Friday, December 26, 2014

An unsettled argument about the Great Depression

What if the US owed its former marvelously robust middle class to anti-competitive regulations from Franklin Roosevelt? Would that make the heads of conservatives and libertarians explode? Well, folks, especially those from the aforementioned groups, that is a very strong possibility.

Lots of politically-minded people have reasons to try to tear down FDR's legacy. (I suppose a similar number have political reasons to bolster it. I'm not neutral, but, as always, I tend to bow to evidence.) A gem fell in the laps of anti-FDR folks in the form of a study from two UCLA economists claiming that some FDR policies slowed recovery from the Great Depression by seven years. Specifically:
"So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."
Suppose you don't focus on the second half of that paragraph (the stalling of a 'beautiful recovery'), but instead focus on the policies that allowed businesses to collude as long as they paid their workers more.

Wow! This sounds like paying factory workers well. They can then afford to buy homes, let their children stay in school, enjoy occasional vacations, and generally live a decent life due to their decent wages. This also sounds like the American dream.

So there are all sorts of conservatives and libertarians beating up on FDR, but perhaps he was responsible for the well-paid, productive US factory workers who were the backbone of the halycon 1950's. When conservatives and libertarians say that we can have a much better, more productive economy, aren't they subliminally asking us to imagine the 50's? I think so. I don't think they're asking us to envision the periods when steel companies crushed strikes or when meatpacking companies cared little about the deaths of their workers.

What if the greatest period in US history is the product of the paternalist and socialist tendencies of FDR, and not the due to the vitality of American industries and the work ethic of their employees?

Well, if we're honest, no one thinks we can go back to the 1950's. We were the only industrialized country that hadn't been devastated by war, so we didn't have the international competition that we have today. We also have tapped out some of the resources we had back then, which is another reason we can't go back.

We can't go back to times that conservatives and libertarians consider 'better.' However, we can't use the same policies that FDR used either. Would we accept public works jobs that paid the present-day equivalent of $1 a day (as the WPA paid) and housed workers in dormitories? I can't imagine that we would. No, solutions to today's economic and employment problems aren't going to be found among New Dealers, or Austrian/libertarians, or nostalgic tea partyers, or staunch supply-siders.

. . . but maybe we'll try them all before we realize that.

WPA sewing project
Image: livingnewdeal.org

Extra. More revisionist history about the Depression that isn't quite accurate.

Update 2/20/17. Possibly some more evidence of this. From a fascinating article about how modern capitalism is about to face a huge pushback, here are two graphs showing how workers are losing their share of the economic pie while the rich are taking it:

Image: macrobusiness.com.au

This isn't supposed to be a zero-sum situation. Supposedly, we can all get richer together, so it doesn't matter if the ultra rich become ultra richer. But maybe we're experiencing that it does matter.

Update on voter fraud

Prior to the November 2014 election, I collected several articles on voter fraud, a topic I've discussed before. The usual spiel on voter fraud is 1) it's committed by the Democrats regularly (and is the only reason they win, according to some), 2) let's laugh at the zany claims made by those zany conservative hicks.

I don't want to do a piece that falls into either of these categories, but what's left? How about a sober evaluation of the claims? Here's what I found:

Local investigation in Florida of non-citizens voting. This seems like a level-headed initial investigation into real (not imagined) fraudulent voting by non-citizens. However, it leaves unanswered how these non-citizens ended up on the voter roles. Were they registered by default or by honest error when they obtained or renewed a driver's license? Were they registered in a voter drive by unscrupulous operators? Is the mistake and/or fraud different in many of the cases? We don't have those answers, and the non-citizens aren't shining much light on how this happened. The reporters aren't doing a good job either because they cite 100 possible cases, but not how wide an area they came from? Is it just one county, all of Florida, or what? Perhaps this isn't so much a real investigation as a bait for a particular segment of the audience.

Non-citizens voting in Virginia. This is skirmish in the voter fraud war. The Electoral Board did some research using juror records, and found approx. 300 possible non-citizens who were on the voter roles. They forwarded the information to the local prosecutor, but got no response.

Here are some others:

  • Iowa cases, 200 not 3.5K.
  • Non-citizens voting far fewer than the margin of victory in Ohio.
  • No non-citizens voting in Boulder. Another similar case of GOPers trying to root out voter fraud. The local DA's response: "We don't need state officials sending us on wild goose chases for political reasons."
  • Isolated fraud incident in Colorado.
Do these cases change anything? No. The typical charges of 'massive voter fraud' originate with conservative talk radio demagogues, and these guys don't care about truth, evidence, or investigations. So we'll continue to hear these claims of voter fraud, and they'll be unchanged by the reality of minimal numbers. The only reason I bother to note this information is in preparation to refute the argument. Not that I'll convince any true believers, but sometimes I just want to get some truth out there.

Voter fraud! (assumed)
Image: norcalblogs.com

Update 3/4/17. Here's a report from Ohio on one type of voter fraud--non-citizen voting. In 2017, that would be a staggering 82 of them. I guess the million of non-citizens voting for Clinton came from other states.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Brilliant or crazy: Was Moynihan a neocon?

I have to repeat the headline: is it a brilliant insight or insanity to list Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a neocon?

You may be wondering where this crazy notion came from. Honestly, I never would have thought of it myself, so of course it came from some reading on the web. Specifically, it came from this article:
"A historian of American intellectual thought would probably conclude that once there were actually serious neoconservative thinkers like Daniel Bell, Nathan Glaser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Irving Kristol who published original and ground-breaking works on social and economic policy, some of which have become classics in the field. But when it comes to the field of international relations, neoconservatism has failed to produce any great thinkers, and will instead be remembered for its many pundits and operators, or policy entrepreneurs..."
The article is a reflection or complaint about neoconservative foreign policy, and is worth reading. But what really lit my fuse was the reference to Moynihan as a neocon. Is it possible that he actually was a neocon?

I have a few memories of Moynihan, who was senator from New York (my home state) from 1977 to 2001. He seemed to have a clearer insight into problems than other politicians, and he wasn't afraid to depart from the party line. In that vein, he raised concerns about welfare and its effect in breaking down black families. He was decades ahead of others with that insight (though it doesn't tell the whole story of family breakdown).

I know I can't rely on my memory to answer the question of whether Moynihan was a neocon, so I went to my constant friend Google. It brought me to another fascinating article about Moynihan's long history in politics. The article contains a hint that perhaps Moynihan was a neocon:
"He had predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union as early as 1979 (all those years spent studying ethnic conflicts and failed economic development projects were not in vain). As the Berlin Wall came down, he began to rethink the world in the most sweeping terms. He decided that that moment was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish global rule of law. Needless to say, that project didn’t come to anything. But his letters on the subject still make for fascinating reading."
Luckily, he couldn't have been full neocon because he voted against authorization of the first Gulf War. Perhaps he could be classified as a social neocon since he voted for outlawing partial-birth abortions (more properly called dilation and extraction abortions). But his voting record is quite mixed--against welfare reform (strangely), against the Defense of Marriage Act--so he doesn't seem like a social conservative either.

The upshot is that it seems a stretch to define Moynihan as a neocon. Phew, that's a relief!

Image: urbanland.uli.org

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Short: Can Jeb win the GOP nomination?

According to most conservatives expressing an opinion (on the online forums I read), NOOOOO! For a more accurate assessment of his chances, read this from 538. Jeb is slightly more moderate than Romney, but he's also more outspoken on his moderate positions. Current estimates for his chances of being the GOP nominee: 20-25%.

Image: politifake.org

Monday, December 15, 2014

The theory that white southerners are still racist

There is a common meme that the white southern racists left the Democratic Party and joined the GOP. It's one that I believed until recently. It goes something like this:After Reconstruction the whites in the southern states shut blacks out of voting. The whites all joined the Democratic Party out of anger with Lincoln and his Republicans. When the coalition between national Democrats and southern Democrats started breaking down in the 40's, the southern Democrats started leaving the Democratic Party. Eventually, they migrated to the Republican Party, encouraged by Nixon's southern strategy and GOP talk of states' rights and welfare abuse.

The theory sounded plausible to me, and it has a lot of evidence behind it. I remember the southern strategy, the GOP talking points, the Lee Atwater quote that you can't say 'nigger, nigger, nigger' anymore. This post lists a lot more evidence, going era by era. However, the last data point is the Willie Horton ad of 1988. That's 26 years ago. Everything else in the post is interpolation:
"...they are the party where white racists are welcome, where 'Barack the Magic Negro' is funny, and people email each other photos of Obama with a bone through his nose..."
I doubt that overt white racists are welcome in the GOP. Overtly racist statements aren't. As for tasteless jokes spread by email, all political parties have that, I'm guessing. I prefer individual accountability (name and shame) to across-the-board generalizations.

It's very difficult for me to believe that all GOPers or even most harbor racist attitudes. The idea of the inherent superiority of the white race has been so discredited in these days of Barack Obama, Colin Powell, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Who still believes it's correct to keep blacks in their place? Nobody I know.

So the question has moved to covert racism. Those charges are easy to make, and impossible to prove or disprove. So, what are some of these charges based on? In this post, the author talks about the assumption among southern whites that all other southern whites detest Obama, so it's completely safe to "blithely say hateful and racist stuff about Barack Obama" to any white southerner.

Is this racism, or is it dislike of Obama for political reasons? There are reasons in abundance for conservatives to detest Obama: huge deficits, spending tilted toward poverty programs ("dependence"), the blocking of budget cuts, creation of an expensive new federal health program, repudiation of activist foreign policy. support of marriage equality, etc. Why assume it's racism? If a person is generally saying racist things, then the assumption makes sense. Otherwise, though, you can apply Occam's razor and assume the dislike is due to differences over political policies. This approach also avoids virulent anger from GOPers who are labeled as racist, and very much resent it. Who doesn't resent unfair labeling? Not just blacks and liberals.

Image: dailymail.co,uk

Extras. Is the conservative distaste for poverty programs due to racism? Maybe yes for some. However, is all distaste for poverty programs due to racism? I hope not, because I'm ambivalent in supporting poverty programs. I worry a lot about dependence and the sapping of the work ethic.

As for whites in southern states becoming almost all Republican, it's partly due to their gradual migration from traditionally being Democrats. It's also due to voters aligning with parties that reflect their principles. Southerners tend to be more conservative (and more evangelical), so it only makes sense for them to migrate to the GOP.

Update 1/13/15. A House GOP leader, Steve Scalise, spoke in 2002 to a group aligned with David Duke, a Louisiana white supremacist. Does that show Scalise is a racist, or just a conservative hunting for votes? Try proving it one way or the other.

The pro-torture political party of America

It's disgusting that we have one party in this country that seems to be in favor of torture, despite our constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments and our commitment to the Geneva Convention. Well, it's hard to say how committed some conservatives are to the Geneva Convention since it's obviously foreign.

We also have one party that's against torture, which is the Democratic Party.

This is ridiculous. I can't believe that we have people who are gung-ho on torture. I guess it's been too long since World War II and the horror of the Nazi and Japanese death camps. Someone needs to remind the Republicans of what torture is and why it's immoral.

The stranger part is that there's a partisan divide. It seems as though most people just follow their party's line. Do devout religious people who are Republicans support torture? I suppose some do, if Sarah Palin is to be believed.

Jonathan Bernstein, one of my favorite bloggers, is deeply worried about this partisan divide. He's afraid the GOP will permanently become the 'torture' party. Whenever a GOP president is in the White House, he'll issue an executive order allowing torture just like all GOP presidents have issued changes on birth control and abortion in US-funded foreign aid programs. So a change of party will bring back the torture protocols or suspend them, just like changing the curtains in a house.

I hope JB is wrong, and that the next GOP president doesn't do that. After all, we've managed without torture for 6 years now, so maybe we won't need to torture under the next president either. But I'm worried. Very few Republicans have joined John McCain in denouncing torture. Instead, they've lined up to denounce Democrats for being unAmerican in talking about it. Their argument seems to be:
  1. It's not torture. It's perfectly legal 'enhanced interrogation.'
  2. Talking about it exposes the US to unfair and untrue charges that hurt our reputation.
  3. How dare you care about terrorists more than our soldiers and citizens who might be targeted by foreigners who are angry about this. 
  4. We have to do this, but we also have to keep it quiet. 
  5. Correction. Republicans can talk about it proudly, but dissenters have to keep quiet.
I remember a simple rule of thumb for whether something is torture: if you don't want it done to American POWs, it's torture. If you can countenance our enemies (Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Stalin) doing it to our guys (including you or your adult children in military service), then it's not torture. Somehow, I don't think these GOP supporters would be volunteering for being chained to a ceiling or a nice long session of waterboarding . . .  minus the safe word, of course.

Image: sean-chandler.blogspot.com

Extras. So many. Background article on the torture report by the Senate committee headed by Dianne Feinstein. The irony of Dick Cheney saying that the torture report is deeply flawed because the committee didn't interview CIA operatives. The irony is that the architect of this repugnant policy would claim a report is deeply flawed.

Jonathan Chait (excellent writer, generally good arguments) reams the GOP for their hypocrisy on evil. An examination of a flaw in the report--of course the president knew about the torture. The strategy of torture-defenders. John Brennan, current head of the CIA, not denying pretty much everything in the report--watch the whole video. Yep, the CIA tortured interrogated with enhanced methods that they aren't using anymore.

WaPo on the importance of keeping a taboo on torture. Oops, this wasn't an anomaly: our history of being torture instructors to Latin America. A convincing article against torture in The Economist that I read years ago but still remember. An even better quote from another article:
"The most relevant case is Israel, where the ticking-bomb rationale has been used to justify the 'physical coercion'...  This practice has never been explicitly legalised, but received something close to legal sanction after a commission headed by a former [Israeli] Supreme Court justice recommended in 1987 that 'moderate physical pressure' in interrogations should be allowed after psychological pressure had failed. For years after that, the Israeli Supreme Court declined to take torture cases. But the abuse of Palestinian prisoners became so widespread, and so routine, that in 1999 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the coercive methods employed by Shin Bet, the security service, were illegal. Nevertheless, according to human-rights groups, the regular torture of Palestinian detainees has continued."
When you start to torture, it spreads beyond the limited cases where it might be justified. This is true among the British questioning IRA suspects, among the Israelis, and among the US intelligence services. Where hasn't this happened? This was the most compelling argument I found against torture, no matter how awful the prisoner is. It seems to be a guaranteed slippery slope to practices that any moral person would find repugnant.

Update 12/20/14. Here are some conservatives who care about torture. They are also very religiously-minded. I'm glad to find them.

Update 1/29/15. The CIA knew it was going to be breaking laws against torture, and asked for immunity from prosecution. This was before the weasly torture memos.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Short: Interesting discipline for internet threats

I assume that most people have heard that female game reviewers are intimidated by male gamers. This being electronic and internet-related, of course the gamers are amazingly uncivil. The insult of choice is to threaten to rape the female reviewer.

Now one of these reviewers has a great response. She contacts the mothers of these internet thugs, and let's them know what their little darlings have written. I hope it's not too late for these gamers to change--most are 10-15 years old. Let's hope this works.

Image: g4tv.com

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My bias regarding police

I tend to be biased toward believing a police officer's account in a controversy. However that doesn't mean my bias is rigid--I absolutely know that there are rotten, lying, prejudiced cops who shouldn't be believed. So I make sure to be alert to inconsistencies in a cop's story.

I got to observe my bias at work with the Ferguson shooting. My guesses about what had happened went back and forth, showing the interplay of my biases and the weight of evidence. Here's the account of how my thinking evolved.

*****************************************************

At first, the witness's story seemed logical and consistent. A cop got pissed off at the two young men, provoked an argument, grabbed one of them, and then shot him dead. It's certainly possible.

However, this witness (Dorian Johnson) was soon discredited. Video showed that he and Michael Brown were at a store where they allegedly stole some cigars and Brown pushed and intimidated a clerk. From the video, you can't tell either the cigars were stolen or not, but the pushing and lunging are clear enough.

Also, in the meantime, the cop's background was reported as being clean--no prior issues with excessive force. A clean record isn't what I'd expect from a cop who had a bad enough temper to shoot an innocent person on purpose. But a record can be misleading. Perhaps the cop had always managed to avoid disciplinary measures while still being aggressive. This 'fact' is not as convincing as the video.

With these two new 'facts' to mull over, I revised my initial opinion. It now seemed likely that Brown was very much at fault. He had just committed a crime. The witness's story that the cop grabbed Brown was dubious, and instead it seemed likely that Brown grabbed the cop.

At this point, my usual bias toward believing the cop was supported by evidence, or it seemed that way to me. I was still gathering information and evaluating the testimony of the witnesses who went public. I was waiting for photos showing any wounds the cop (Darren Wilson) might have received. I was also waiting to hear what the autopsy showed. This evidence took a long time to arrive and is still subject to dispute. The conclusions of the county medical examiner don't completely match the conclusion of the medical examiner hired by Brown's family.

**************************************************

So did the 'facts' depart from what I expected at all? Yes, and that's where I learned something new. The people of Ferguson had a particular reason to be angry. They were being plagued with punitive fines and enforcement aimed at extracting as much money as possible (more details here).

Of course, the burden of excessive fines doesn't excuse theft or assaulting an officer, but it explains some of the response. Nonetheless, most of the response is due to bigger issues such as the history of police aggression against minorities and cultural clashes between law enforcement and a 'no-snitching' ethos in black communities. I wish there was a giant reset button we could push that would erase the historical animosity and let people start fresh. But there isn't, so we are doomed to reinforce our biases unless we actively work against them.

Image: politic365.com


Update 12/8/14. I recant what I said about the 'giant reset button.' That disrespects the legitimate and deeply-felt grievances minorities have. There is no wiping the slate clean. Instead, there should be amends, trust-building, and reconciliation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Declining GDP, declining population

Japan has been mired in recession for maybe two decades now. The government has tried to spend its way out with major infrastructure stimulus, but to no avail. It's ironic, but perhaps this comment is the best diagnosis that I've read:
The reason Japan has had no economic growth over the past 20 years has nothing at all to do with the Bank of Japan and everything to do with its aging and declining population. All the monetary tinkering can't generate increases in aggregate demand in the face of decreases in aggregate human activity and population.
It's not surprising if Europe is facing this. Maybe the US is facing it too, but not yet. Maybe most countries will be facing it in time.

However, this isn't the worst thing that could happen--that growth slows to a pittance and we end up in a steady state. Endless population growth and population pressure seem much more frightening to me. But perhaps that's just a prejudice of mine--preferring a leveling off or decline in population to increasing population.  However, I think it's more than just a preference. I have to wonder whether the Japanese are suffering from their population and productivity decline, and compare that with places where overpopulation is a problem. When I look at Japan versus Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, and others, I see much less suffering in Japan. In countries with high population growth, I see a lot of current suffering and a bleak future.

Instead of fearing slowing growth, we should be figuring out how to manage it for the best outcome possible. But even without the best management, we're better off than if we were among the 40% (and growing) number of unemployed in Kenya.

Image: ipss.go.jp


Monday, December 1, 2014

Immigration reform is a massive hot potato

How much immigration reform have we had in the last 30 years? Aside from the amnesty in 1986, we haven't had much. And since then, we've had roughly one million per year of legal immigrants and large numbers of illegal immigrants.

Our policy ... and our real policy

Our de facto national policy has been to tolerate illegal immigration. There are been very few sanctions against employers of illegal immigrants, or landlords, or merchants who sell to illegal immigrants. Schools are required to teach children who are illegal immigrants, and hospitals are required to treat them. Considering this, it's not surprising that illegal immigrants numbers have grown in the country.

The lure is pretty clearly jobs and a better life in the US. Wages are lower in Latin America; crime and corruption are higher. Of course the US will be a magnet. Yet we haven't changed our policies to counteract those forces that draw immigrants here. Why not? Well, just take a look at who benefits from illegal immigration.

Pros and Cons

Different groups have different reasons for supporting illegal immigration. Humanitarian groups see the conditions the immigrants are fleeing, and they are sympathetic to their plight. I'm pretty sure this is reasonable, up to a point. Businesses like hard workers who can't or won't demand higher pay--it's good for their profit margins. This is less defensible. However, if your competition is hiring illegal immigrants and paying less, you may have to do the same or shutter your business. Businesses also benefit from a larger consumer base, and they won't complain about that. Democrats like illegal immigrants because supporters/allies of illegal immigrants also generally support of most of the Democratic agenda--social spending, cultural diversity,  . . . and voting Democratic, naturally.

Actually, it sounds like everyone should like illegal immigration. I must have neglected the downside. Let's see . . . it costs extra to educate them, provide medical care, jail them, enforce laws, etc. They are stiff competition for desirable jobs. Some people dislike that they are Latino (or Asian or black) rather than European stock like the majority of the country, but I strongly disagree with that as a valid reason.

So with a bunch reasons to support illegal immigration and also a bunch of reasons to be against it, it's no wonder that we haven't controlled the level of illegal immigration that well.

The Unspoken Reason for Allowing Illegal Immigration

I think I forgot to mention another major reason to support illegal immigration: it helps prevent wage and price inflation. For some economists and a bunch of politicians, that is a major reason to tacitly support it. Inflation is quite the bogeyman, but if you can prevent it, you can have all sorts of wonderful growth numbers that make you look like a shining success. You can have growth in housing (built for less using illegal immigrant labor), growth in jobs, growth in GDP, growth in tax revenue--all these good things without the growth in costs. You don't have to give the economy a dose of that nasty anti-inflation medicine of raising interest rates to prevent overheating.

Yes, this is the biggest reason that we haven't exercised control over the level of illegal immigration. It's because the economy as a whole benefited in the short term. It's too bad that it was actually a bubble, and had to pop sometime. Now, we have over 11 million illegal immigrants, most of whom are working, are integrated into our economy and communities, and many of whom have American-born or naturalized family members. How are we going to disentangle this situation?

Incomplete Solutions

I don't see a good solution. Much of the GOP (except for the businesses that benefit and the economists who like very low inflation) don't really have a solution to offer. Some GOP-led states have tried to make employment and renting difficult for illegal immigrants, forcing them to move to other states or go back to their home countries. (I wonder how they go home. Do they have passports in order to board planes and cross borders? I don't know.)

I don't think that this squeezing has actually worked, though it seems like it should. There is certainly a lot of resistance to these tactics. It's not a humanitarian course--making life so inhospitable that people give up and go home even though the home country is a wreck. You've not only angered the illegal immigrants, you've also angered all their supporters. And, those state laws have been mired in the courts, so they haven't had a noticeable effect.

The GOP also says that it wants much tighter border security. I've read that the border is so wide open that anyone can cross. I doubt this, but I'm not close to any border, so I don't know if it's true or not. Border security sounds reasonable, but it's limited in its effectiveness. Many illegal immigrants come to the US in legal ways--on visitor or student visas, and then stay on. Border security isn't going to do anything about that. I seriously wonder how much improvement can be made. Should we erect walls like Israel has? We haven't even started the discussion and assessment to make a cost-conscious decision on this.

I don't hear the GOP talking as much about putting the screws on employers so they won't hire illegal immigrants. This should be part of their proposal, except that it antagonizes businesses, who are necessary GOP allies. That's yet another case of political necessity trumping principle.

The Democratic proposals are even weaker. Most Democrats want amnesty for illegal immigrants and a path to citizenship (and voting for Dems in elections). They don't say much about preventing further illegal immigration.

Punt

I don't have a good proposal myself. I lean towards deportation, but that may be economically disruptive and it's a humanitarian nightmare. Is there a way to legalize the good illegal immigrants, send the marginal ones back, and then cut off the flow in the future? That's what I'd like, but I don't know how to accomplish that. So I'd appoint a bipartisan commission, have them study the issues and make recommendations. And unlike other times with other commissions, I'd actually listen very carefully to what they recommend. That's how I'd handle this hot potato--give it to people who are smarter than me.

Do you want to know what's the most ironic thing here? Both sides say they want 'comprehensive immigration reform.' HAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, right. That's why we've had so much progress in the last 28 years.

Image: mwfpress.com

Extras and sources. Watered down employer sanctions and other problems in the 1986 reform. Texas is still not ready to hold employers accountable. Anti-immigrant site with its take. Does the announcement on immigration fall under the mantle of legitimate discretion? It's not lawless, according to a conservative legal scholar. What can the GOP actually do about Obama's plan? A history of the recent promises of immigration reform.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving at my house

I had another wonderful Thanksgiving with my family and neighbors. The turkey was moister this year, the sweet potatoes so sweet they stuck to my teeth (in a good way--thanks, Mary!), homemade sushi from my Japanese neighbors (anticipated with great delight now--thanks, Yuki!), etc.

For dessert, I decided on flourless chocolate cake instead of pie, and it turned out like a brick or an oversized hockey puck--10 inches across, to be exact. Hard to cut but melting in our mouths with a kiss of raspberry sauce.

I live in a wonderful mixed neighborhood. I get to buy the bounty of food at safe, spacious markets. I'd count my many blesses, but the numbers don't go up high enough. Also, I don't have a Thanksgiving like this:
"Police say a Pennsylvania woman chased her boyfriend around a dining room and stabbed him in the chest because he started eating Thanksgiving dinner while she slept off a bender."
Image: cookingwithk.net

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on the Ferguson shooting: No indictment

I agree with the grand jury's decision not to indict the policeman who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. For what it's worth, that's my opinion. It's not worth too much because I haven't been one of the jurors or investigators, so I haven't had access to the evidence. Instead, I've had to rely on news reports.

With those caveats, here is my reasoning. It's clear that Michael Brown strong-armed a store just minutes before. He shoved and intimidated a clerk. It seems pretty certain that Michael Brown attacked Officer Darren Wilson, punching him while he was in his police car. It's likely that he tried to get this gun.

I think this adds up to Michael Brown being a dangerous person at that time. After he attacked Officer Wilson, Wilson wasn't out of line shooting him when he didn't immediately get on the ground. Instead Brown stayed standing, possibly still moving, and therefore still a threat.

Proponents for Brown and for an indictment ignore a lot of evidence, and they make excuses for why Brown should be forgiven for his aggressiveness, while Wilson should be held accountable for his response. That's a double-standard, and I won't be part of it.

Policing is a dangerous job. Police are definitely a target for too many criminals. Lately, the death toll among cops has been quite high. This job is going to be impossible if police have to put up with being attacked, and then made out to be wrong in their responses. So, the decision not to indict Officer Wilson was the correct one. Here is a good summation:
"The grand jury accepted that Brown was the aggressor throughout the confrontation and that Wilson feared he might be overpowered and lose his gun. According to the grand jurors, that justified the officer’s firing of a dozen rounds. Wilson, therefore, will face no criminal charges in connection with the deadly shooting."
So, what evidence (through news reports) did I use in coming to the same conclusion? The video of Michael Brown pushing someone at the store. The friend who was with Michael neglected to mention the incident, so his testimony is questionable at best. The reports (with physical evidence) that shots were fired inside the police car. A picture of Wilson showing bruising on his face. Michael Brown's blood on the gun. Reports that witnesses on the scene contradicted the story that Brown's hands were up (not enough of a surrender anyhow), and that these witnesses were frightened of telling their stories due to the likely reaction in their neighborhood.

There is some contradictory evidence, but it isn't as strong. As for those who say that Michael Brown's robbery a few minutes earlier is immaterial--uh, no. It's quite pertinent. This isn't a case of a cop gunning down a black teen with no provocation or due to a mistake. The boy (18 years old, 300 lbs.) provoked the incident. That is something that should matter to everyone.

Image: abcnews.com

Extras. Abysmal forensic procedures, including washing away blood evidence. The transcript of Officer Wilson's testimony, which I haven't read yet. Very detailed article examining some of Wilson's testimony. Eye-witness testimony that was shown to be wrong and likely fabricated.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Short: Congressional hijinks

Wow. I don't know enough about how to stymie legislation and debate. Unfortunately, our Congressional representatives do, and they've been very hard at work making sure that there isn't embarrassing open debate on issues of national importance. Exactly how do they do it? Read this and weep.

I know that our system is far from perfect, but I hadn't realized how much worse it's gotten. I also don't know if I'll see an improvement in my lifetime.

Perhaps two major improvements in one life is too much to expect. When I was young, I got to see the end of Jim Crow. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get to see the end of this hyperpartisanship too.

I wish ...
Image: cagle.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moderating forces and their opposite, Part 2

Democrats moderated after their losing streak in the 60's through the 80's, which included their very wild 60's. The motivating force came from not wanting to lose so many elections, not from the idea that moderation was inherently better. However, many Dems might have started questioning how far the Great Society and welfare state could or would go under the liberal aegis, and they may not have liked what they saw. So a bunch of Dems set up the Democratic Leadership Council. They had a lot of success, with Bill Clinton winning the Democratic nomination, and then the presidency as a 'third way' New Democrat.

No Moderation in the GOP 

The GOP haven't had a moderating period for 35 years, except for a brief period when Bush was campaigning in 2000. He acted like he cared about the environment, but promptly dropped that. He did care about education, but his proposals were always tinged with partisan jabs against teacher unions, who are strong Democratic supporters.

After eight years of Bush as president, suddenly the farthest right component of the GOP realized that he was too moderate and they hadn't gotten what they wanted. They disavowed Bush and became even more hard-core.

Free Rein to Go Left among the Dems

The GOP's pivot to the right allowed the Dems to end their moderation jag. They shifted to the left (though they didn't become more extreme than they were in the 70's). Leaders were no longer claiming to be 'New Democrats.' Nancy Pelosi, the House leader and a big fundraiser for the party, is not from the DLC group but is instead one of founders of the House Progressive Caucus. The DLC disbanded in 2011, but hadn't had much influence since 2000. I'm not sure why, but the driving force and probably the money machine among Dems has been on the progressive side.

The sad consequence of this is that no party right now is trying to be moderate. All this is playing out against a backdrop of the parties becoming more ideologically polarized, rather than being coalitions.

There may not be forces that can correct this. The GOP has managed to fight off the most extreme Tea Partyers, but they certainly haven't become more moderate after their rightward turn in 2008, when their House members at first rejected legislation necessary to stabilize the banks and the economy. Many are still vehemently against TARP and the stimulus, even though these programs were successful in preventing a full blown depression.

If there are moderating forces working in the Democratic party, they aren't apparent to an observer like me. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are still the heads of their respective caucuses. Dems aren't forming new groups to spearhead a centrist message of responsible budget trimming and cost controls for entitlement programs. I wonder whether they need to lose the presidency before that happens. If so, the Dems will end up losing a great deal. 


What's At Stake

If the Dems lose the presidency, the GOP will most likely also have the majority in the House and Senate too. What, aside from Democratic filibusters, will keep the GOP from legislating a lot of their program? The GOP might be able to slice up Obamacare so that it no longer provides access to health insurance for anyone who's hard to insure (older, pre-existing conditions, women of child-bearing age, etc.). The GOP can also remove the Democratic-favored cost-control measures and substitute their own measures--a Medicare voucher system. That will probably lead to a class-based healthcare system for elders rather than the current one which is fairly equal. 

However, if the GOP remains true to form, their first move will be passing tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and that also massively inflate the deficit. If the GOP goes for tax cuts, I don't think they'll attach a sunset clause this time, so the tax cuts will last until the Dems finally win back the White House, House and Senate. How hard will it be to undo what happens in the next few years? Isn't that a good reason to be moderate  now?

Which trajectory will we take?
Image: spaceweather.com

Extra. Part 1 here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Don't call American voters 'stupid'

Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist, had the worst week in Washington when video surfaced of him talking about the ACA law. He broke one of the rules--you have to pretend that American voters are logical and willing to take some pain for the greater good. Gruber actually used the words "the stupidity of the American voter."

COME ON! REALLY! Politicians insult the intelligence of US voters all the time. Videos of stupid voters go viral ALL THE TIME. Who can forget the Obamaphone woman or the "he's a Muslim" woman? These are iconic stupid voters, but there are so many types of stupid voters. For example, there are the stupid voters who want their tax cuts, but then can't understand why deficits are so high. There are the stupid voters who think the US is so rich that only reason we don't have a better safety net is because too many people are mean-spirited. We have stupid voters who think that we shouldn't have any cost controls on Medicare. We have stupid voters who think every Democrat is evil or every Republican is racist and greedy.

But heaven help us if someone connected to the administration should say that voters are stupid. Here is Reason magazine, pretending that it's extraordinary that Gruber wouldn't be totally upfront about the bill:
"What it shows, in other words, is Gruber openly embracing a strategy of messaging manipulation and misleading emphasis even while the bill was still being debated."
Wow! How dare he participate in messaging manipulation. How could this happen in our country--that someone would even contemplate manipulating the perception of a political issue?

OK, enough faux outrage.

I don't know if honesty has a place in politics anymore. I certainly don't see consistent honesty from any politician. I see so many lies that I expect it 100% of the time. Because of this, I work like crazy to dig out the truth, and most of the time I don't know if it's truth or not.

The only good thing I have to say about politicians is that what they say isn't the exact opposite of what they truly believe or want. It's maybe within 30 degrees of what they believe to be true. So a politician may say that the economy will surge when we cut taxes, and the economy won't tank. But he made that prediction, not based on knowledge, but on hope and partisanship. Politicians could never get anywhere if they only spoke the truth, so let's give them a break and not go ape-shit over the inevitable double-speak we get from them.

One final point--what about the hypocrisy of those who complain about stupid voters? I bet everyone who complained about Gruber's comments actually believes a lot of US voters are stupid. Does anyone really believe that American voters are largely intelligent and well-educated about the issues? HAHAHAHA. No one believes that.

Image: theawl.com

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Short: ISIS is profitable terrorism

Here is a moderately long article about the financing of ISIS. Does that sound boring? To me it doesn't, but maybe to other people. I always wonder how it is that there seems to be bottomless funding for Islamic terrorist groups. At least for ISIS, this article contains some answers.

In Muslim countries, the problem with funding of terrorists groups isn't well addressed. It seems that enough wealthy people feel that their money is well-spent on armed thugs, as long as they have the right religious persuasion. I imagine that donors hold these views when they aren't personally subject to the thuggish behavior. So I'm left hoping that they either wise up or get a taste of their own medicine (preferably the former).

The financing of ISIS reminds me that some Somali pirates were also well-financed, but with the clear aim of turning a profit. Who would have known that the pirates would be replaced with an even bloodier threat. I hate to think about what's next.

Image:dw.de

Extra. Another article focuses on ground-level operations--extracting protection money and controlling financial hubs.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Post Mortem: Will the 2016 election be like 2012 or like 2014?

In 2012, the Dems were the lucky ones. The GOP had been having their equivalent of the Cultural Revolution for 3 years. RINOs were denouncing themselves and going to reeducation camp, where they were swearing to close the deficit with tax cuts only. Some of the nuttier ones were saying that we must go cold-turkey on deficit spending--cutting budgets immediately and deeply.

In that situation, all the Dems had to do was not be crazy: Don't have a hundred new, expansive proposals. Acknowledge that you have to work with the GOP-led House, so there are going to be limits on what you can do. The Dems were able to avoid crazy, so they won.

In 2016, the Dems might be running against sane opponents, so it's going to be much harder for them. The sane crop of candidates in 2014 didn't push the idea that all pregnancies are sacred (so no abortion even in the case of rape or severe deformity) They didn't say the government should be shut down if we don't get our repeal of Obamacare. Actually, I assume they didn't do this. I didn't see their TV commercials. But I didn't see over-the-top commercials critiqued or lampooned either.

So if the 2016 GOP candidates aren't going to be crazy, how will the Dems win? That's a question they should be asking themselves. If the Dems don't want to lose in 2016 the way they just lost, they will have to come up with a damn good answer to that question. I'll be looking for how that shapes up.

It was easy to beat this bunch. 
Image: filmschoolrejects.com

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Post Mortem: "We're not the problem"

The Democrats may be on the cusp of being exiled in the wilderness for another period like the 70's and 80's, due to their leadership and money machine being too liberal/progressive. They've lost a lot of popularity between 2008 and now, but they are behaving like it's 'not their problem,' but a problem with midterm electorates. Maybe this is true, but it's a big gamble with 2016 coming up. Look at this popularity graph:

Imsge: gallup.com

Popularity of the GOP has been going up in the past year, while the Dems' popularity has dropped. Isn't it time for the Dems to try reversing that trend?

Deborah Wasserman Schultz, the first Dem to address the problem, says that it's not the policies that have to change. She's ordering a post-mortem with changes to be announced early next year. These reporters (obviously biased toward progressives) seem to think that only progressives Dems support a higher minimal wage and reform of overly long criminal sentences. And since these measures are popular, Dems need more progressives. I say that they're looking at a very skewed picture there. Lots or all Dems support those measures, not just progressives. Mistaken assumptions lead to mistaken conclusions.

If the progressives get their way, and the Dems become even more progressive, they don't have a bright future ahead in 2016. But maybe they'll have to run the experiment and find out (because the whole of the 1970's wasn't enough). It will only cost them... the presidency. No big deal.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who was obstructing whom in the Senate?

The Democrats have been saying since 2010 that the Republicans have been obstructing legislation with endless filibusters. The GOP has been charging the Dems won't talk with the GOP, won't let them offer amendments, and won't allow votes that the GOP would like to take.

Not a surprise, but both charges are true. However, a commenter (somewhere on the internet--it's not important where) suggested that it started with Harry Reid stopping amendments and other votes. If this is true, then Reid is responsible for a lot of dysfunction, in fact a cascade of dysfunction. So I decided to check this out.

It was quite hard to do. The accusation hasn't been generally raised and examined, so I didn't find a convenient summary of the issue. Instead, I found lots of tit-for-tat fighting. So here it is.

Yes, Harry Reid filled up the amendment lists on most or all bills. This pissed off the Republicans, who wanted to offer amendments that put Democratic senators on the spot. The GOP didn't get to do this, but they still managed to defeat lots of these senators in the midterm elections just last week. So, if we identify the goals, they are something like this:

  • GOP goal: Make Dem senators take embarrassing votes.
  • Dem goal: Protect Dem senators from embarrassing votes.
So, did the Republicans get angry at being stymied, and then start filibustering all nominations? I found one brief mention of the possibility in a Norm Ornstein piece. Mostly, the GOP wanted to make it hard for the Obama administration to appoint officials to carry out their policies. They particularly targeted the Consumer Finance Something Something and the National Labor Relations Board. And also the EPA. The GOP also wanted to restrict the number of judges appointed by Obama to appeals and circuit courts. [Disclosure: I'm not sure what the difference is between appeals and circuit courts, but that information isn't really relevant here.] Almost everything I read talked about the GOP's motivation not being revenge for blockage of amendments, but being attempts to slow or block.

The Dem senators threatened many time to end the filibuster on appointments (except Supreme Court nominees). The GOP backed down several times, then returned to the practice, and finally the Dems went nuclear and ended the rule that allowed the GOP to filibuster. In most of this, there wasn't public discussion/negotiation of what Harry Reid was doing with amendments. The usual GOP stance was that they had every right to exercise oversight of appointments, and they were making sure that inappropriate people weren't being appointed. This excuse was generally bullshit, and was understood this way at the time. To summarize:

  • GOP goals: Block the administration personnel and appointed judges. Revenge on Reid for when he blocked Bush nominees.
  • Dem goal: End the blockage, end the filibuster if necessary.
So I didn't find that Harry Reid's tactics were the ultimate cause of the appointment blockade. I did find lots of bad behavior spanning decades as each side tried to maximize its advantage, and also tried to avenge the history of insults. It's an ugly feud that only gotten uglier.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

Image: selfdeprecate.com


Tons of Extras. I checked a lot of conservative sources to read their rationale for the blockade of appointments. That explains the imbalance below.

Right:

  • The Dems have brought the law of the jungle to the Senate. When the GOP gets control, they should use it to the max.
  • Mark Levin against the blockade of judicial nominees, circa 2003: "Nowhere in the Constitution, in the Federalist Papers or in any contemporary writings during the Constitutional Convention or the ratifying conventions can the Senate Democrats find support for their use of the filibuster to block judicial appointments."
  • Weekly Standard against it too.
  • Yeah, it's revenge for Dems blocking Bush's judicial nominees.
  • The next set of obstruction tactics after the nuclear option was exercised.
  • Recent: Keep the nuclear option on judicial appointments. It's more in keeping with tradition anyway.

Left:



Neutral?

  • Reactions to the Dems going nuclear. Republican apoplexy: You're going to regret this.
  • Well-paced history of senators behaving badly for decades, tracing escalation through Frist and Reid. Discussion of the amazing number of maneuvers that can be abused. Blocking amendments--they both did it. Breaking agreements, ditto. I especially enjoyed pages 12-19.
  • How that amendment-blocking maneuver works.
  • Post-nuclear, but still blocked.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Messy post-mortem of the 2014 election

I was going to call this post "Learn or lose," but I'm not so sure what the lessons are. My first thought is that the Dems actually have to follow through on their sensible rhetoric about sensible budget restraint. They also have to pay attention to developments like the immigration crisis and how it changes public opinion.

Obstruct = Win ??

But perhaps the lesson from the election is that the GOP can obstruct, be irresponsible and uncooperative, not offer any sound alternatives, and they can still win. That's the message from this progressively-biased writer. If it's true that the GOP can get away with such behavior, what exactly can the Dems do about it? They've been messaging about the GOP obstructing non-stop for 6 years. That's an incredibly direct, simple message, backed up by loads of evidence, yet it made no difference in this election.

Incompetence = Lose ??

So pointing out the flaws of the GOP didn't help the Dems. Did the GOP win because it was able to make a coherent attack on the Dems? Perhaps to a certain extent. Obama's popularity has dropped into the low 40's, being especially hurt by the incompetence of the ACA roll-out. Obama hasn't been able to demonstrate strong problem-solving since. Conflicts in foreign countries have ramped up. It's not Obama's fault, but he didn't prevent or solve them. He didn't get to be the hero by quickly dealing with an Ebola outbreak here because we didn't have one. His reaction to the immigration crisis was to 1) ask for money, and 2) punt on his announced "big change" in immigration policy. Just what problem has Obama solved in the last 9 months? It's no wonder his popularity is stuck below neutral.

The Electorate is just plain tired ??

However, the popularity of the GOP in Congress is even lower. So how did they win? It could be that GOP voters were energized and went to the polls, while Dems were demoralized and stayed home. This often happens six years into a presidency. It happened in 2006, less so in 1986 (when Reagan remained popular) or in 1998 (when the electorate punished the GOP for its impeachment follies).

So in the absence of either party looking good, the out-party fared better because people blamed the in-party. Perhaps that's the explanation. Of course some die-hard progressives are again saying the president was too accommodating, and the Democrats will actually do better as a smaller, more ideological congressional caucus.

I disagree. I doubt there's a single shred of evidence that Democrats fare better at the polls when they're more liberal. Most of the evidence shows otherwise, including the long drought between 1968 and 1991 when only one Democrat was elected president.

Image: dailymail.co.uk


Extras. Some exit polling numbers and analysis. Most interesting numbers: 45% didn't think the election was a referendum on Obama. A surprising number of people who are neutral or somewhat opposed to the Tea Party voted Republican. The Tea Party wasn't the boogeyman that it had been in 2012. Dems couldn't successfully run against Tea Party as they did in 2012.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The high stakes of culture: Mississippi

I continue to see the effects of culture almost everywhere. I listen for cultural differences, and the effect of culture on values and the choices that people make.

So I thought this was a very striking observation by Jamelle Bouie, a black political columnist:
"White supremacy built a politics of racist antagonism. Blacks were substandard people & thus received substandard schools, services, & law. Anything public had to be kept separate from blacks, and if that wasn’t possible, it had to be degraded..."
Further down in the same post, the author links to a tragic story of what happened to ACA in Mississippi. It's a worthy of Shakespearean treatment. There are the heroes who try to step above the usual bitterness, and the banal villains who shred those attempts and congratulate themselves while doing it.

I'm a northerner and  hardly know about the south. But when I read these kinds of stories, and consider what I do know about the south and about Arizona (settled by southerners, and where my parents now live), I start to see the patterns that Bouie writes about. Why do northern states spend more on education than southern states? Entrenched racism and the resulting antipathy to public services could be the answer. What a sad answer that is. And is it just a 'neutral' cultural difference, or is it actually a inferior culture that should change? I can't be a fair advocate for southern culture, but I'll keep my ears open for such an advocate.

Image: blogslucianneloves.com

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Short: Who gets punched in the nose?

Blather, blather, blather. Boehner claims that Putin is aggressive because Obama stinks as a president:
"When you look at this chaos that’s going on, does anybody think that Vladimir Putin would have gone into Crimea had George W. Bush been president of the United States? No! Even Putin is smart enough to know that Bush would have punched him in the nose in about 10 seconds." --John Boehner
But, but, but, as this commenter points out:
Well, ...  to be fair, when Putin invaded Georgia during the Bush administration, George did fly to Moscow and punch him in the nose. So, there's that.
Thanks, Mother Jones, for the laugh. It's been too long.

Place your bets.
Images: religiopoliticaltalk.com and daily,co,uk

Why don't we have a travel ban?

The Ebola issue is much more political than it should be. Of course, many politicians can't restrain themselves from engaging in bashing their targets over a disease that's as deadly as Ebola. In the 1980's, the politically-infected arguments raged about AIDS, and we haven't had a disease with this much potential since then. However, the politics around AIDS perhaps should have been a lesson to prevent politics from ruling the discussion. But we're Americans, so we inject politics into everything.

Even if you don't think you personally are bringing politics into your viewpoint on Ebola, you probably are. To see how the politics play out, just ask yourself why we don't have a travel ban. Your answer is likely to fall into one of two categories, both of which are heavily influenced by politics.

There must be a good reason

didn't ask myself about the lack of a travel ban for a while. I'm not sure why, but my left-of-center tendencies probably had something to do with it. I figured that the administration had a good reason for not banning travel from the epidemic areas. I didn't believe that cover stories that it was due to vital trade ties, or that commercial flights were necessary for our humanitarian efforts. I figured that there was a reason that the administration didn't feel comfortable talking about. Perhaps they were worried about human smuggling taking over if there were no flights. (That was my top theory.)

However, my support was based on faith or trust that there was a good reason. Faith and trust--not good scientific reasons.

So why don't we have a travel ban? Maybe it's the smuggling worry. Maybe we have a secret agreement with most European countries that we won't cut off flights. That way the affected countries have contact and a safety valve, but no country with good western medicine ends up with a disproportionate number of Ebola cases (that's another theory, in case you didn't notice).

This is still speculation, faith, and trust. If we based our policy simply on reducing our chances of an Ebola epidemic to the lowest possible level, we would have a travel ban. We would also not have allowed the American workers with Ebola to return and be treated in American hospitals.

So this administration is willing to take some risks. The science does show that the risks are quite low, and that's been born out in the US. The only known cases of transmission in the US occurred between a deathly ill patient (with copious diarrhea and vomiting) and his nurses. No one in his family became ill.

But the low chance of an outbreak here isn't the declared reason for a lack of a travel ban. We're still left wondering and coming up with our own ideas for the lack of a travel ban.

There must be a nefarious reason

If you don't trust the president and his administration, what do you make of the lack of a travel ban? I've read a bunch of theories on that:
  • The administration doesn't want to be politically incorrect, so it won't cut off or stigmatize part of Africa.
  • The administration supports open borders in every way, even if it lets Ebola into the country.
  • Obama hates America and wants an Ebola epidemic here.
  • Obama puts the good of other countries above the good of the US.
  • This is payback for slavery.
  • This is a good way to reduce overpopulation all over the Earth.
By not being clear in its reasons, the Obama administration has opened the door to a lot of speculation. That speculation is either supportive and antagonistic, and all of it is tinged with politics. If you thought your opinion was based solely on science, I hope this post showed you otherwise.

Image: microbiologyworld.com


Extras. Christie and Cuomo teamed up to show that they are post-political and would institute a quarantine together. It fell apart in a couple days because it was based on political gamesmanship. Ebola politics in Louisiana, a state that isn't likely to be a locus of Ebola issues. The media steps up to help Obama again--travel bans don't work. See, there must be a good reason.

Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm afraid of 2016

Americans like fairly regular change in presidential party. Since FDR, no party has held the presidency for more than 12 continuous years. More commonly it's been 8 years. That means the Democrats are due to lose the presidency in 2016.

Will it actually play out that way? I haven't thought it would. The GOP have been so terrible at laying out their policies that people have rejected them for the presidential spot. They've been fuzzy on the details, and used euphemism like "premium support." Their radical wing is either fuzzier (by calling for America to return to common sense and/or the Constitution) or scarier (like calling for the end of the EPA, Social Security, anti-discrimination laws, and any monetary policy at all.) I've tended to think that this makes the GOP unelectable nationally. The 2012 election seemed to bear this out, when a vulnerable president won reelection despite a limp recovery.

However, there's a powerful school of thought that the candidates and even the platforms make no difference. Who wins and loses is based on the "fundamentals." And these fundamentals aren't even all that complex:
  1. A basket of weighted economics factors from the past four years, which probably boil down to "is the economy getting better or worse?"
  2. The popularity of the incumbent president. 
Based on the fundamentals, Hillary Clinton might be in trouble. Obama's popularity is dropping and will weigh her down, according to the fundamentals school. The economy will probably not surge in 2016 to help her out.

Those issues, along with the fatigue with the party in the White House, should doom Hillary or whoever the Democratic nominee is. So I worry.

On the other hand, I have a hard time foreseeing any success for the party of:
  • weird fuzzy budgets
  • voucherizing Medicare
  • defaulting rather than raising the debt limit
  • no replacement for Obamacare
  • more wars in the Middle East
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Ted Cruz
I still think Hillary will win because the GOP will shoot themselves in the foot, the face, the ass, or all three. The 2016 election may demonstrate the limits of the fundamentals model. The model may need an escape clause for insanity.

Image: picphotos.net

Extras. Nate Silver doesn't think much of the fundamentals model.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Short: Iran negotiates, but will the Senate approve?

Here's a fascinating article about the negotiations between the US and Iran. It doesn't focus on centrifuges or which sanctions need to stay, or on timetables, or any of that boring but important stuff.

Instead, it focuses on the elephant in the room. If Obama makes a deal with Iran, there's no fucking way that the Senate will approve it. No fucking way at all.

It doesn't take much reflection to see that this observation is true. The readers are probably nodding their heads in agreement right now. So, chances are that the Iranians know it too. Yet they are still negotiating.

I think they want a settlement and want to be part of global trade much more than they want nuclear weapons. That makes sense, because you can't eat nuclear weapons, live in them, or play them on your Xbox. You can't shoot them at people without HUGE repercussions either. Food, housing, and game consoles are much more practical, and maybe that's what Iranians really want. That's the better choice. Good on you, Iran. I hope it remains that way.

The Senate went nuclear, but Iran isn't... maybe?
Image: telegraph. co,uk

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Conspiracy cocktails

I don't usually pay attention to Alex Jones because he's so far out there that he rubs elbows with the Reptilian alien believer. But hey, good ratings, so you've got to.

But if you're listening to Alex Jones, who else might be in the mix? Look here:

Image: itunes.com

On the right is PrisonPlanet from Alex Jones, then there's Savage nation, Mark Levin, some unknown called Hagmann and Hagmann, and finally Glenn Beck.

Now that's a conspiracy cocktail. However, I'm not so sure about Alex Jones. He seems a little suspect to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Evidence-based thinking vs. assumption-based thinking

I've read many comments about how the US is doomed to have an Ebola outbreak because Obama is such a horrible president. I agree that there are plenty of reasons to think the Obama isn't a good president, but it's quite a leap to assume that we'll have people dying of Ebola because of it.

Of course, many people think we are doomed since the country reelected Obama. We were doomed by ACA, so we must be at least doubly or triply doomed. So if we are doomed, any crisis can obviously boil over and burn us all. We were threatened existentially over the summer by immigrants, which turned into immigrants with dread diseases. Then that story morphed into ISIS terrorists infiltrating through the Mexican border. Now we are doomed because ... Ebola!

Some of the concern  has some logic to it. For example, the administration loathes racial discrimination, so it won't ban travel to and from the African countries where the epidemic is occurring. There's some logic to that complaint. The administration hasn't done a great job in explaining why it allows recent visitors from the infected countries to come into the US without quarantine. It doesn't lay out the criteria for when to impose these kinds of measures, so it's reasonable to wonder if they've worked it out at all.

But some critics have leaped to the idea that the administration wants Ebola in the country. Limbaugh says the progressives believe that Ebola is our just desserts for slavery. I can't remember hearing that from the progressives I know, but Limbaugh talks about it quite extensively. Well, we know that Obama and liberals/progressives want to destroy the country, so Ebola would be nifty tool to do it.

Alex Jones thinks Ebola is a great tool for imposing "the medical tyranny state." First you bring people with Ebola into the US, then you release them to spread it around, and then you lock up and/or disappear Americans accused of having the disease. This warning, among others, is helpfully packaged on this Tea Party site, so you can clearly grasp what the real story is.

Contrast this "we-are-doomed" thinking with some scientific observations. Only two people carrying Ebola are known to have left the infected countries by commercial flights. Checking passengers for fever and the cost of tickets appear to have done a good job of deterring infected people, though not a 100% effective job.

Also, it's a fact that the US has handled Ebola patients successfully in this country, so we don't have to take a zero tolerance approach. We can balance the risks: the risk of one or more infected people arriving in the US vs. the risks of cutting off air travel.

Observation also shows that Ebola hasn't spread through casual contact. The only people infected (so far) in the US have been healthcare workers caring for a single patient. No one who had casual contact with the patient, not even the people who shared the patient's apartment, has gotten sick. Observation shows that healthcare workers at the Dallas hospital became infected, but not those at the Atlanta hospital.

Observation doesn't show any connection between Obama and who has gotten infected. So how is Obama responsible? The connection is only possible if you make assumptions, not if you depend on observation and logic. Those who are bashing Obama for presence of Ebola in the US have a bit of a logical case. He could have forbidden the travel of anyone from the effected region. But the bashing goes so far beyond that, and the predictions have been catastrophic because Obama is such a catastrophe himself. By warped logic, Obama is awful, and therefore any awful thing that happens is directly attributable to him.

And by the way, the new Ebola czar that he just named, that guy is a disaster too. Already. He must be, because Obama appointed him.

Image: youngcons.com


Extra. Zero Hedge starts by warning that your civil rights will be gone if there's an Ebola outbreak, Then he warns that Ebola is a "very, very serious disease," and that "we could truly be looking at the greatest health crisis that any of us have ever seen."

So which is it? Should we be protecting our rights and freedom of movement, or should we be cautious of our health? I wish he had decided before he wrote contradictory warnings in a single post.