Monday, May 31, 2010

The Victory Of Yigal Amir

At times like this, I'm reminded of how horrifyingly successful Yigal Amir was in his 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. I wonder how the world would look today if the Prime Minister who signed the Oslo Accords lived on to promote reconciliation between Israel and the Muslim world.

You'd hope that after assassinating a Prime Minister, the Israeli right would be discredited. Instead, they've done quite well politically and determined the direction of Israeli policy. I have to imagine that Yigal Amir is sitting in his jail cell quite proud of what he's accomplished.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Legendary Oilman Defends Oil Interests

On Larry King right now, T. Boone Pickens is pontificating about the oil spill at longer stretches than people are usually allowed to speak uninterrupted on cable TV. The message he keeps reiterating is that the US oil industry shouldn't be blamed for anything.

Larry introduced him as a "legendary oilman." The significance of this is supposed to be that he's an expert on the issue, not that he has a large financial stake in the fossil fuel industry not being blamed for things.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There Will Be Royalties

My sensation watching the coverage of the BP oil spill has been that everyone is just overwhelmed with fatalism. There's a giant oil leak, there's nothing we can do to fix it, and there's nothing we can do to hold BP or any other party financially responsible. I mean, just look at the Exxon Valdez spill. Other than the salmon and herring fishermen, who settled separately in the mid-1990s, XOM didn't give a dime to anyone other than lawyers and witnesses until two years ago, at which point plaintiffs were awarded damages that were 90% less than the original judgment. The total award will work out to roughly $16,500 per member of the class action lawsuit, plus interest (now that XOM has lost its petitions to have the settlement reduced by their $70M in attorney's fees). And of course, the $500 million-with-an-m judgment is a drop in the bucket for a company who's quarterly profit is roughly $6 billion-with-a-b. BP is similarly situated.

Given that the legal system appears unequipped to handle the fact that large oil spills do in fact happen, and that the impact on people's livelihoods is enormous, one wonders if the thing to do is pre-fund these cleanup and compensation efforts through a tax insurance fee increase in royalty payments on domestic drilling. Surely in the wake of a giant oil spill that's likely to cost the taxpayers dearly, Congress can work up the gumption to ensure that those most directly responsible for the oil spill bear its costs.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What Happens In The Beltway Stays In The Beltway

The Atlantic's Joshua Green observes that the DC-centric firestorm surrounding Rand Paul's manifest right-wing crankery isn't exactly making many waves in Kentucky. This, I think, more or less to be expected. If Paul's candidacy is to be viewed as a disqualifying event for Bluegrass State Republicans, the disqualification will probably have to come at the hands of ... Kentucky Republicans, who probably aren't interested in such things. What this says about the moral bankruptcy of elite institutions is left as an exercise for the reader.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Future, Here We Come!

Dear Lazyweb,

It's time to take the smartphone plunge. While I read engadget, the sheer quantity of posts on phones makes it very hard to keep up. My needs are pretty simple.
  1. It must have a keyboard.
  2. It must have some way of connecting to a corporate exchange account (There are apps for this on Android; the iPhone works but see need #1; RIM phones work as well; not sure about palm webOS or WinMo 7)
Earlier I was tempted by the Motorola Droid, but it took forever to get Android 2.1 onto that phone and presumably the same will be true of 2.2. So what should I do? Get the LG Ally, even though it's being marketed with Iron Man 2? Go for the Droid anyway? Wait a while (how long?) for a phone to be released that has Froyo out of the box? Other options?

Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch Cover

Original caption: President Barack Obama watches as President Felipe Calderón of Mexico signs the official guest book in the Blue Room of the White House, May 19, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

As the NHL Playoffs get into full swing, this week's kistch cover is The Most Canadian Thing Ever. Rush drummer Neal Peart covers the alternate Canadian national anthem, theme from "Hockey Night in Canada':

The only way for this to get more Canadian would be to have the Barenaked Ladies add some lyrics that they performed while chowing down on Tim Horton's donuts.

Leave your captions and nominations for next week's kitsch cover in the comments.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Satanic Klan Metal Element In The Tea Party

When I saw that Pam Spaulding had linked to something titled "Rand Paul's Spokesperson Is A Satanic Metal God In KKK Gear", I thought there was no way this could possibly deliver. But it kind of did. By his own admission, Christopher Hightower was wandering around a mall in some kind of Klan-insignia hoodie and making fun of black people for being freaked out. The satanic death metal stuff is kind of funny, as it always is.

Charges of being a satanic metal god in KKK gear forced Hightower to resign.

Freedom's Just Another Word For Policy Positions That Align With Preserving White Power

There are many, many, things that can be said about Rand Paul's candid admission that his brand of "libertarianism" leads him to oppose the portions of the Civil Rights Act that interfere with private conduct. But let's just keep this to two simple points:

Protesters at Woolworth's attempt to exercise the freedom to sit at a lunch counter
  • As the result of the Civil Rights Act, it's true that whites post-1965 were less free to engage in racial discrimination. On the other hand, it's also true African-Americans post-1965 were more free to do certain things. Buy a house, for example, or get a job, or eat lunch.
  • It would be one thing for Paul to say that the cultural norm of segregation has been greatly diminished since the sixties and so a blunt instrument for curing the problems of race like the Civil Rights Act may have become outdated. But he's not saying that. He's saying that in an era of fire hoses and dogs in Alabama and pitched protests over school integration, he still would have opposed the CRA. I subit that kind of person who's ideological commitment to "liberty" in the face of such gross violations of justice has a rather bizarre set of moral priorities.
To make this more depressing, Paul stands a very good chance of becoming a United States Senator. While this is a remarkable failing of American elites to eliminate hard money crankery, isolationism, and extremism-in-defense-of-prejudiceliberty from the public discourse, it does offer an opportunity to paraphrase Roman Hruska. There are a decent number of hard money cranks, isolationists, and prejudiced folks out there; perhaps they should be entitled to some representation.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Things You Should Ignore

    Any general election poll in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, or Kentucky taken over the next two weeks. The positive press that comes with winning elections distorts everyone's polling responses, so the polls will be very volatile over the next few weeks. Wait until June and see what they say then.

    Update: and yes, if you insta-poll the Blumenthal race you'll end up seeing him tank. When combined with Rasmussen's clear GOP lean, he's probably looking at an 8 to 10 point lead in the immediate wake of the crisis. Things could go up or down from here, but he's certainly not dead in the water.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010


    Sestak beating Specter seems good. Polls have Sestak doing better against Toomey than Specter did. Sestak is down 3.7% while Specter is down 6.8%. Also, I have a bit more trust in Sestak to be good for the next six years that I do Specter. Downside is that now I have no idea how Specter will vote for the rest of his term.

    I'm also happy about Lincoln not getting over 50%, because it means she has to keep being good a little longer.

    Tuesday Primary Meaningless Coffeehousing Thread

    I can't believe TPM missed this prime chance at a Milli Vanilli joke. I guess the staff writers are now too young?

    Anyway, I don't have much rooting interest in the primaries today. Candidates matter some, but not that much. For the sake of humanity I'm rooting against Rand Paul, but we'll see what happens.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    On The Road

    Lately I've been travelling around giving talks on my research -- hence the lack of posts. At this point, I've flown from London to Boston, and I'll be taking the train down to DC on Tuesday and back up in the wee hours of Friday morning. Then there's a talk on my research at Tufts up here in Boston (May 21), a conference in St. Louis (May 23-25), a bit of train travel around Illinois to present research, San Francisco in the beginning of June, then more Illinois talks. What happens after that is a bit murky, but there will be a trip to Austin and July will be mostly in the UK.

    Some of our commenters have been influential in getting me to fly a bit less and train a bit more for environmental reasons. Obviously since I live in Singapore, work stuff and family obligations require me to fly a lot, but I do what I can. I'm hoping I come out ahead just by not owning a car and instead using the wonderful Singaporean mass transit system. Usually not eating mammals or birds helps too.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Many Cases Make Quick Law

    The Supreme Court receives lots of petitions to hear cases. In the most recent term, they received over eight thousand and heard argument in 90 of them. So clerks are going to be very quick to reject cases that neither point to a circuit split nor present novel questions of constitutional law. So the fact that Elena Kagan devoted a single paragraph to denying cert for a gun rights claimant who wanted his conviction over turns means that the joker filing the petition didn't have much of a case. The Court had bigger fish to fry, especially considering that at the time Kagan was a law clerk, the prevailing elite view on the constitutionality of individual gun rights was spelled out by former Chief Justice Warren Burger:
    [The Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word 'fraud,' on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.

    Longer article here.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    It's Elana Kagan

    And she's only 50! The big problem is that we don't know enough about her, for example her HDL and LDL level. I'm also having trouble finding information on how long her mother and father lived. They've both already passed away, which could suggest bad things.

    To continue with the cynical stuff, I'm really not sure what to make of this from Walter Dellinger: "what is useful is someone who can shape solutions to complicated legal problems that draw a consensus on the court and can deploy that skill on a court whose composition may be vastly different than what it is today."

    Is this actually useful for anything? Sure, it might've been useful back in the Ford Administration before the Republicans got the Federalist Society and all the rest of their judgemaking machine up and running. Back then they ran serious risk of nominating a Souter or a Kennedy, and we could win them over by the power of rational argument. But now they've got the capacity and the desire to generate predictable hard-core rightwingers in the John Roberts/Clarence Thomas mode. Their judges will vote the way the conservative movement wants; our judges will vote the way the progressive movement wants. Is anybody actually going to be won over on anything of substance?

    Update: As I think more, it seems that the smartest pick would be a drug dealer nominee who's really good at talking members of the opposing party into buying crack. I think Janice Rogers Brown fit that bill, though my memory is hazy -- it might've just been that her judicial philosophy suggested that she was on crack.

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch Cover

    Original caption: "President Barack Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House, May 6, 2010".

    Today's kitsch cover comes to us courtesy of Seth D. Michaels. It's Carolina Chocolate Drops performing Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'em up Style":

    Leave your caption contest entries and kitsch cover nominations in the comments.

    Lleh, However, Remained Unpopular

    "Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backward, was the 34th most popular baby name for girls. Heaven came in at No. 275."

    Thursday, May 6, 2010


    I was looking up the spelling of paraphernalia, and I discovered the historical meaning. Old views of gender and property rights are really strange.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010


    From Glenn Thrush:
    Generally, hiring one’s relative is illegal. Among the 27 relative designations listed in the federal law regarding nepotism and hiring, however, "grandson" is not mentioned.

    So Moore, who makes a six-figure salary working for his grandmother, is just fine, ethics-wise, according to an ethics lawyer contacted by POLITICO.
    Legal text from the House of Representatives ethics manual follows.

    I guess people in politics needed a term for obeying laws that prohibit certain self-serving abuses of power, and "ethics" was closest to hand. But I hope that they're still aware that one can obey these laws and still do grossly unethical things, in the sense of what's really right and wrong.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    We Still Love You, Jennifer Brunner

    Ohio Lt. Gov Lee Fisher has defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 55-45 in the Democratic Senate primary.

    I donated to Brunner's Secretary of State campaign in 2006 because I wanted her to oversee Ohio's presidential elections in 2008. She did a good job, especially in making sure that the one-stop voting window where you could register and vote early on the same day was observed. It helped Obama a lot -- the campaign did a lot of events on college campuses that week, assembling large masses of college students who had never voted before, registering them, and immediately getting them to vote.

    I didn't donate to her primary campaign this time, partly because I didn't want to lose her so fast at Secretary of State, and partly because Lee Fisher seemed good too from what I could tell. But if she's up against serious opposition in her re-election campaign I'll definitely be willing to help out there. Knowledgeable Ohio readers are particularly encouraged to advise me.

    Update: D'oh! Unfortunately, she's leaving the SoS office. I hope Maryellen O'Shaughnessy is good.

    Los Suns

    It's a good day to be a good person and a Suns fan, as Phoenix just announced that they're going to wear their Spanish-language "Los Suns" jerseys in their second playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs, both in celebration of Cinco De Mayo and in a protest against the Arizona immigration law. Steve Nash and owner Robert Sarver issued statements against the law.

    Superstitious people might note that they won the last time they were wearing those jerseys, but it appears to have been against the Knicks, so we have no shortage of rational explanations.

    Oh, and there was a game today. If you want to see Nash flying past defenders and hitting wacky layups on three consecutive possessions, you can see it here. He scored 17 in the first quarter and 33 total as the Suns beat the Spurs. Wish I could've seen it, but I don't know where one goes to watch the NBA during mornings in Singapore.

    Update: Amare gets in on the action too: "It's going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we're behind them 100%."

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    The Virtues of Widespread Low-Cost Video Production

    You know what the world needs? Endless 30-second David Caruso impersonations. Some of them are better than the original:

    More at And here's some context if you've never seen even sixty seconds of CSI: Miami.

    How To Win At Terrorism

    There's still some dispute about whether Bruce Ivins was acting alone in sending the anthrax back in 2001 -- the DOJ and FBI think it was all him, though there's some opinion that more people had to be involved. It's striking to compare the motivations for the attacks with their political effects:
    The Frederick News-Post has made public several letters to the editor written by Ivins dealing with his religious views.[18] These were cited in the Department of Justice summary of the case against Ivins as suggesting that he may have harbored a grudge against pro-choice Catholic senators Daschle and Leahy, recipients of anthrax mailings.[19] In a letter expressing his belief that Jews were God's chosen people, Ivins stated, "By blood and faith, Jews are God's chosen, and have no need for 'dialogue' with any gentile."[20] Ivins praised a rabbi for refusing to dialogue with a Muslim cleric.[20]
    So here's this guy who was, best as we can tell, doing anti-abortion bioterrorism against pro-choice Democratic Senators. It whips the country into terror about all the things the terrorists might be able to throw at us next, and motivates a war of panicked aggression against Iraq. Given his anti-peace views about the Middle East, it's hard to imagine him being anything but delighted about this. Several years later when he's discovered, the atmosphere of terror has faded, and panicked attacks against his pet causes aren't going to happen.

    I've heard through the academic grapevine that Ivins has recently accepted a senior appointment in the Department of Evil at the University of Hell. Say what you will about Satan, but he's a damn fine academic administrator and he knows how to hire the best.

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    PessimismWage Stagnation on the March

    Via The Big Picture, an article on the recent consumer confidence release:
    As can be seen from the chart, good times in recent years have produced less net optimism than in previous cycles, while bad times have brought more pessimism.

    On its face, such a result would seem to indicate Americans are losing their optimism, but it may not be as simple as that.
    Indeed, it may not be. One way to interpret these numbers is that people's attitudes have changed, and Americans are less optimistic than they were in the 70s. Another is that policy in the '70s made more effort to ensure broad-based economic growth and people are responding to objective measures like stagnation of wages for the bottom 90% of the workforce over the past 30 years. The fact that this article doesn't even contemplate the possibility that people might be less confident about wage growth because they haven't seen much wage growth is a bigger reason for doom and gloom than the actual consumer confidence numbers.

    Where Jan Brewer Came From

    He may not be the first person to blame, but Barack Obama deserves some criticism for letting the Arizona immigration law befall us. If he had left Janet Napolitano as Arizona governor instead of putting her in charge of Homeland Security, there's no way this law would've passed. Instead, Jan Brewer took office, signed it, and is now saying that her state is under terrorist attack from illegal immigrants.

    Additionally, we could've had Napolitano as a Senate candidate. How that would've affected John McCain's votes over the past year and the 2010 Senate outlook is left as an exercise for the reader. The smart thing would've been to have somebody else do Homeland Security with the understanding that they might be asked to step out in two years, and that the Cabinet job would be Janet's then if she put in a good showing but lost her Senate race. Similar things apply, mutatis mutandis, to Kathleen Sebelius at HHS and Tom Vilsack at Agriculture.