Sunday, February 28, 2010

Admiral Ackbar For Ole Miss

Count me among the fans of the effort to make Admiral Ackbar the new mascot of Ole Miss. The old mascot was "Colonel Reb," who often would ride around in confederate regalia. There's no excuse for making mascots of people who went to war so that they could keep what's now 37% of the state's population as slaves. The "Rebel Alliance" interpretation of the whole "Rebel" concept takes Mississippi out of the horrific past and into the awesome present/future,/long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I'd have a hard time rooting for a team whose mascot was all about the Confederacy, but I'll definitely cheer for Admiral Ackbar.

It's probably not going to succeed and I imagine there would be serious copyright issues. But still, cool.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What Digby Said

One of the reasons I've been out of The Game a lot, in addition to having lost the illusion of making a difference in anything, is that I felt like I had lately only provided insights nearly equivalent to other well-written versions you might find elsewhere. Take Digby on the summit:

As a good liberal political junkie I watched the summit today and saw Democrats staying within the bounds of reality in discussing the various ideas on the table and I saw the Republicans making things up. The president was in command of the facts, competently defended the Democratic position and successfully batted back many of the GOPs misrepresentations. The Republicans were effective in repeating their usual talking points and non-sequitors.

This is the basic dynamic of the health care debate. Democratic elected officials by and large want to solve this problem. Republican elected officials by and large don't. Sure, there are exceptions—The Ryan-Nunes-Coburn-Burr bill is a serious GOP attempt to grapple health care; Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh don't seem particularly interested in getting things done—but the leadership and most of the rank-and-file on both sides fit the bill. Negotiations can't exist under these conditions; there's no set of compromises Democrats could make that would attract any Republican votes. If John Boehner had sat down and said "We're prepared to deliver 75 votes for something that looks like Ryan-Nunes", or been willing to deliver a dozen or so votes if Obama had tacked on more aggressive malpractice award caps, things might be different. But he didn't, and Mitch McConnell more or less signaled all out opposition to everything the day after the election. Whether the press is going to wake up to this dynamic, or whether they will continue to allow Republican carping about process issues as though they're legitimate complaints is entirely unclear.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Votes Of The Doomed

"Health care votes in play in the House" has a good deal of overlap with "People who are at risk of losing their Congressional seats this year". For these reasons, it's going to always be like that. And if people are at risk of losing their seats, they're going to have some thoughts about what they'll be doing next year.

I wonder how this is affecting their votes. On one hand you have the incentives the pro-reform side can offer, like positions somewhere in the Administration. On the other hand you have the things that major corporations on the anti-reform side can offer, like hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in bribes, to be paid after retirement. (The more polite term for this is a 'lobbying job'.) I don't know a lot about this stuff, so I'm curious about how this dynamic is playing out.

Harry Reid At 14

I didn't know this, but damn:
a young Reid had to cope with a pair of hard-drinking parents and a father who beat his mother until Reid was 14. The beatings stopped when Reid and his brother pinned their father down and demanded he stop.
The political context is that Harry Reid said that bad economic conditions are more likely to result in men beating their wives. This resulted in a bunch of of Republicans making disgusting jokes about how Reid might lose his job and beat his wife after November's elections. People who work on domestic violence have generally stood behind Reid's remarks.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Pole Dancing And Extreme Sex

I liked the thoughts at the end of Tracy Clark-Flory's post on the people asking for an Olympic pole dancing event:
What does bother me about the mainstreaming of pole dancing -- particularly elevating it to the apotheosis of sportsmanship and nationalistic pride -- is that it doesn't come with a greater acceptance of or respect for actual sex work. In fact, if anything it does the opposite, merely redrawing the virgin-whore line: Some girls do it for money (for shame!), some do it for flirty fun (or, maybe one day, gold medals). It's just another symptom of our cultural schizophrenia when it comes to sex.
A tangential observation: Despite all the porn on the internet, there are many awesome and unusual kinds of sex that we can't see, and that a more sexually liberated culture would probably make available for public viewing. Like, sex between people who are ice dancing or hang gliding. Or sex in amazing places that are hard to get to, like the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I'm guessing that among the people capable of doing these things, a few are exhibitionistic enough that they'd want people to see them make love doing the thing they love. If extreme ironing can catch on, extreme sex should too, because sex is more awesome than ironing.

I think some sexual feats in this category would qualify as genuine human achievements, on par with many athletic feats highly regarded in society today. They might not be that titillating, in part because it's hard to have and properly film good sex under extreme conditions. But when Vince Carter jumped over the 7'2" French guy in the Olympics and dunked, that wasn't titillating either. It was just awesome.

Unfortunately, there are enough negative consequences to being publicly naked the few people who are both sufficiently exhibitionistic and capable don't do this stuff. In fact, a bronze medal winning snowboarder had to leave the Olympics early just for photos where a fan did naughty things with his medal. I'm generally optimistic about cultural progress, so I imagine that we'll see these barriers (and the ones that Tracy is concerned with) get dramatically weaker in our lifetimes.

The Wages Of Heroism

Jonathan Chait has a fun story to tell:
In 1994, Democrats had to wring some members to vote for the Clinton budget -- which reduced the deficit by reducing spending and raising taxes on upper-income households and was therefore unpopular. For the 218th vote, they got Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a freshman Representative from a GOP-leaning district who had declared herself against the budget. Republicans -- who, naturally, were describing the Clinton budget as a radical left-wing big government power grab -- sang "Bye-bye Marjorie" on the House floor. (Mezvinsky did lose her seat, which she would have anyway, but she gained hero status and her son wound up marrying Chelsea Clinton. Vulnerable Dems with Sasha and Malia-aged sons who might like to be an Obama in-law might bear this in mind.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Despair, The Public Option, And Near-Death Experiences

Why isn't the Democratic leadership pushing for the public option? Ezra says: "The problem is that it's not popular policy with the handful of conservative House and Senate votes that you need to push this bill over the finish line." The leadership isn't to be blamed for this, though the conservative Democrats are. Ezra again: "I don't think conservative Democrats will pick up even a single vote if the final plan doesn't include a public option"

As both Ezra and Matt say, I'm sure that there will be some resentment among the base about Democrats not pushing for the public option when they could've got it through reconciliation. But I don't think it'll have that big an effect. There probably are some very small number of votes to be gotten by super-exciting the base with the public option. But at this point you get most of the votes just for passing a comprehensive bill.

We've just gone through a one-month period where it looked to many people like health care reform was dead. Of course Pelosi worshippers like me kept the faith, but even we're a bit shaken. Except for crazy Kill Biller types who are a minority, we're just hoping that some comprehensive bill passes. Pass a bill and we'll vote.

Moreover, many of us had already mourned the public option before that and despaired of ever getting it passed when Joe Lieberman made the self-destructive decision to name its removal as the price for his supporting the Senate bill. After you've despaired of something, it doesn't seem like you have it and are entitled to it anymore. It becomes a bonus. That's where I think the public option is now in the minds of many Democrats. I don't think they'll be infuriated by the refusal to pass it now, in any way that matters. Democrats will be happy enough to go out and vote if they get some kind of comprehensive bill. I'm thinking the public option would get a couple extra votes here and there, but I don't think this is anything huge.

Of course, if House and Senate centrists had all been reasonable folk, we'd have the public option. But what else is new? Now I think we're just going to content ourselves to passing it sometime in the years to come.

Addendum: So what do we make of Obama here? Well, if he left out the public option because he's got good evidence that it'll keep the bill from getting 218 in the House, he did the right thing. If that's not how it is, he did the wrong thing. If Hoyer's right, he did the wrong thing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stimulus Fact Pwns Stimulus Opinion

When you've got a GOP spokesman mocking the stimulus because more people believe Elvis is alive than believe the stimulus created jobs, and a Media Matters guy who responds citing CBO statistics according to which the stimulus created a number of jobs probably in the low seven digits, the Media Matters guy wins the debate.

If you care about the economy, you care about actually existing jobs, not opinions about jobs. The former pay better than the latter and are more likely to come with health benefits. As a piece of career advice, I'd recommend that you strive for having a job, rather than giving people the opinion that you have a job. Real jobs are what matter in evaluating the stimulus, and that's what the guy at Media Matters is talking about.

I hope that's the thought Glenn Thrush's readers left with when they saw his post reporting the two quotes. If not, philosophy professors like me have a lot of work to do.

Obama Has A Plan

My political thoughts while I was in India, away from the internet for a week, mostly were of the "Gee, I hope health care reform isn't collapsing right now" variety. I was relieved when I came back and things had moved smoothly forward. And now that Reid says reconciliation and Obama's introduced a plan and Republicans have little idea of how to handle the summit, I'm feeling good. You've all seen the graphic on the right before during the campaign. Remember Obama taking control and rendering a bunch of bad news cycles irrelevant? That's where we are today.

As for the public option, Jonathan Bernstein is right -- it's not passing this time, but the efforts of Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, Kristen Gillibrand, and Michael Bennet to raise it from the dead will make it more viable in the future. Well done, freshmen, and we'll remember this.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Adventures In India

I'm back from India! Most of these pictures are from an area of rural West Bengal where my extended family lives. It's roughly a hundred miles west of Kolkata (also called Calcutta).
These are the rice fields. Rice basically needs to be in a shallow pond to grow, so the farmers have a clever way of using gates made of thick clay-like mud in the boundaries between the fields to raise and lower water levels. They pull out a bunch of mud to make the water flow from one place to another, and when they have enough water, they put the mud back. This rice is pretty recently planted. West Bengal is so fertile that you can have three or four harvests in a year, with some crops.

One day three large monkeys appeared! They're not an everyday sight and children started running after them in excitement, so the monkeys ran away up into the trees. When standing erect, they're about the size of a small person. I don't know what kind of monkey they are. Apparently they don't bother anybody, though they might steal food you leave around. Villagers regard them with the kind of amused interest that you'd expect nice people to have for large monkeys.

These are my cousins Somnath (flexing) and Bikramjit in a mustard field. When the mustard flowers are in full bloom, it becomes a solid field of bright yellow. When you look down at the crazy quilt of Indian farmland from an airplane during the right season, you see these little patches of solid yellow and you know what they're growing right there.

As I wandered around the fields with Somnath and Bikramjit, I came upon a group of villagers preparing to have a series of cockfights. About a dozen roosters were tethered like this on the already-harvested rice fields. For the fight, they untether them and the roosters start fighting (apparently this is a thing that roosters naturally do, and the rooster on the left seemed eager to get it on even while he was tied up). I didn't really want to watch the fighting, so I left before that happened. Even the losers are probably living happier total lives than their debeaked and caged kin on factory farms, so I didn't get too agitated about this.

I didn't realize that people cultivated sunflowers in the area until I saw this. It's for the oil from their seeds.

Cousin Koushik stands in front of the little temple beside his house. I think it's a temple to Vishnu, and I really don't know how old it is. The carvings are wonderfully intricate but damaged -- little statues have lost their heads and stuff. It was closed so we couldn't go inside.

Here's my photogenic cousin Priyanka with herds of cows and goats behind her. The cuteness of goats is underrated.

Lunch is served! For the most part, the women prepare the food and serve the men, and have their meals when the men are done. This can create serious inequalities, especially in situations where there's less food to go around. Fortunately, my dad's family is doing well foodwise and that particular thing isn't an issue. Priyanka is freed up to eat with the boys because she's in school and doesn't cook. Daughters of her generation in the family are getting good educations and teaching in schools or taking your outsourced IT job rather than cooking and cleaning for a living, which is a very positive development.

Here I'm sitting with the ladies who do the cooking -- two of my cousins-in-law and two aunts. They've all had arranged marriages (as my mom did) but their views on relationships were quite open-minded. They were eager to see pictures of a girl I'm hoping to spend some time with when I come to the States this summer, so I got my laptop and showed them. I tried to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, because these ladies were especially fun to talk to.

The object on the lower left is a cooking implement that I haven't seen elsewhere -- a flat board with a curved blade going upwards. It's called a "boteen" and it takes advantage of the fact that people are going to be sitting on the ground so they can put a foot on the board to hold it in place while they slice vegetables by pulling them through the blade.

Here's a relatively prosperous section of Bikrampur, where my mother grew up. That big hay thing in the front is a haystack, not a house, though there is a thatched roof a bit further out. Indians are really good at building these big house-shaped haystacks, as you might expect from people who farm lots of long-stalk plants and need to feed their animals.

My aunt in Bikrampur was able to quickly assemble these plates out of leaves and long thin bits of wiry wood. I was astonished. She needed them to cook gorgora pita, small cakes with a sweet filling that will stick to metal surfaces if they're cooked there. It's a favorite food in the region.

The mustard fields were blown sideways by a big storm. I think these are after their flowering period. Anyway, it allowed for a nice picture of me and Priyanka.

Cousin Shantinath, who is an accountant for a construction company, told me that he once saw a German tourist in Calcutta who had smoked a cigarette and was looking in vain for a wastebasket to through the butt in. Shantinath went up to the guy and explained that in Calcutta, you just throw your trash in the street. I probably should've taken some pictures of the place, as I flew though there coming and going, but it was so drably unpleasant that I really didn't feel like it. There's the poverty and the dirtiness and griminess of everything, and on top of that the fact that about a third of the city smelled like shit. Literal shit. It's the worst city I've ever been to. This site explains, "Calcutta's sewage system was created under the British around the turn of the century to serve a city of 600,000. The system has had little added to it and the original structure has significantly deteriorated yet it is supposed to serve a city of now about 14 millions and growing. " So instead of stinking Calcutta with its horrible smells and constant noisy traffic, I give you cousin Shantinath in this idyllic setting.

Mom and I are drinking from green (unripe) coconuts on the train back to Calcutta. It's a tasty and nutritious source of clean water. They cost ten rupees (25 cents) each.

So, that's the best of the pictures. Some other odds and ends:

Americans honk at somebody to send a message that they're doing something wrong. Indians honk to give other drivers (and cyclists and pedestrians and people driving ox-carts) auditory awareness of their location. It's as if they're trying to keep you aware of where they are with sound as well as sight. In other words, they're honking constantly. This is one of the reasons why traffic in Kolkata is absolute cacophonous hell.

India is what mathematicians call "mosquito-dense" -- between any two mosquitos there's a third mosquito. Okay, that's a joke, but it's to the point where slapping mosquitoes in the air just doesn't help. There's so many of them that one less isn't going to make a difference. Even the Kolkata airport was full of mosquitos. My feet just got eaten like crazy.

The toilets on the West Bengal trains look like toilets at the top, but as you look into them you see that they're really just holes going down to the train tracks. In other words, if somebody shits, the shit spatters all over the tracks. A sign says that you shouldn't use the toilets while the train is in the station, I think so that people waiting at the station won't have to be around your shit. But anyway, this is just disgusting.

On the upside, my relatives all have electricity now. 15 years ago when I last visited, only a few of them did and it was very shaky. This time it sometimes went down, often during storms, but it returned before long.

There was a horrible terrorist attack while I was in West Bengal, in which Maoist rebels called Naxals rode in on bikes and killed 24 policemen who were sitting down to eat. True to the usual ways that groups on the communist left relate to each other, the Maoists' most intense hatred is for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governs West Bengal. The CPI(M) accuses its rivals in the more centrist Congress Party, which rules India as a whole, of being soft on the Naxals.

One of the things you have to deal with if you're traveling in West Bengal is the possibility of a bandh -- a general strike in which nobody does any business and transportation stops. The word comes from bondho, meaning 'closed'. These are forms of political civil disobedience, and there are 40-50 of them a year in West Bengal, ranging from a few hours to two days.

February is exam month in West Bengal, and a bunch of my younger cousins were studying or had already done their exams. I took a look at what they were studying. Cousin Koushik from the temple picture above is in the 12th grade and he was doing what looked like second-semester calculus. The little kids knew math ahead of what I recall from good US school districts at their age. Really, I'm impressed with these kids.

My ability to speak Bengali progressed freakishly well over the course of one week. I hadn't spoken it that much for 15 years, since it had been that long since my last visit. Shantinath told me that he was totally astonished.

I didn't get sick! This is because I was absolutely sure not to drink any local tap/well/pump/river water, only bottled water, and Mom made my relatives aware that local water would make me sick, so they were very careful. I even brushed my teeth with bottled water. Also, I didn't eat any unpeeled fresh fruit. The last few times I came, I experienced painful stomach problems, but not this time.

The food was wonderful. Thanks to all my aunts and cousin-in-laws who lovingly cooked so many yummy things (in ways that didn't make me sick)! I would've had some photos, but like a lot of Indian food, you can't really tell how good it tastes from how it looks. You just put it in your mouth and if you hadn't had Indian food before, you'd feel like you were experiencing flavor three-dimensionally for the first time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

History Makes The Internet Less Useful

I don't really follow the NBA, but one of the few clips I remember is Kevin Garnett, back in his early Timberwolves years, delivering a massive dunk. The announcer yells "Kevin Garnett! With no regard for human life!". It's fairly stunning, at least for basketball. But, if you search for "garnett no regard for human life" on The Youtube, you get a bunch of results for ... LeBron James dunking on Kevin Garnett in 2009 and the announcers making a witty reference that would only be caught by sports nuts:

I worry that this sort of thing will happen more and more often, as homages make it difficult to find the original work. The Internet appears to be very bad at finding the second-most popular reference to certain things.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Going To India, BRB

I'm flying out to India tomorrow. Most of next week is going to be spent in rural West Bengal, where there will be many cows but probably no internet, so Nick is likely to have the blog all to himself. I'll be back around February 21st or so.

We're not really sure where Mom's village, Bikrampur, is on Google Maps. But our guess is that it's somewhere here. Dad's village, Kadakuli, is about two miles northwest. If you happen to be in town, come by and say hi!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A lot of smart lefty bloggers have talked about the symbiotic relationship between Sarah Palin and the national media. The media lets people know about something ridiculous that Palin did, her fans resent the media for it, and they become more devoted to her. How does it affect this dynamic if elite media figures like David Broder start saying nice things about her?

That's not a hypothetical question.


I'm no expert on this stuff, and I don't really know what to make of this. But according to Georgia state law, it looks like the big difference between lobbying and bribery is that when it's lobbyist money, public officials are entitled to it.
1) GA Code 16-10-2 (bribery)
(a) A person commits the offense of bribery when:
(1) He or she gives or offers to give to any person acting for or on behalf of the state or any political subdivision thereof, or of any agency of either, any benefit, reward, or consideration to which he or she is not entitled with the purpose of influencing him or her in the performance of any act related to the functions of his or her office or employment.

2) GA Code 21-5-70 (Lobbyist expenditures)
(1) ‘Expenditure’:
(A) Means a purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or conveyance of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing the actions of any public officer or public employee;
(B) Includes any other form of payment when such can be reasonably construed as designed to encourage or influence a public officer;
There's a bit more to these statutes, but my untrained eye can't see anything that cuts against this basic point. People who understand this stuff better can look it up here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Remembering John Murtha

Sam Stein has a nice article remembering the highest moment of John Murtha's political career -- his advocacy of Iraq withdrawal. There's plenty more of Murtha that's not to like, including his anti-abortion views, addiction to defense pork, and willingness to do a variety of shady things to get more money for his district. But there's plenty I can forgive for his one shining moment:

It is rare that a political figure can literally re-chart the course of his political party. But in coming out for an immediate troop withdrawal, Murtha gave his Democratic colleagues the cover they needed to express their own reservations about the war. Those who worked closely with the congressman at the time -- both on and off the Hill -- credit him with elevating Iraq on the Democratic platform and in turn putting the party in a position to benefit from the wave of anti-war sentiment that swept the 2006 elections.

You've got to remember how crazy things were back then, and what Murtha and all the medals on his big chest were up against. Take this Washington Post article from as late as December 2005, titled "Democrats fear backlash at polls for antiwar remarks" where Emanuel and Hoyer are doing the bad things that make me love Nancy Pelosi:

These sources said the two leaders have expressed worry that Pelosi is playing into Bush's hands by suggesting Democrats are the party of a quick pullout -- an unpopular position in many of the most competitive House races.

"What I want Democrats to be discussing is what the president's policies have led to," Emanuel said. He added that once discussion turns to a formal timeline for troop withdrawals, "the how and when gets buried" and many voters take away only an impression that Democrats favor retreat.

Pelosi last week endorsed a plan by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq within six months, putting her at odds with most other Democratic leaders and leading foreign policy experts in her party.

Murtha and Pelosi were right, most other Democratic leaders and leading foreign policy experts in their party were wrong, Democrats won a tremendous victory in 2006 to retake both the House and the Senate, and as a result the official DC media view of the Iraq War moved closer to recognizing it as a catastrophe. Everybody who ran for the Democratic nomination after that came out against the Iraq War. A guy who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning won the nomination, became President, and is withdrawing troops from Iraq as we speak. December was the first month in which no US troops died in combat in Iraq.

Even the stuff that we're sure is going to work out well doesn't usually work out that well. Thanks, big fella, and if there's pork in heaven, I hope you land some kind of halo factory for the 12th district of Pennsylvania.

Thanks, Jay Inslee

All this stuff about how it's politically smarter to pass health care reform than to let it die and carry its rotting carcass into November has been said incessantly by lefty blogger types. It's good to see that an actual Congressman is going out and convincing other Congresspeople of it. He has a cute 'finish the kitchen' metaphor, but this is really what's got to weigh big:

"I introduced myself as a fella who was defeated in 1994, the last time we didn't pass meaningful health-care reform," Inslee recalls saying. "I said it was a painful event, and I didn't want them to go through that pain." In politics, he told his colleagues, assuming the "fetal position" can be the most dangerous thing to do.

On the 'Obama to do his bipartisan summit thing' news, I bought the 'health care reform passes' contract on Intrade at a little under 34. The June 30 deadline on it concerns me a bit, because I don't know exactly how the calendar works here. Certainly I wouldn't have expected things to drag on as long as they have already. I don't have a specific guess at what our chances of victory are here, but I'm pretty sure they're above 50%. Barack is committed and moving, we only need 50 in the Senate, we've climbed much bigger mountains already, the reconciliation bill will be sweet, the post-MA panic is fading, and we've got Nancy. I think we're going to win this, and I'll take my winnings and crank out some Pelosi t-shirts.

Monday, February 8, 2010

PIIGS in a Blanket

As various measures of the health of sovereign debt issued by Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Greece, Spain continue to rise, I keep thinking of this conversation in Sneakers:
Cosmo: Posit: People think a bank might be financially shaky.
Martin Bishop: Consequence: People start to withdraw their money.
Cosmo: Result: Pretty soon it is financially shaky.
Martin Bishop: Conclusion: You can make banks fail.
Cosmo: Bzzt. I've already done that. Maybe you've heard about a few? Think bigger.
Martin Bishop: Stock market?
Cosmo: Yes.
Martin Bishop: Currency market?
Cosmo: Yes.
Martin Bishop: Commodities market?
Cosmo: Yes.
Martin Bishop: Small countries?
Only this time, instead of some anarchist mobster accountant, the mania seems to be driven by the investor class for ... well, why exactly? Do we know something about PIIGS finances today that we didn't know three months ago?

Down With States!

Lots of lefty bloggers I agree with have been railing against the evils of the Senate. But I want to do them one better and argue against the existence of states.

If we didn't have them, we'd laugh at the idea that state boundaries should be drawn where they are. Who would look at New York and decide that New York City needs to be in the same political body with all that other stuff? Apparently back in the old days, the whole state was economically integrated by the Erie Canal, which I guess will impress all the mule owners reading this blog.

And you know the old line about Pennsylvania -- Philly on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Why do these disparate regions need to all be part of one unit? It's kind of like those African countries where the borders were drawn by European colonial powers to go along rivers that didn't exist, putting tribes that hated each other into the same country.

I don't see any sort of public administration that regions of this kind are good at handling. You need local government to run schools and police departments and sewer systems. You need federal government to run the military and social insurance programs that operate best with national risk pooling. What do states do that local and federal government can't?

Plus, you get rid of states, and you get rid of all the problems with the Senate.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It's Over

I'm not sure what happened on that pick-six; from the replays it looked like Porter just held his ground to prevent Reggie Wayne from making a good slant, and then beat him to the ball. And my guess is that the Saints' defense got away with murder at the goal line (seriously, not counting false starts, there were only three penalties the whole game?). But the game was pretty close; a couple of calls either way and it might have been a blowout for New Orleans or a win for the Colts.

Also, seriously, CBS, given the blatant chauvinism of the ads that that were broadcast, this was objectionable?

Bold Super Bowl Predictions

The team that scores more points will win.

I'm rooting for the Colts, which apparently makes me a Republican or something. I do have to say that while I've enjoyed the Manning-era Colts, at this point they've managed to make consistent success incredibly boring. They're play calling just doesn't do very much that's exciting to watch, even if it's highly effective. They're a sight to see during the 2-minute drill, but for the rest of the game there's not much that happens. The Saints, on the other hand, are a delight to watch this year.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Real Leading Entails

Progressives demand that Obama show leadership on health care reform. Jonathan Cohn asks, "And what exactly would this "real leading" entail?" Here's one thing I can think of.

The current situation has House and Senate Democrats each wanting the other chamber to move first on the project of passing the Senate bill and patching it with a reconciliation vehicle. I'm sure they can work out some kind of deal, but people in the House intensely mistrust the Senate and that's gumming up the works. Once Pelosi and Reid have some kind of framework for how this is supposed to go, it'll be important to have a credible and neutral third party step forward, endorse their framework, and tell those on both sides who are reluctant to get with the program that that's how it's going to be, so everyone gets to work putting the strategy into effect. And Barack Obama is positioned to be that third party.

Really, I think the House could've run Bernstein's strategy and moved first, but that looks increasingly unlikely. So the Senate will have to be the first mover. I'm optimistic about the sidecar being sweet -- don't Democratic Senators want to grandstand against the Cornhusker Kickback while Ben Nelson and Republicans shamefully defend it by abusing vote-a-rama? And maybe we can get there without Barack doing anything. But it should be a lot easier to get people to fall in line with a strategy if the President certifies it as a fair deal and as the right strategy going forward.

Update: I just got an email from Organizing for America (the Obama group) saying that we should finish the job and pass health care reform. Obviously, this isn't real leadership yet, but it slightly raises the probability that real leadership is in the offing.

Where Has This Been All My Life

Netflix Origami

Richard Shelby's Alabama Pork Chop

The idea that individual Senators can declare holds on a president's nominees, requiring a supermajority to let them through, is nuts. The fact that Sen. Richard Shelby has declared a hold on all 70 of Barack Obama's appointees unless he gets more pork is positively crazy.

This is going to be a test of whether Democrats can win a news cycle under the most favorable conditions possible. I know their real talents and interests lie elsewhere. But really, there's easy points to be scored here at no cost. Robert Gibbs is stepping up a little, and I really hope there's more where that came from. I recall that Ezra's been reading some theorists who say that this kind of dealing that really infuriates large numbers of voters, and the emails he's getting bear that out.

At Least Coakley Didn't Attack People With Knives

Scott Cohen, Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in Illinois, responded to news that he had attacked an ex-girlfriend with a knife in 2005 by explaining that he had 'roid rage. This is the sort of thing that can happen in a tight six-person race when you don't have a voting system like IRV that is designed for large numbers of candidates. (Not steroid-driven violent assault -- wealthy evil psychos winning office because they spend millions on ads and there are too many candidates for voters to examine them seriously.)

The other top-ticket Democrats -- gubernatorial candidate Pat Quinn and Senate candidate Alex Giannoulias -- have called on him to step down. I don't know exactly what can be done about evil psycho nominees, since they're probably too evil and psycho to respond to ordinary incentives, and they're not in office yet where you could impeach them. But let's hope that Illinois Democrats can figure something out.

Friday Obama Caption Contest & Kitsch FBFC

Original caption: "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican member of the Cabinet, feigns being a blocking back for President Barack Obama as he arrives backstage to meet with GOP House leaders before speaking to their issues conference at the Renaissance Baltimore Harbor Place Hotel in Baltimore, Md., Jan. 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)"

Ursula sent me an awesome kitsch cover, but with the remnants of The Who playing at the Super Bowl it'll have to wait until next week. Here's the "Won't Get Fooled Again" FBFC.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rules Were Meant To Be Modified

From Time's current-at-the-time write-up of Senate procedural changes in 1975:

The liberal Senate majority, determined not to be blocked by endless argument over legislation in a period of economic crisis, last week approved a compromise that achieved the first new limitation on debate since 1959.

Emphasis mine. At the time of the last effort to curtail the filibuster, the Senate's rules had remained static for 16 years. Since then, we've had 34 years of rule stagnation. Rule 22 wasn't handed down by Moses on a stone tablet; the Senate is populated by adults who can, by consent, change it.

Castle Beseiged By Planning Board

I can't be sure that there isn't something more to the story that justifies the local planning board's actions, but it seems really unfortunate that Robert Fidler of England is going to have to tear down the little castle he lives in. He was a bit sneaky, hiding it behind bales of hay for four years to try to take advantage of the rule that properties not challenged for four years couldn't be targeted for demolition by the board. But apparently courts decided that that rule would only protect people who let people see their property. Which I suppose is a fair ruling. But I don't know why the local planning board has to pursue this in the first place. I'd be very happy to live across the street from such an awesome building.

I get more sympathetic to libertarianism as you get closer to the local level. The modern world requires strong national governments that can set up universal health care, protect the rights of minorities from the bigots of their region, and prevent localities from cheating when collective action problems show up in interstate commerce. But at the local level where there isn't a great deal of investigative media spotlight and it's cheap to buy up city councilmen or state representatives, entrenched interests find it especially easy to get restrictions and regulations set up for their own benefit. So you get local property owners and business interests with ridiculous levels of power over whether a competitor can start a bar or become a hairdresser. Or whether their neighbor can take in boarders, or build a castle.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The FBI Knows What It's Doing

I try not to post simple approving links to Matt Yglesias posts that often, because I assume that a lot of our readers already read him. But his post about how it was right to have the FBI interrogate the underpants bomber rather than torturing him or sending him to some kind of secret military tribunal is the kind of refreshing good sense you don't see much of in public discussions of terrorism policy, so I'll link it anyway.

Cognitive Dissonance

;Lindsay Graham illustrates the amount of bipartisanship he really expects on climate change.
Lindsay Graham, January 27th:

"Realistically, the cap-and-trade bills in the House and the Senate are going nowhere," Graham said. "They're not business-friendly enough, and they don't lead to meaningful energy independence."

Lindsay Graham, February 3rd:

"It's the 'kick the can down the road' approach," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "It's putting off to another Congress what really needs to be done comprehensively. I don't think you'll ever have energy independence the way I want until you start dealing with carbon pollution and pricing carbon. The two are interconnected."

Can anyone explain to me why we should consider Republicans good-faith negotiators on ... anything?

(photo by flickr user World Economic Forum)

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Cramdown by Any Other Name ...

I'm not sure who takes the haircut on this, but in Las Vegas, which is ground zero for housing, foreclosures are down while short sales have skyrocketed. A short sale isn't quite as borrower-friendly a cramdown—the borrower has to find a new place to live—but in the end the bank usually takes a loss, and the home ends up occupied, cutting down on foreclosure blight. The track record for loan modifications so far has been terrible. Most modified loans end up going right back into distress, which is why banks haven't been interested in expanding them. Short sales may be a decent way out; replace the now-underwater and possibly out-of-work household with someone who meets today's more rigorous lending standards.

(photo by flickr user sean drelinger)

Beyond Frigidity: The Unfinishable Fiscal Agenda Of The White House

Yglesias asks about oil subsidies and the spending freeze:
And the question I’ve continued to have about the idea is what happens if (when?) it turns out that Congress actually loves subsidizing dirty energy production even more than it loves posturing about the deficit. Does Obama turn around and insist on offsetting cuts in education? Or do they really fight for these specific ideas?
There's a third option: Obama doesn't fight for the spending freeze, but instead shakes his finger impotently at those fiscally irresponsible ruffians in Congress as they do what they want.

Moves like this aren't usually advisable. If you announce a big health care reform plan, get health care reform fans on board for it, and then chicken out on them when the going gets tough, they get demoralized and don't vote for you or give money in the midterms. Their enemies vote against you in big numbers. The media convinces swing voters that your idea must have been bad, since it failed. This is a really bad situation. Much better to pass the bill, energize supporters, and impress swing voters.

But everything is different with deficit reduction. The thing about the supposed "deficit reduction movement" is that it never gets on board. David Broder isn't going to become a Democratic partisan if Democrats successfully reduce the deficit. It happened, and he didn't. Swing voters won't think, "Oh, spending freezes -- we hate those" if your spending freeze fails, because of GOP success in making people hate the idea of spending (even if they like many of the actual things we spend money on), and because failure won't lead the media to write about how great spending is and how it was dumb of Obama to want it frozen. And nobody's going to turn out against Obama in large numbers because he took the freezer line for a while. The only people flipping out about the freeze were progressives, and what they really care about is health care and climate change and the Iraq War ending and gay rights, so if you give them most of that and give up on the freeze they'll be happy and not hold it against you at all.

This is an issue made for posturing, and I think Obama's going to play it right. In some sense, that's unfortunate, because getting the long-term deficit in order is important. But a lot of things are important, and you only push hard on the ones where you can make real progress.

Barack Obama Is Off Message

The President:

We had this enormous opportunity, but the way the rules work in the United States Senate, you’ve got to have 60 votes for everything. After the special election in Massachusetts, we now only have 59. We are calling on our Republican colleagues to get behind a serious health reform bill, one that actually provides not only the insurance reforms for people who do have health insurance but also the coverage for folks who don’t. My hope is, is that they accept that invitation and that they work with us together over the next several weeks to get it done.

No no no no no. You don't have to have 60 votes for everything in the United States Senate. Republicans have demanded 60 votes for everything. There's nothing preventing Mitch McConnell from saying "I oppose health care reform, but I'm willing to let it pass and then blame Democrats for every one of its million teeny tiny failings". Nor is there anything preventing Olympia Snowe from doing the same thing. Or Judd Gregg, or Jim DeMint.

The first stem is admitting you have a problem. The 60-vote threshold is both a rule and a norm. If we're going to attack the rule, we can't just accept the norm and ask Republicans to work within it.

Deficit Reduction's False Friends

Jon Chait gets the situation with the two parties and deficit reduction right here:
The more Democrats do to reduce the deficit, the easier they make it politically for Republicans to retake power, and the easier they make it fiscally for Republicans to wreck the budget when they do. So, why try?

As he notes, the Democratic health care plans that passed the House and Senate all reduced the deficit, according to the CBO. But this hasn't helped them at all. In fact, polls show that the vast majority of Americans think they increase the deficit.

This is the kind of problem that would be solved by having independent figures who care about deficit reduction step up and point out that the Democratic health care plans cut the deficit. It's kind of thing that activists who care about an issue regularly do. If you think that something needs to be done about climate change, you'll support Democrats, hate on James Inhofe, but also reserve some nice words for a green Republican like Charlie Crist, as Brad Plumer does. Because Brad Plumer cares about climate change.

This is a thing that centrist pundits who talk a lot about deficit reduction would be in excellent position to do. But it's not the kind of thing they actually do, since the point of being a centrist pundit who talks about deficit reduction isn't actually to lower the deficit. It's just to present yourself to others and yourself as a Very Serious Person who cares about the things sober-minded Americans care about and judiciously avoids the evils of partisanship. And you can't keep doing that if you're going to go over and advocate for a party that's trying to do what you want. Even if that's what you need to do to reward people who do the right thing on your professed issue, win public support for their proposals, and keep them in power.

Signs Of Hope

Via Kevin, this is good. People are doing rational things. That's how health care reform passes. It reflects badly on Obama that he hasn't told Rahm Emanuel to shut up about going slow yet, and started leading. But if the House and Senate work out a plausible deal, as they can, he'll be roped into leading.