Thursday, July 21, 2005


Tokenism isn’t a good way to solve society’s problems of inequality, but it generally is a good sign of commitment to diversity or a particular group. In particular, when factor’s affecting a groups membership are so extreme that they don’t have one member of group Y, then it’s a generally a sign that those factors are out of control. I certainly have yet to hear anyone prominent who claimed “I’m politically incorrect and I don’t think we need token representation from group X” and then didn’t later complain that a group they belonged to wasn’t represented enough (evangelical Christians, I’m looking at you).

Which is simply about John Roberts, and the fact that he’s a rich white Christian man.

Pundits have been lamenting the elitism of SCOTUS nominees for some time. Which is funny, because it’s also popular to say SCOTUS shouldn’t be democratic. The ideal SCOTUS justice is a sort of computer that accurately applies the Constitution and precedents. Perhaps they have a particular philosophy involved, but how does “proper empathy for the working man” come into play? Perhaps public policy considerations on how their actions will affect the world matter… but to the degree that if they haven’t had the right life experiences they are insufficient? I’m just saying, that if there were any branch of the US government where diversity reflecting the country is less important, it would be the courts.

At the same time, the SCOTUS is a very revered group and even after Bush v. Gore is probably the most respected government institution. It’s importance as role-models should not be underestimated.

The President reportedly picked Roberts because of personal chemistry. That’s Bush’s style and he ran on it, so it’s believable and acceptable (even if intellectual commentators deny it because the very concept is so grating to them). Washington DC is about connections, more than anything else.

Bush is a rich white Christian man, who has never given much credit to “identity politics”. By electing him instead of a woman or minority, and then letting him pick people with the primary motive of getting along with them, our country continues a cycle of one image of role models.

I was going to end with a wonderful quote, but I can’t find it. 3 Fox News commentators were discussing the nomination, and mentioned that he’s a white man. In what they intended as a joke, they laughed “Just like us.”

PS: I am at least amused to see that O'Connor, the hero of the hour, even feels "He's good in every way, except he's not a woman."


Healthcare is for Geeks

I want universal healthcare. I believe all the normal liberal lines about it. Risk-pooling is efficient, not a government monstrousity. Keeping citizens healthy is a basic function of government, and not something left to consumerist fate. Perverse incentives drive costs up (lack of preventative care, emphasis on unnecessary procedures). Costs are spiraling upwards faster than GDP or inflation. Our private healthcare system costs more than most national healthcare systems. It creates more labor-market rigidity than any minimum wage. The ways we differ from the other Western democracies (both more liberal and more conservative) are usually a cause of embarrassment, and this is definitely one of them.

So I hope people take me seriously when I say, this sort of thing has got to stop!

The main lesson of HillaryCare is that when the right moment comes along politically we need to get whatever form of universal reform can be agreed on shoved quickly through the Congress. Make no mistake, universal insurance is a big bang and a necessary big bang. Getting it through will be a hell of a confluence of opportunity and tactics. Once we get it done, then we have a while to worry about sorting out the system to the purists' satisfaction later.

That’s Matthew Holt giving a Speaker of the Dead style post-mortem for Clinton’s attempt at universal healthcare. Other liberal bloggers pushing for this lately include Ezra, Yglesias, Neil, etc. They make the argument that a) we desperately need something, b) when we have something it will be uber-popular and impossible to kill of, and c) sniping about wonky details makes liberals look eggheaded and detatched while not convincing any voters. All true.

But gah! We’re supposed to be technocrats here people! This is entirely the wrong way of thinking.

1. A huge institution that can’t be destroyed once invoked, is not attractive to people who are nervous about universal healthcare. Capitalists’ fears that once such a system is created, they will have no control over it’s excesses and growth are only exacerbated by this argument.
2. It does matter what the details are. I don’t know what the best solution is, and there are more moral hazards than I care to ponder. But being complicated, and a lack of a perfect solution, does not mean that there aren’t solutions that are significantly worse than others.
3. The details are going to be darn near impossible to change. Does anyone think we’ll set up a huge government institution, and while deleting that institution would then be impossible, systemically changing it would be quite simple. Even something as pure as universal healthcare will have plenty of corrupt agents who have an interest in maintaining that status quo. In fact, setting up institutions like MediCare are what got us into this situation. Instead of Truman’s vision, Johnson pushed for a compromise he could get. Now, we might like the results of that compromise, but it’s been nigh impossible to change.
4. You don’t need to give politicians advice on Machiavellianism. Tell them what the right policies are. If there really is a way to push something through, I doubt any Congresscritter or President is going to err on the “not political enough” side of things. Sure, we can now say Clinton probably did things wrong back then with hindsight… but there’s no reason to believe at any particular time that we have better knowledge for Congressional dirty work than the Big Dog or other party leaders.
5. The paradox of “giving cynical explanations for proposed rhetoric” continues to confound. If you say “say X because it will get votes” loud enough to actually convince Democratic leaders, there’s little chance the moderates or aisle-crossers won’t hear you as well. This particularly comes up during campaigns where every liberal pundit is saying candidates need to express their Christianity more… and then wonder why no one is convinced by the Democrat’s expression of faith. Glenn Reynolds is not afraid to quote you, people.

Go wonk off about healthcare. Tell me why various systems in other Western democracies would work or not work here. Explain how a high level of private care can co-exist with a base level of public care. Argue with economists who say government catastrophe insurance is the optimal solution. Leave the dirty work to the ambitious bastards.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

SCOTUS Nominee Thoughts

Bush's nomination of Roberts is surely part of a broader agenda: Get rid of the women on the Supreme Court, overturn Roe, overturn Brown v. Board of Education, and finally, overturn Marbury v. Madison. The conservatives will not be happy until they have a Supreme Court with the courage to rule itself out of existence.

Nowhere in the Constitution, as I recall from the time I glanced at it in the Rotunda of the National Archives, does it say that the Supreme Court should be the final arbiter of the aforesaid Constitution. That's something John Marshall invented, to vex Jefferson. The Supreme Court has been on the road to extreme activism since that gloomy day in 1803. The Roberts Court will let the president decide the important Constitutional questions, such as how many terms he should serve (two being laughably too few), and who should be his successor. Bush clearly cut a deal with Roberts: "I'll give you a lifetime appointment if you give me one too."

All true. This is why people should read >Joel Achenbach more. (I first started him with his book Why Things Are in high school.)

Anyway, gotta say this would endear me to Bush’s judicial philosophy if true. As a populist friend of mine says “We don’t need a Supreme Court. Just a Sorta High Up Court.”

I continue to despair about the abortion discussion. It is true that Bush was elected with the support of people who want a pro-life justice. This would seem a democratic mandate at the very least. It is also true that pro-Roe is a majority position in the country, and a lot of people were pro-choice but voted for Bush because they thought it wouldn’t really matter. Even some liberals I know are starting to feel “oh, just overturn it already so we can have a vote on the law and really hash things out.”

It will be very interesting to see if this battle causes NARAL to have to un-endorse Chaffee, and how it affects “moderate Republican pro-choicers” in general.

Addendum: There seems to be a lot of surprise in Bush's nomination of Roberts, that he's more moderate and likeable than people expect. Bush's judicial nominations are often pretty reasonable, from Texas and DC. Look at his Atty Gen. The crazies who have gotten lots of news (Owens, etc.) were the 10 most crazy and most objectionable of the 216 federal judges that Bush had nominated. I doubt Bush even gave them a second thought they were so low down. Of course, the GOP's willingness to go to the mattresses even for the 5% most crazy, is part of what made Bush seem extremist in this regard.

I do believe he will vote to overturn Roe, if only because of the hidden information problem. Bush could pick anyone. I'm sure there are some judges out there who would vote to overturn Roe. And a judge who would tell him this. And wouldn't tell the public. Why wouldn't this guy overturn Roe, is really the question. Although, that doesn't mean there will be an anti-Roe majority on the court.

I think the advisable Democratic spin is "this guy is well-qualified, and deserving of a competent hearing. The only reason Bush nominated a sane guy who would get plaudits was... to get Rove off the front page. Let's talk about Rove some more."


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Average Americans

By the way, the far left corners of the blogosphere have been crowing [porn star] Carey's appearance at the dinner will prove to be a "messaging disaster" for the GOP, tarnishing their pro-family image, muddying their morality machine, and in general reminding average Americans that Republicans are hypocritical hedonists who get squeamish about gay marriage but love the idea of threesome with a porn star.

We have news for the premature congratulators: Average Americans are hypocritical hedonists who get squeamish about gay marriage but love the idea of threesome with a porn star.

God bless you, Wonkette. This is my reaction to the Rove phenomenon.

Democrats are losing on national security. Or because of it. Or something. It’s not clear what really, especially to them. They just know that Republicans plus National Security, means election loss to them. Which is why Rove seems such a goldmine. It’s not just a huge scandal that makes easy headlines (it is). It’s that it’s about weakness on National Security. Democrats suspect the Republican leadership isn’t really concerned about National Security, so much as using it to win elections.

Whether Bush has to fire Rove or not, clearly his administration outted a covert agent for partisan purposes. What could be a clearer signal that to them, politics comes before security. Now those Republicans won’t have such a high ground anymore!

They still don’t get that National Security is, like the morals in the wonkette post, an attitude not a set of facts and policy. People who say they vote for the President because he’s “tough on terror” are more focused on the “tough” part than the “on terror” part. Tough on gays, tough on drugs, tough on spending, tough on Russia. It may not all be used today, but conservatives have always used it at some point. What Karl Rove did behind the woodshed, or whether Republicans take money from porn stars, are details and facts about the world. That the President is willing to come out and say “gays are bad” or “Saddam must go”, is more important to voters who list National Security or moral values as their top priority.

Addendum: This does not mean Democrats are hopeless of course. The country still thinks this was bad. And Democrats have their own unfair way of framing things that can help them. Just explaining why 4 months from now Democrats will sit around being exasperated wondering why their Iraq War Veteran in Ohio didn’t win the special election.


Last Half of the Daily Show Now Watchable

If my step-dad reminds me of Bush, then Bernie reminds me so much of my grandmother. Bernie is a certain type of conservative intellectual who denies any partisan affiliation, and then a) defends everything in terms of conservative ideology and b) has relentlessly anti-Democrat rhetoric. (There’s a passage in Al Franken’s book where he defeats Bernie so soundly on a talk show that a caller calls in complaining that this is media bias in action, because they put nothings like Goldberg against intellectual giants like Franken.) His new book of “100 people who are ruining America” has 3 conservatives and the rest liberals (including Franken).

But this entry is about Stewart. In the past I couldn’t stand his interviews, as he complained about how much the press kow-tows to politicians, and then he gives rather unquestioning treatment to O’Reilly, Fleischer, Kerry, and Powell. I think with the new set, he has found a new place for politically relevant and humorous interviews.

Let’s see how he spins some things:
“You say Barbara Streisand is one of the 100 worst people. Now c’mon, she’s a singer that writes a few things on a blog that is read by some gay men and a few Hassid’s”
“Eh… I don’t want to disparage Barbara Streisand. Let’s go back to gangsta rapppers”
“Let’s stay with Barbara Streisand.”

This may seem harsh, but yes, the interviewer gets to determine the subject matter. In this little instance, he shows how Bernie isn’t just attacking culture everyone is disgusted by, but attacking people just for being unfriendly liberals. Then he shows how Bernie doesn’t want to discuss that crass partisanship, and just shock everyone with his obvious points. And Stewart doesn’t have to let up… and after this point, he’s already made his argument.

“Some of this junk that’s on TV, no one wants their kid to see sex.”
“I don’t want my kid buying pornography any more than I want him to see me doing it.”

This floored me. In terms of Lakoff framing, it’s key. The conservative argument about pornography often is based on porn itself being bad and is trying to destroy it altogether. This is why liberals fear such measures. Stewart has phrased porn as like parental sex… of course it happens, it’s good that it happens! We just don’t want kids to see it. There’s a difference between the desire to keep kids from it, and to destroy it altogether.

"And now on TV anyone can say 'fuck'."
"Thomas Jefferson could fuck his slaves."

That Stewart did this on the fly is great. He proceeds to discuss how this rise in cultural profanity doesn't match anything in our society getting worse materialistically, and instead things continue to get better, that whole classes are no longer oppressed. The liberal point of view is that a whole bunch of "culture war" is repetitive sideshow, people have always been saying it and it doesn't reflect problems in the country at large. Saying this outright is often difficult (and when Stewart says that, Bernie increduously say "you want to tell me this isn't getting worse?", not making any argument but relying on the common sense that these things MUST be bad, and asking Stewart to challenge that), but he uses his own shocking thing to get on point, while seeming amusing, and discussing something rather important.

“I think a lot of the people you write about are powerless, and smart people like you should be investigating those with power who have been hiding from this country.”

In terms of actual recommendation, pointless; there are plenty of intellectuals on both sides of the aisle. But in terms of spin; wonderful. It’s a compliment, saying “you can do better – do what I want you to do.” Stewart has been doing a lot lately taking liberal frustrations and putting them in very objective terms. Conservatives have long done this, and it’s important for liberals to do this as well. Bernie can’t outright defend the Bush administration if he’s going to keep the above-it-all-intellectual-image he’s crafting (particularly in the current very negative news cycle), so he just as to sit there as Stewart attacks the pointlessness of his writing, attacks the Bush admin, and comes off as a sad soul desperately trying to make sense of the world. (This is what he did best on his Crossfire appearance I think, the “argument through compliment”.)


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dictators Conference Committee

Both Brad's post on stalled Social Security reform and Neil's post on Supreme Court justices demonstrate the damage being done to modern politics by the "conference committee".


Hidden Information

Poor Neil tried to start a discussion about a truly moderate Supreme Court nominee possibility, Ed Prado. The post quickly got taken over by trolls saying Bush could appoint whoever he leaks because that’s what people elected him to do.

Did they? Something you don’t want to see in a nice democratic system is randomness. Do we elect Presidents for their Supreme Court justices? Bush’s first term never nominated one, and Clinton’s term before that didn’t either. And both NARAL and the pro-life brigade have been yelling about Roe v Wade being overturned for so long that it’s easy for the public to simply forget concerns about the SCOTUS. Now all of a sudden it looks like Bush will nominate two justices this summer, reshaping the court entirely.

How were voters to predict or vote based on this? If you’re an Iraq war hawk who’s rabidly pro-choice, or vice versa like a peaceful suburban mother, how do you choose? Do you go with the issue that will surely be affected, or the issue that may or may not be affected, but could remake the court for decades.

In truth they vote for what’s on their minds at the time, and politicians know that. That’s why we see less and less respect for democratic mandates. Democrats believe Bush only won because of slime thrown on Kerry, war-mongering, and ignorance by the general public. True or not, it seems they have pretty good reason to not worry about a filibuster ruining their public approval. They rightly believe doing everything reasonable to stop a pro-life nominee will have political benefits. If there were respect for popular mandates in DC, the Democrats wouldn’t oppose Bush’s nominee because it would be costly. That’s how democracy supposed to work, after all.

PS: I understand there is randomness inherent in every policy decision the President will eventually deal with. I still think there’s a big difference between internal factors that could be remedied, or external factors that are simply unfair.

PPS: Anyone else see the "lemons market" problem in SCOTUS nominees?


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stick to the plan!

You may have heard of the Leeroy Jenkins video. If not, it is a video of an attempted raid on a dungeon by some Warcraft-wonks, and the story of how it goes terribly wrong. Since it starts off with wonky tactics, it may seem amusing only to Warcraft fans… but just wait through the first couple minutes, and it becomes something anyone can appreciate. Anyone who has planned great and thoughtful plans in an online videogame. Or anyone who’s made a beautiful plan in an RPG, only to see it ruined by bad players. Or just anyone with a sense of irony who understands how intricately thought out plans never survive contact with the enemy… or in particular has been screwed by a zealous ally.

Go watch the video.

The experience is so universal really, it has given rise to Leeroy used as geek slang:

1. Leeroy
1: One who does not grasp the concept of caution.
2: One whose success is based purely off relentless aggression and pure luck.
3: One whose battle cry consists of their own name.

1: To destroy all hopes of success.
2: To rush headlong into danger without regard to consequences.
3: To satisfy one's own desires at the expense of all around oneself.

My first thought concerning the use of this paradigm in the post-Leeroy Jenkins world was politics. Not only how we can see this metaphor in general, but how the specific language and wordings could apply to our angsty situations. Thus I give you… Howaaard Dean.

Kerry: Okay guys, uh, these Republicans are giving us a lot of trouble since the war. Uh, does anybody need anything think we can win this election or can we bypass?

Kennedy: Uh, I think Howard thinks he can beat this guy.

Kerry: Oh, d'he...he has that "successful governor record" Doesn't, isn't he a northeasterner?

Kennedy: Yeah, but that'll help him with swing voters better. He'll have executive experience.

Kerry: (sigh) Christ. Okay, uh, well, what we'll do, I'll talk about the economy, uh, take the war off the table as an issue. We can kind of just, you know, vote for the war in a short resolution. Um, I will use weird Senate votes to make it into a budget battle. Kind of scatter 'em so we can talk about budgetary issues and get the moderate Republicans to disagree. Uh, when my distractions done uh, I'll need Clarke to come in and point out how the terrorists are still messing things up too, uh, so we can keep 'em scattered and not have to "criticize the troops". Um, when his is done, Biden of course, hr'll have to run in and do the same thing. Um, we're gonna need a Senate Report to say we're losing the war on terror, uh so they can uh, go on the talk shows uh, so we of course can get 'em down fast because we're bringing all these guys, I mean, we'll be in trouble if we don't take 'em down quick.

Kerry: I think it's a pretty good plan. We should be able to pull it off this time. Uh, what do you think Zogby, can you give me a number crunch real quick?

Zogby: Uhh, yeah, give me a sec, I'm coming up with 32.33, uh, repeating of course, percentage of victory.

Kerry: Well that's a lot better than we usually do against a war president. uh, about ready guys?

Dean: Allright, deaniacs, let's do this. HOOOOWAARD DEEAAANNNN!!!!

Kerry: Oh my God, he just peacenicked.

Gore: Save him!

Kerry: Oh jeez, Stick to the plan!

Kennedy: Oh jeez..

Edwards: No!

Kennedy: Lets go! Lets go.

Clarke: Stick the the plan John?!

Kerry: Stick to the plan!

Lieberman: Oh gee, Oh f-ck.

Trippi: Give me more internet fundraising!

Kennedy: Hurry Up.

Kerry: Vote.

H. Clinton: CA CA Ca Can't swing.

Kerry: I can't get independents. Am I flip-flopping?

Edwards: I can't spin.

Lockheart: Wha The, What the Hell?

McAuliffe: I can't 527 you.

Daschle: Oh my God guys

Lockheart: The Swiftboat Ads keep airing!

Kerry: Can't respond!

Sasso: More are airing!

Carville: I don’t think you can respond to that shit.

Clarke: Oh my God!

Dean: Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God...

Trippi: I got it, I got it...

Edwards: I can't win the primary!?!

Kerry: I Already won the primary

Kerry: Clark's down..

Gore: Oh my God.

Kerry: Pff. God Dammit Howard...

McAuliffe: God, dammit, Howard...

Daschle: Howard, you moron!

Kerry: ... Howard...

H. Clinton: Genius.

Clarke:I’m on it.

Kucinich: Dumbass.

Edwards: I’m Down. 6 points down.

Kerry: God Damn.

Lockheart: Clinton, save us. Clinton photo op!

Kerry: Why do you do this shit Howard?

Edwards: I’m trying!

Dean: It's not my fault.. the media distorted me

McAuliffe: Who's planned the grassroots?

Kerry: We do have grassroots, dont we?

Lieberman: Oh God.

H. Clinton: Oh for… pff.

Kennedy: Great job, moron..

Kerry: Howard, you are just Stupid as Hell!

Dean: At least I have a blog.


Friday, July 08, 2005


An amusing thought.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is about to be passed by the house.

Unlike NAFTA, CAFTA is facing a much harder time. Democrats are lining up against it, even ones who have never before met a free trade agreement they didn’t like. This just seems to be the straw that breaks the Camel’s back, with fewer and fewer protections for unions and poor industries, more and more demands for copyright protections in other countries. There has been no attempt to negotiate with Democrats at all – which is weird when trade agreements generally cross partisan boundaries (there are protectionists and libertarians on both sides of the isle).

To some degree this is Democrats trying to make Bush responsible for all free trade and economic changes, and eventually fire back at Republicans with protectionist rhetoric. As a long term strategy, I think people need to give it more thought (and the intellectual generally pro-trade bloggers of Democratic circles don’t), because our economy really is changing dramatically and is going to have some serious costs to American workers in the future.

But to a larger degree, it’s Republicans deliberately isolating Democrats by painting them as altogether anti-trade so businesses never donate to Democrats in the future.

The result of cutting off all Democratic votes of course, has been that the President needs every Republican vote in the House which, remember, has plenty of protectionist Republicans. How do you get them? with massive subidies to their local industries and donations from corporate lobbies. I.e., more funds to corporations, which of course has liberal bloggers crying themselves to sleep about how warped CAFTA is becoming.

The funny thing being, if all this were true, aren’t Democrats actions helping businesses? By being partisan, Democrats are giving American industries a stronger negotiating position.