Thursday, September 29, 2005


Regarding Michael Brown’s testimony, some rantage over at >

So this Federalism thing is really convenient. Any time the State really blows it, the Feds can blame the locals and vice versa.

Michael Brown, the canned FEMA chief has informed us that it was all the fault of the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Fortunately, we can rest easy because Brown tells us "I know what I’m doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it,”

Well, I guess the next time the Feds cause a massive disaster as they did with their shoddy levees, I'm sure they'll do an outstanding job cleaning up the corpses they produced - as long as those darn locals don't mess everything up.

I love how the Feds also claim that they couldn't take action because the the State didn't "invite" them in. Strange, that sure hasn't been a problem whenever there's been some tyrannical federal mandate to enforce. Let's face it, the Feds do as they please. They're only "constrained" when someone else needs to be blamed. Why don't we just end this whole thing and abolish FEMA and the whole Homeland Security Department immediately? Then lower taxes to reflect the cut.

Of course, the Feds have already come up with a solution - repeal Posse Comitatus.

Of course, tomorrow they’ll be back to decrying anyone who dislikes federalism as a “liberventionist”.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Geena vs. House, no contest

Last night I tried to check out the new Geena Davis show, Commander in Chief. The Achenblog has a good review here

I am sure the creators of the show are fully credentialed liberals who believe they are advancing the cause of women in politics. But what's next, President Geena breaking a nail catastrophically during a state dinner? The show has to somehow get beyond its own gimmick of a woman president. Obviously women in politics face special challenges because of their gender. But it's not all they're about. It's not even necessarily their most interesting characteristic. Women have political philosophies, too, and maybe next week we'll learn more about President Geena's. Apparently she's a lot more liberal than her predecessor. Let's just hope she doesn't try to nationalize the shoe industry.

So, upon finding out that she’s an Independent (a sign that the creators of the show care more about not offending anyone right or left than they do about being interestingly realistic) I switched over to House, MD.

The dramatic promo for the evening’s show was about how they had to decide whether to cut off a man’s hands in order to save his life, but doing so would destroy his life’s work. On turning to the show, I found out he was a janitor. It seemed to really let down the importance of whatever drama is in this show, compared to the drama of TEH WOMAN PREZIDENT.

And yet of course House was better drama, and I felt bad about myself for not being able to take the janitor’s problems (and those of his family) more seriously.

The however was not helped by the end resolution of the show was that they do chop off the guy’s hands, and he sues them for malpractice, and the doctor’s gladly settle for a high amount in order to make his life better. Way to make the problems of the little people not matter, since we can just pay them off through back channels for what a life of work is worth anyway.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More FBI Agents to Monitor Pron

The latest fun target for the liberal blogsphere has been the FBI’s announcement that they plan to focus on obscenity laws more. Not child-pornography, which is already heavily attacked, but pornography that apparently is disqualified because of its obscene content, and yet generally flies under the radar without trouble. This is the stuff that falls under Justice Potter-Stewart’s famous “I’ll know it when I see it.”

And there are many quotes by clever writers and FBI agents who think it’s silly to enforce this while taking resources away from terrorism. To some degree of course I agree; I don’t believe fighting obscene pornography helps our country, and I think we need more agents doing the unglamorous work of “swatting at flies” and defending against terrorists and other immediate problems. I don’t think you’d consider me a fan of any obscenity law.

But that’s the difference there. It is one thing to say there shouldn’t be a law against obscenity, but it’s another thing to not enforce it. If we don’t think its worth wasting manpower and money to enforce a law, then I don’t think we should make the damn law.

In fact, far too much damage is being done to this country because the public is able to convince Congress to make strict laws and agencies against important crimes, but when it comes time to enforce the crimes those agencies routinely find their budgets slashed, and the best and brightest workforces shunted in other directions. Just ask the EPA, the FAA, or the SEC. The ability of the executive to discourage and underfund the enforcement of laws it finds inconvenient is a serious breach of democracy. It’s a security hole that allows those who pay a lot of attention to very few things (ie, the demonized special interests) to circumvent the will of the public that can only pay a little attention to many things.

It’s a problem that I don’t know entirely how to solve, but that’s not the point today. The point is that the American electorate wants obscenity laws and I presume they want them enforced. As a democrat (“small d” hat) I have to support that. If creating and enforcing obscenity laws isn’t worth the resources it pulls from other areas, then please bring that up when drafting legislation and running for office. We can’t ask that this type of cynical avoidance of enforcing the public will be used in the laws we disdain, but fume when the agencies that are meant to monitor the business world get sent to the back of the room.

PS: And do not get me started on the societal costs of a law unenforced. It encourages people to disdain the government, and it allows for blackmail, either by private interests or prosecutors.


Serenity Review

Serenity was an utter blast, what can I say. I doubt anyone who has seen the TV show was even considering not going. Seriously, this is the type of niche film that should charge $20 tickets because they have a hardcore audience, and not much casual audience.

So should people who haven’t seen the show Firefly bother to see it? Well the character exposition, is done quite well and lets you know what the characters are like without being too anvillicious for the people that have already watched fifteen episodes with them. Honestly besides characters there isn’t much back-story for the movie to have to catch up to, and that is done pretty effectively (no more than say you’re average Asimov novel). So, given that it’s easy to appreciate as a stand-alone movie, and you have your high quality dialogue and beautiful sci-fi scenes, then yeah go see it.

Oh, there’s politics. However I don’t think anyone would be offended by the strident libertarianism of the film – since the main problem with libertarianism isn’t that people dislike it, it’s just that they never follow it when it’s inconvenient. In story form, it’s still more appealing as a dogma than anything on the left and right.

I’ve been noticing an interesting increase in Christian scifi – not fundie or bible-thumping Christianity, but the sort of Christianity that focuses just on love and the strength of belief. It can be moving in Serenity, although it’s Battlestar Galactica that does wonderfully creepy things with it. Similarly, I’ve been noticing an increase in the monastic villain, an austere loving monk filled with the power of belief who will smite all their enemies because it needs to be done (see Stargate). I think these villains, and what they represent, are of course interesting so it’s interesting to see where they go.

I think I need to make my sig file a random generator from BSG quotes.


Monday, September 26, 2005

That James Lee Witt Magic

Every time people compare recent FEMA chief and crony Michael Brown and Clinton’s successful FEMA chief James Lee Witt, I think “why shouldn’t this sort of thing be an issue in elections.” And then I think of one particular Gore flop during the 2000 election.

In early summer, Gore expressed his concern for hurricane victims and said he had personally gone to visit the disaster zones with FEMA chief James Lee Witt. Except he had never gone anywhere with Witt. It was a fib that continued the narrative of Gore having problems with the truth. As Al Franken cynically remarked, “here were scores of stories written about how Gore had lied about James Lee Witt. It was as if James Lee Witt had been the most popular man in the United States of America and Gore was lying to get some of that James Lee Witt magic to rub off on him.”

Of course, Gore had gone down there, with the Deputy Chief, and had gone to other zones with Witt. Clearly he messed up and should have fact-checked the detail, but nothing that huge. But the media was able to ride his exaggeration as another fib, and say he was trying to play off the popularity of a nationally respected public servant.

In a proper democracy, Gore should have been able to respond: well fine, are you going to keep Mr. Witt around Mr. Bush? If he’s such a popular national treasure, why are you going to fire his ass the first chance you get? And who will you replace him with? And either Bush would have answered “Joe Allabaugh” and lost the election, or answered someone competent and we would have gotten a chief that wouldn’t have run off at the first sign of Haliburton consulting and left his college roommate in charge. That’s how democracy should work.

This is not to bash the Bush administration. If they don’t have democratic accountability where they have to answer questions like that, the results of appointing campaign financiers over drab bureaucrats are pretty inevitable. But there should be democratic accountability.

Why didn’t Gore use this retort? Because in elections in America you don’t announce who your appointees will be before the election. Why is that? Ummm… dunno. It’s just tradition. Or rather, there are a lot of good reasons for the nominees who decide whether or not to announce to choose this path:
-For only one nominee to do it, it is risky. The good appointees aren’t that sexy to the media, while the bad appointees can lead to lots of bad news coverage and easy attacks.
-They’d rather be able to have a free hand to appoint whoever they want. No one wants democratic accountability on themselves, whether it’s so they have the freedom to appoint un-electable policy geniuses, or to appoint large campaign contributors.
-For the guys up top, it helps to keep people in line by always having rewards for the second-tier guys to be vying for.
-It’s a lot of work to vet a few hundred people in the middle of an election.
-It allows the incumbent President to avoid any discussions of his appointees’ screw ups.

Of course this is what they’ll decide to do if they don’t have to respond to voters over the issue. There are lots of policy issues too where if the politicians just didn’t have to answer the question and no one cared if they didn’t, our politicians would be a lot happier. Gay marriage, abortion, tax raises, etc. The reason they have to answer questions about policies is because that’s what we’re voting based on. And the same goes for appointees, goshdarnit.

It goes without saying that other Western democracies have these cabinets already discussed beforehand. [Note: When I reference other democracies, I don’t mean therefore that’s how we should do it – I’m generally just responding to people who say that way is unthinkable (legislative solutions to abortion, universal healthcare, single bodies of government, etc.)] In Britain for instance, the Parliamentary leader has a “shadow cabinet” where for each cabinet post, there’s a MP who leads the opposition policy on that matter, and will generally sit in that chair if their party wins election.

Of course such a prohibition on speaking about your appointees isn’t written in the constitution, but whereas this blog is devoted to the places where democratic accountability and revered tradition clash, this is definitely a tragic circumstance. We replaced a qualified technocrat so respected even Republicans burnished his image with a slime-bag campaign fundraiser, and we wouldn’t have if we’d been able to ask the candidates beforehand what they would do.

What can we do? Well demand our nominees make a cabinet. Criticize people who hold that electoral tradition should stand, be it in the media, the enemy party, or our own. Propose potential appointees before elections and publicize them and ask the candidates to say that’s who they’ll appoint. As we can see, the alternative is pretty dreadful.


Minor Items Round Up

If anyone ever mentions that poor people are voting Republican because of cultural issues, tell them to >read this and actually bother to find evidence next time.

>Supposedly good news on Cotton Subsidies

Yglesias points out that currently we neither have the accountability of a Parliamentary system, but also suffer from the party discipline of one, a “worst of both worlds” that has rarely affected American politics throughout history.

Neil links to a good post on the nature of law that make me happy in it’s appreciation for how organic most law is.

Oh, anyone who watches The Daily Show, here’s the list Kurt Vonnegut wrote up a while ago about “Liberal Crap I Never Want to Hear Again” that they promised to put on their website.

Give us this day our daily bread. Oh sure.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Nobody better trespass against me. I'll tell you that.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the merciful. You mean we can't use torture?
Blessed are the peacemakers. Jane Fonda?
Love your enemies - Arabs?
Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. The hell I can't! Look at the Reverand Pat Robertson. And He is as happy as a pig in s**t.


Serenity, Now

Thanks to the fine people at Grace Hill Publicity I’m going to see Serenity later today. (If this falls through and the people at are not so fine, then I shall vituperate loudly.)

Joss Whedon- the Oscar and Emmy-nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel-now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity.

The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family - squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

When Mal takes on two new passengers-a young doctor and his unstable, telepathic sister-he gets much more than he bargained for. The pair are fugitives from the coalition dominating the universe, who will stop at nothing to reclaim the girl. The crew that was once used to skimming the outskirts of the galaxy unnoticed find themselves caught between the unstoppable military force of the Universal Alliance and the horrific, cannibalistic fury of the Reavers, savages who roam the very edge of space. Hunted by vastly different enemies, they begin to discover that the greatest danger to them may be on board Serenity herself.

I’m trying to figure out whether there are any people who read Rousseau who don’t know my love for Josh Whedon (Buffy, Angel, X-Men) and the story of this little spaceship that could. Suffice it to say, more and more scifi is becoming about characters and themes, and less about special effects or escapism, and I am loving it. I was an avid watcher of Firefly when it was first on television, a little part of me died when it didn’t get renewed but bupkis like John Doe did. One can hope not only that the movie is good, but that the PR department’s interest in getting everyone and their mother to see this is because they want to create a following for future releases, rather than a single good box-office showing.

Unfortunately, I think their commercials have been greatly lacking, and put across the idea that it’s just another rock-em-sock-em space shoot-em-up. Perhaps they need to do this to gather the LCD consumer, but it’s really just annoyed the segment they want to be shooting for in the first place: intelligent elites who need to be convinced that scifi can be used to tell a gripping and emotional story.

Other things that if you don’t know me, you should be watching:
Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Katamari Damarcy. I recently have ordered the whole first season of Lost, so hopefully that will be worthwhile too.

And of course, The Colbert Report is starting in October. Sign up for tickets now!


Friday, September 23, 2005

Interviews with Roberts

I like John Roberts, the public-relations persona we see in committee. He seems a smart guy who you could have a lot of fun discussions with. He’d certainly be great at playing boardgames where you have to follow the strict rules for the larger purpose of a difficult exercise. And he has a good wit with mock-humble irony. He’d fit in very well with my friends.

Which is why I can’t imagine for the life of me our President getting along with him. Everything Roberts stands for seems to be the East Coast elitism Bush has run against for five years, and which one must admit a majority of the country has voted into office. And yet, Bush not only nominated Roberts, but nominated him ahead of many staunch social conservatives who could score easy “identity politics” points, on the basis of his “chemistry” and “good friendship” with the Judge.

To showcase what I am talking about, I’ve pulled quotes from Roberts Senate Testimony, and pasted them in as if Bush was asking them. Remember, the process the Presidency uses to find the nominee is as important or more important than the Senate’s vetting process, so I imagine these questions had to go like this.

On War:

BUSH: So John, if Congress writes a law saying I can’t do something in foreign policy, do I git to do it anyway?

ROBERTS: Well, President, I don't want to answer a particular hypothetical that could come before the court, but I'm happy to comment on the memorandum that you're discussing. … And I suspect, if you asked any lawyer for any president of any administration whether they wanted to concede that general principle or if, as careful lawyers, they would prefer that that provision were rewritten or not in there, I am fairly confident, regardless of the administration, that a lawyer for the executive would take the same position. Now, I am also fairly confident that one of the lawyers in the Senate would take the opposite position.

On Torture:

BUSH: Albert says I can protect this country however I need to, even by breaking treaties in order to interrogate prisoners. Are you going to get in the way of that?

ROBERTS: President, that's a question that I don't think can be answered in the abstract. You need to know the particular circumstances and exactly what the facts are and what the legislation would be like, because the argument on the other side -- and as a judge, I would obviously be in a position of considering both arguments, the argument for the legislature and the argument for the executive. The argument on the executive side will rely on authority as commander in chief and whatever authorities derive from that. So it's not something that can be answered in the abstract.

On Schools:

BUSH: I believe in my heart that we need to put God back in the schools. Don’t you see a need?

ROBERTS: No, I don't think there is. Sometimes it's hard to give meaning to a constitutional term in a particular case. But you don't look to your own values and beliefs. You look outside yourself to other sources.

On Gay Marriage:

BUSH: Don’t you think the US Government needs to keep the institution of marriage sacred?

ROBERTS: My understanding there was that there was a question -- whether intervention in that case -- the case was being pursued by private litigants already. The question whether intervention by the federal government in that case was consistent with the attorney general's approach to institutional litigation. That was an approach that he had laid out in several speeches, memoranda. And as a staff member it was my job to call to his attention areas where I thought there may be inconsistencies in areas where he wanted to set policy priorities.

On Church and State:

BUSH: I think God is the most important guiding part of my life. He saved me from alcoholism, and wants me to be here at this time to defend against terror. But those namby liberals think God stands in the way of a secular government, and want to take Him out of classes and government. I know you’re a good Christian, so do you follow that “wall between church and state”?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't know what you mean by absolute separation of church and state. So I don't know what that means when you say absolute separation. I do know this: that my faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role in judging. When it comes to judging, I look to the law books and always have. I don't look to the Bible or any other religious source.


Yeah. It went just like that. Rather, I think the interview went like this:

On War, Torture, Church and State, and Gay Marriage:

BUSH: You gonna make abortion illegal?


BUSH: You gonna tell anyone first?


BUSH: Good. Go git ‘em.


Judicial Reticence and Logic

The song and dance about judicial reticence is pretty absurd. It may seem I’m a bit late to the party in pointing this out, but I’m sure the issue is going to come up again soon anyway. Especially if the next Justice isn’t as clean-cut and as easy a pass as Roberts.

I’ve been reading through the transcripts of Roberts hearings, and the degree to which he refuses to answer questions is pretty clear. Of course, if one of the fundamental rules of the interview is that you can’t answer hypotheticals on what might come before you, of course you’d expect to see a lot of that.

But does this make sense? Let’s look at the logic.

-Justices shouldn’t make decisions based on their policy positions. Those positions should not matter.
-If a Justice strongly held a policy position, they might rule in ways that were not strictly due to law or facts at hand, but bias.
-A plaintiff shouldn’t have to worry about that when going before the court.

Which boils down to “a Justice’s policy positions should be irrelevant” and “it’s bad to know those positions”. If they’re irrelevant, why does it matter? If Roberts is the legal-positivist who only follows what the statues say, why does it matter if I know he hates abortion or loves affirmative action? That’s not what he should be ruling based on anyway. If he isn’t a loyal strict-constructionist and instead will invent policy material, then dear lord I want to know his policy positions right now!

The answer is that nominees (be them Roberts or Ginsburg) just don’t want to answer questions. Which is a legitimate political desire. That doesn’t mean they should be immune from questioning or Senators should respect their political desires.

And who believes that these justices are going to be legal positivists? It’s in fact the really important political cases where the justices seem to be the worst, and everyone knows it anyway. Bush v. Gore, or Cheney’s recent snafu with the Energy Taskforce. Who here thinks Roberts wouldn’t have sided with Bush in BvG? And yet is there any more important realm for judicial neutrality than administering the election of new leaders?


Pork: Harder to Cut Than it is to Make

Yglesias and others are watching the budget-cutting process with a close eye. I must say I’m glad Republican leaders are at least thinking about how to pay for Hurricane Recovery, which was not in evidence in our President’s speech last week.

The most amusing line so far has been the Republican Study Group saying “just give us a copy of the appropriations bill, some red pens, and a quiet room”.

However, as the proposals for cutting items are coming in we get a good idea of what’s going to get the ax: NEA funding, NASA, the new Medicare bill (not proposed subsidies to industry, just actual benefits), closer audits of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and pushing new spending back 1 year instead of actually stopping it.

As pointed out, none of these are really waste, but instead are items pretty clearly accomplishing the goals they mean to. In fact, a decent amount of those programs would disproportionately help the Gulf region recover (NOLA has amazing art institutions to be rebuilt, NASA has a number of facilities down there, hospitals are going to have to cover a lot of emergency cases who don’t have sufficient paperwork, and more people will probably meet the requirements for EITC without having proper documentation).

The real waste is in the Transportation Bill, or farm subsidies, surplus military bases (which can include NASA I admit). They might not be the majority of US spending, but they are a majority of US spending that isn’t doing what the public at large wants done.

To wit, there is a clear conflict in budgetary matters between large policy goals that are viewed as abstractly important, and earmarks for small groups. We can probably afford one a lot of the time, but not both. Now a lot of politicians and voters believe in their ideals so they manage to pass bills that help the country in general, or help those who were starving, but then the media circus forgets about them.

Then later, when no one is paying attention, it’s much easier to cut the larger, more ideal policies than the small targeted subsidies. The powerfully represented, small targeted subsidies, will always be paying attention enough to fight back.

One recent example would be Section 8 Housing vouchers, a subsidized loan program to help low-income workers get houses and apartments. It was technocraticaly administered and a favorite of even fiscal libertarians. It was given the ax early in Bush’s term of of course. Now, Bush is proposing that exact thing to help poor people get on their feet in NOLA. If it’s a good idea policy-wise, why did it die while other items lives?

A concrete example would be when the leadership tried to slash farm subsidies by allotting less to the Agricultural-Subcommittee last spring. Of course, the Subcommittee just threatened to cut food stamps first. Now we all may have complaints about how food stamps should be allocated or redeemed, but few policy-analysts would say they have to go before farm subsidies do. But due to the way the committee structure is set up, and because there are no powerful defenders with a huge interest in bribing congressmen to defend food stamps (compared to farm subsidies), they get cut. If we interpolate to the future, if Democrats see a bill that tries to save for Hurricane Recovery by cutting programs they think are very important (food stamps) and pork (farm subsidies), they won’t view it as a compromise of losing one good thing and getting rid of some waste. They’ll see it as a false-carrot, knowing that the farm-subsidy cuts will disappear at some point in the process, and vote against it. Meaning the GOP has to work as hard as possible to eke out a majority. Meaning more concessions to borderline representatives, meaning more pork. The dreadful cycle continues until something finally get to the Conference Committee and then…

Oh God don’t get me started on Conference Committees.

It’s reminiscent of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. When the Depression started, Herbert Hoover told Congress to write a new tariff bill because we had a lot of tariffs that were hurting our economy then. Every Congressman loved it, except they each added a little tariff for their district’s sectors and by the end… well the House Speaker snarkily replied “I said I was going to write a new tariff. I didn’t say it would be lower!”

And it’s the idea of “just give us some red pens” that is what is so funny. These people realize that the only way to save money is to have centralized and coldly rational control of the appropriations process. But they have no way to accomplish that. You can’t just simply cross out an earmark out that wastes money. That earmark could have been the key negotiating piece that got a bill through, or it could have been placed there by the Rules Committee Chairman who knows that he can’t let that “step on his turf” go unpunished.

To conclude: Our committee based appropriations process sucks, especially when it’s budget-trimming time.


Trolling the Electoral College

Trolls and people foolish enough to feed the trolls over at Ezra's today. The comments have degenerated into people saying
A) Democrats ideas are bad
B) So bad that no one votes for them
C) That more people vote for them doesn't count because that's not the way the game is played.

Here's one troll continuing that, and my amused response.

As for JR,

Total votes for Democratic candidates for US Senate, 2004: 94,965,901
Total votes for Republican candidates: 94,369,075

He thinks the rules should be changed so his team would win. He thinks in this NFL season that it should not be the team that wins the most games that gets home field advantage thru the playoffs and wins the Super Bowl. He thinks we should add up the total points a team scores throughout the season and whoever has the most points at the end of the year, regardless of their win/loss record, should win the championship.

What an idiot.

Posted by CT

I would love it if the NFL was set up like the electoral college.

Except, not every game would be equal. Some games would be worth more than others. Some are worth up to 10 times as many victory-points for the NFL Championship as other games are.

Oh, and the games don’t have the same number of players. Generally the one with the most players playing is the one with the most value. But the value isn’t directly proportional.

And some of these games don’t even have the same number of players on each side. There are a lot of games where there’s more players from the home team than the visiting team, or vice-versa. But that just means if the minority team wins, it’s a valuable upset.

And if a game ends in a tie, or is close by a few points, you don’t go into overtime. You just ask the referees to recount the points, or ask them to just decide who the winner was anyway.

That would be awesome!

Posted by: Rousseau

Page 129 of America The Book, by The Daily Show has a similar grasp of constitutional humor.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lurker’s Day

That just makes me think of this, the best website for a television show ever (warning, major geeking ahead).

But really it’s about blog-readers who don’t comment dropping a line to say hi.

So, lurkers, today is your day.


Your and Your Robot Overlords Make Me Cry

Machines are not going to replace human labor anytime soon. Why?

Long Answer: The Solow Growth Model.

Short Answer: Human labor is really goram cheap.

Long Answer Redux: I don’t know if Ezra or Neil took much economics, so I can’t say I blame them. But positivist lackeys at TechCentralStation have no excuse.

The SGM is, right or wrong, the fundamental assumption for how economic growth happens. Basically, the amount of consumer goods a society produces is its labor times its capital:


This theory supposes that when you add more labor, they don’t try to just make goods by themselves, but they get some of the machines other labor was using, and spread it amongst themselves. The efficiency of marginal labor is directly proportional to how much capital there is. Conversely, when you get new machines, you spread out the workforce to operate them

Now the model can be more complicated than this. L and K have exponents for diminish returns, there’s a term for savings that shows how fast K grows over time, a term for technology improving the efficiency of K, and a way to model a stratified labor force (some labor who do low skill stuff, some labor who make more technology and capital). But that one equation is really what it comes down to. That, and the realization that all technology is a way of making K more efficient.

What’s the point? We could have replaced almost all of humanity with machines a long time ago. There are many many many human jobs that could be done by machines if we wanted to spend enough money on them. More farming machines, more automated factories, more self-service machines at grocery stores, etc. It’s just the more humans you replace, the more expensive it is to replace them. And even when you come up with a design for a machine to do a human job, that doesn't mean it's free to make.

And you know what? Most human labor is really cheap. Factories in Taiwan, customer service reps in India, and teenagers and ex-cons who bag your groceries at CostCo – all are things that could be 95% replaced by capital and technology, if you wanted to spend ten times as much per job.

Now as technology progresses (and I’m an economic renegade who believes the technology growth constant is convex instead of concave – ie, even more wild-eyed about technology than I should be) and savings increase, it will become cheaper than it previously was to replace those workers. But it will be a very long time before it’s actually cheap enough to replace them entirely, and it will have a lot more to do about the economics of the world and the global savings rate, than it will about some new AI code.

To be clear: I am not making the argument that there will always be a role for educated people to run and train the machines. Educated people may be harder in some situations to replace than a low-skilled labor, but certainly not absolutely. Spend one day as a research assistant, and one day as a plumber, and tell me which you think will be automated first. It's a matter that there are still a lot of cheap humans are out there and will be for a long time.

PS: I know Ezra just started this by talking about Singularity a new hip book, but far too many of his comments and other technology-triumphalists showed the predilection to believe that mass-replacement of much labor was right around the corner.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

German Elections Update:

Just because I find this interesting.

The comments at TPMCafe Yglesias are really informative about the backgrounds of the East German Communists (Linkspartei) and why coalition with them is difficult. When living members of the party have had your friends shot, I guess it’s a big deal.

Also, apparently Germany has its own Upper House that isn’t nearly as powerful as our Senate, but can block legislation, and that causes Schroeder many problems. Stupid Upper Houses.

Also, while the center-right party is always the Christian Democrat/Christian Socialist coalition in national elections, this does not make them one party. The Christian Socialist Union is a culturally far-right party in Bavaria. It’s often synonymous with CDU/CSU, but still, it’s not unthinkable for the Schroeder to declare that the Socialists are the largest party. In fact, doing so and getting a response that the CD/SD coalition is bigger than the SPD, only highlights that government is about coalitions, darnit. And 50.8% of the people voted for the Socialists or a party to their left.

(This reminds me of 2004, when all I could think was that Gore+Nader not only equaled a plurality, they equaled a majority. More than half the country wanted someone that was either Gore or to the left.)

Lastly, Hugo has a good post on this and how other countries may feel about Katrina.


Job Wanted: Loyal Opposition

Woo hoo! Civil Service Reform!

Via TAPPED and Ezra (sorry, Internet was down yesterday) I saw the Talking Points Memo and Washington Post articles on other Bush-n-friends cronies who are getting nominated to important government posts.

The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.
The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.
Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job…
After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.
Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.
Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

Pretty disgusting, but also par for the course (especially at the beginning of a President’s term). But it’s a “par for the course” that’s incredibly destructive to this country and the reputation of its government. Completely political patronage to high level posts (it’s one thing to appoint a fellow party ideologue who focuses on the relevant policies, it’s another to appoint someone just because of their fund-raising expertise) has been practiced by all political parties since time immemorial, but that’s all the more reason to create institutions and democratic incentives to stop it.

If the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the incredible incompetence of Michael Brown results in a much closer eye to the generic political appointees of every administration, then that is a far more important effect than whether Bush’s poll numbers rise or fall ten points.

It’s also a good reminder of what the Democratic party should be doing these days: loyal opposition. Now it might be hard for talking heads on Fox News to reconcile those two words, but the loyal opposition has a tremendous history and a vital role in any functioning democracy. The Democratic party doesn’t just exist right now to try to eventually get it’s policy goals enacted, or to one day regain power, but it exists to place a check on the inevitable corrupt machinations and anomalies of the current ruling party.

Unfortunately in this country, a number of institutional factors have hindered that role. The functioning of the Senate, which approves Presidential appointees, is just too weird.
-Its members are secure enough that it’s worth voting for an appointee to get the President’s favor and than risking two weeks of bad press years from an election.
-Most appointee decisions are made in committee, even farther away from the public’s eye.
-The Senate has so much business to deal with, so little staff, and is so slow and inefficient in how it deals with business, that it can hardly afford to give even routine scrutiny to every appointee.
-“Senatorial courtesy” grants a large degree of immunity to anyone who’s supported by both Senators from their state, anyone who was a former Senator, and the wishes of Committee Chairmen.
-The rights of the minority to investigate matters or propose votes are being limited by current Congressional leadership.
-And of course in its election, the Senate is the least democratic legislative body in the developed world. Add in the large degree of political comity and pork in DC which means its often awkward to call your friends and your friend’s friends “unqualified cronies”.
Now some of these factors can be fixed, and some can’t, but it’s important to keep them in mind.

Regardless, the Democratic Party certainly has a role in being a loyal opposition and has to motivation to exercise that role appropriately. What was needed was a media that gave a sh-t. If all that happens is for every single political appointee someone actually checks their resume, and tells the Washington Post if it’s a lie, the world will be much better off.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Other Cool Things

Musing about political polarization, lack thereof, and the chicken littles who worry about either paradigm.

The best response to “Bush is a man of integrity” is this email I found on Andrew Sullivan’s site saying “A man whose government is filled with incompetent cronies, and who values loyalty above merit is no man of integrity.”. The Washington Post has a good rundown of >well known cronies and how the spoils system works. The sad thing about it (and watch me convert to the left-blogger-narrative before your eyes) is that it’s clear the Post writers always knew this and have always known what a crony town DC. So… why don’t they say this more often? If it is at all the Democrats’ fault that they let Brown pass through the Senate, then why isn’t it also the media’s fault that they didn’t care to mention “horribly un-qualified hack getting appointed to key emergency post”.

People are actually elastic for changes in gasoline prices!

(I still think a gas tax is a flat tax, and any liberal that opposes a flat tax and is for a gas tax needs to think a little harder about their policy positions, but this is a good thing in that the libertarian solution to resource scarcity, that rising prices will eventually change behavior, seems to be working.)

Yglesias has an interesting point about how setting up the Department of Homeland Security was a Democratic idea that was turned by Rove into a Republican political ploy. I of course feel the things Republicans used to get angry over it (whether or not it will have the same union rules as the rest of the government) were worse, but it reiterates a good point about partisanship. If you can’t figure out why the parties are so knee-jerk to their opponents and willing to do mean things, the DHS tells you why. When the Republicans were using the DHS to slime Democrats in the War on Terror, they felt they were doing it in response to Democrats trying to slime them. Now it may have been out of proportion and even more manipulative, but you can see how they don’t feel that it was unilaterally throwing away our national sense of unity.


Parliamentary Comparison Day

Oh, and conservatives need to SHUT UP about the German electoral result. It was disastrous for them.

What, why, darling Angela Merkel won the highest percentage of the vote? Well, while that’s a nice symbol, in parliamentary systems that often doesn’t mean much.

The narrative before the election: Gerhardt Schroeder was the Social Democratic Chancellor who ran on pro-EU, anti-American sentiment combined with promises of labor reforms (in the free market direction). In the previous two elections the Social Democrats allied with the Greens were enough to form a majority. Schroeder started implementing market reforms, and there was carping and he lost a lot of popularity because of the short-term costs.

Now clearly, if the Socialist chancellor has been deemed too laissez-faire by the electorate, the conservative intelligentsia should not rejoice. But as in any polity, a decline in popularity by the opponent means you hope you can seize power, and implement your own reforms… which are more extreme than the ones that caused his downfall in the first place.

And this weekend, Germany had their election under these weird circumstances. Of course, the two conservative parties, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Democrats didn’t get a majority.

CDU/CSU 19,219,094 40.9%

SPD 18,079,859 38.4%

FDP 2,200,915 4.7%

Left/PDS 3,733,390 7.9%

Green 2,532,353 5.3%

So there’s much deal-making to be done. Schroeder is being intransigent and refuses to form a coalition where he isn’t the leader (this may seem somewhat asshatish, but in the wake of elections political leaders have strong motivations to declare victory and emphasize a narrative of their victory and of their opponents pathetic stubbornness). And Merkel because of her popular vote, doesn’t want to form a coalition where she isn’t the leader either.

The problem any mathematically literate person will see is, if neither the two left parties has more than 50% nor the two right parties, then who’s the remaining few percentage points? What small wacko party holds the balance of power.

Oh, the Communists.

So we previously had SD/Green alliance that was slowly pushing reform through. Now, Germany is likely to have SD/Green/Commie* alliance, that would be so beholden to communists that the reforms are over.

Which I feel just goes to show, opposing the will of the electorate is dangerous. Doing tricky things to accomplish policy goals the public doesn’t like and trying to use the politics of personality (particularly, of your opponents unpopularity) or other manipulations, can have ways of making sure you never get your desired goals either. (Right now I think a lot of conservatives wish Bush had run on a platform of conservatism instead of a platform of John Kerry was a wuss in Vietnam.)

And now, unless either the Freedom Dems or Merkel is willing to grit their teeth and smile for the next four years, Europe’s economic engine will be under the veto authority of Communists.

* Not that I hate any Communist party out of hand, especially if it actually represents the will of some people and isn’t a top-down authority like in China. However, the East German Communist party is generally just focused on pork for East Germany, full of retrogrades from the Soviet era, and is pretty corrupt to boot.

Links: Logan:
Ezra comparing Schroeder's hutzpah to Bush demanding the keys to the White House in mid-November 2000:



Logan Feree has made a cool graphical representation of the Senate on the Left vs. Right plus Libertarian vs. Populist scorecard. Looks cool. I’m very interested in the forces that have pushed the Democrats towards Left-Centrism while pushing the Republicans towards Far-Right-Authoritarianism.

Also, Radical Geek as a cool “International Ignore the Constitution Day”

Unfortunately she only argues the consequentialist results from a liberal perspective, but it’s an eye-opening argument all around.

I’m always amused at the people who evince the clearest case of survivor’s bias I’ve ever seen, that the Constitution must be great because it’s served us so well for over two hundred years. You know, despite arguably being a force for evil the first 80 years and being unable to prevent a massive civil war.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What would you ask Roberts?

Why doesn't anyone ask about Bush v. Gore? What he would have ruled.

Or rather, did he accept the majority decision as in any way good law? Does he think it's acceptable that the justices (both Dem and Repub) threw law to the side when choosing a President was on the line? Everyone seems to have accepted that, but I don't see how this is in any way a good thing to encourage, especially for>Mr. Humility.

And I'd like Republican Justices to have to stand up for it.

Everyone accepts Bush v. Gore was the nadir of the Supreme Court in recent decades. And yet no one seems interested in trying to prevent another, fixing the court's image with respect to political battles, or even scoring cheap points off it. I don't get why.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Accountability, 10 Years On, and Negative-Sum Games

Really good >post at TAPPED about the lack of accountability in our current political system, particularly with regards to this administration.

And Matt has a thoughtful post about the importance of being thoughtful and technocratic oriented when making your policy proscriptions. He does it more from the “look at those poor Republicans, stuck to bad ideas they trumpeted because of short-term electoral advantage”, and fails to mention the implicit inverse: Democrats need to keep being a party of wonks and good ideas, not easy to sell ones.

Actually that relates to various brouhaha’s regarding Weekly Standard’s “10 years of Conservatism” summary. A lot of anger about missed opportunities is coming from various conservative blokes. They just seem really angry that despite having unprecedented degrees of power, very little in conservative goals have been accomplished. Pop-culture moves leftwards, the government is bigger and more expensive than ever, and authoritarian states grow stronger and bolder.

What’s interesting is that these failures of conservativism (or neuterings) aren’t making the left happy either. If the right is sad government is bigger, shouldn’t the left be happy? Isn’t that the world of polarization we live in?

Of course not. Conservatives are upset the government is spending more, but liberals are upset that they aren’t spending it on anything useful. The left is very sad about the past 10 years, and not just because of losing political power.

Which goes to the central point of this blog; most blogs view politics today as a zero-sum game, where one side’s political defeat is automatically one side’s political boon. Politics can be a positive-sum game and can be a negative-sum game. Now we can try to work towards positive-sum scenarios (like unity after attack), and we can accept zero-sum politics as inevitable. But the aspects of politics that are negative-sum, that upset and disappoint all sides of the political spectrum, are to be avoided if at all possible.

The belief of this blog is that many of those times when we get negative-sum results that displease both sides, like a growing federal behemoth and deficit that helps few, it is the result of Constitutional set up and actors able to take advantage of it’s inefficiency.


Stop the Bi-Annual Circus

Every two years (Every congressional session), the US Congress votes on a bill like this one to ban partial birth abortion. Every session the Democratic Senators say that this bill does not have an exception for the health of the mother, and ask that it be added. The Republicans say no, it passes, and the courts over-rule it because it does not have an exception for the health of the mother.

Every goddamn congressional session. If Republicans wanted to reduce the number of abortions in this country, at all, they would pass a version of this bill that has an exception for the health of the mother. What they want instead is a way to pin a pro-abortion vote on Democrats (as one was successfully pinned to Senator Kerry), and a reason to blame the courts (which as I’ve posted elsewhere, plays into a cultural narrative attacking lawyers and the legal system).

And they want to get to do this again and again.

Get it through your heads that Republican leaders do not care about reducing the number of abortions. Some of them may be idealists that approach a strategy that outlaws all abortions, but they are not content to accept any compromise even if the alternative is no limitations.

So when I make posts like the previous one that says abortion needs to be made into a democratic issue, I do not feel that I am being an ally of the Republicans, but instead a thorn in their manipulative politics. I am, however temporarily, being an ally to people who actually believe the cultural of life and would rather do something than nothing.

And as the current hearing on John Roberts shows, abortion issues have come to dominate how we look at Supreme Court Justices. Which is horrible, because there are so many more issues they should actually be focusing on. Ezra has written a lot about how Roberts is actually covertly a strong pro-business candidate. Emergent Chaos has a good rundown of the privacy and security issues our court has to face. And God knows the cases regarding executive privilege and power our court has to decide. All these issues are basically getting a free pass, as long as Specter and Schumer get to question Roberts enough about Roe vs. Wade.


56% to 38% >Logan found a helpful survey.

States where pro-life outnumber pro-choice: Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and North Dakota (Tied).

States with a pro-choice majority that voted for Bush: Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Wyoming, Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia, Montana, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and Kansas(!?).

States with a pro-life majority that voted for Kerry: None.

What do you think this means for political strategy?

My opinion: For one it’s pretty clear that pro-life people care more about partisanship than pro-choice people. Is it because they care more about the issue than their counterparts, or is it because being pro-life is only a cultural signifier (like say, environmentalism).

My first thought is that looking at this means Democrats should ratchet up the attention given to abortion, not down. If they can make abortion issue #1 in an election, then pro-choice voters will more likely vote based on that, and they only need one or two of those states more to have a nice majority.

But then, I also think abortion should be a matter of democratic decision making, and I find the rhetoric Democrats use regarding a constitutional right makes it more difficult for them to campaign based on this than Republicans.

PS: I think Republicans know these numbers as well as Democrats do, and I find it unlikely Republicans will actually make abortion illegal.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Yglesias has a great post on the fallacy of these "national greatness" politicians.

Francis Fukuyama's much-misunderstood book The End of History isn't really about how there isn't going to be any more history. Instead, the thesis was that the forces of liberal democracy were now so strong that there wasn't going to be any more capital-H History -- just somewhat banal problem-management. Fukuyama's neocon enough to find that semi-regrettable. He's also smart enough to see it as quasi-inevitable, which is why he's soured on many of his fellow travelers who've essentially been engaged in a self-deceiving effort to gin up a more dramatic problem than the one we really face. One would hope that Katrina, like the tsunami before it, would remind us that fundamentally banal problems -- nature sometimes throws up big swathes of water and lots of people live near the sea -- are plenty important and worth focusing on even if they don't involve killing lots of people.

I find aesthetically pleasing the idea of Fukuyama seeing the statement as both regrettable, and still somewhat inevitable.

Anyway, this sort of attitude I think needs to be cultivated again and again in our post-"flight or fight" industrialized world.


It's not helpful for Democrats to fight this way

One of the reason’s I don’t personally blame Bush for every death in New Orleans is stuff like this:

The Naval Medical Center in San Diego's Balboa Park was shut down to accommodate a visit by President George W. Bush Aug. 30, RAW STORY has learned, forcing patients to cancel chemotherapy treatments and hundreds of scheduled patient visits.

"The pharmacy is closed. The emergency room is closed. Even chemotherapy patients will not be allowed on base," the daughter of one patient told RAW STORY shortly before the President's arrival. "My mother is a patient...She was contacted and told that her appointment had been canceled and would be rescheduled later…All civilian personnel and patients will not be allowed on base."

And this:

Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.
But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

What exactly did you all want Bush to do on September 29th? Whether he stayed on vacation, looked out the window of an airplane, or personally visited, would the actions of this figurehead save one life?

Now in response to massive anger at Bush’s failure to “lead” we’ve got him visiting for tons of photo ops, and all the big heavy weights go down there (Bush I, Barbara Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice) and doing the photo ops they are oh so good at.

It was fun for Democrats to say Bush failed to lead, like he did after 9/11. As if his lack of symbolic action mattered. Well clearly Bush’s symbolic actions matter a great deal... to his poll numbers, but I encourage people not to think they actually make the world a better place.


Reform Ohio

Now this is the sort of thing progressives should really be getting behind in Ohio.

From NYT:

The Ohio secretary of state announced yesterday that a series of election-related constitutional amendments had qualified for the November ballot, including one intended to strip Republican elected officials of their control over drawing legislative districts.
The amendments are sponsored by Reform Ohio Now, a coalition dominated by Democrats, unions and watchdog groups. It celebrated the announcement and said a statewide campaign to win approval in November had begun.
. . .
The redistricting amendment calls for an independent commission that would replace state lawmakers in determining the boundaries of legislative districts. The other amendments would lower some campaign contribution limits, extend early voting to all voters and transfer oversight of elections to an appointed election master from the secretary of state's office.

Using the fact that the current governing party is scandalized to take away their power to map their districts is incredibly important. As much as I dislike the US Senate, one of the reasons it is a more moderate body than the House is because it has set constitutent bodies and if a member is doing poorly they can’t just adjust who they represent.

If there was any political group you were going to give money to in these days of Hurricane Katrina and ongoing poverty throughout the world, it would be this group.


Santorum the Christian Socialist

I’m glad people are >finally realizing that Senator Santorum (R-PA) isn’t a conservative, so much as a populist (or authoritarian, or communatarian, as is your bent). The man supports higher minimum wage, ending the death penalty, and protectionism. On the conservative side he is indeed very outspoken, but only on social authoritarian issues.

In fact, his recent pronouncements on creationism in schools were kind of a turning point for my view of him. Ie, he said it was a stupid idea, betraying the party line of his President and what his base believes in, because well, he knows it’s a stupid idea (as anyone in elected office does). He really is a principled politician (random pork non-withstanding)… it’s just usually for principles that the left finds intolerable.

The liberal blogsphere is repeating the meme that Republicans promise the government doesn’t work and when they get elected they proceed to show this. Again, it’s important to realize this is only on economic and social-assistance matters, and you could say the same about Democrats and the military or justice department. But there is a divide, which is to say:

Populists say “vote me into power so I can give myself more power.”
Libertarians say “vote me into power so I can mess it up.”

Ewwws all around.

PS: /whisper libertarians: Santorum and his widespread popular following is once again evidence that really, you guys are over-represented among the elite and the exact opposite of your views is the most politically successful combination. Watch out for that.


No, Right there, You just lied again.

I hate to score cheap political points off humanitarian disaster, so I’m going to make it clear that I don’t believe crank about the response to Katrina being slow because of federal-state-local confusion (ie federalism).,1096,0_682_4524,00.html#4524

In fact FEMA is authorized to just ignore the Constitution when it needs to get something done. And this clearly where that applies.

Reaction was slow because certain people up top simply did not give a fig.

But federalism is being used as an excuse for why the response was slow, and a certain percentage of Americans are going to believe that. We need to get rid of these BS reasons that our elected officials have for not doing their job, because they just use them to evade accountability when things mess up.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

High Variance, Low Expectation

Yay Democracy:

A brief comment on the subject of this game, which, apparently, it's a bad idea to play. First off -- it's not a game. Assigning blame is a deadly serious matter. It's also integral to any sort of viable social practice. The criminal justice system relies on assigning blame to various people and punishing them. So does the civil tort system, and so does the non-criminal regulatory system. So, for that matter, does any kind of coherent business or non-profit enterprise -- when mistakes are made, you need to decide who's to blame for them, and ensure that the culpable are sanctioned. If you don't identify and punish the blameworthy, then people will have no reason to try to do their jobs correctly.
Politics is the same way. There's a very serious principle-agent problem associated with public policy -- the interests of government officials tend to diverge quite sharply from those of the citizens they're supposed to be serving. This is why dictatorships tend, in practice, to ill-serve their citizens and be beset by corruption, malgovernment, and all kinds of other problems. In democracies we try, through elections and the ability of elected officials to fire their subordinates, to align those incentives. The way that works is that when bad things happen, people are supposed to blame someone, and then elect someone else to replace him. For that to do any good, you need to "play the blame game," which is to say find out who's actually responsible.

Let me start off by saying that I honestly don’t know how much the Administration was responsible for poor disaster relief in New Orleans. Bush was on vacation, military money was diverted from the Army Corps of Engineers to Iraq, a Bush crony with no emergency experience was in charge of FEMA. All these things make good talking points for Democrats, but it’s not clear they really matter. Bush probably doesn’t run things any less than he does when he’s in DC itself, the levees probably would have been overwhelmed anyway, and maybe Michael Brown is as good as management as is needed. We still have thousands of experienced bureaucrats who actually run these operations, and I really don’t know how much their daily activities were affected by Bush being brush cutting or that Brown couldn’t even run the Arabian Horse Assocation. It is simply outside my range of knowledge.
Here’s an extended metaphor: Bush and his friends are high stakes poker plays. As a poker play it’s extremely hard in the short term to tell how skilled you are. One hand, you’re opponent is dealt pocket queens, you get pocket kings, you both bet aggressively and quickly go all in, and suddenly you’re up $2000 in 2 minutes. There are many poker players I’ve seen get cocky about their abilities in this quick turn of events.

But an hour later, you get pocket kings again, the same guy bets aggressively, you go all in, and he calls… with pocket aces. Now you’re down that $2000. This happens to everyone, and is part of the gamble of poker. You’re just not going to get out of that situation, and losing in it says no more about your skill than winning the previous one did.

You have to look at how you do in the long term. How you do in all the small pots with action. And whether you lose $2000 more often than you win it. If you don’t keep a very detailed watch, well, it’s easy to think you’re a great player who just happens to be broke at the moment because of recent bad luck.

Bush was dealt a great hand in 9/11, and I never felt he did much to earn the praise he earned. It was a slam-dunk, to reassure the country, threaten our vague enemies, and help rebuild New York. It’s complicated to explain how something can both be the result of luck, and yet we should still give him credit. Basically, he was dealt pocket kings and the opponents got pocket queens. In the long term, it will still even out and we’ll still be able to see whether he was a good leader or not.

Well this is the long term. I honestly don’t know if there was anything he could do to avoid the scope of this disaster, but even if there was absolutely no moral fault here, it’s something he was due. The other guy finally got pocket aces. Whatever up he got from his “leadership” in 9/11, he’s now losing from his “mismanagement” of New Orleans.

So you just go looking to other things. How has he managed the thousands more decisions he’s made as President. Has he gained public support from his foreign policy, his management of the economy, his stewardship of the environment?

I guess a simpler metaphor is: Live by the sword, die by the sword.


Figureheads for the win!

Neil has opened the question of how important it is to nominate a Southerner for Democrats, come hell or highwater, with an electoral chart of Carter’s 76 victory highlighting all his Southern victories. One of the commenters points out that in that chart the north can be looked on as just as sectionalist and objecting to Southern politicians, but the general concept is still important and I’d like to discuss it. It’s also notable that if you measure {South = was part of the confederacy}, every elected President since Kennedy was from a Southern state (although this includes California as well. If you disagree with that categorization, you could amend: oh, and a Republican who coomes from California can win, which few would disagree with).

I feel this ties into a more central question of figureheadness vs actual politician. A party can nominate someone who is actually running the party, or someone who’s a good picture and will let others run the country. Reagan and W are perhaps the most extreme examples we’ve seen of figureheads, who were essentially cultivated for their role by smart operators who got them elected governor but always with an eye on the Whitehouse. Bush I and Gore are definitely from the more operator end of the spectrum.

I believe very strongly we need to start cultivating more figureheads and stop nominating the wonks who actually run the party. I am disgusted by the idea that people elect the person who sets their taxes, spending priorities, and supreme court nominess by how tall he is or how much you’d like to have a drink with him in a bar (always a him, of course). But the solution does not seem to be stick your head in the sand and just hope that the people elect your guy anyway, but rather recruit purer and purer figureheads. It’s a large country, we can find a 6’ suburban male charismatic veteran who teaches poor kids basketball – who happens to believe in any particular set of policy positions! We need to stop focusing only on the pool of Senators, Governors, and ambitious generals.

Part of this calculus is certainly southerness. But again, if you’re going to ignore all the New England Senators, in favor of an inexperienced Southern Senator (who was a trial lawyer and has an untelegenic wife), why stop there?

Also, while you may feel morally neutral about only nominating Southern Senators and not NE ones, how far does this stretch? I think it’s clear that to the same degree men want a male candidate while women focus on other issues, so should we make sure only to get men? That they’re Christian, married-straight, don’t have a visible health issue, and have had a positive relationship with the military goes without saying. These factors are already followed to a T in our nominating process, but don’t ignore that they have moral implications.

Bleh, now I have a nasty taste in my mouth.

Anyway, you know what I think the number one thing we need to start choosing nominees based on is? Charisma. Not that they have actual ability to relate to people; that’s a very subjective thing to judge. That the media says they have charisma. It seems the media is willing to forgive any blunder, and enhance any success when their storyline is that the politician in question goes and gives one of his trademark charismatic appearances. See Reagan, Clinton, and W (W might fall finally due to Katrina, but I believe he’ll make one of his speeches the media dubs charismatic, and they’ll say it was key to his recovery). In contrast, get the label of “bore” and it will start becoming a metaphor for how out of touch, unskilled, and maladaptive you are as a candidate. See Bush I, Gore, and Kerry.

And in that regard, I’m totally for Edwards 08 over Clinton. Until the media dubs someone else charismatic, of course.


Coincidence Yes, But Stilll Avoidable

So we have a major humanitarian disaster, federal screw up, and three SCOTUS nominations happening at the same time, all without warning. The news cycle generated by the hurricane is going to warp political debate regarding the nominees – one party trying to use it to stall, the other party trying to get nominees through while no one’s paying attention.

Does anyone disagree that replacing justices only when they die or retire kinda sucks?


RIP Rehnquist

I really wish more students of the Constitution had to read things like this. (I know my class didn’t have to.)

A 1954 memorandum from clerk William Rehnquist to his boss, Justice Jackson: "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases":

After the Civil War, business interest came to dominate the court, and they in turn ventured into the deep water of protecting certain types of individuals against legislative interference. Championed first by Field, then by Peckham and Brewer, the high water mark of the trend in protecting the majority opinion in that case, Holmes replied that the fourteenth Amendment did not enact Herbert [S]pence[r]'s Social Statios [sic]. Other cases coming later in a similar vein were Advins v. Children's Hospital, Hammer v. Dagenhart, Tyson v. Banton, Ribnik v. McBride. But eventually the Court called a halt to this reading of its own economic views into the Constitution. Apparently it recognized that where a legislature was dealing with its own citizens, it was not part of the judicial function to thwart public opinion except in extreme cases.

In these cases now before the Court, the Court is, as Davis suggested, being asked to read its own sociological views into the Constitution. urging a view palpably at variance with precedent and probably with legislative history, appellants seek to convince the Court of the moral wrongness of the treatment they are receiving. I would suggest that this is a question the Court need never reach; for regardless of the Justice's individual views on the merits of segregation, it quite clearly is not one of those extreme cases which command intervention from one of any conviction. If this Court, because its members individually are "liberal" and dislike segregation, now choose to strike it down, it differs from the McReynolds court only in the kinds of litigants it favors and the kinds of special claims it protects. To those who argue that "personal" rights are more sacrosanct than "property" rights, the short answer is that the Constitution makes no such distinction. To the argument made by Thurgood Marshall that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are. One hundred and fifty years of attempts on the part of this Court to protect minority rights of any kind--whether those of business, slaveholders, or Jehovah's Witnesses--have been sloughed off, and crept silently to rest. If the present Court is unable to profit by this example it must be prepared to see its work fade in time, too, as embodying only the sentiments of a transient majority of nine men.

I think the reason Brad DeLong quotes this is because he’s disgusted by WR, and wants to show how retrograde he was. And I do not find it implausible that he only accepted this logic as it bolstered his policy preferences at the time. However if even the Chief Justice views things that way, one reknowned for his judicial aestheticism, then that only further proves my point.

Again and again, people who like the policy outcomes from the bench need to explain why a legislature couldn’t reach this.


Friday, September 02, 2005

A matter for the courts, they say

So there’s theories that Judicial Review isn’t a counter-democratic force, because rarely do courts really overrule the legislature. In fact, for their most controversial decisions they usually are backing up what the legislature wants to do, but just can’t do for institutional or political reasons. My favorite line from the article:

“A generation of Supreme Court analysis has been done as if Barry Goldwater won 1964 in a landslide”. He’s saying that all those “liberal” Warren Court decisions matched pretty well with the majority of Americans voted for in the 60's, but just weren't getting done because of various legislative blocks.

I don’t entirely buy this view (and at least, if it’s not a counter-democratic force, then why bother with it?), but I must say one news item today really backs it up, from>Ezra:

This is the most spectacular dodge I've ever seen. The California State Senate passed a gay marriage bill yesterday. It may or may not pass the Assembly, but no matter, Arnold probably won't sign it. Why?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman said he preferred to let judges sort out the legality of gay marriage: "the issue should be decided by the ballot box or the courts," and would not comment on whether he would sign or veto the bill if it passes.”

Arnold knows the majority of Californians support it. And he knows how little the Republican base these days likes him, especially now that he no longer seems to have a media-anointed touch of gold. He can’t possibly sign a Same-Sex bill. So ditch it onto those courts apparently.

Theoretically this should lessen my anger at the courts, but really, their judicial review is serving as a proxy for demagogues to dodge actually acting on an issue, so they can continue to get elected by railing on it.