Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tired of Thomas Friedman

Yes, Tom Friedman (NY Times columnist), we got it. Globalization is the way of the future. It's here to stay, it's coming. And imagination and information, not "traditional" economic or political resources like capital, labor, land, or military force, will dictate the future. Fine. I heard the same thing in college 20 years ago with the Fukuyama "End of History" people trumpeting the end of ideological development of the world. This is all part of a conservative bent in scholarship. Sure, it would be nice, they say, if labor could be honored or if we could shop locally, but that's just pie-in-the-sky. Buy from Walmart and China and don't apologize. "Creative destruction" is just what's gonna happen. And in the end, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or most boats. Or the boats of those who learn how to sail, so go back and reinvest in your own personal education.


But we're sitting at the trough of a worldwide recession. The middle class in America invested in the stock market and real estate like they were told to, trying to "provide for themselves" while voting for politicians who dismembered the retirement/pension safety net and stood idly by while the cost of education and health care spiraled out of reach. Tese "suck it up" sentiments all come from safely tenured professors or - like Friedman - media personalities who have "made it." People who are safe, in other words, from the destruction of "creative destruction." So I'm getting tired of it all. Globalization is not a replacement for the social contract. Let me repeat: globalization is not a replacement for the social contract. Yes, globalization is going to happen and, yes, free trade will ultimately be superior to distortions caused by trade restrictions. But that doesn't mean that we should just give up on trying to improve our society through political action. Far from it. More than ever we need our political institutions to set policy goals and work through, with, or around institutions of private wealth to achieve them.

Those goals: 1. Universal childhood education. 2. Universal medical care. 3. Equal access to post-secondary education for all. 4. Good housing for all. 5. Personal safety. 6. Human rights. 7. Good jobs with good pay and good vacation for all who are willing to work. 8. The security of knowing that high medical costs or unemployment will not ruin you and your family and leave you destitute or homeless. 9. Safe, high-quality food at affordable prices. 10. A secular state that provides freedom for expression of all religions and philosophies, except for those portions of the religion or philosopihes that demand intolerance of one kind or another, where the expression can be tolerated but the intolerant behavior must be restricted. 11. Family-friendly workplaces and schools that coordinate child-rearing with work schedules and do not discriminate against "mommy track" or "daddy track" in hiring and promotions. 12. Justice. 13. Access to justice. 14. Safe working conditions. 15. An end to hunger, homelessness, child labor, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation. 16. Respect and dignity for the elderly. 17. The right to make choices about one's personal destiny, including with respect to reproduction, health care, end-of-life care, and death. 18. The right of persons belonging to a minority group to be free of oppression by the majority. 19. Democracy. 20. No permanent aristocracy of wealth. 21. A clean environment and an end to global warming.

None of these things will come from globalization alone. All require political action. We know this not just from philosophy, but from experience. We have tried the "pure free market" approach, and it doesn't work. It will provide none of these things.


Closing my eyes and crossing my fingers

Well, it's better than all that. The Senate got 60 votes to proceed to debate on health care, although 4 of those votes (Landrieu, Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln) were votes to begin debate, not votes to approve the current state of the bill. Three of these have threatened to filibuster the final bill if it contains a public option, although all but Lieberman have been more cagey in their statements. Snowe (R-ME) opposed this stage, but her positions are increasingly well known. She may end up being more persuadable than Lieberman.

Why is this a good sign? The next scheduled vote is the one that matters: cloture, ending the GOP filibuster. Joining the Republican filibuster on this central bill is the ultimate act of betrayal and noe that these four will be loath to engage in, no matter what they say. They saw what happened to Joe Wilson. They will get worse from the left if they do the equivalent to giving Obama the finger. What these four have really signaled is their willingness to be persuaded or - more realistically - to be bought off. This suggests the bill really can pass.

What remains to be seen is what the amendments will be and what the angrier Democrats on the left will demand as their price to stay on board. It irritates rank-and=file dems to no end that a few of their colleagues, by claiming to be moderates, can extract concessiosn for the same vote that the rank-and-file does for "free."

With the Republicans (except maybe Snowe and Collins) exiting the debate altogether except to throw darts, the action is entirely on the side of the Democratic caucus. This is what many of us talked about last year. Reaching across the aisle is not a relevant skill; building consensus on the Democratic side ofthe aisle is. If you want to know why Obama let Pelosi and Reid write the bill, this is why: Rahm knew ex ante that the Republicans were never going to participate, so all the supposed Obama bipartisanship was irrelevant. Too bad. The Republicans have allowed the birther/deather/teabagger minority to steer their ship. Hopefully, to steer it into a pile of rocks. When the economy improves - and it will do so - they will discover that it was only 10% unemployment, not their own criticisms, that were weighing down the President's popularity.


Friday, November 20, 2009

It's the Government's Money, not Yours

For years, conservatives have complained that Democrats don't understand that the government's money is really taxpayer's money. They make little political jibe about it. It's not the government's money, it's your money.

Funny how, when it comes to federal restrictions on abortion, we see 180-degree turn. The Hyde amendment prohibits federal funding for abortions. The current Senate health care reform bill would allow a person to purchase private health coverage with government subsidies that would pay for an abortion if that part of the coverage that pays for the abortion comes out of their own premiums.

Pretty good, right?

Suddenly, it's a new tune (from the AP):

"Abortion opponents say Reid's bill circumvents Hyde. For example, they say that any funds a government insurance plan would use to pay for abortion would be federal funds by definition — even if the money comes from premiums paid by beneficiaries.

"All the money the government has starts out being private money," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life. "Once the government has them, they're federal funds."

This is not just a simple case of hypocrisy. It shows that the "pro-life" movement really understands that by restricting the use of the people's money, they are imposing their own religious dogma on the rest of society.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse

UC undergraduate fees are going up by yet another 33% (not pictured here properly). I was a UC undergraduate student at the far left of the chart, and saw the dramatic rise (percentagewise). So fees will soon have more than quintupled in 20 years. That is horrendous. It was possible for people to work their way through a UC from the 1940s through the 1980s, and thousands did, particularly when the UCs expanded from 2 to nearly 10 campuses in the 1960s. All that is over. While $10K may not sound like that much it is well beyond the ability of any 19-year-old to save during the year. That doesn't include paying for room and board at rates that are at or above market rate and buying hundreds of dollars of textbooks for three "quarters" each year. You have to add $10K to share a *triple* room, or $12K for a double room per year. This includes 19 meals per week - in other words, two shy of the full "three squares."

How far we have come from the Master Plan for Education that Governor Pat Brown, Jerry Brown's father, implemented 40 years ago.

I quote from that famous report below. The report, which recommended to maintain "tuition-free" education, cited with approval this statement by the President of the University of Minnesota about "the desire of some organizations and individuals to raise tuition and fees to
meet the full operating costs of public institutions of higher education:"

"This notion is, of course, an incomprehensible repudiation of the whoIe
philosophy of a successful democracy premised upon an educated citizenry.
It negates the whole concept of wide-spread educational opportunity made
possible by the state university idea. It conceives college training as a personal
investment for profit instead of a social investment. No realistic and unrealizable counter-proposal for some vast new resource for scholarship aid and loans can compensate for a betrayal of the “American Dream” of equal opportunity to which our colleges and universities, both
private and public, have been generously and far-sightedly committed. But
the proposal persists as some kind of panacea, some kind of release from
responsibility from the pocketbook burdens of the cherished American idea
and tradition. It is an incredible proposal to turn back from the world-envied American
accomplishment of more than a century"

That, however, is the essence of Reaganism as we have lived it for the past 30 years. The attempt to shift the entire burden of education onto the students. I urge you all to reflect on how radical this once-standard view would be today. Most of our public discourse about education assumes it is "personal investment for profit" instead of a social investment, which is why the cost is put on the students themselves. We need to go back, seriously back, to the ideals of the immediate post-WWII era that understood that public education was not socialism, but a longstanding American tradition.

Sadly, this is what it is coming to. The result will be greater class disparity and, what is worse, a general decline in the fortunes of the American people as a whole.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


So there is a whole lot of phony outrage over President Obama bowing to the Emperor of Japan. The outrage is calculated to play in Ohio and Michigan who unfairly blame the woes of the American manufacturing sector, particularly auto manufacturing, on the Japanese (rather than the incompetence of the American managers, who deserve the blame).

This is not the first time Obama's approach to royalty has come under scrutiny. For deference to the Saudi King, he is berated by conservatives (who try to forget the total abject toadying of the Bush family for the past 40 years). Same thing for Michelle Obama's embrace of the Queen, regarded as an affront to the British because... wait for it... it was not deferential enough. Bottom line, there is nothing Obama can do that will not be criticized by the right-wing press. Best to ignore them and concentrate on any audience that matters. In this case, the audience was the people of Japan. For them, bowing to the Emperor is like standing at attention when the US Flag is saluted. This was regarded as entirely appropriate by them, and as a sign of respect for Japan only. The interpretation of the bow as some sort of subservience to royalty is simply off the mark. It is noteworthy that the only context where an American ought to be observe some symbolic lack of deference to monarchy - with our former monarchs in Britain - the President played it correctly.

Moreover, the bow tothe Japanese Emperor was a magnanimous gesture because everyone knows that Barack Obama is - by far - the more popular and more powerful of the two leaders. He is the nobel prize winner for peace unlike, er, the present Emperor's father. Also, Obama's relative height meant that any less of a bow would not actually lower his head below the Emperor's, which was kind of the point of the gesture. The trick was to make the bow respectful, not mocking or clumsy. That was well done. Anything else would have been a bit insulting, really. By contrast, Dick Cheney's "firm handshake" in 2007 is indicative rather of Cheney's lower standing in the world and his own insecurity. It is also very clear from the facial expressions of the Emperor and Empress that they were absolutely delighted, an image seen all over Japan. Isn't that the whole purpose of meeting these figureheads in the first place?

So, congratulations to the protocol folks at the State Department for getting it exactly right. A symbolic gesture of respect to the Japanese people through a bow to their Emperor, genuine respect to the Chinese by engaging Hu as if it were a superpower summit. By the way, the London Times heartily approved in an article very much worth reading. Note that the conservative Times also approved of the embrace between the Queen and the First Lady at the time, noting with a sort of hushed awe that the Queen embraced Michelle back.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Justice at Last!

What excellent news comes from the Attorney General this morning: Khalid Sheikh Mohammend and four other plotters connected with the 9/11 attacks will be tried in federal court in New York. This is eight years in coming, and a half dozen years after these criminals were apprehended. It is about time!

The Republicans are outraged. Atty General Mukasey (formerly a federal judge in New York) claims that this is a reversion to a pre-9/11 mindset that refuses to acknowledge that we are "at war" with terrorism. Of course this is false. Shifting from trials in military commissions to trials in real courts has nothing to do with the tactics and strategy employed to defeat terrorists. The reason for the outrage is the fear that Bush and the neoconservative legacy will be further undermined. The trials will, they know, bring out real details about the torture inflicted on these accused persons.

I am excited. This is the chance we have been waiting for since the 9/11 attacks, to show the world what American justice is really all about. I hope the courts do a good job. The conservatives who oppose this have really emboldened the terrorists. Their message is, "You terrorists are too big, scary, and powerful for our meager institutions. Not soldiers or criminals, but a terrifying new hybrid. We will change our values and principles to accommodate you, because they are too weak." This Attorney General and this President say otherwise. America and her institutions are strong enough to handle these terrorists.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Taking on Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is getting more and more powerful, and this is a problem for this country. Thankfully, some are taking him on with vicious parody.

First, you might have seen Jon Stewart's send-up on The Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

And recently, South Park did one too. I hope this helps raise "Glenn Beck is dangerous" awareness.


Monday, November 09, 2009

The Cold War Ended 20 Years Ago Today

If one can point to a particular date on which the Cold War ended, it would be November 9th, 1989. Twenty years ago today, the East German government lifted travel restrictions on its citizens and they responded by practically ripping down the Berlin Wall with whatever hammers, axes and picks they could find. Events moved so rapidly that fall it was nearly impossible to keep up. You can see it in the eyes of some of the E. German border guards in the video clip. They're stunned, in shock. They don't know whether to be upset that their authority is now gone or be thrilled that they too are free for the first time in their lives.

When all this was happening, I was coincidentally taking a course on the politics of the Soviet system. At the beginning of the course things were already starting to happen. Our professor asked us when we thought Germany would be reunified. None of us, including the professor thought it would happen within the next 20 years. Most of us thought it would be 50 years. As it happened, it was all over bar the shouting by the end of that semester and the last official i's were dotted and t's crossed in a little more than a year.

I think too, that the European Union played a significant role in the speed of the reunification. Both Thatcher and Mitterand were reluctant to allow a rapid reunification. The EU provided a safe context in which a reunified Germany could emerge. In a very real sense, the presence of the EU meant that E. Germany wasn't only merging with W. Germany but with all of Western Europe. That fact made Thatcher's World War II era language of "Anschluss" sound a bit silly (referred to reunification by the same term used to describe Hitler's annexation of Austria instead of by the term the Germans on both sides were using "Wiedervereinigung"). It also gave Mitterand a way to see how he could work an angle for French benefit out of the whole deal.

From a German perspective, it meant that E. Germans were in the EU for 14 years before their Polish, Czech and East-Central European neighbors were admitted. The advantage in that is easily visible. I visited the former E. Germany a couple of years after reunification and it reminded me of the worst hit parts of the "Rust Belt" in the American Great Lakes area. Friends of mine who now live in Germany (one in Berlin) have told me that parts of the former E. Berlin are quite fashionable neighborhoods now. Progress in Poland the Baltics (based on my own visits there) has not been nearly as pronounced.


Friday, November 06, 2009


Unemployment formally has befallen more than 1 in 10 Americans. Including underemployment, we are looking at closer to 18% by most reports this morning. 1 in 5 Americans are having enormous trouble with their personal economic situations. This is a really, really big deal.

But it's not a new development. We hit this number, more or less, in April after four months of losing almost 700,000 jobs per month (you may not remember this figure because the reported numbers were initially smaller, but all were adjusted upward). By July, job losses had slowed to about 200,000 per month. This last month 190,000. This is a significant number because job losses happen every month even in the best economy. What is supposed to happen also is new hires. That's not happening yet. So we're seeing fairly normal loss numbers (according to Labor Dept spokesman last month), but not fairly normal gain numbers yet. Combined with economic growth that is now occurring in a GDP context, including the manufacturing sector and others, it is largely good news. Economic activity is returning. Factory orders are going up. Housing prices are, in some areas, beginning to rebound.

Of course, politically, all eyes are on the 2010 elections. In presidential elections, the "table" for the election is largely set by mid-summer. In offyear elections, the table gets set a bit after labor day. By this I mean that the public gets a fixed idea of what the state of the world is, and of what issues matter to them, by late September. After that, candidates can't argue about how the world is, they can only argue about what they will do about it. Recall in 1992 that the economic recovery began quite obviously in September 1992, but Clinton could run on recession because the public wasn't going to change its perception. So the real question is whether the public perceives that the recovery is underway by September 2010. Probably so.

In fact, the danger for the Democrats is that the existence of economic recovery becomes a non-issue by the summer. "What have you done for me lately" is a real danger. So, ironically, it is worth it to the Dems to not proclaim "victory" until the Summer.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Conventional Wisdom in Politics

So we keep hearing that VA and NJ always or often vote against the President's party in the subsequent year. At, they have a chart showing this happening 14 of 16 times since 1980. So let's push it further. Here are my thoughts:
1. If VA or NJ voted against the incumbent president's party but consistent with that state's vote in the previous year's presidential election, the election shows continuity, not a shift against the president's party.
2. Does it matter what happened before 1980? I don't see why 1980 is a cutoff for measuring unless we know something happened, or unless we with to hypothesize that some change must have happened in 1980.

Here are my expanded data:

Year Prior Pres Elect VA Vote Pres VA Gov NJ Vote Pres NJ Gov VA NJ
2009 D D* R D* R 2 2
2005 R R* D D D 2 1
2001 R R* D D D 2 1
1997 D R R D* D 1 0
1993 D R R D* R 1 2
1989 R R* D R* D 2 2
1985 R R* D R* R 2 0
1981 R R* D R* R 2 0
1977 D R R R D 1 -1
1973 R R* R R* D 0 2
1969 R R* D R* R 0 0
1965 D D* D D* D 0 0
1961 D R D D D -1 0

The coding is: 2 means state voted against incumbent president and changed its party preference from the previous election. 1 means the state voted agaisnt the incumbent president but consistent with its prior presidential electoral vote. 0 means it voted for the incumbent president, consistent with its prior presdential electoral vote. -1 means that it voted for the incumbent president and inconsistently with its prior state vote agaisnt that president.

What we see is (1) the pattern is not so strong as remarked and (2) it really only relates to a handful of elections.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Election of 2009, cont'd

So Republicans won a governor's race in Virginia for the first time since 1997 and recaptured the Governor's seat in New Jersey from the very unpopular Corzine, albeit probably with barely 50% of the vote. Good news for the GOP, sort of. But in the nationalized contest in NY-23, the Dems are going to pick up a House seat from the Republicans, and the Maine anti-gay referendum remains too close to call at this hour (No has led most of the night, but it's still early). For reasons that are hard to fathom, at the same time, we see medical marijuana in Maine passing by over 60%. War on drugs is over. War on love still being waged by conservatives.

2009 will go down as a split decision, between D and R, but a big loss for social conservatives. The only social conservative to win, McConnell in VA, only did so by pretending he wasn't. Sarah Palin also is the big loser. Her public endorsement of Hoffman in NY-23 was a bust. The endorsement that mattered was the unknown derided Scozzafava (Republican, but pro-choice and called a RINO by the blackshirts of the party) dropping out to endorse her Democratic opponent over the weekend.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Election of 2009

2009 is an off-off-off year election. The voters are going to the polls for statewide races in NJ and VA, and in congressional elections in a handful of open districts, where only NY-23 is attracting any attention. If you only knew that unemployment was at record highs and that the party in power in Washington (Democrats) was also the incumbent party in both VA and NJ governor's races (and connected with NY-23 where the President picked the incumbent Republican congressman for the Sec of the Army, thus leaving a vacancy), you would predict the president's Democratic party to lose. You would double down if you realized that Virginia's race featured no incumbents - and the NJ Democratic incumbent Corzine is an ineffective former Goldman Sachs multi-gazillionaire tainted by association with a sick and widespread corruption scandal including the illegal sale of organs who also raised taxes on a lot of people. That is what is going to happen - the Republicans will win these races, in all likelihood.

But you would also predict that all the major candidates of the out-of-power party - the Republicans - would be running against Barack Obama and ideologically against Democrats and liberalism. That is not happening.

In Virginia, the Republican candidate who actually could have quite first-rate right-wing credentials is running as a centrist, making his pitch not to his base, but to swing voters in Northern Virginia. In New Jersey, the Republican candidate is running with ads quoting Barack Obama, and there is a third party candidate (Daggett) who is spoiling the race as a centrist who is pulling votes from the Republicans. In NY-23, a safe GOP district, a 3-way race developed between a centrist republican, a Democrat, and a "Conservative" party member. The conservative party member will likely win buoyed by a civil war within the national GOP ranks over whether to support him or their own less conservative nominee.

So what does this mean? It means that these 2009 are not playing out a referendum on Obama or the Democrats. It means that Republicans who think that 2009 victories point to an ideological tilt or to 2010 victories are mistaken at their peril. With unemployment at levels not seen for more than a quarter century - and in some places, not since the Great Depression - you would expect the party in power to take a beating. But Barack Obama is still over 50% in popularity and conservatism is showing no signs of expanding its appeal to the electorate, an electorate which still wants more government action, and an electorate that is not voting on social issues. The GOP quietly put the tea party nonsense away when the real campaigning began after Labor Day.

In Maine, there will be referendum on whether to block the legalization of gay marriage authorized by the legislature earlier this year. It is running "too close to call" in every poll, and Maine's Republican grandees - Snowe and Collins - are keeping mum about it. The referendum has seemed to be a waste of time to most Maine residents.

In January 2009, Barack Obama made a bargain with the American people: support me and I will fix the economy. In 2010, with the economy on the mend, expect to see his and his party's fortunes soar again. 2010 will be the national referendum on Obama; this 2009 election is not shaping up to be a national referendum. The GOP has avoided making it that, for good reason.


Abdullah Abdullah to Boycott Runoff

Abdullah Abdullah is going to boycott the run off in Afghanistan.

OK, I'll get right to the point. I've always thought that boycotting elections was a sign of weakness. Why boycott an election if you think you're in a strong position? Even if it's going to be rigged, you get your people out there, rev them up, and set up a wave of protests against the rigged election like happened in Iran recently. By boycotting the election you are essentially saying that the best chance you have of getting attention is by quitting. That's not a sign of strength.

Abdullah Abdullah looked very strong after Karzai was forced to participate in the run off. But by pulling out, it makes it look like he expected to lose and expected that his supporters would not support him in challenging the outcome.

It's unfortunate that Abdullah has done this to put it mildly. By doing this he implicitly admits that Karzai really is the stronger candidate but publicly acts to undermine his legitimacy. I can't see how you could justify this as being good for the country except if you think that bringing down the entire democratic structure (such as it is) is preferable to working to reform it.