Friday, December 30, 2011

I Gave Mazie Hirono $1000 To Stop Ed Case

As far as I can tell, this year's most important Democratic Senate primary is in Hawaii, where solid left-wing Democrat Mazie Hirono is facing off against right-wing Ed Case. I really don't want to see Ed Case going to the Senate and supporting Republican wars and tax cuts like he did in the House, or getting in the way of Democratic initiatives like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. This is the time when I can prevent that from happening. So I've donated $1000 to Mazie Hirono.

Case was in Congress from 2002-2007. While he got
his seat too late to vote in favor of the Iraq War, he announced his support for the war during the campaign and was opposing withdrawal from Iraq as late as August 2006. He's basically the Hawaiian Joe Lieberman -- in fact, he endorsed Lieberman's presidential campaign back in 2004 as well as Lieberman's run for Senate as an independent against Democrat Ned Lamont in 2006. He supported Patriot Act reauthorization and supported keeping Guantanamo open after visiting it.

Lots of Democrats have cast various kinds of bad votes, but what really stands out about Case is his support for cutting taxes for rich people. In 2006, he was one of only 34 Democrats (who sided with 196 Republicans) to support reducing the estate tax. He also was one of 15 Democrats (who sided with 229 Republicans) to support cutting capital gains taxes and dividend taxes. And then there's this crazy vote, which I'll let Down With Tyranny explain with characteristic force:
Back in 2005 an amendment by far right sociopath Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) targeted NPR, PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Title X family planning all in one shot. Only one Democrat crossed the aisle to vote for the most extreme piece of legislation of that session... Ed Case.
Apparently it was legislation to protect lots of tax cuts by cutting spending on programs including those above. And Ed Case was, indeed, the only Democrat to vote for it.

Mazie Hirono, meanwhile, is the kind of Democrat you'd hope for from Hawaii. She has perfect scores from NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, the Humane Society, and 90% or over on every legislative rating I can see from the ACLU and major environmental organizations. She's got the AFL-CIO's endorsement against Case and has a bunch of favorable ratings from unions. And she has perfect 0% ratings every year she's been in Congress from the Club for Growth, which gives you higher numbers if you support massive tax cuts for rich people. (Meanwhile, Club for Growth contributor and billionare investor Charles Schwab picked out Ed Case as one of the few Democrats he'd contribute to.) She'd also be the first Buddhist in the Senate, which would be pretty neat.

In primaries it's important to think about who could win the general election, and it seems that Hirono has an advantage there. She leads likely Republican opponent Linda Lingle by 6 points in the most recent independent poll, which has Case losing by 2. I was surprised by how well Lingle did in the poll, and I expect Democrats to outperform these numbers in 2012 with a native son running for president and drawing out Democratic voters. But in any event, this doesn't appear to be a case where you lose votes in the middle by supporting a more left-wing candidate.

There are lots of places in the country where I'd be willing to tolerate a conservative Democratic Senator. I could easily accept someone with Case's voting record from Idaho or Alabama or somewhere like that. But having Hawaii produce a conservative Democrat who undermines Democratic initiatives and supports Republican wars and tax cuts is not an acceptable result. Primaries are when you get to prevent that from happening, and I'm doing what I can. If you're interested in helping out too, you're definitely welcome to use my ActBlue page.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Myth of Anti-Incumbent Elections

Over at SameFacts, Andrew Sabl flags two teriffic charts that illustrate the fact that "anti-incumbent" elections don't exist. In the post-WWII era, there have been very few elections that saw equal numbers of Democratic and Republican incumbents defeated, and in those elections, the total number of unstead representatives is very small. The closest thing to an anti-incumbent election was 1992, where redistricting played a substantial role in a number of Democratic defeats despite an otherwise positive year for Dems.

This has little in the way of implications for the 2012 elections, except that if you believe the current polling that suggests House Republicans have worn out their welcome, it's unlikely that there will be many Dems in conservative districts who lose.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Newt Is Going Nowhere

I really don't see much chance of a Gingrich resurgence in Iowa at this point -- his favorable / unfavorable numbers look bad enough that it's hard to see how he comes back. So it's a good time to look back at Jonathan Bernstein's old analysis of why Gingrich couldn't win and see how it played out.

Bernstein put a lot of weight on the strong anti-Newt sentiments of party actors. I didn't understand why this was a big deal, because I couldn't see what a bunch of GOP Congressmen were going to do in the next couple weeks to pull down Gingrich's poll numbers. Now it looks like it wasn't what they were going to do, it was what they'd already done. Support from party actors is important for fundraising and having good staff, and Gingrich had neither. (It didn't help that he was up against a ridiculously wealthy candidate and a bunch of his staff had given up on him earlier in the campaign.)

As a result, Gingrich didn't have the money to defend himself against the Romney-led assault that was blasting him with $34 in negative ads for each $1 he was spending in Iowa, and he didn't have the staff to make sure he was on the ballot in Virginia. (His whole 'Pearl Harbor' schtick about not making the ballot would've been offensive if it wasn't so laughable. That would've been like Pearl Harbor if we lost all those ships because we never maintained them and they just sank.)

One other thing we didn't see was Fox News and conservative media rushing to Newt's defense against the more moderate Romney. As a matter of fact, the perfect example of a GOP media personality with books to sell -- Glenn Beck -- came out strongly against him. That's the part of the Republican Party that could've saved him by putting enough pro-Newt stuff on the air to counter the insane amount of money Romney was throwing at him. But they clearly didn't feel any need to do that.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Donkeylicious and Conspiracy Keanu wish all of you a Merry Christmas!

If you're looking for some good cheer, I'd recommend Ezra Klein's article on how Obama has done pretty well in his negotiations with Congressional Republicans throughout 2011. Obama often ended up offering concessions that made it look like he was losing at the time, but for a variety of reasons they didn't really amount to much of anything terrible. For example, the supercommittee failed to do anything, so we got $500 billion in defense cuts and the same amount in other spending cuts which don't include major entitlement programs that help the poor. I don't know how much credit Obama deserves for the fact that it looks like the Bush tax cuts won't be renewed, but that's definitely a good thing for those of us who want the government to be adequately funded in the future.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ron Paul Is For States' Rights, Not Libertarianism

Let's say you don't want the federal government to ban abortion. There are two ways you might go from there. First, you might give individuals the right to decide, letting women choose whether or not to have abortions. Second, you might leave the issue of abortion up to states, so that each state can permit or ban abortion as it pleases.

Protecting individual rights is the genuine libertarian option. If you want to respect people's rights to make their own choices about their bodies, you'll make sure the right to have an abortion is put into the hands of the people. This may require the federal government to interfere with what some states are doing, if they pass laws banning abortion. But libertarians shouldn't have a problem with this. If some Americans were enslaving other Americans, any reasonable libertarianism would push the government to stop that. If a state is doing the enslaving, the federal government should stop the state from doing so, to protect individual rights. Individual rights, after all, are what make libertarianism appealing.

Ron Paul mostly wants to turn the issue of abortion over
to the states. (Not entirely -- he wants the Federal government to ban dilation and extraction as a method of performing abortions, but I'll set that aside for now.) This is in keeping with a number of his other views. He's against having the Federal government ban flag burning, but sees it as an appropriate thing for states to ban. His comments on the Lawrence vs. Texas decision, where the Supreme Court ruled Texas'
sodomy laws unconstitutional, express his views most clearly:
The Court determined that Texas had no right to establish its own standards for private sexual conduct, because gay sodomy is somehow protected under the 14th amendment "right to privacy". Ridiculous as sodomy laws may be, there clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states' rights – rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments. Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards.
There's nothing libertarian about this. It's a defense of the rights of state and local governments to wield tyrannical power over individuals as they see fit. Instead of giving individuals the right to do as they please with their own bodies unless they harm other individuals, states are given the power to "regulate social matters like sex" as they wish.

Friday, December 23, 2011

People Relenting From Idiocy: GOP And ECB

When Democrats displease their party base in negotiations, it's usually because they play things too moderate. It's interesting to see Republicans displease their party base by taking such an extreme negotiating position that the Wall Street Journal wouldn't stand for it and they had to give it up. I've never seen this happen on our side before, but it seems to be what the GOP had to do on the payroll tax cut. I guess the plutocrats want their tax cuts and a working economy so that they can make money.

We're seeing a little bit of positive movement on the economy. Hopefully Europe won't collapse and destroy all that. It's been kind of ridiculous to watch the European Central Bank make such bad monetary policy that the currency they're in charge of may cease to exist, and take the bank with it. Hopefully the new lending they're doing will turn things around.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Internal Organs

Rep. Dana Rorhabacher (R-CA): “If they’re dead, I don’t have an objection to their organs being used,” Mr. Rohrabacher added. “If they’re alive, they shouldn’t be here no matter what.”

Apparently, undocumented immigrants can't receive organ transplants, but their organs can be donated for transplant recipients. Awesome.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Apparently the death of Kim Il-Jong yesterday got misinterpreted by some people on Twitter who don't follow international news very closely. They thought it was Lil' Kim who had passed away. It looks like Detroit ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is among the confused people, and it's possible that an unclear tweet by Bill Maher was responsible for some of the chaos.

I don't know how North Korea works, and I don't know who does. My hope is the new ruler will be sane enough to allow things to improve in that country, and to not launch nuclear missiles.


Katha Pollitt's obituary of Christopher Hitchens is the best one I've seen yet.

As far as I'm concerned, Katha is a better writer than Hitchens. I admire clear writing that precisely expresses subtle thinking. With Hitchens, the bombastic writing was sometimes getting in the way of the ideas, or covering up the fact that he hadn't thought things through clearly. Stylistic flourishes can be awesome when they help get the author's point across, but otherwise they're just distractions, however amusing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

There's A Reason People Don't Like Colonialism

I knew that terrible things had happened in the Congo under King Leopold at the turn of the century, but reading Heart of Darkness didn't really prepare me for the thing about the hands:
To extract the rubber, instead of tapping the vines, the Congolese workers would slash them and lather their bodies with the rubber latex. When the latex hardened, it would be scraped off the skin in a painful manner, as it took off the worker's hair with it...

...Failure to meet the rubber collection quotas was punishable by death. Meanwhile, the Force Publique were required to provide a hand of their victims as proof when they had shot and killed someone, as it was believed that they would otherwise use the munitions (imported from Europe at considerable cost) for hunting food. As a consequence, the rubber quotas were in part paid off in chopped-off hands. Sometimes the hands were collected by the soldiers of the Force Publique, sometimes by the villages themselves. There were even small wars where villages attacked neighbouring villages to gather hands, since their rubber quotas were too unrealistic to fill.

Ron Paul Doing Better Makes Sense

I didn't really think about this much before, but it kind of makes sense that Ron Paul would be doing better this year than last time around. The big thing that'd make Paul unacceptable to the GOP base was insufficiently hawkish foreign policy views, and Republicans get less hawkish when they've been out of the White House for a while. George W. Bush in 2000 was talking about how he'd pursue a more humble foreign policy.

Paul's not a terribly unusual Republican in other respects. You get deviations on issues here and there -- marijuana, for example, and he does take the anti-federal-government thing to a unique extreme. But he's totally against abortion, okay with letting Social Security get defunded, and he doesn't really care about climate change.

Gah Overactive Spam Filter

I just looked in the automatic spam filter and there were 18 comments, about half of which were real comments, going back a year-plus. So if your comments didn't post or disappeared or something, that's what might've happened.

Also, if you ever run into a very opinionated guy named Petey on the internets, let him know that that's what happened.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"99%" Not "Occupy"

As names for the movement go, I'm a big fan of "99%" and much less a fan of "Occupy." One names the very appealing goals of the movement -- changing public policy so that it benefits the vast majority of Americans and not just the rich. The other names a tactic, which could be good or bad depending on what use it's put to. (I have this weird image of Israeli settlements renaming themselves "Occupy Palestine.")

If you're a middle-of-the-road middle-class person and you hear about the 99% movement, you're likely to think of that movement as being in your interests. After all, you're likely to be aware that you're not part of the richest 1%. However, if you hear about "Occupy" you might be worried that they're going to Occupy your front lawn or something. The only guy who I can see having a negative response to the "99%" name is High Expectations Asian Father, depicted in the graphic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Debating Minor Candidates

Doing a few one-on-one debates with minor candidates and being nice to them (as Newt Gingrich has done with Cain and now Huntsman) is a good strategy. If you're Gingrich, you don't care about being the second choice of big Romney fans, since that only helps you when you've already won. But you like being the second choice of big Cain and Huntsman fans, since those candidates are going to drop out at some point and then their fans who tuned in to watch you on TV with their hero will think well of you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Everyone Has The Right To Vote, Including "Invented People"

Newt Gingrich is calling the Palestinians an "invented people" and says that “‘Palestinian’ did not become a common term until after 1977.” I think the idea is to suggest that there isn't really a historically established ethnic group there, so there doesn't need to be another country. As Eric Kleefeld notes, however, "The Palestine Liberation Organization was in fact founded in 1964, capping off years of Palestinian cultural development from both before and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War." And yes, 1964 is when the Palestinian National Covenant is from.

But all of this is really beside the point. People have the right to vote, and nations in which that right isn't respected need to change. Currently, the West Bank is in a weird legal limbo where its residents can't be citizens of a sovereign Palestinian nation (since there is no such nation) or citizens of Israel (because Israel doesn't grant them citizenship.) Apparently a majority of West Bank Palestinians would be happy with becoming Israeli citizens, but that's not generally allowed for them. So they continue on with no voting rights except within a Palestinian Authority that isn't a real country, as it doesn't actually have sovereign control over its territory and is really a part of Israel.

There are two ways to solve this situation. First, you could offer Palestinians full Israeli citizenship and the right to vote in national elections. Second, you could give them their own country. But amid democratic revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, leaving Palestinians unable to vote in federal elections is turning Israel into one of the less democratic countries in the Middle East.

Even if a genuinely "invented people" somehow sprung up out of a lab somewhere, they'd be real people with rights, like the right to vote in the elections of the country they were in. I guess the lab thing would make it difficult to figure out when they were old enough to vote, but anyway that isn't a problem with Palestinians.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Only Poll That Matters ...

Quinnipiac released some new general election head-to-heads that basically show two things:
  • Mitt Romney appears to be a better general election candidate than Newt Gingrich, at least toda.
  • Gingrich is in a less weak general election position now than he was two months ago.
My take on what's happening here is that Romney has forever been the stand-in for "generic Republican", perhaps with some modest boost to his numbers in the Northeast and dampening of his numbers in the South for appearing moderate and not being a Southerner. As the hype surrounding Gingrich has increased, his general election poll numbers are converging closer to generic Republican. If we end up in a long, drawn-out primary season, I suspect they'll end up in nearly identical positions to win the nomination.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Support A Robot For Fed Chair!

Matt Yglesias, at his new Slate Moneybox gig, says good stuff about the role of central bankers:
First: I see no real reason to think that as a rule unaccountable central bank bureaucracies are going to make better long-term economic policy choices than a democratic process. The very same people who seem enthusiastic about this model of policymaking would likely be the first to explain to you that it's unwise to have a centrally planned economy run by unelected bureaucrats.

Second: that there actually is good reason to think that giving elected officials direct control over short-term macroeconomic stabilization is a bad idea, namely that they'll try to time the business cycle to the election cycle, which is exactly how central bank independence came to be enshrined as a principle of good governance. But in the medium term once it becomes clear that central banks are using their "independence" to encroach on other areas of policymaking, the central banks are (rightly) going to wind up having their independence taken away.
The problem of central banks trying to shape policy is an especially big deal in an environment where wealthy interests have a big role in choosing central bankers. Then you get the awesome power of central bankers deployed on behalf of wealthy interests against ordinary working people.

I'm wondering why we don't eliminate the role of human central bankers in setting interest rates and replace them with a computer program that just follows the Taylor rule or whatever formula the consensus of academic economists suggests. If we've got a reasonably good formula for determining what values interest rates should take, a computer would be better at following it than a human, since a human might be tempted to diverge for the purpose of threatening elected policymakers into making policies they prefer in other places or supporting a favored political leader, as Alan Greenspan seems to have done for Bush in 2004. And if we don't have a good formula, it's unclear how central bankers are supposed to decide what they should do anyway, and it's time to not have central banks. I don't think we're in this unfortunate situation -- we know enough about inflation/unemployment tradeoffs and other economic relationships to have good quantitative rules that humans can follow, and that robots can follow better.

In any event, I don't see why setting interest rates would be like writing novels or throwing parties or recognizing faces, where the best humans are going to do better than impartial robots following formulas programmed in by smart professors. If well-programmed computers can beat us at math and now chess and Jeopardy, why not at monetary policy?

Everything Old Is Newt Again

Newt Gingrich may have changed positions on a bunch of things over the years, but there's no way the GOP base will fundamentally understand him as a flip-flopper. Or at least, anyone in the base old enough to remember 1994. (Benjy Sarlin points out that Newt runs strongest among older voters.)

There are moments in politics where bonds are forged between ideologically driven base voters and the politicians who take high-profile positions advancing their issues. The base then comes to trust these politicians, and ignores their deviations from the party line or treats them as clever tactical moves. If you were in the GOP base in the Contract With America days when Gingrich led the Republicans to victory in 1994, you probably formed that bond with him. And now you trust him and you're willing to make excuses for him. From the same era, Hillary Clinton had a similar store of goodwill on the Democratic side that made her the presidential frontrunner for a lot of the last Democratic primary. It was a really impressive achievement on the part of Obama and his team to win the nomination over such a powerful candidate.

Now, I'm very willing to believe that Newt's role in the GOP takeover wasn't actually that important, and that his incompetence as speaker made things turn out much worse for the Republicans than if John Boehner could've time-traveled (and seniority-traveled?) into the Speakership of 1995. But I don't think that's what the GOP base voter saw, because Newt was pretty good at getting himself in front of the cameras. The proto-Tea-Partiers have an indelible image of brave Sir Newt leading the charge against big spending and Democratic corruption in Washington, and losing only because of devious Slick Willie and his friends in the liberal media.

Mitt Romney never had such a moment where the GOP base voter really identified with him. Maybe in Massachusetts (I don't know the details here) but definitely not nationally. So people don't have the bonds that lead to making excuses for him. And even if the flip-flopper case were objectively equal against Newt and Romney, GOP base voters would be much more willing to make excuses for their former Speaker than for the former Massachusetts Governor.

(Entirely random personal update: I remember 1994 pretty well myself. I was 14 and a sophomore in high school. I went to the Wake County Democratic Party election night event at a hotel, and the older folks were happy to see a youngster like me there. But obviously it wasn't a very happy place overall. I vividly remember watching the TV announce Chuck Robb's victory over Oliver North in Virginia, as a nice middle-aged black man said "Thank God for small favors.")

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Do Republicans End Up Defending Obama's Policies?

Jonathan is discussing why Republicans often reject Democratic policies and then go on to endorse the same policies with the Obama / Democratic label not attached to them. Huntsman, for example, wants to eliminate Dodd-Frank, and then pass the two biggest parts of Dodd-Frank (derivatives regulation and resolution authority, see Mike Konczal for details). Jonathan writes:
I suspect this isn't really about Obama just being pretty moderate, and so there's nowhere to go to oppose him on the right. I think it's more about a lack of policy knowledge and interest among Republican politicians; they just don't really have serious ideas at hand to contrast with Democratic policies, and in many instances don't appear to have a good grasp of what those policies are (see: Michele Bachmann, and her wonderful theory that Obama has a secret plan to replace Medicare with Obamacare). And then there's a piece of it that is demand-driven, with conservative audiences wanting to hear that everything Obama wants is radical socialism; it's not acceptable to say, for example, that Dodd-Frank has some things to agree with and some that should be changed.
As far as I can tell, all of this really is just about Obama and mainstream Democrats being pretty moderate, so there's nowhere to go (or at least nowhere sensible) on the right. Huntsman's a smart guy, and if there were really were a good case for totally overturning Dodd-Frank and replacing it with some kind of conservative plan, he'd probably be for it. At the very least, someone at AEI would've written it up and it would've been absorbed into right-wing wonk circles and he'd know how to talk about it. But there is no such case, leaving Huntsman nothing to say. So instead of conservative audiences pushing him towards a smart conservative plan, they push him to say negative things about Obama and then endorse what's basically the mainstream Democratic plan.

(I was looking at the AEI website for their commentary on Dodd-Frank. Peter Wallison doesn't like Dodd-Frank, saying that its resolution rules only give you ways to take down individual bad financial institutions. It doesn't deal with the root cause of the crisis -- a "common shock" to all institutions that hurts them all. That sounds plausible to me, as I don't see how Dodd-Frank would've prevented a housing bubble and the resulting damage to the whole system. But really what you're asking for if you're saying that is something more extreme that would allow more dramatic government intervention in financial markets to avert bubbles. "Dodd-Frank just tinkers around the edges" is a radical point, not a moderate one. And that goes back to the point about how there's not much sensible-conservative room from which to criticize Obama and mainstream Democrats.)

Of course, you get some conservatives who don't embrace anything Obama or mainstream Democrats said, and start making up silly options like chicken barter for health care and 9-9-9. But many of them, particularly the ones who actually know something about public policy, don't.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Herman Cain has dropped out of the race. The Onion provides the deepest commentary, using only a single headline.

As far as the affair is concerned, I don't think something like that needs to sink a presidential candidacy. But in a primary where there are lots of other options, it's a serious problem. And you can't let your campaign be about your sexual misdeeds, which is basically what had happened to the Cain campaign. I guess that's what can happen to candidates who have lots of misdeeds and poor-to-mediocre top-level campaign staff. I don't think even the best management would've saved him, but things got a lot weirder than I imagine they would've with the best and brightest in charge.

I imagine that part of the reason Republicans got so excited about Cain was that they liked the idea of playing the race card back against Democrats. It's not so much that they thought he'd win black voters (though I'm sure some of them had unreasonable ambitions of stealing black voters from Obama). It's more that a lot of them feel that accusations of racism have been unjustly used as a political weapon against them, and they were pleased at the thought of having that weapon in their hands to use against their enemies.

Of all the bad things Cain has done, the one that I felt the most upset about came recently, when his campaign attacked the various women accusing him of sexual harassment and affairs for being "husbandless." I've had the good fortune to be briefly involved with a few husbandless ladies in the past few months, and I won't stand for anyone saying nasty things about them. I know he's done a lot worse than that stray remark, but I guess it just really got to me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Marriage Inequality Follies

I'm sure this response to gay marriage supporters sounds clever to the people who say it, but it really doesn't work:
JANE SCHMIDT: Then, why can’t same-sex couples get married?

BACHMANN: They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.
So suppose we banned heterosexual marriage, and legalized gay marriage. Straight people could still get married! And they'd have about as many legally available partners as they had before! It's just that they wouldn't be interested in sexual relationships with any of these people.

Obviously, this would be a disastrous infringement on the rights of straight people. If you're a straight person and you can feel how messed up it would be if only gay marriage were legal, you can feel what's wrong with only heterosexual marriage being legal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I guess the problem with Michele Bachmann promising to close the embassy in Iran which we haven't had since 1980 is that it displays her serious lack of policy knowledge. But we knew that about her already. As an affirmation of the status quo, it actually strikes me as the opposite of the really bad kind of Bachmann statement. What gets me worried is when she proposes new bad things to do -- for example, raising taxes on poor people.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Bernsteinian Argument For Gingrich

Jonathan and Nick seem to be pretty sure that the Newt surge won't win him the nomination, while I take the recent polling at face value -- Newt leads Mitt 31-27 in NH, 38-15 in SC, and 29-13 or 28-12 in Iowa. I get the objections to early polling, but now we're five weeks from the Iowa caucuses and the numbers matter. Mitt needs some way to make up ground fast. Now Ann Selzer, who knows Iowa better than any other human, is saying that Newt would be the major beneficiary of a Herman Cain flameout.

Jonathan writes that "party actors have been very reluctant to line up for any of the surge candidates other than (while he was hot) Rick Perry." Here I want to recall something Jonathan was saying a lot last year. The people who really control public opinion and deliver primary votes in the GOP aren't elected officials. They're people who are basically paid like entertainers -- Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. And while it's deeply in the interests of elected officials and staffers that their party win elections, since their career prospects depend on that, entertainers don't have such a strong reason to care. They can happily get behind the unelectable guy who says more exciting things.

So if Gingrich doesn't win big endorsements of any kind from GOP officeholders, who cares? Those aren't the people who deliver votes, anyway. And eventually, it all comes down to votes. Conservative media figures are the relevant party actors here, not New Hampshire congresspeople. They don't have an especially strong reason to give Romney the favorable treatment he'll need to catch up, and they could easily turn Newt's book publicity tour into a presidential nomination.

[Update] Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link! I didn't link properly to Jonathan's comments about the entertainers in the GOP media when I first put up this post. For his points on that (which have shaped my understanding of the contemporary GOP) you can look at posts like this: "what Rush and company talk about -- which is driven by what drives ratings and sells books -- then becomes the only thing that conservatives talk about." There's also a great one I can't find about how we haven't ever seen a party like the modern GOP before, where a lot power is in the entertainers' hands rather than the politicians, and how that might result in the GOP doing weird and unprecedented things.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Those The Gods Wish To Condemn, They First Make Whole

Apparently Erick Erickson of Red State thinks the DNC's new "Mitt vs Mitt" ad is designed to (a) sow doubts about Mitt Romney among conservative Republicans, and (b) "potentially drag out the pain of the Republican Primary before doing what every Democrat and Beltway Pundit in America thinks — settling for Romney, a guy they will have already defined as a flip-flopper."

Certainly (a) is the main point the DNC is trying to drive home, but if Democrats think that extending the primary schedule is good for them, I present the 2008 Democratic primaries as evidence for the opposition. Those primaries granted Democrats largely positive media coverage in places the otherwise never would have shown their faces: North Dakota, Indiana, North Carolina, etc. By the end of a 50-state primary season, Republicans and independents would be familiar with the arguments for and against each candidate; 11th Commandment concerns and ambitions for VP or cabinet posts would probably prevent all but the most oblique attacks in the back half of the campaign, which would otherwise go mostly uncovered.

The ideal outcome here for Democrats is probably for the anointed NotRomney to enjoy a brief, Pat Buchanan in 1996-esque moment in the sunshine, winning a couple of early primaries and then a handful of smaller states on Super Tuesday. I suppose it's possible that Gingrich could engage in some sort of Ted Kennedy-in-1980-esque "Well, things worked out a little different from the way I thought" campaign to the bitter end, but it's not 1980 and Gingrich is savvy enough not to do that.

Out Of Iraq

Soldiers, trucks and weaponry are streaming out of Iraq every day. From that peak of 170,000 troops, about 18,000 remain this week, with hundreds leaving daily. Virtually all will be gone before Christmas.
John McCain, meanwhile, is still against withdrawal. Elections matter!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm in Austin with some grad student friends for Thanksgiving. They've introduced me to the concept of the heritage turkey, which is what we're having. It sounds pretty interesting -- turkeys like they used to be before modern industrial farming bred birds for the maximum possible amount of white meat.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play

Contra Neil, I'm not really paying much attention to how the current NotRomney is faring in the Republican primary polls. Newt isn't running for President: he's running to sell books, or get a better deal from Fox News for his new TV show, or otherwise improve his ability to rake bucks on the wingnut welfare circuit. He doesn't have much of a campaign infrastructure. Large chunks of his staff quit to join the Rick Perry campaign. He's not even on the ballot in Missouri. And while crazy people who said crazy things won GOP Senate primaries in 2010, they're not faring so well in 2012. Richard Lugar, Orrin Hatch, and Olympia Snowe are all in a position to withstand any challenge from their right flank, and those challengers are having a harder time gaining traction.

Nor do I think that we should read too much "weakness" into Mitt Romney's inability to pull away from the pack of midgets challenging him for the nomination. Much of the right wing infrastructure has yet to really get behind Romney, in the same way that much of that infrastructure didn't get behind John McCain until fairly late in the 2008 election cycle. When faced with the prospect of re-electing Barack Obama, the 20-30% of Republican poll respondents will almost certainly get behind the nominee, regardless of prior apostasies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gingrich-Related Thoughts

I'm taking the Newt Gingrich surge seriously. Even if he's a crazy person who thinks crazy things, that's the sort of person who won GOP Senate primaries in 2010. And given how these marginal-candidate surges usually last about two months, he's a decent bet to be on top when Iowa rolls around. The lack of any serious organization in Iowa is a real problem, but having enough voters could overwhelm organizational disadvantages. And he has a small lead in the Iowa polls, which could easily grow as Cain deflates.

Against Romney, Obama has a serious chance of losing, but losing isn't that bad. Against Gingrich, the chance of losing is much smaller, but defeat would result in a crazy person getting control of the presidency and with it the American nuclear arsenal. I'm not too worried that Gingrich would be able to pass major legislation to undo the social safety net, because I know how hard it is to get major economic proposals through Congress. He isn't an especially smart political tactician either, so I imagine a future of botched proposals that the left successfully smacks down. But it's harder to block bad foreign policy proposals than domestic proposals for some reason, so he might be able to create real havoc there.

The big thing that has come to interest me lately is the situation downticket. Romney most likely isn't going to turn into a chaotic mess that hurts Republicans everywhere. (You might think with him that Republicans wouldn't turn out to vote for a moderate. I don't think that's likely -- Republicans can be driven to hate Obama enough that they'll come out to vote against him.) But with Gingrich there's a serious chance that he'll just be unappealing enough to hurt the party as a whole. If Gingrich getting the nomination is worth one or two more Democratic Senators, that's enough to make me hope he gets it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Pursuit Of Ignorance, From Bush To Palin And Cain

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about how Herman Cain "ardently pursues ignorance." Boasting of one's lack of knowledge and passing off crude anti-intellectualism as anti-elitism is a common thing in contemporary American politics. My impression is that while it's always been around in some form, it became a much bigger deal in the wake of George W. Bush.

I don't think Bush actively planned things out this way. There's the video comparing how he talked in the gubernatorial debates against Ann Richards to his performance against Kerry -- back in the old days, he seemed to be trying his best to look smart, speaking clearly and rattling off facts and policy proposals.

In 2000, the media played up the Bush versus Gore contrast as a simple Texas yokel versus an cold-blooded intellectual. It so happened that Bush won, though I really don't see reason to think the contrast in level of education actually worked in his favor. But what happens in the wake of victory is that the media spins every feature of the winner, especially the ones it's made most salient, as winning traits. The converse happens to the loser.

Many in the next generation of Republican politicians -- Cain and Palin, for example -- took their lessons from the story the media told them. While Bush more or less backed into the position of the proudly uneducated person by accident, they came to regard it as a winning political strategy. Moreover, it's a strategy that fit them really well. Absorbing complex policy views, even if they're crazy, takes some work and intellectual effort. Cain and Palin weren't up for doing that, whether for reasons of ability or time or sheer laziness. So they pursued the supposed winning strategy that was open to them.

The funny thing is, I don't actually think Republican primary voters actually put a premium on this. They have high opinions of people like Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich, who have all kinds of complex views about policy and don't actively try to come off as ignorant.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Moore's Law, Artificial Intelligence, and Why We Can All Take A Deep Breath

Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias discuss the extremely rapid potential future growth of computing power, and how this affects the way we should think about the march towards more and more awesome computing machines.

An important caveat here is that while computing power may continue to grow exponentially for some time, our ability to do something useful with that increased power may not grow at the same pace. Graphics cards today are capable of rendering much more complicated content at much higher resolutions than they were twenty years ago. But that hasn't resulted in a massive reduction in the amount of time artists spend producing content. Likewise network bandwidth has not enjoyed growth rates as fast as CPU power, because someone has to actually set up a large amount physical network infrastructure, and the costs associated with that infrastructure don't reap all the goodness of whatever bastardization of Moore's Law you're using to describe network speeds. Japan is at the forefront of using robots to replace humans for certain service jobs, particularly in the health care field, but those robots are and will continue to be quite expensive, since there are lots of physical processes that go into robotics that don't benefit from Moore's Law. So while computing will become cheaper and even more ubiquitous, computers will interact with more and more processes that won't be able to take full advantage of extremely fast growth rates of computing power.

Another important consideration when thinking about our ultra-fast, ultra-cheap CPU future is that disk-IO does not grow in a Moore's Law-esque fashion, though Solid State Drives may change that equation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Defending Popular Programs And Winning

I'm tempted to disagree with Jonathan Bernstein on this: "But if ACA survives the courts, and survives the outcome of the 2012 elections, and gets implemented and turns out to work more or less the way that Gruber (and Barack Obama) believe it will, my guess is that it will have virtually no direct political effect going forward, and little or no indirect effect."

I have two especially unhappy memories of Republicans achieving serious power -- Gingrich in the mid-1990s, Bush after 2004. They're followed by two happy memories of Republicans getting in serious trouble after attacking popular Democratic social programs -- Medicare and Social Security. In both cases, politically savvy Democrats (Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi) firmly defended the programs and won.

I wonder if this is a structural phenomenon. Democrats pass a well-designed program. It becomes popular with swing voters. But there's enough influence in the Republican Party against it that when Republicans come to power, they have to attack it. So they do! And it's defended with so much political firepower that the Republicans fail miserably and suffer massive casualties.

If this is how things work, it's a pretty awesome deal, and we should make sure it happens more often.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Replacing The NBA

NBA commissioner David Stern has offered an ultimatum, and the players' union has rejected it. This puts the next NBA season at a serious risk of not happening. I don't know how NBA contracts work. But I'm wondering if it would be possible for the players to organize themselves into teams outside the formal NBA organization and make money by playing games.

You could keep all the teams together in their last NBA incarnation and fill out rosters with whoever the existing players on the teams were willing to add. I'm sure that without the formal apparatus of the NBA, they'd earn a lot less money -- the installed base of arenas and basketball-promoting resources has formidable value. But I'm guessing they could make enough money playing in smaller arenas to be worth their while. And I imagine that before long, the new NBA union-cooperative teams would attract more allegiance than the empty brand names they replaced. The guys who can do the insane athletic feats have the real value.

What Would Newt Need?

I appreciate the force of Jamelle's arguments that Newt Gingrich faces major obstacles in his campaign for the GOP nomination -- in particular, a lack of organization and focus in key primary states. But the way I'd put the point is just that Newt only can win the nomination if he has a really big national lead over Romney. Even with a PPP survey coming out soon that puts him on top, he's far from that point yet. But what if January rolls around and he's at 45% and Romney's at 25% nationally? Even if Romney's focus on key states and organizing advantages are worth 15% in the early primaries, you've still got Newt in the lead. This doesn't strike me as an implausible scenario, as he's a more plausible candidate than Cain or Trump or Bachmann in terms of formal qualifications. His ceiling is likely to be higher than theirs.

The other thing is that there's a track to the nomination for anyone who comes out a clear second to Romney in early primary states. If Iowa and New Hampshire winnow down the candidates to where it's Romney versus any one other Republican, the large number of Republicans who find Romney unacceptable can be united. It's not only important for Romney that he win Iowa -- it's important that it come out being something like 30-20-20 in his favor rather than 30-25-15. In the first scenario, there's no clear person for later-state Romney haters to align behind. In the second scenario, there is.

One of the things that made the war in Libya so interesting from a purely military-strategy viewpoint was how different the two sides were. Gadhafi had a conventional army with lots of tanks and trained soldiers. The Free Libyan forces had a ragtag band of dudes with small arms backed up by awesome NATO airpower. It was interesting to see who would win, with the two forces so differently configured. If Gingrich, or really any Republican other than Perry, is at a major national polling advantage over Romney when the Iowa caucuses come around, Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be interesting in much the same way.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Raising Taxes Averts Witch Trials

Sarah Kliff passes on an interesting piece of research on taxation and witch hunts in 17th century France. Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama looked at the regions of France in which the most taxes were collected, and in which the greatest number of witch trials took place. These two things were inversely correlated -- more taxes meant fewer witch trials.

Apparently the explanation is that the places where the most taxes were collected could support a standardized legal system. In an orderly legal system, the authors say, it's hard to successfully prosecute someone for witchcraft. But if you've got the worst judges of the 17th century, you can get some pretty weird results. I'd wonder if there was some deeper explanation of the phenomenon -- maybe really backwards places where witch trials happened also were poor and thus didn't generate much tax revenue, while taxable wealth and education went together.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Treasury Bong Yields

That's what Krugman should've titled this post.

Eye Of Newt And Toe Of Frog

This kind of commentary showing Newt Gingrich rising as the final anti-Romney strikes me as plausible.

There's a significant portion of the GOP base that will support someone regardless of whether they're in any usual sense a plausible major-party nominee. These are the people who were telling pollsters they wanted to vote for Herman Cain and Donald Trump. I'm thinking that these people can be easily swayed by media forces, whether those are within conservative media proper (Limbaugh / Hannity / O'Reilly) or traditional media that doesn't do anything immediate to alienate conservatives.

If you were in the market for this kind of candidate, I think you might be up for some Gingrich once Cain went down. Gingrich's ideas are in fact total poorly thought out nonsense, but he's got pseudo-ideas that appeal to people who vote in a Republican primary. And at the same time, he has an impressive formal qualification in having been Speaker of the House back in the 1990s. I suppose this might be the kind of thing that'd get GOP elites who may not have been up for some Cain to believe in him. In a Romney-Gingrich primary, a lot of GOP media figures would take the Gingrich side. He's got nice crazy conservative views that they won't be dissatisfied with. Given the amount of time these weird surges of interest in some flaky candidate last, we've got enough time for Cain to die down and the final star to rise before Iowa. Newt sounds as good as anybody.

And as a general election opponent who'll run a terrible campaign and alienate swing voters, he sounds okay to me too. I don't know whether he'd beat Romney, and frankly I don't know whether to prefer the relative safety of Mitt where you might easily lose the election but he's not crazy, or the Gingrich deal where you're very likely to beat him but if Europe crashes and takes our economy down with it maybe people vote for insane Newt.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Paul Krugman criticizes Politico for a silly article passing on criticisms from right-wing pressure groups that there's something hypocritical about Elizabeth Warren for being wealthy and trying to help poor people. The message of the 99% movement is not that being rich is itself a bad way to be. It's that we need to change laws and the economic system so that everyone else is better off. Elizabeth Warren has been working hard to make that happen.

Rejecting crusaders against poverty and inequality for their personal wealth will make it basically impossible for there to be an effective movement against poverty and inequality. Extremely successful people usually end up with money -- that's the way our world works. And if you say that nobody can be a legitimate crusader against inequality if they have money, you delegitimize most of the extremely successful people who want to crusade against inequality. Who's left? Well, lots of ordinary people, but the media isn't going to give them a special platform to speak, because they're ordinary. Occasionally a well-funded special interest group might be able to turn some ordinary person into a media celebrity, but that's going to be the kind of game that's tilted in favor of the rich and powerful, because they have the money to successfully fund special interest groups. So the only people talking about the issues will be rich people who don't care about income inequality or poverty. Disaster.

How would you get any effective crusaders against inequality or poverty in such a situation? I guess if an intelligent hippo spoke out against these things, the media would cover it, because, hey, a talking hippo. Maybe then progressives would vote the hippo into power. Anyway, that's the best connection I can see between Scott Wong's idiotic Politico article and hypocrisy or hippocracy or whatever.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hillary Veep Swap?

Paul Starr's case for swapping in Hillary Clinton for Joe Biden sounds fine to me, I guess, though I don't imagine it would have especially major effects. The one thing I'd care about most in this deal is that Mark Penn not be allowed to return to Democratic politics as a Hillary consultant. Every time I hear a Democrat complain about Obama and wish we'd gotten Hillary instead, I think of the idiot consulting infrastructure that surrounded her. Hopefully she's made better friends in the last couple years.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fiction, Reality, And Corporate Personhood

I'm unimpressed with the arguments of Stephen Bainbridge, who tries his best not to engage the actual reasons driving the movement against corporate personhood. (via Pejman Yousefzadeh, who does no better).

Abolishing corporate personhood altogether, so that we wouldn't be able to maintain the useful legal fiction of the corporation for purposes like listing the owners of property on deeds, doesn't strike me as either a good idea or one that has any likelihood of becoming policy. But I'm happy to see a movement that might push policy a small distance in this direction. The majority of the people in any movement that pushes for good changes on a complex issue will have confused views about matters of detail. And this is a movement one should support.

Much of the reasoning in the Citizens United decision is based on the failure to recognize that the notion of the corporation as a person is nothing more than a useful legal fiction to be maintained when it has good social consequences and ignored otherwise. Bainbridge offers consequentialist arguments in favor of giving corporations some legal status. Even if these arguments are good (as I think they are) I don't see how they can support striking down Congress' judgment about where the good consequences of corporate personhood end.

When Scalia writes that the text of the First Amendment "offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker" the obvious response is that the text may offer no foothold for excluding any category of real person who may want to speak, but that this doesn't cover what we call persons in some contexts merely as a convenient legal fiction. The real / fictional distinction is among the deepest distinctions there are, and Scalia's attempts to elide it are ridiculous. Our claims typically don't encompass fictional entities. When I say that hobbits don't exist, I'm not saying Frodo isn't a hobbit, or that you're doomed to fail at pretending you're Sam Gamgee for the purposes of Live-Action Roleplaying. My claims encompass only the real. And that's the right way to understand the claims about rights in the Constitution. Real persons have rights, but if you're just pretending that something is a person for limited practical purposes, you don't have to pretend it has all the rights persons do.

I hope it's obvious to Bainbridge and Scalia that corporations shouldn't have the right to vote in elections after they've existed for 18 years. The end of a corporation isn't a death, such that intentionally causing it would be murder. These points follow just as well if one sees corporations not as fictions but as groups (as Scalia does at some points) -- groups don't have the vote in addition to that of the individuals who compose them, and disbanding them doesn't constitute murder. If you ignore the distinction between convenient legal fictions and real entities and regard corporations as fully real persons with genuine rights, I don't see how you draw these distinctions.

This is what the opponents of corporate personhood understand. If they're wrong on the details, they make up for that by having a grasp on the fundamental issues.

Battles Won

I tend to be a lot more optimistic about politics than many of the left-wing folk I meet on my travels. Some of this is the product of a peppy disposition and a happy life, but I think a lot of it also comes from keeping in mind the tremendous successes of the progressive movement over the past. Amanda's post about how much better social relations between the sexes are now than fifty years ago provides a good example.

Right-wingers have had a lot of rhetorical and political successes over the past 50 years, particularly on economic issues. But it's a tremendous achievement that now everybody at pays lip service to the general idea of racial and sexual equality. For all the awful things mainstream Republicans do, they can't actually come out and say "Obama isn't fit to be president because he's black, and black people are intellectually inferior." And they can't run against female politicians and say "Women aren't capable of handling jobs like being a Senator." They can try sly ways to insinuate this, and they can use all kinds of racial and gender prejudices to support policies that harm the poor or restrict abortion. But things have progressed to where everybody in the political mainstream understands, or at least pretends to understand, that racism and sexism are bad things.

I'm focusing on the political side of this, but the way it appears in the basic nature of social relations between people of different races and genders is (as Amanda discusses) the most important thing. The idea that I'm supposed to regard women around me as owing me some kind of deference just because I'm a guy, or think less of them for not being deferential to men, strikes me as alien and monstrous.

Obviously, it's not that everything is okay now. We've got major problems, among them a dismal economy in the intermediate term, and the threat of climate change in the long term. But I don't see that these problems are more grand and terrible than things we've faced and triumphed over in the past. I mean, this country had slavery 150 years ago. The progressive movement has made things better in some pretty tremendous ways over the last fifty years (and really, the last several centuries), and it's going to take a lot more than what's happened to make me pessimistic about the long-term direction of things.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rick Scott

I'm in Florida right now, where I've talked with lots of people at local universities about Governor Rick Scott's crusade against humanities departments (apparently he especially doesn't like anthropology).

It's kind of insane that this guy has any kind of political career, let alone being the governor of Florida. The health care company he ran had to pay out the biggest fraud settlement in US history -- $600 million -- after committing 14 felonies. I'd think that sort of thing would disqualify you from holding elected office. As a grad student at FSU put it, "We elected a supervillain for governor."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

FBI Gang Threat Assessment Of The Emerging Juggalo Menace

The picture at right, given the filename "juggalette-with_possible_firearm_-atf_file_photo_www_red-alerts.jpeg", is Figure 6 from the FBI 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, which makes 44 references to Juggalos. I didn't realize that Juggalos were a gang. I thought they just liked to go around listening to bad music and drinking Faygo.

The following certainly came as news to me: "NGIC reporting indicates that Juggalo gangs are expanding in New Mexico primarily because they are attracted to the tribal and cultural traditions of the Native Americans residing nearby." Maybe that's how they plan to figure out how magnets work. In any event, that's more impressive of them than I would've thought, unless they're just going there to see if they can score some peyote.

In other FBI Gang Threat Assessment commentary, whose idea was it to call a gang the "Oriental Fantasy Boys"?

Who Hates Herman Cain? Part 2

Bolstering the case for the Perry explanation of Herman Cain's sexual harassment scandal, a consultant for a firm that does some polling for Perry is saying that he knew Cain was harassing women. Chris Wilson used to work for the National Restaurant Association at the time, and apparently he was with Cain when the major events took place. He might've been the one to tell Perry's people where the bodies were buried, so they could get the info out to Politico. For exactly the reasons Matt cites -- Perry could win a one-on-one showdown with Romney, but he's not going to get that as long as Cain is riding high -- that's exactly what they'd be eager to do.

[Update]: Cain himself accepts the Perry theory! You heard it here first.

Free Trade Is Beating Labor Mobility

It's disappointing to learn that Nick Clegg and David Cameron are trying to keep skilled non-EU immigrants (basically, people like me) out of the UK.

Restrictions on the trade of goods seem to be less severe and more easily overturned than restrictions on labor mobility. We buy a lot of stuff from China and Mexico, but Chinese people and Mexicans have to jump through all kinds of hoops to come here, and in many cases they aren't allowed to. And that's well over and above the larger costs of transportation. Container shipping for goods is cheap, but if people come over that way something has gone horribly wrong. So transit costs are higher for labor mobility than for mobility of goods, and on top of that, governments add extra regulatory barriers.

I'm seeing this as an instance of the organized power of businesses to influence regulation, which the rest of us as poorly organized individuals don't have.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Condorcet Wants Kids To Vote

I've been reading the discussion following Jonathan Bernstein's "Kids Vote" proposal with some interest. Extending the voting age downward by at least a couple years strikes me as a good idea.

I think this despite accepting a view of democracy that Bernstein sees as most opposed to the Kids Vote proposal -- the view that "justifies democracy on the basis of an informed individuals, thinking for themselves, being the best way to make good decisions about public policy." If you think kids are just barely better than random in determining who should rule, adding their votes to the system will push things in the right direction overall. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what he means by 'informed', but large numbers of barely informed people can systematically contribute to good public policy if each is right 51% of the time in two-way choices. And then their small but positive level of information is actually producing good public policy. (This sort of reasoning, where larger numbers of barely informed people end up increasing the probability of good decisions, is the kind employed in Condorcet's Jury Theorem.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Hates Herman Cain?

Herman Cain is blaming liberals for the recent sexual harrassment allegations against him. I guess that's the thing to say if you're running for the GOP nomination, but obviously it would be dumb timing for any actual liberal to hand a bad story on Cain to the media right now. If you're a liberal, you'd sit tight and wait until Cain is the nominee to start dumping stuff on him. (I think Cain is extremely unlikely to be the nominee.)

This looks like the work of one of his GOP competitors. My top suspect would be the Perry campaign, just because it makes sense for them to do it -- they certainly don't want this Cain surge lasting any longer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quidditch Isn't A Well-Designed Game

Caperton at Crooked Timber reveals that people have started a Muggle Quidditch league. (Since it's Muggle Quidditch, you don't have to fly.) But this doesn't solve the major problem with Quidditch, which is that the scoring system makes it a boring one-on-one game for Seekers.

In most matches we see in the books, 6 of the players are barely relevant to the outcome. Since getting the Golden Snitch scores 150 points and ends the game, and the only other way to score is in 10-point increments, having a good Seeker is basically all that matters. I recall only one game described in the books -- the one where Victor Krum loses the game on his own terms -- where the decisive points are scored by non-Seekers. I guess the Beaters kind of matter, insofar as they can create obstacles for an opposing Seeker, but the other 4 players hardly make a difference. They do nifty-looking stuff, but it's usually just a sideshow.

Of course, this works well enough plotwise in the books, because it's all just a vehicle for Harry to win at things. If that counts as working well. I like a bunch of characters in the books (Lupin! Hermione! Snape! Dumbledore! Hagrid! Tonks!) but I'm not such a big Harry fan, as I think he's mostly just an Awesome Suit for boys to dress up in.

Threaten Pakistan With India

Pakistan is an enemy, as Spencer Ackerman says, and we've got to deal with it on those terms. Treating it as a wayward friend who needs to be bribed to deal with problems just gets Pakistan keeping the problems in play so that the bribe situation will stay intact.

What Pakistani military officials always think about is conflict with India. (I'm sure they like being bribed too, but as far as actual foreign policy goes, it's India.) They've fought three major wars with India. They like China because it's a powerful counterweight to India. Insofar as they like us, it's as a source of stuff they can use against India, and they just play us for more stuff.

So the kind of thing we'd need to do to get them to do what we want is threaten to strengthen India's position relative to them. I'm not sure exatly what one does here, but I'm thinking of something like regularly updating India on what our spy satellites tell us about what's going on in Pakistan, including precise locations for all their major military hardware.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ordinary Muslim Man

These quickmeme things are always uneven in quality because it's random people making new ones all the time, but I'm enjoying Ordinary Muslim Man.

There are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world, and a lot of them live in poor countries where there's all kinds of political strife for reasons that go beyond religion. Any group that big is going to have a few really destructive people in it who are actively involved in killing others. And it's going to have a huge majority of people who don't do anything like that.

15% of the population in Singapore is Muslim. It's mostly Malaysians, though there are also some Indians. And it's just about the safest place in the world!

Abortion Restrictions Mapped

Via Amanda Marcotte, here's a nifty map of abortion restrictions around the world. Restrictions are tightest in Latin America (probably due to Catholic influence), Africa, and the Muslim world including Indonesia but excluding Turkey.

It took me a little while to understand the map, because I have a lot of trouble telling these shades of red and green apart. Green is the really problematic color for most people with poor color vision, so it'd be better if mapmakers and other designers could use blue instead.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gaddafi's Violent End

It's definitely a good thing that Gaddafi was removed from power. And I'm thinking that it might have been a good thing for him to meet a violent and ignominous end, pulled out of hiding in a what appears to have been a sewage pipe, treated roughly by angry Libyan revolutionaries, and shot in the head. Better, certainly, for him to be sentenced to death or life imprisonment through a proper trial in Libya or perhaps some international court. Fair trials increase the public credibility of the justice system that produces them, and that would've been a good thing to get. But the actual outcome was a pretty valuable one.

The good thing about the circumstances of his death is that we have a rough correlation between the brutality of the means with which the North African dictators suppressed revolutionary sentiment and the consequences they suffered. In Tunisia, Ben Ali gave up and fled. Now he can't return to Tunisia, but he's living in exile in Saudi Arabia. That's what we hope dictators do once popular sentiment for their overthrow rises, and for doing it he got off easy. In Egypt, Mubarak made a stronger attempt to hold onto power, but stepped down. Things turned out worse for him, as he's facing all sorts of corruption charges and has health problems, but I don't see that he'll meet any sort of violent end.

And then there's Gaddafi, whose bloody suppression of political dissent far outstripped the others. One of the things that made it easy to support NATO intervention in Libya is that the daily death tolls that resulted from war were much greater than the daily death tolls from Gaddafi's peace. Here's an article describing how Gaddafi massacred 84 civilians one day and 140 the next. He was sending helicopter gunships and artillery to kill peaceful demonstrators. As far as I know, the other two didn't use that kind of heavy military force against their own citizens. In contrast, the daily death tolls from the fighting in places like Misrata were usually in the single digits. The worst I recall seeing from the fighting after NATO got involved was a death toll of 25 one day.

The rather graphic message to dictators from Gaddafi's end is to get out while the getting is good. You want to end up like Ben Ali, and not like Gaddafi.