to David Killoren and the nice Bloggingheads people for letting me do this. They've got the video divided into nicely labeled bite-sized chunks. So if you want to know where the part about bestiality is, go there and take a look.

This is my first time doing this sort of thing on video, and I'm still learning how to do it. One thing I'll keep in mind in the future is to keep my eyes on the camera rather than in my lap when I'm talking.

A lot of the first part of the video deals with this paper I'm writing that defends universal hedonism, the view that pleasure is the only thing that's good. I'd be happy to post the paper, if anybody's interested in seeing it. I was describing little bits of it in response to Jesse's questions, which probably gives people an odd idea of what it's about.

In the second part, there's a discussion of evolutionary psychology. Jesse is writing a book on religion from an evolutionary psychology point of view. The biologists I've known in academia have been fairly skeptical of evolutionary psychology and it's rubbed off on me, so we had a bit of a methodological dispute about how much you can get out of evolutionary psychology.

Anyway, if you watched the video and have some questions, I'll be happy to answer them!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Bankruptcy of Conservative "States' Rights" (Part 2 in an unending series)

TPM on financial overhaul (emphasis mine):
One likely point of conflict: the consumer financial protection agency. The House bill calls for a standalone agency, while Dodd has housed his in the Federal Reserve. Senate Republicans, though, want to rein in the scope of its rule-making authority, and give it the power to pre-empt stronger state laws. The White House and most Democrats are strongly opposed, but if the GOP prevails that could cause a bit of a dustup when the House and Senate bills are merged.

This tells you all you need to know about the conservative tissue-thin commitment to states' rights. Republicans don't control the White House. They don't control the House. They don't control the Senate. But in this instance they would like for the federal government to preempt state and local laws governing the financial sector, on the off chance that some progressive state legislature somewhere tries to restrict mortgage activity or payday lending or credit card rates or what have you.

Carbon Pricing

Via TPM, it looks like the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is going to end up watering down the existing watered-down climate warming proposals in at least three ways:
  • Carbon pricing will be delayed until 2013 instead of 2012.
  • A ceiling on carbon prices will be set at $25/ton, instead of the previous goal of $30/ton. For comparison, the current price of carbon on the EU exchange is just under 15 Euros/ton. A UK panel has suggested a floor price of 15 Euros per ton, and that prices up to 100 Euros per ton may be necessary to spur the appropriate level of investment.
  • The government will extend various subsidies to the nuclear industry, such that at least 12 new power plants can be built.
All in all, this feels like weak tea. Especially when you consider that, as we saw with health care and we will probably see with financial reform, Senators who want to offer strengthening will probably be beaten back in an effort to hold the existing compromise together.

And of course here we have the saddest lines of the whole piece:
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said the bill may contain items considered necessary to get votes.

Asked whether the legislation might be too weak from an environmental standpoint in order to lure Republican support, Claussen said, "No. People whose major concern is climate change have to temper their ambitions.

"The reality is you have to get 60 votes (in the Senate) for anything to happen," Claussen said.
Once again, let's be very clear on this. The Senate is populated by human beings. Prior to roughly 1992, the human beings who populated the Senate adhered to the norm that filibusters were rarely, if ever, utilized. There's nothing preventing the human beings who currently populate the Senate from returning to those norms. Likewise, there's no reason to view Rule XXII as a commandment handed down from on high; the rule was made by Senators, and it could be unmade by a different set of Senators.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Philosophers Against Sue Lowden

I see how farmers could pay for health care by bartering chickens (at least in the pre-agribusiness era), as potential Harry Reid Senate opponent Sue Lowden suggests. But what am I supposed to do? I'm a philosophy professor! The doctor might not be interested in having a conversation about Immanuel Kant.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wanted: Better Anti-Obama Conspiracy Theorists

The Bush Administration got lots of Democrats worried about abuses of executive power. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't have strong incentives to rein in executive power, since he's the President. And if people in Congress ever saw themselves as some kind of unified legislative body whose interests were in opposition to the executive branch, it was been before my time. I only know them as partisans. So you're not going to see Democratic legislators rise up en masse and make sure that presidents don't do bad things. 'We're Congress and we have to rein in the president' is far from their biggest concern.

So you'd hope Republicans would be interested in reining in executive power. But just as Bush got Democrats really worried about secret prisons, unfair trials, and torture, he got a bunch of Republicans very excited about these things. So you're not going to see the Republican party do this. And that's where we are now.

What's really weird about the current situation is that you have Tea Party types with all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories out there. Death panels are only the start of the story. (Here's a woman testifying on the floor of the Georgia State Legislature about how the Department of Defense put microchips in her "vaginal-rectum area." Apparently she's been suing people for 8 years to get the chips removed, and thinks that people around her are using cell phones to activate the chips. The Republican sponsor of the bill, who I imagine invited her onto the floor, was sitting right next to her. The point isn't to mock the poor crazy person -- it's just to say that the contemporary GOP is a place where people like that can get farther than they would in any sane political institution.)

You'd think that you'd be able to use their paranoia to get them organized in favor of restrictions on executive power, and possibly move some Republican legislators. (Do you want Barack Obama to put you in jail without a trial?) But somehow the conspiracy theories aren't running in the right direction. I haven't seen anything on this talked about in coverage of the Tea Party groups. I'd like to see numbers like Nick has below on these questions.

Maybe we need to communicate with them in their own language. Forget the blogs -- we need people to write overblown conspiracy-theory chain emails that Obama is going to torture Tea Party patriots in Guantanamo if you don't call Jeff Sessions and tell him to support restrictions on executive power right now.

The Swingometer Isn't Prepared For a Three-Way

The Swingometer, demonstrated here, sounds like a device that might be used by Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery.
The upcoming UK elections are perhaps most important for the return of the best-named infographic in the history of politics: The Swingometer. This is a tool used by the BBC to track the control of Parliament, but it was built for what is in effect a two-party election between Labour and Tories, with the Liberal Democrats as also rans. However, current polling shows the Lib Dems essentially tied with the Conservative Party. But the configuration of UK constituencies are making it difficult to forecast the implications of the Lib Dem surge. If the swing towards the LD's is uniform, the party could end the night with a plurality of votes but only gain a handful of seats. On the other hand, with the right combination of support they could win an outright majority. But The Swingometer has a hard time telling what will happen. It's just not capabale of handling a three-party election.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Teabaggers And The Poor

A great deal of the coverage of teabagger rallies has focused on their retrograde views on race. And while it's true that not all teabaggers are racist, polling suggests they're significantly more likely to harbor views on race that are outside the mainstream. But that's not the interesting part. Via digby, the New York Times poll on Tea Partiers' political views suggests they reserve their highest level of contempt for poor people. Here's a chart, showing the gap between white Tea Partiers and non-tea partying white independents when it comes to various issue questions.

As you can see, three of the four questions with the largest gaps have to do with socialism or poor people. After that comes the questions on race. After that come other social and cultural issues, where the Tea Partiers, though still conservative, are closer to the mainstream.

This is a rather astounding result; it suggests that the most promising way to wedge the GOP would be to propose broad-based anti-poverty spending, full of "making work pay" and "earned benefits" and the like. In other words, the best way to win elections is to turn the federal government into Newt Gingrich's worst nightmare.

Goldman Sachs And Fraudulent Crap Basket Sales

There's a nice post at interfluidity explaining what Goldman did that's getting the SEC after them. I'll attempt the three-sentence colloquial summary.

An investor named John Paulson wanted to bet that the housing market was going down. He couldn't find a sufficiently craptacular bunch of bad housing stuff to bet against, so he had Goldman design a crap-basket for him. The potential crime is that instead of telling buyers that the unifying principle of the basket was "crap-basket for John Paulson to bet against" Goldman passed it off as "safe, well-designed long-term investment for you."

Or, to put it in Steve Randy Waldman's more traditional terms:
The fact that there was a “seller” in this case, and his role in “sponsoring” the deal, are precisely what ought to have been disclosed. Investors would have been surprised by the information, and shocked to learn that this speculative short had helped determine the composition of the structure’s assets. That information would not only have been material, it would have been fatal to the deal, because the CDO’s investors did not view themselves as speculators.
I'm not sure which aspects of this story caused Goldman to fall 13% on extremely heavy volume yesterday. Eventual penalties? Lawsuits? Future political ramifications for bank regulation? Loss of future business after people get it into their heads that Goldman will sell you a crap-basket in the guise of a safe long-term investment? There's the chart at right, with volume at the bottom. Lots of other financial stocks fell too, but none this much. Anyway, it's probably better that I illustrate the post with this than with an actual basket of feces.

Assuming the SEC has the facts right, I'm looking forward to seeing how this case proceeds. It'll give a nice backdrop to bank reform as well.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Renters Of The World, Unite!

There's a nice article from Jeanne Sahadi about the mortgage interest tax deduction, the costliest tax break in America. The Yahoo! front page now has a link to it that says "America's best tax break." I lean closer to the view of Tony Vila, who writes, "it is the bads." Sahadi's article also had the nice chart at right, which shows how big a hole this deduction is cutting in the budget.

Obviously, this is a wildly regressive deduction. 75% of the revenue goes to filers with incomes over $100,000. 32% goes to households with incomes over $200,000 (though they account for only 11% of returns claiming the deduction). People can deduct the interest on loans up to $1 million, and on home equity loans up to $100,000. I don't see why we care about encouraging homeownership over renting in the first place, and I especially don't see what our interest is in helping people get tax deductions on home equity loans.

As Sahadi and everyone writing on the topic except Mark Calabria at CATO says, the homeowner lobby has enough political power that any attempts to seriously rein in this deduction are going to fail. The two ideas that come up in the article are (1) capping the deduction and (2) converting it into a credit. I wonder if we could at least clip off the home equity loan deduction bit, though that probably doesn't account for a whole lot of revenue.

I've heard a lot of people say that Congressmen's issue positions are determined primarily by the rich people in their district -- the donor class -- and not at all by the views of the bottom third of the income distribution. Renters, I'm guessing, are more concentrated at the bottom, and that's why the government has decided to systematically disadvantage them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch Cover

Original caption: President Barack Obama talks with Garth Brooks, who was presented with the "Grammy on the Hill Award" for his leadership in advancing the rights of music makers, in the Oval Office, April 14, 2010. The President was also presented with the 2007 Grammy Award for best spoken word album for his book "The Audacity of Hope." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Not sure why it took the Grammys so long to get one to Barack.

Here's Pearl Jam & Sleater-Kinney (man, I wish I had made it to one of those shows) covering The Who's "Leaving Here":

Steve Nash And Peace!

Whenever politics shows up in sports, it totally reorients my rooting interests. Other than that, you're just rooting for the clothes, as they said on Seinfeld. And that's made it very easy for me to root for the always-fun-to-watch Phoenix Suns over the past few years. Two-time league MVP Steve Nash was one of the few NBA stars to speak out against the Iraq War back in 2003. He's Canadian, so unfortunately he can't parlay his stardom into winning us a tough seat in Arizona, but I'd like to see a championship expand his fame and influence.

Things are looking pretty good for the Suns -- they've got the #3 seed in the West, they're facing Portland in the first round, and Brandon Roy is injured. A Steve Nash vs. Kobe Bryant conference finals would be intense.

Here he's making a characteristically ludicrous pass to Amar'e Stoudemire behind the back of Tim Duncan. If you want to see how this ended up, there's good video. As John Hollinger pointed out, the top 5 NBA offenses of the last 35 years on the basis of above-average efficiency all have one thing in common -- Steve Nash was running them.

Go Strong Go Left

I've got to express some appreciation to Blanche Lincoln for stepping up on the bank regulation bill. (Not to be impolite, but thanks to you too Bill Halter. You and Joe Sestak have taught me some lessons.) I'm not yet seeing how this worry from Ezra applies to the situation:

By making a strong bill more credible, Lincoln's proposal might make a bill less likely. Democrats will have a harder time conceding on the issue and Wall Street money will flood in to make sure that Republicans hold the line. Given that this bill needs 60 to pass, that makes the math a lot tougher. Wall Street might shudder. But it's not yet clear that it needs to be scared.

So let's say that Lincoln's derivatives regulation pushes things leftwards and we don't have enough votes. What happens then? Well, some centrist guy or Maine gal steps up and offers support for the legislation if it's compromised. The leadership cuts a deal. And in the end, the centrists probably would've pulled the bill the same distance rightward whether we started with a weaker bill or a Blanched-up stronger bill.

I don't see any reason to think of Senate centrists as having detailed pre-set policy preferences on bank regulation that we could totally run afoul of if we go too far left. After all, I haven't seen evidence that they have detailed pre-set policy preferences on much of anything, especially complicated stuff like this. They just want everyone to see them wearing the centrist hat. So they get their centrist hattery and we end up with a stronger bill than we would've had without Blanche Lincoln stepping up.

Even if the above analysis is wrong, I'm sympathetic to the Krugman / Yglesias position that this is an issue where we can afford to take a hard line and end up not passing anything. Take a clear and strong stand against the banks, and if you go down swinging, people will at least know you were on the right side. Policywise, you need to pass a strong bill before the next financial crisis sets itself up, and a weak bill now doesn't help that much. While we won't get the current Senate numbers we've got for a long time yet, one might hold out hope for a reformed Senate in 2017 and 55-vote passage under the Sebelius administration, or whatever.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea Party Ideology Followup

Here we go:
A substantial majority of Tea Party members hold a favorable opinion of the man that history will very likely deem the worst president in American History (Presidential Historians disagree as to whether he is in the bottom 3 or 5 as of today).

Its all you need to know about the Tea Party.
This is more indicative of the fact that Tea Partiers are simply the latest manifestation of America's right wing cranks than the fact that they're wealthier or more educated than the general public.

It Can't All Be Layoffs

If profits at the Fortune 500 are up $391 billion in the aggregate, coupled with layoffs of 821,000, then these firms are doing something else other than layoffs to help the bottom line. If every dollar of the profit increase were due to staff cuts, the average annual cost of a worker would be about $480,000, which is quite clearly nonsense. I imagine a healthy share of the profit increase is due to the re-financialization of the US economy, which is another way of saying "it's bullshit". But even if you factor in financial profits and layoffs, that still leaves significant chunk of profits due either to overseas operations or other domestic cost-cutting measures (some of which will undoubtedly result in layoffs at smaller firms).

Shocking Tea Party Demographics ... Might Be Shocking!

Laura at 11D correctly points out that it's somewhat unfair of the NYT to draw conclusions about Tea Partiers based on a comparison between Tea Partiers and the electorate as a whole. Yes, they're wealthier and better educated than the general public, but that describes high-involvement voters of any political persusasion. Much of the electorate probably doesn't even know what the Tea Party is. The an apples-to-apples comparison would look at the relationship between Tea Party demographics and all those who met a certain level of political engagement. Apparently 18% of the public identifies itself as supporting the Tea Party, which suggests that the level of engagement here is actually pretty low; perhaps it's on par with reading a single blog or listening to talk radio once a week.

(cc photo by TheBusyBrain)

JK Rowling Versus The Tories

Now that she's done writing Harry Potter, I could really do with some more JK Rowling political commentary. She criticizes Tories for their attitudes towards single mothers and child poverty:
Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.

I liked this part a lot, about social service innovations under the Labour Party:
Then came Sure Start centres, of which there are now more than 3,000 across the UK: service centres where families with children under 5 can receive integrated service and information. Unless you have previously grappled with the separate agencies involved in housing, education and childcare, you might not be able to appreciate what a great innovation these centres are. They link to Jobcentres, offering help to secure employment, and give advice on parenting, childcare, education, specialist services and even health. A National Audit Office memorandum published last January found that the overall effectiveness of 98 per cent of the childcare offered was judged to be “good or outstanding”.
Expecting poor people to successfully navigate complex bureaucracies isn't a good way to deal with major social problems. Sounds like the Labour Party made some progress in dealing with that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's As If People Watch It For Information

I find the premise of today's xkcd pleasantly quaint: the TV news would look for an academic expert to explain a trade summit to viewers, rather than having two partisan pundits hack at each other about it.

Against U2 Schlock

This is fairly moving ...

... but am I the only one who thinks we need to retire U2 as the default inspirational music for everything? At this point every inspirational clip sounds like every other inspiration clip, which tends to make things ... less inspirational. They've had a very nice run in the Aughts, but as much as Bono tries to be celebrity spokesman for the world, it would be really nice to hear something else as background music. For the 2002 World Cup ESPN used "Caught in the Sun" by The Calling, which worked just fine; surely there are other bands that could fit the bill.

It's "Critique From The Left Day" Here at Donkeylicious

Dawn Johnsen withdraws.

Holder suggests support for some limited form of indefinite detention.

Good times.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sanctity of Contract for Thee, But Not for Me

I was going to caption this photo, but someone else has already done a better job than I could possibly hope to do.
News (hat tip to John Cole):

With millions of homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure during this recession, megabank JPMorgan Chase plans to argue against the Obama administration’s latest weapon in its fight to stem the problem—principal cuts for struggling borrowers—by citing the sanctity of contracts and the borrower’s “promise to repay.”
Morgan? Yes not that Morgan, but here's the other Morgan:

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley, the securities firm that spent more than $8 billion on commercial property in 2007, plans to relinquish five San Francisco office buildings to its lender two years after purchasing them from Blackstone Group LP near the top of the market.


The San Francisco transfer would mark the second real estate deal to unravel this year for Morgan Stanley, which bet on the property markets as prices were rising. The firm last month agreed to surrender 17 million square feet of office buildings to Barclays Capital after acquiring them for $6.5 billion in 2007 from Crescent Real Estate Equities. U.S. commercial real estate prices have dropped 43 percent from October 2007’s peak, Moody’s Investors Service said last month.


“This isn’t a default or foreclosure situation,” Barnes said. “It is a negotiated transfer to our lenders.”

I hope Barney Frank opens hearings by saying "we're don't want to encourage any defult or foreclosure situation. We're trying to help homeowners negotiate a transfer to their lenders." That would put the hearings into language that Morgan's top brass could understand.

To review the lessons of the past few years: when management has to reneg on pay or benefits in a union contract, that's just facing reality. When Morgan surrenders office buildings to lenders, that's just bidness. But you, the individual mortgage holder! How dare you walk away from your promise to pay! Heaven forfend that circumstances put you in a situation where the decision that makes the most financial sense is to stop paying the morgate, become a renter, and wreck your credit rating. You must continue your unsustainable monthly payments on a house no longer worth the principal on your loan!


Monday, April 12, 2010

How Maureen Dowd Got Her Groove Back

I didn't read Maureen Dowd for the longest time, because of articles like this in 2004 (it's all about Wes Clark's clothes, and begins 'Can we trust a man who muffs his mufti?') But now she's spent five columns criticizing the Catholic Church's response to the child molestation scandal. The seventh is praising nuns while attacking the men in the church hierarchy for their positions on health care reform. None of them criticize the pope for his funny hat.

We're moving away from triviality and towards substance. This is a better use of the most precious op-ed real estate in America, and I hope we'll see more of it from her in the future.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Symbols can represent different things to different people. I suppose if you totally isolated them from the outside world, you could raise a group of Germans who regarded the swastika as a general symbol of ethnic pride that was totally disconnected from Hitler and the Nazis. Still, as soon as those Germans came into contact with the history of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, they'd disown the symbol. Unless they hated Jews or something.

That's basically my attitude towards the people who claim the Confederate flag as some sort of symbol of Southern pride. As soon as you come face to face with the atrocities that the flag was flown to preserve, you're going to be thoroughly horrified by it. Unless you hate black people or something.

People trying to show their Dixie pride should choose a new flag. Given that lots of Southerners like NASCAR, the one I've put on this post would be a better choice. Nothing about it says, "It doesn't bother me that Southerners bought, sold, and whipped black people."

Friday, April 9, 2010

DW-NOMINATE: ideology or solidarity?

When I saw this analysis from Chris Bowers showing Senate Democrats "moving to the left" yesterday and today's follow up that the 60th vote is now more conservative than ever, my initial reaction was to say "maybe, but ...". It's not clear to me that the actual ideological positions of Senators have shifted to the left. Political scientists have traditionally understood postwar American political ideology to have two axes, one for economic issues and another for social issues (first civil rights, but later abortion, school prayer, etc.). Over the last twenty years, the two axes have more or less collapsed into one. At the same time, voting patterns in both houses have become more partisan. Because DW-NOMINATE attempts to orient all Senators on a single axis, a world where there are more pro-life but otherwise liberal Democrats, or pro-choice but otherwise conservative Republicans will result in less ideological median Senators almost by definition. Someone really ought to pick up the damn phone and ask Keith Poole about this ...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nuclear Disarmament And The Human Future

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have signed a nuclear disarmament pact that reduces American and Russian nuclear arsenals by 30%. This is very good news in the short term, as moves toward disarmament make our nonproliferation efforts more credible with other countries and show emerging powers that international prestige isn't about having the biggest nuclear stockpile. And it's very good news in the long term, as progress on this front makes the human race less likely to totally annihilate itself.

I'm optimistic about the future of humanity. For those of us in the developed world, living standards are way better than they were centuries ago. Over the course of the 21st century, I think we'll see people of many other regions come to enjoy the progress that Westerners have made in the 20th. The rate of technological progress is accelerating. This progress will continue until humans in the millennia to come (and possibly all sentient beings, since with our future technology we'll have the resources to undertake some really ambitious world-improving challenges) will be living lives of truly freakish awesomeness.

That is, unless humans go extinct before then. As I write this, it strikes me that there's a pretty good utilitarian case for being a single-issue nuclear disarmament voter. Millions of years of utopia are worth a lot in the calculus, and the best thing we can do to make sure we get there is to not destroy ourselves first.

What Happened In the 1920s?

Via Calculated Risk, here's a chart of births per year in the United States:

This is the raw number of births, not births per person or births per woman of child-bearing age or whatnot. Presumably the steep decline in the 1960s and 1970s is a combination of the end of the baby boom and the rise of second-wave feminism. But what really interests me is the earlier decline in the 1920s, which began only a few years after the end of WWII WWI and continued through the Great Depression. What's going there? First-wave feminism? A change in the ethnic mix of immigrants? Influenza?

Update: A reader writes in to point out that the 1920s saw the beginnings of non-Pill birth control advocacy. This gets swept way in popular history because of the more popular Suffrage Movement, a post-war anti-feminist "backlash" (I hate that term), and the relationship between the early contraception advocates and eugenics.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don Blankenship Can Buy West Virginia, But He Can't Buy America

Dylan Matthews has a detailed post on the union-busting, environment-ruining, cameraman-threatening ways of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, 25 of whose workers just died in a mine explosion. The news:
West Virginians overwhelmingly oppose mountaintop removal mining, and some politicians, like Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. Nick Rahall, openly criticize Massey. But the effects are limited, as Blankenship has more or less purchased the state's government. He's certainly bought the state Supreme Court, spending millions to unseat a justice who had ruled in favor of mine workers. The court, including the new justice Blankenship had elected, soon thereafter reversed a $50 million judgment against Massey. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually had to demand a rehearing of the case with the new justice recusing himself, because the quid pro quo involved was so obvious. Similarly, when Gov. Joe Manchin proposed a bond not to Blankenship's liking, the businessman spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink it. After the bond vote, Blankenship sued Manchin, saying the governor's attempts to regulate Massey amounted to punishment of Blankenship for opposing the bond measure, and thus was a violation of his free speech rights.
The federal government may have its corruption and special interest problems. But here's one nice thing about Washington: it costs so much that Don Blankenship can't buy it all. At present, even West Virginia's federal legislators, Nick Rahall and Robert Byrd, have been dissing on him. Maybe if he had to focus all his energies on getting their support, he'd make some headway, but even so he wouldn't have as much control over his regulatory fate as he does with the locals in Charleston.

This is one reason why it's a lot better to see the federal government in charge of labor and environmental regulations than the states. Dylan talks about campaign finance restrictions in the post, and if there's some way to make those work, great. But another way to deal with the problem is to take the responsibility for protecting workers and the environment out of the hands of people who are in Don Blankenship's pocket.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

God Looks Baked

The folks at Firedoglake are taking contributions to support marijuana legalization. Good for them! Though after the health care debate, I want to make sure they're willing to support proposals that leave out the cocaine option.

Polling results on marijuana legalization have gotten more favorable in recent years, as the chart of Gallup polls at right shows. ABC News found similar results, with support for legalization rising from 22% in 1997 to 39% in 2002 to 46% this year.

I've heard a lot of people express concern that this could give rise to a heavily commercialized pot industry with glitzy advertising that tries to lure kids into underage pot use. With prudent regulation to prevent the formation of pot companies, I'd hope that such a situation can be avoided. Mark Kleiman's ideas about how to do this kind of thing sound good to me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Of Teabaggers And Bondage

Via Battlepanda, you'll enjoy this 1-minute video laying out the RNC fundraising bondage scandal for the Asian market. The part at the very end is the important thing, I think.

It's easier to raise funds if you're in power. If you aren't, committed activists and individual contributors are going to be an increasing share of your donor base. And it's going to be hard to hit them up for money when you've committed picturesque gross abuses of campaign funds.

What's more, the RNC has traditionally been the top Republican fundraising committee. For whatever reason, Democrats have been doing most of their business in their Capitol Hill fundraising committees, the DSCC and DCCC, over the last few years. Meanwhile, the GOP's bread and butter is the RNC, while their Hill committees don't raise that much money. Meanwhile, there's the option of becoming a rejectionist Teabagger for any sufficiently disenchanted member of the Republican base. (I don't know for sure how this'll play out, but in Nevada it's not inconceivable that a Tea Party candidate could nader Harry Reid into reelection.)

Having your top fundraising institution lose its credibility with an increasingly important part of your donor base while a competitor comes on the scene isn't good news.

The Antiwar Republican Consensus

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher on Iraq War (with Grover Norquist moderating):
“I will say that the decision to go in, in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake. …Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood… all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”
Fuller transcript at ThinkProgress, with two other GOP congressmen agreeing -- not only that the war was a mistake, but that Republicans generally agree about that.

It hasn't properly been appreciated in American politics that it's possible for us to start a really stupid war. The clearest way to rectify this is for people across the political spectrum to come to the consensus that we did.

I'm a little surprised by these guys' claims of consensus, and anyway I'd expect Republicans at a Cato foreign policy event to be unusually appreciative of the consistent antiwar libertarian position where you recognize that if our government really can't fix things at home, it's not going to be able to fix things in a strange country on the other side of the planet. (Chris Preble runs foreign policy studies at Cato, and the little I can see of his stuff is good.)

But however much it means, it's a good sign.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Jason DeParle has an excellent article about Talx, which bills itself as providing "HR, Payroll, and Tax Management Solutions." In some cases, the solution seems to be creating onerous legal obstacles to unemployed people's legitimate requests for benefits:
“Talx often files appeals regardless of merits,” said Jonathan P. Baird, a lawyer at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. “It’s sort of a war of attrition. If you appeal a certain percentage of cases, there are going to be those workers who give up.”
It's a shame that the entire conversation about tort reform in this country is about how to protect businesses from the rapacity of ordinary people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Martyrdom: Fun For The Whole Terrorist Family

Killing violent Islamic militants can be more trouble than it's worth if it radicalizes the militants' friends and family enough that it creates more terrorist danger than it eliminates. Obviously the woman in the picture wasn't exactly at square one of the radicalization game before her husband was killed. But it took her from where you and the boy are putting up Facebook profile pics that get 17 likes and 12 giggly comments from the other militant girls to where you're part of a coordinated suicide bombing that kills 40 people.

Religious authorities that can promise a happy afterlife do the obvious work in accelerating the process:

Alexander Ignatenko, head of the independent Moscow-based Institute for Religion and Politics, said Islamic militants persuade "black widows" that a suicide bombing will reunite them with their dead relatives beyond the grave.

"They go on a mission fully confident that they will meet with their loved ones," said Ignatenko, who has studied the Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus.

The daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said that a burned shred of a letter in Arabic found on Abdurakhmanova's body promised a "meeting in Heaven." It was unclear who wrote the letter.

The article ends with a reminder that attempts to aggressively pursue people who are assisting terrorists can be abused, especially in a country like Russia where there are fewer social and legal checks on rampant authoritarianism.

Mutiny on the High Seas at the Federal Reserve

I was excited to read this story about the Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig (pictured to the right) stomping up and down asking Congress to enact bright-line banking rules for two reasons. The first was that I thought it came out of Barry Ritholtz's feed, not Ezra Klein's. I thought wrong; but at least it's a guest blogger! The second is that it means that the underlings who report to people like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke aren't exactly enthusiastic about the weak-sauce regulatory proposals that have come from on high. We're going to need a lot more of this is real banking reform stands any chance against Wall Street's army of lobbyists.

Dr. Henry Roberts, 1941-2010

Engadget reports that Henry Roberts has died. Roberts created the MITS Altair 8800, the world's first personal computer. As was common at the time, the main buyers of PCs were gadget hobbyists of various sorts. The model with extra memory had 4K of RAM, or roughly 1/1,000,000th the amount used by a large personal computer today. In 1999, Dell ran a contest to find the oldest PC still in use, won by a patent lawyer who was still using his Altair for word processing.

Roberts sold MITS in 1976, returned to rural Georgia, and became a medical doctor, proof that geeks can have a second calling in life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nightly Kos

I read Daily Kos occasionally, and I find it a nice way to keep up with what an important subset of the activist base is thinking. This has a little to do with why I'm looking forward to seeing more of Markos Moulitsas' new netroots porn site, aptly named 'Nightly Kos'. (The top post is a bit too NSFW to link, or I would).

A lot of the best features of the site are naturally drawn from its predecessor. For example, it allows users to post their own amateur porn diaries so that the whole community can recommend the best ones. It's the sort of thing that will be especially neat because of the demographics of the Democratic base. Given that our party has more women than men and a fairly large homosexual population, it'll be quite interesting to see what makes it to the top of the Recommended List. We'll probably get lots of interesting stuff that hasn't been the subject of such great attention in the mainstream porn media.

Early indications are that other big blog conglomerates are thinking about how to get in on the hot pr0n action. Of course, this is nothing new for Pandagon, which was posting pics of handsome half-naked men for the ladies to enjoy three years ago. (I really enjoyed seeing the positive responses from women in the comments.) The new BoinkProgress site looks awesome. Josh Marshall hasn't said anything about this issue yet, but I don't think FuckingPointsMemo is too far away. Jane Hamsher hasn't unveiled her new site yet, and I'm actually a little scared about it, as it'll probably be way more extreme than anybody else's.

Anyway, it looks like it's going to be an impressive site. I'd love to put up pics of myself if only my job wasn't an issue. But you might see me linking it in the days to come.