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, January 31, 2010

Tim Tebow's Anti-Abortion Superbowl Ad

So CBS - which refused a couple years ago to let the United Church of Christ air an ad welcoming gays and lesbians to the church on the grounds that it doesn't take advocacy ads during the superbowl - has proven to be hypocrites once again. OF course, who is really surprised that big corporations are right-wing, only those who buy the "liberal media" crap promoted by the far, far right. Well, CBS is allowing Tim Tebow to put religious ad on TV, only this is for the religious right and anti-abortion. Apparently his mother was offered the choice of an abortion while she was a missionary in the Philippines, but declined on religious grounds. And of course, Tim Tebow is the Heisman-winning QB. See how wrong abortion is? See?

I will donate to the liberal group that buys ad space on CBS to air a similar ad except one that ends with "Nobody had a right to make that choice for Mrs. Tebow. It's not the government's choice - it's hers." Then show other famous people saying, "Me too: Pro-choice and proud to be American, where we have the right to choose."

Shame on CBS to caving into this ad by Focus on the Family (a group only one step up from AlQaeda). And shame on anyone who thinks misses the fact that the real message is TO OUTLAW CHOICE.


Obama and Nuclear Power etc

President Obama made a few policy suggestions in his state of the union address. The one that I thought stuck out the most was his call for new nuclear power plants.

Former contributer and current friend of the blog, Dr. Strangelove has posted about the advantages and improvements of modern nuclear power on this blog before. And if he's lurking out there, I'd love to read his thoughts on this subject again.

I've always preferred solar and wind power to nuclear. Not because I dislike nuclear power itself but because I think the political economy of power utility provision would be improved by a decentralized power grid and nuclear power is so expensive and complex that it requires a highly centralized grid. This would serve to continue the monopoly of the big power companies that have abused their position in the past (see for example the Enron-California blackout crisis). My ideal world would be one where every home and business has both a solar and a wind power generator on the roof combined with the ability to sell their excess back to the grid. The problem then would be one of efficient transmission and power storage.

But nuclear power combined with increasing reliance on hybrid and someday viable electric cars will do a lot to diminish our dependence on oil. That would be a very good thing. It would be an improvement and in the interest of "not making the perfect the enemy of the good" I'd support it.

Obama also called for investment in high speed rail. I'm ambivalent about that. On the one hand, I'm a fan of the environmental advantages that rail has over cars and airplanes. But the United States is a much bigger and sparsely populated place than Japan or Western Europe (the places where high speed rail thrives). There are regions where it would make a lot of sense: The Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington connection and maybe the San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego-Las Vegas connection. But does it really make sense to talk about high speed rail between Chicago and Minneapolis or Omaha? The distances might be right but are there enough people to use it? I'll admit to not knowing a lot about this so, as with the nuclear power issue, I'm curious about what other think here.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reactions to the State of the Union

My reactions ebbed a bit as the speech wore on. I liked it when he said what a rotten situation he inherited and left no doubts as to who left it to him. I also liked it when he said words to the effect that Democrats in Congress need to pass laws not "head for the hills." And when he chastised Republicans for knee jerk obstructionism (all while they uniformly sat on their hands - even when he talked about tax cuts!).

I thought Lieberman looked like he smelled a skunk for half the time they showed him.

I LOVED that Obama did not do the stupid little gimmick of pointing to Tiny Tim or Sergeant York or Officer Friendly or whoever up in the gallery to illustrate some policy point.

I thought the last ten minutes or so, came off as begging for understanding and I didn't like it. At the point he had clearly lost his audience too. There were looks of stunned disbelief and shaking heads and no responses at all. It was a little sad to hear his hands thudding on the podium as he waited for reactions.

He mentioned health care reform and (belatedly) called on Congress to get it passed but he fell short of telling them how.

But the take away line of "I won't quit" was good.

What did you all think?


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great Discussion of The History of the Filibuster

Hi Everyone,

Here is a great interview on NPR's Fresh Air with political scientist, Greg Koger, about the history of the filibuster. It's the most thorough and even handed discussion of the filibuster I've ever seen or heard on a mainstream media venue. It's way above the norm of what we normally see on Chicken Noodle News or Faux News etc.



The Post Ried Senate

So I'm increasingly convinced that Harry Ried is going to lose his seat no matter what he does with the health care reform bill(s). Does anyone care to speculate about who the next Senate Majority Leader will be?


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Language is evil

Oh, you have got to be kidding me.

Dictionaries have been removed from classrooms in southern California schools after a parent complained about a child reading the definition for "oral sex".

Merriam Webster's 10th edition, which has been used for the past few years in fourth and fifth grade classrooms (for children aged nine to 10) in Menifee Union school district, has been pulled from shelves over fears that the "sexually graphic" entry is "just not age appropriate", according to the area's local paper.

The dictionary's online definition of the term is "oral stimulation of the genitals". "It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told the paper.

We should ban kids from talking because they might say mean things. Also we should block out the sun because if people stare at it, they'll go blind.

We had a good run as a country. Now it's time to turn it over to whoever's next in line. China? Is that you?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Boot Bernanke!

This weekend, the President should softpedal his support for Bernanke in such a way that any insider will recognize it as a withdrawal. It's perfect. If the Democrats had sought to replace Bernanke on their own, it would have ginned up accusations of irresponsibility. But with the GOP getting in line (McCain added his 'nay' vote today) this is an amazing opportunity. Obama will have the ability to appoint a new Fed Chairman. This is an enormous amount of power that may fall into his lap. And tagging it as Obama's defeat is not going to work, not when Bernanke was inherited. Greenspan's problem was that he as an Ayn Randist who never really understood that self-interest was an insufficient cushion against economic anarchy. Bernanke, being Greenspan's annointed, is not of a wholly different mode. We need a real institutionalist to be appointed to that spot. Someone who understands that sound financial regulation is not "red tape" but the sine qua non of a healthy financial system. This is not a good time for Barack Obama to support the unpopular Fed chairman, not when withdrawing his support could actually empower the Democratic agenda.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Barack Obama Isn't Magic

And Presidents aren't omnipotent.

Larry Wilmore had a great bit on the Daily Show (Jan 19, 2010) where he chastises a disappointed Jon Stewart for thinking Obama was a "magic negro... you know like your Bagger Vances, your Green Mile guy..." Wilmore also says that Obama is just suffering from the "hard bigotry of high expectations."

That's pretty cogent for a comedy routine. A lot of Democrats - especially on the left - thought that Obama's election combined with big Democratic majorities would turn the USA into Sweden over night. The left wing of the Democratic party's childish intransigence over health care reform is wrapped up in this. As is the left wing's disappointment that Obama hasn't "done more" to get the Blue Dogs to accept one of the more left wing versions of the bill.

But where is the problem? Is the problem that the White House hasn't done something in its power to get health care passed? Or is the problem that the Democratic party is genuinely divided on this issue and Harry Ried (up for reelection in a state that isn't exactly a liberal bastion) is loath force Blue Dogs on the issue (if indeed he could if he wanted to). The one thing that Ried could do would be to coordinate with Pelosi to pass the bill by "reconciliation" which would circumvent the ability of the Republicans to filibuster. For some reason (I suspect related to his reelection chances), Ried does not want to do that.

Pelosi could whip the left too but doesn't want to. Pelosi could threaten committee positions of the leaders of the left wing of the party if they don't accept the Senate version of the bill. But she doesn't want to. Perhaps because she is part of the left wing of the party herself and they are her power base within the House. They got her elected Speaker.

If you ask me, the greatest sin that led to this problem was the Democratic Party leadership's failure to stand up to Lieberman when he ran as an independent back in 2006. If the Democratic Party had supported the Democratic nominee and won, they would have passed the bill in September. If they had supported the Democratic nominee and a Republican had won they would have the prospect of defeating that Republican with a unified Democratic candidate in 2012 instead of facing an indefinite future of Lieberman's crap.

But really, in the end, all of this comes about because of three things. First, the electorate is not left leaning as the left wing of the Democratic party would like. Second, the Democratic party becomes more ideologically diverse as it wins more seats. A third complicating factor is the institutional structure of the US government. Rural (read conservative) interests are over represented at the expense of urban (read liberal) interests. All of these problems are structural - that is, they can't be circumvented by a single politician just because he wishes they weren't true.

And that is the basis of my annoyance at the "blame Obama" mood on the left these days. The implicit assumption is that the only reason we don't have a public, single payer health care system in place today is because the Obama administration wasn't sufficiently aggressive. This view does not take into account the diversity of the American electorate, the diversity of the Democratic party, or the institutional structure of the US government.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What it means - the Earthquake in Massachusetts

There are worse things in the world than having 58 or 59 Democratic Senators, a large Democratic majority in the House, and Democratic President with far better approval ratings than his Republican predecessor. Indeed, that's exactly how the world looked on November 4, 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency at the zenith of Democratic party popularity. But you would think from today's headlines that the Democrats just lost power altogether.

Yes, it's dispiriting as hell. A female version of Sarah Palin won Massachusetts because, among other things, the Democratic candidate, Coakley, forgot to campaign for the seat. And it's clear that dissatisfaction with the Democratic party is behind this. Notably, it is a dispirited left that stayed home as well as angry independent voters who showed up.

What does it really mean? Unemployment has risen to 10% and the Democrats are viewed as having spent trillions but accomplished nothing so far.

The fear is that Democrats will take the wrong lesson and cut and run. The real lesson is that if the Democrats had rammed through health care on 'reconciliation' in July, this would never have happened. Allowing the process to drag out for another seven months while scrambling for the 60th rascal did no good. If Democrats abandon the health care bill altogether, it will be a total and unmitigated disaster. Time to declare victory, for heaven's sake. Get a "W" in your column! The American people respect action in hard times; they are tired of speeches and don't understand the filibuster. The ultimate insult to Ted Kennedy would be to walk away now. It also will be a political disaster.

I assure you, if Democrats walk away from health care and act embarrassed for having had an agenda of hope and change, the result in 2010 will be political catastrophe. Weak and apologetic loses elections. You have to at least win your base, and they will stay home in 2010. If Democrats pass health care reform as promised - through the House or with a quick Senate vote before Brown can be seated - they will at least have done something for the ages. The base will be ready to campaign in 2010. Your choice, Democrats: will you turn 2010 into a season in hell, or leave this merely as a brief winter of discontent. Time to fight. Time to govern, at last. Time to punish Lieberman for betrayal, since having him "in" has done only harm. Pass health care, then give us a stimulus bill with real tax cuts that can be felt in the pockets of taxpayers very quickly.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Massachussets Republican Senate Candidate Insults Obama's Mother

Here is a clip of Republican Massachussets Senate Candidate questioning whether Obama's parents were married at the time of his birth.

This is the guy who has promised to kill health care reform with his first vote in the Senate. Is there anything to the Republicans' ideology except misdirection with social pontificating combined with protection of big business interests? They wave their hands about "family values" and "the homosexual agenda" etc and then vote a fairly transparent line of protection of huge corporations (note that this is different than a market oriented voting pattern).

This guy, Brown, is a tool. I can't believe there are independent voters seriously considering voting for this guy.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Hi Everyone,

By now you've heard that the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti, has been hit with a major earthquake. This after getting hit with four named storms in the last year. Haiti observers (I hesitate to talk about "authorities" in this case) are talking a death toll over 100,000. This is truly horrible and I'm sure we all have nothing but sympathy for the Haitian people.

But I think it's worth talking about WHY Haiti is so vulnerable. Big quakes hit lots of countries without killing hundreds of thousands of people. Why is it so horrible in Haiti? Haiti is like a perfect storm of social, economic, environmental and political problems.

Economics: There is virtually no foreign investment in the country so the economy - under the best of circumstances - is little more than subsistence. 80% of its population lives in poverty. Haiti is what happens when all the evil capitalists leave. Haiti is the warning to the people who think that multi national investment causes poverty. Foreign investment may not eliminate poverty but if you remove it, you need a really dark imagination to visualize the consequences.

Politics: There is virtually no government capable of acting as such. Haiti is also the warning to those on the right who think that the absence of government would be some kind of paradise. Haiti operates in a state if near anarchy. There is a tiny national police force that I heard a US observer describe as "better than before but not up to this." There are virtually no fire departments. As you might imagine for a country with such a weak government, there are virtually no building codes so the quake destroyed a lot of the capital city (I saw one picture of the capital right after the shaking stopped and the entire city was covered with a rising dust cloud from collapsed buildings).

Environment: The country has been almost totally denuded of trees. People have cut down the forests for fuel and to clear farm land. This has exacerbated the effects of the quake because Haiti is also rather mountainous. Denuded mountains are prone to landslides. I also shudder to think about the poor access to clean drinking water in Haiti even before the quake and it is certainly worse now.

Social: All of these problems mean that for Haitians the response to the quake is going to be an individual, family or maybe neighborhood affair. The response we saw to Katrina in the US is unthinkably utopian compared to what is possible in Haiti. The response the Indian Ocean countries managed after the Tsunami is equally unimaginable for Haiti.
What we are watching unfold in Haiti is what happens when everything goes wrong ... and then there are natural disasters.
UPDATE: Here is what Pat Robertson says about Haiti. He claims the country made a pact with the Devil to expell the French and all their problems since are a result of that. Yes folks, it's the voice of the Republican base. When will the GOP leadership repudiate hate mongers like Robertson?


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Farewell to Iceland

So Iceland's President vetoed the "IceSave" package to repay some of the debts owed to the UK, Netherlands, and others. An LSE Economist made the odd comment that Iceland might go "bankrupt." Of course, countries can't go bankrupt. This means some sort of default might be possible. But there are still other possibilities.

Until 1949, Newfoundland was not part of the Canadian Confederation, but was an independent Dominion like NZ or Australia. In 1933, with Newfoundland unable to pay its debts, the British government essentially cancelled Newfoundland's independence and created a commission to pursue its constitutional future. After WWII, Newfounldand was offered a chance to return to independence ("responsible government" it was called) or continue the commission government for another 5 years. At length, a third option was added: joining Canada. In 1948, Newfoundland voted to join Canada (and have Canada take over its debts).

Could Iceland go the way of its North Atlantic neighbor and rejoin, say, Norway?


Friday, January 01, 2010

2010 Predictions

So, what's the point of following politics really closely if you aren't willing to go out on a limb and be a prognosticator? I'm sure there are mathematical models out there based on polls, voting history, and economic data that can predict 2010, but they are likely of limited value here. Such models are good explanatory (in reverse) but depend on data we don't have yet and have large margins of error, large enough to consume the tighter races and. Applying such metrics in advance reminds me of NFL referees who spot the football based on their own hunch, then measure it with a micrometer as if it were an exact science. I am going to make predictions based on how I expect the world to look in the summer of 2010.

Background: I presume that the campaigns of November 2010 will be "set" by summer 2010. What I mean by this is by August 2010, we will know what issues are going to be salient, which races are going to be contested, and the voters will have formed their impressions about (a) how Obama is doing (b) how the Democrats are doing on the Hill and (c) how the economy is going. So after Labor Day 2010, the arguments raised by the candidates will take place within this existing framework. I presume it will not be possible after that point to make large changes to public opinion about how the economy is going or what issues matter. (Only a whopping scandal, terrorist attack, or other massive unforeseeable event can really change the layout of campaigns from that point forward). Thus I base my predictions largely on how I expect the parties and candidates to position themselves in relation to this set battlefield.

Base predictions on issue salience-
Economy: the GDP will be enjoying its 5th straight quarter of growth by July 2010, and the unemployment rate will have begun to dip below 10%. Public opinion will amenable to the argument that the Obama administration has "fixed" the economy from the state it was left in by Bush. This will be the most important issue in the 2010 races.

Foreign policy: This is rarely an important issue. It will be mixed, in any event: Afghanistan will be an unpopular war, but the public will have no significant reason to fault Obama on foreign policy.

Deficits: Important if connected to a weak economy and fear of sliding back to recession; unimportant by itself.

Social issues: Independent voters hate these issues. They are unlikely to be a big deal because the GOP is getting tired of running on an anti-gay platform. Despite brutal and vocal Republican opposition, no cause in America has done as well in the past decade as gay rights.

Health Care Reform: Not an issue except for the party base on both sides.

Taxes: not an issue in 2010, because no promise to cut taxes will be taken seriously or perceived as responsible.

Likely themes: Democrats will look backwards to their economic accomplishment and warn of a return to Bush. Republicans will run hard against Barack Obama (NoBama) and deficits.

Likely mistakes: Democrats run the risk of downplaying their accomplishments, and weakening the base support/response, in the mistaken belief that they need to run to the right to win. Republians are a more right-wing, conservative bunch than even 2008 (smaller electorate) and they run the risk of having a bitter, extremist campaign that turns off the center. Democrats, in other words, run the risk of taking their base for granted, while Republicans run the risk of playing only to their base.

How to succeed: For Democrats, put Barack Obama out front and cheer for him. Bring back the love. For Republicans, urge caution and moderation.

Democrats will lose 10-15 seats in the house. These will be almost entirely marginal southern/border states where a smaller, more conservative midterm electorate cannot support them. The most written-about losses will be in Virginia, probably Dist. No. 5.

Pickups by D: NH, Missouri
Why: NH is trending blue and Carnahan can win MO given the economic issues.

Pickups by R: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware
Why: Arkansas hates Obama. Colorado will not have the Obama excitement in 2008. Delaware will not vote for Biden's son for senator over its incumbent rep, Castle (R).

Seats that will be hard-fought but will not change hands: Nevada (Reid), Florida (Open-R), LA (Vitter), Penn (Specter), Ohio (Voinovich).
Why: Florida and Louisiana are trending Republican, while Nevada and Penn are going blue. These are very powerful demographic forces that aren't going to be turned back. As tough as things may look for Reid now, Nevada has never been more Democratic. Ohio will sink back to its Republican ways in an open seat in an off-year election.

Seats that are supposed to be hard-fought, but won't be: CT (Dodd), Illinois, Kentucky
Why: These races are beltway stories. Connecticut isn't going to elect a right-wing Republican, and there's no other kind available. Ditto for Illinois. Kentucky's Bunning may be unpopular, but KY isn't going to elect a Democrat now. Not given Obama's unpopularity in the Appalachia-Ozark area.

Predicted Senate: 59D - 41R.
Note that the projected pickups are all pretty tight races. We could legitimately see Dems from between 57-62.