No Good Very Bad Few Days
Thursday, June 26, 2008
So let me get this straight:
1) The Supreme Court dramatically reduces the punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill
. Message to corporate america: Go crazy!
2) The Supreme Court strikes down the D.C. gun ban
and asserts an individual right to own guns. Framer's intent my rear. Do you know what kind of gun they had in 1789? The flintlock musket.
3) The Supreme Court strikes down the "millionaire's amendment"
to the campaign finance law. Because some people's speech is more equal than others.
4) The Senate votes to advance the FISA 'reform'
. Constitution? What Constitution?
5) Barack Obama takes a dump on the Constitution
. To paraphrase him, "Hey, I never said I was a liberal, now did I?"
Um, stop? Please? I need a break.
Speaking Honestly of the Dead
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Okay, as promised I'll tell you why I wasn't a fan of Tim Russert. I'll start by acknowledging his virtues: Russert was a very energetic and engaging host, he had enormous enthusiasm about politics, and he did seem like a geneuinely nice person. However, I don't think he was a very good journalist. He had extraordinary influence over the way politics was covered in this country over the last two decades, and if you consider for a moment the quality of that coverage, this is no compliment. Now I don't want to blame Russert for the putrid state of political journalism, but I think it fair to say he did nothing to address it - and there is reason to believe he accentuated many negative trends.
I used to be an avid watcher of Meet the Press. Just ask Brazen Hussy! Every Sunday, I dropped what I was doing to see Russert grill some hapless pol. But as time passed, I started to notice things.
First, he was basically a one-trick pony: he'd look at a politician's statements about some issue, and try to find someplace where the politician had said something different. I suppose there is some value in this, but it's scarcely a well-informed and thorough interview process.
Second, he wasn't very good with follow-up questions. I watched guests throw out some real whoppers on his show, and most of time Russert didn't call them on it - he just went on to the next question. I'm sorry, but the smart follow-up is the essence of good interviewing. Anybody can blather out an answer about something. You only really learn about the interviewee if you explore their statements in some depth. And Russert very, very rarely did.
Third, Russert's roundtable was hardly representative. Like most morning news shows, the lineup usually consisted of a) a moderate, b) a conservative, and c) Attila the Hun. His selection of guests was also heavily weighted to Republicans and those on the political right. The Democrats on the show, if they weren't in the leadership, nearly always tended to be on the center-right of the party. In addition, he tended to bring the same people on the show week after week. Frankly it got a little boring. Even though they're Democrats, one can only take so much of Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer.
I could talk about other things, like for example how Russert was very conventional in his focus on process stories over substance, or how he deferred to the White House, but you get my point. Were there some interesting things about his show? Sure. But he was hardly the reincarnation of Ed Murrow.
By the way Linda Hirshman has a good critique of Russert here
Brazen Hussy is Home!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
When Enough is Enough
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I want to expand a bit on what I wrote about Obama and the FISA bill on Friday, now that I've had a bit to reflect on it.
I am a very pragmatic liberal. While my policy preferences are mainstream center-left, I've been in politics a long time and I've been studying it even longer. I recognize that all you can usually do is move the needle a little bit in your direction, or at least prevent it from moving in the other direction. I don't have many hard voting issues, and I'm willing to forgive a great deal from Democratic politicians. Compromise is a big part of democratic politics, and sometimes you have to make agreements that you don't particularly like.
But what I am not is a hack. I'm not going to rationalize everything my "team" does for the sake of political expedience. There are a few issues that I just can't compromise much on - and this FISA bill is one of them. Retroactive immunity creates the dreadful precedent that private companies can violate the law as long as they have permission from the executive branch. Thinking about the consequences of that for a moment makes me want to pour a stiff drink - and it's only 10AM.
I don't think I'm being particularly unreasonable. I forgave the Democrats for voting for the Patriot Act because right after 9/11 it was pretty crazy and people did wacky things. I don't approve, but I understand. I'll even go so far as to one day get past my feelings about members of Congress who vote for the FISA bill. I won't forget, and it will be a permanent mark against them, but I won't drop all support for them forever - just my respect.
Where I do have to draw the line is with potential Presidents voting for this bill. Barack Obama is probably going to be President, and he will be the one possessing these new unconstitutional undemocratic powers. This places him under a higher standard - one he is abjectly failing to meet. To make matters worse, Obama knows better. He's a constitutional lawyer, and a smart one. I think he knows what this means.
One could argue that Obama is doing this for tactical reasons. He's afraid of being slammed by the Republicans as soft. First, I don't think it matters, because he's going to be attacked on SOMETHING for being soft. Why not domestic spying on behalf of big corporations? That's a debate he can win. Second, the fact that he would jettison the Constitution for the sake of political advantage makes him the worst kind of unprincipled weakling. He's going to stand up and take the oath of office to uphold the Constitution right after he's sabotaged it? I think not. Obama clearly believes that retroactive immunity isn't that important, which means that he is evincing no respect for civil liberties or the rule of law. And no man like that should be entrusted with the powers of the presidency. It's that simple.
I take my vote very seriously. It's an endorsement from me towards a particular candidate, a statement that I believe a candidate is worthy of an office. And while I accept the idea that by not voting for Obama I'm making a worse candidate's likelihood of victory more important, I can honestly say that I don't much care.
I don't think I'm behaving like a Nader voter. Generally they were voting for Nader because they didn't think Gore was liberal enough - out of general ideological predispositions - not because Gore did some specific thing that they powerfully objected to. I don't think most of them thought Gore was unfit to hold the Presidency. Unless you believe someone just can't be trusted with the office, then you should select whichever candidate is closer to your positions that has a chance to win. But if you really believe that a candidate is a danger to the democracy, you become complicit in their actions if you vote for them. And Obama, if he votes for this bill, will fail precisely that test. It's like that Simpsons episode where the aliens replace Dole and Clinton - you don't have to vote for either candidate if they are just beyond the pale.
Does this mean I think that Obama is a dictator-in-embryo. It's highly doubtful. But it does indicate that he is either a) to weak to say no even on matters of high principle, and b) is so ambitious he is willing to trample the Constitution to get his way. And I just can't vote for someone who is either.
Now it's possible that all of this is a test balloon. Obama's statement was pretty ambiguous, and could be read to say either that he 1) will vote for the bill only if retroactive immunity is removed, or 2) he will vote for it either way. His wording suggests the latter, but it can be read either way. Perhaps he is gauging the reaction from his supporters, and will vote against the final bill if it includes retroactive immunity. But if all he's going to do is vote to strip it from the bill, lose and then vote for the underlying bill anyway, I can't support him. I don't expect him to stop the legislation, I just expect him not to become enable it. Because if he does, I won't be enabling him.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Via mcjoan at Kos
, Obama has this to say about the Security State bill that just passed the House:
"Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.
"That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past.
"After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.
"Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies to determine what took place in the past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect America Act.
"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people."
If Obama votes for this bill with retroactive immunity in it, then I am not voting for him. I won't be voting for President at all. I'll be leaving the top of the ballot blank for the first time since I turned 18. I feel that strongly about this. This issue is a deal-breaker for me.
I Am Furious
No really, I'm apoplectic. Totally outraged. Disgusted. Ashamed to live in this country.
Why? Because apparently the Constitution is just a piece of toilet paper
. Used toilet paper.
To quote Lincoln: "When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."
A Thousand Curses On You!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
is just not acceptable. Not not not.
Bostons Win 17th
They've got some mighty good teams in Beantown these days, don't they?
Normally I don't root for dynasty teams, but the Celtics haven't won one in 20 years and Kevin Garnett always seemed like a good guy to me. Plus, I love that they beat that egotistical over-hyped creep Kobe Bryant.
Do The Republicans Have An Advantage in the Electoral College?
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There is an outstanding fear that, as in 2000, Barack Obama could win the national popular vote while losing narrowly in the electoral college. It has been asserted that the Republicans have a natural advantage in the electoral college due to two factors. First, less-populated rural states are over-represented. In 2004, each electoral vote in Wyoming represented around 80,000 voters while each elector in California represented roughly 226,000 voters. I will return to this point later. Right now I want to focus on the second argument. Charlie Cook
has asserted that Republican voters are distributed more efficiently than Democratic voters. To quote:
Add in that Democrats need to win the popular vote nationwide by somewhere between a half point and 1.5 points to overcome the more efficient allocation of Republican electoral votes (Republicans only "waste" a lot of extra votes in Texas; Democrats do it in California, Illinois and New York) and that points to a particularly close fall general election.
Charlie Cook is a very astute observer of politics, but in this instance he is just plain wrong. In fact, in 2004 it was the Republicans who “wasted” more votes than the Democrats. Bush won his states by an average margin of 18%, while Kerry won his by an average margin of 13% (10% if you exclude D.C). Furthermore, if you define “wasted votes” as any vote margin greater than one in a state a candidate carried, then Bush has a LOT more “wasted” votes than Kerry. Bush "wasted" just under 8.8 million votes (14% of his total), while Kerry “wasted” about 5.8 million votes (10% of his total).
To break it down further, you can divide the states into landslide states (won by 20 points or more), base state (10-20 pts), solid states (5-10 points), leaning states (2-5 points), and swing states (less than 2 point margins). In 2004, here is how they fall out, in order of size of margin for each candidate:
Chart #1: Distribution of States by Popular Vote Margin
Landslide: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Texas, South Dakota, Indiana, and Montana
Base: Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona
Solid: Arkansas, Virginia, Missouri, Florida
Leaners: Colorado, Nevada, Ohio
Swing: New Mexico, Iowa
Landslide: D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont
Base: New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois
Solid: California, Maine, Hawaii, Delaware, Washington, New Jersey
Leaners: Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania
Swing: New Hampshire, Wisconsin
The electoral vote totals in each category makes the gap pretty stark:
Chart #2: Distribution of Electoral College Votes by Popular Vote Margin
Landslide: 96 EV (33.6%)
Base: 87 EV (30.4%)
Solid: 57 EV (19.9%)
Leaners: 34 EV (11.9%)
Swing: 12 EV (4.2%)
Landslide: 22 EV (8.7%)
Base: 69 EV (27.4%)
Solid: 92 EV (36.5%)
Leaners: 55 EV (21.8%)
Swing: 14 EV (5.6%)
In other words, Bush ran up gigantic (and hence inefficient) margins in the majority of electoral college votes he won. 64% of his electoral college votes were from states he won by more than 10 points, while only 36% of Kerry’s were. Yes, the Democrats waste a lot of votes in New York and California, but all those 60-40 wins by Bush in the South, Rocky Mountains, and Farmbelt really start to add up.
Now one could look at this from a different perspective, namely that the Republicans have a larger base: they have more electoral college votes in their pocket that no Democrat has a chance to win. But this does NOT mean they have an electoral college advantage, per se, since it means that they are more likely to win the popular vote while narrowly losing the electoral college, assuming the national popular vote total is close. Yes, Democrats have a smaller core and thus have to win nearly ALL of the competitive states, but it also means that they have the potential to do so while losing the popular vote. Remember, heading into election night 2000, everyone was concerned that Bush
would win the popular vote but lose the electoral college – not the other way around.
If you look at the historical record, the Bush victory in 2000 looks pretty unimpressive in electoral college terms. Rather than a lock, it looks like squeaking by. Normally the electoral college vote margin is substantially larger than the popular vote margin. John Kennedy won with less than .2% of the national popular vote but won over 300 electoral college votes. I have developed a “magnification rate,” which is the proportional increase in the electoral vote margin with respect to the popular vote margin. It’s determined by dividing the electoral vote margin by the popular vote margin. The magnification rate should give a reasonable indication of which candidates were particularly efficient in accumulating electoral college votes in any given election year. The chart below only includes those who won the popular vote. Every election since 1828 is included, except for 1860, 1912, and 1968 because those really weren’t 2-party elections. The chart below is ranked by the magnification rate.
Chart #3: The Magnification Rate of Popular Vote Winners
As you can see, George Bush’s 2004 magnification rate is one of the worst in the history of electoral politics at 2.64. His electoral vote margin (6.5 pts) was 6th worst all time. And let’s not forget that his popular vote margin was the lowest for an incumbent who won re-election since 1916, and the 2nd worst ever (so much for the “Bush Mandate”). Compare this with Bill Clinton’s 1996 magnification rate of 4.79, which is just under the median of 4.86. The most impressive electoral college performance of all time was James Garfield’s in 1880. He won by less than a tenth of a percent, but crushed Winfield Hancock in the electoral college. (By the way, here’s a nice bit of trivia: the biggest popular vote margin ever was Warren Harding’s in 1920 – 26.2 pts, and the biggest electoral vote margin was Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1936 – 97 pts)
I think part of the reason people like Charlie Cook may think the Democrats are at a disadvantage is 2000. Hey, you can see it right there at the very bottom. Gore indded lost even though he won national popular vote, but this is partly a mirage. Florida is a very large state and was the closest election that year, so a swing one way or the other is going to cause a big swing in the electoral college. If Gore had won by 537 votes rather than lost, he would have won the electoral college vote by an 8-pt margin, for a magnification rate of 16.41 – which would have been the 4th highest in history.
So much for the efficient allocation of popular votes.To return to the first point, that the overrepresentation of small states helps the Republicans, it should be clear from Chart #1 that Bush won his small states by ridiculous margins. Now, voters who “pile on” in a given state are in a strange sense disenfranchising themselves – they’d be better off if they were voting in another state. Bush’s huge margins in small states means that Republican voters are packed together in those states, which dilutes their over-representation. In addition, the Democrats win small states too (D.C., VT, ME, RI, DE, HA, NH), so in the end it pretty much cancels out.
So I posit something pretty controversial: I think that if anything the Democrats may have a slight advantage in the electoral college, because they tend to be very competitive in lots of big states. They can take fewer electoral college votes for granted, but they have an edge in enough of them to give them a realistic chance of winning the electoral college even if they lose the national popular vote.
One final note: the probability that there will be a divergence between electoral college and popular vote winners is most likely at the end of re-districting cycle, since the distribution of electoral votes will then be furthest from census totals. The one time the electoral college really “misfired” was in 1888 – 2 years before the census. The 2000 election (which wasn’t really a misfire because the Republicans probably stole Florida), was itself a re-districting year. Charlie Cook’s estimate that Obama needs to win by 1-1.5 points is really the opposite of the case. In fact, because Republican states are growing faster than Democratic ones, the electoral college is if anything more biased to the Democrats.
If the 2008 election is close, there is a greater chance this year than in 2004 that the popular vote winner will lose simply because it’s at the end of the decade. But I would hazard a guess that if it does happen, the odds are pretty good it will hurt the Republicans.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I don't know how Brazen Hussy works straight through the week. I had to spend the whole time working on a paper, and now I'm sitting at my desk wishing I could just go home and go to bed. I must be some sort of wuss.
Re: Tim Russert. I am giving it 7 days, and then I will explain my cryptic remarks about him.
I Promise Not To Say Anything Mean About Tim Russert
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Boy, I'm just a big old meanie, aren't I?
Deja Vu. Again.
Friday, June 13, 2008
In light of McCain's recent statements on the Court's habeus corpus ruling, his packing of a "town hall" exclusively with supporters, lies about his position on social security privatization, and his attacks on economists, I give you my all-new, updated list of the differences between John McCain and George W. Bush:
Hip! Hip! I can't get excited about this
Thursday, June 12, 2008
So four Supreme Court Justices want to nullify the Constitution
and because five don't, I'm supposed to be happy? Um, not so much.
I am writing a paper for work right now that is a glorified lit review. I hate lit reviews. They are incredibly time consuming and have always inspired a degree of paranoia in me. I can't stop looking for more sources out of fear that I'm missing something. I never want a reader to rub his beard and raise his brow and ask "Hrm, well why didn't he cite that wonderful article by Dr. Fill-in-the-Blank and Dr. Whatshisname, 2004?" So I keep looking, and keep reading, and the stupid lit review just gets longer and longer, until the stacks of xeroxed articles and books take over my desk and I have to work in another room. And when under pressure of a deadline I finally do stop, I'm faced with a godawful mess to sort through and no time to do it in.
I thought I was through with academia. I really, really did. Stupid me.
Obama and Philosophy
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Pharyngula has been rightly concerned with Barack Obama's expressions of religious devotion, but he recently linked to a speech Obama gave in 2006
that put his mind somewhat at ease. It was a good speech, and certainly underscored for me that Obama was a constitutional law professor and a thoughtful person. My other thought was "Holy crap, Barack Obama is a Rawlsian! Yippee!"
For those of you not familiar with John Rawls: Rawls was probably the eminent political philosopher of the 20th century (he just died a couple of years ago). Rawls' theory is pretty sophisticated (and a lot of smart people screw it up), but the key idea I'd like to highlight is Rawls' concept of Political Liberalism. Rawls states that in a democracy, people can have religious motivations for their political arguments, but they can't invoke explicitly religious justifications. To do so would at best lead to a stalemate (non-believers would respond with "who cares?") while at worst could result in the imposition of a particular religious doctrine. That's the very simple version.
In his speech Obama enunciates this very idea. He states that if people want to use their religious morality in the public forum, they need to express it in universal terms that everyone can have access to. This is pure Rawls, and particularly revealing of Obama's intellectual outlook. And as a Rawls scholar, it also makes me very very happy.
All right, I'm finished with my 7AM academic geek-out. Time to get ready to go to work.
Chemistry Class at the Discotheque
Monday, June 09, 2008
Go watch this
right now. You won't be sorry.
So What Do You Think McCain Is Trying to Say Here?
This is an ad at TPMCafe
The generous interpretation is that McCain is attacking Obama on the latter's opinion that we should negotiate with other nations. The less generous interpretation is that McCain is not-so-subtly calling Obama an "Anti-American Foreign Leader." I'll leave it for you to decide.
Wow, that's kind of cool.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
So I had just commented
that Patty Murray would make a plausible national candidate. Now a day later I read that she's on Obama's short list
. Neat. I don't have a ton of background info on her, but I do know she ran a really awesome campaign to get to the Senate in 1992. Apparently at some point she was derided as a "mom in tennis shoes", which she decided to own and now is sort of her nickname. Murray's also get a really good reputation on the hill. Here's a bio
To the Clinton-Haters
None of whom read my blog, I'm sure, but still: Clinton is dropping out this weekend. She originally planned to concede on Friday, but apparently chose not to because that's the anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's death (good move on her part). So instead she's going to endorse Obama on Saturday.
I know a lot of people out there were convinced that Clinton was going to blow up the party, that she was going to drag this out to the convention in an effort to damage Obama so much that he would lose, and she could run again in 2012. But guess what? It's not going to happen. Hillary Clinton is NOT a monster. The "devil theory" of the Clintons is wrong. She's just a politician who came very, very close to winning the nomination and hung on until she was out of chances. Yes, she ran a tough campaign, but that's what you have to do when you're behind. Politics ain't beanbag.
I think all the people who have been asserting that Hillary Clinton is Satan need to chill out, and they probably owe Clinton and her supporters an apology - or at least a break. Let's let the campaign cool off for a few weeks so everybody can get over all the trauma, and then let's all be friends again.
This experience just underscores to me that no fights are more vicious and painful than ones that happen in the family.
Reader's Digest (Inspired by Atrios)
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Shorter Michael Powell in his NYT piece
I don't like Barack Obama because he doesn't suck up to me and my friends as much as McCain does.
I wanted to write something sympathetic to Clinton supporters (particularly Dr. Brazen Hussy) about their disappointment at the outcome of the democratic primary campaign, but I'm worried about how it might come off - that it might be interpreted as rubbing salt in the wounds. Yesterday an old lady on the bus got mad at me, which has been bothering me ever since. I was talking to somebody else who asked me why Clinton didn't win, and I mentioned a few tactical errors, and this other woman got upset with me. So now I'm really worried about bringing the subject up at all!
For what it's worth, I hate it that it's taking so long to get a woman president, and I think Hillary Clinton might just be the most tenacious leader American politics, which from my point of view if a big compliment. I also think she's been subject to a shocking degree of sexism, both from the press corps and (sadly and surprisingly) from a lot of liberals, and even other women. I've been disturbed by how quickly people shift into that sort of disgusting rhetoric. I honestly didn't expect that from people on my side of the aisle. I joked months ago that this election would tell us whether sexism or racism were more powerful in American life, but it's not funny any more.
But I sincerely hope that we get another chance at electing a woman to the white house very soon. If not in 4 years, then in eight. I think Clinton's candidacy has both pointed out the pitfalls and broken a lot of barriers for the next candidacy. Which brings me to my question:
I know most of my readers are women, so maybe you'll have a better insight on this than I do, because I just can't figure it out. How would it make you feel if Barack Obama picked a woman as his running mate? Would it seem condescending and kind of like pandering, particularly if it wasn't Hillary Clinton? Or would it make you feel better about having yet another election between two men? I don't know that he will pick a woman (the Obama folks might think it was risky try to break that many precedents in one election), but it's certainly a real possibility.
New Work Computer
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
The screen is....large. I mean really large. Huge. Which is sort of cool, I suppose. Except it has vista on it! Ack.
Banks Getting Out of the Student Loan Business
is terrible news, if predictable. I find this point particularly disgraceful:
By splitting out community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, some remaining lenders seem to be breaking the marketplace into tiers. Students attending elite, expensive, public and private four-year universities can expect loans to remain plentiful. The banks generally say these loans are bigger, more profitable and less risky, in part perhaps because the banks expect the universities’ graduates to earn more.
Yeah, let's makes sure that the people who need loans the most can't get anyway. Way to go, plutocrats!
I have an idea - let's abolish student loans entirely. Rather than forcing people to run up mountains of debt, let's have a system wherein anyone who can get into a public university has their tuition paid by the public. It's a crazy idea to base success on merit, I know. Oh, and where is the money going to come from? How about here
Slow News Day
Monday, June 02, 2008
Yes I'm still alive. Last week was extremely busy at work, with several proposals due. This weekend I decided to lay low: hanging out with my pets, watching movies, reading books, and playing video games - in other words acting like a lonely bachelor. Brazen Hussy gets back at the end of this month, but another 4 weeks of this is NOT enticing.
Hmm. What I really need are some cute pictures to look at. How about these?
A very hungry Sun Conure
A puppy so cute I'm suspicious.
A Karate Kitten, apparently.