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.