Thursday, February 28, 2008

Polling place problems

When something goes wrong on Election Day, a lot of people start screaming "conspiracy," particularly those whose candidate just lost. The reality is often more disturbing:
While folks in Washington were waiting hours to vote under record turnout Feb. 12, poll workers hid electronic voting machines because they didn't like the touch-screen devices. On Super Tuesday in Chicago, poll workers passed out pens meant for e-voting machines. When those instruments made no mark on paper ballots, election workers said they were full of invisible ink — an explanation that was upheld by onsite precinct judges.
Invisible ink, folks.

The fact is, our polling places are run by older people without a ton of training or compensation. That's not likely to change any time soon. We might consider this as we think about the kinds of voting machines that work best. Even the best electronic voting machine will break occasionally and will be distrusted by a sizable chunk of voters. Old fashioned lever machines, or even paper and pencil, actually work, and poll workers can deal with problems related to them.

The cost of war

Joseph Stiglitz has a new book out suggesting that we grossly under-estimate the true costs of war by just focusing on operational costs. When you factor in things like medical care and disability benefits for combat veterans, who may live another six or seven decades, you get up into the trillions of dollars. Interestingly, he claims that our peak expenditures on veterans of World War II was in 1993. His analysis suggests that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost the U.S. around $3 trillion.

This is a sobering reminder of the costs of war, which are often hidden from us. I wonder how the Bush administration will greet this information?

“People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, conceding that the costs of the war on terrorism are high while questioning the premise of Stiglitz’s research.

“It is also an investment in the future safety and security of Americans and our vital national interests. Three trillion dollars? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?”

You'd think that after seven years, I'd be used to the Bush administration's arrogance, belligerence, and anti-intellectualism. Yet somehow, they always manage to surprise me. Let's break Fratto's statement down:
  1. Stiglitz is a coward. I'd guess that's par for the course. After all, the Nobel prize winning economist did offer a critique of the administration's policies, which is tantamount to an attack on the homeland.
  2. "The cost of failure." Tony, you guys might have considered the cost of failure when you botched this war. Losing a war has got to be costlier than not having started it.
  3. We can't put a price tag on 9/11. Let's for a moment set aside the conflation of the Iraq War with 9/11. As it turns out, several people have attempted to put a price tag on 9/11. It's difficult to know where to draw the line, though. Do you include the costs of the economic slowdown after the attacks? The costs of increased airline security? Do you put a price on the loss of human lives? It's fuzzy and unpleasant. But here's one study by the Center for Contemporary Conflict that puts the immediate, short-term economic impact of 9/11 at $27.2 billion. That's not chump change. The report talks about the difficulty of gaging the longer term, less direct costs of the attacks. Let's just throw the number $100 billion out there. If that's the cost, then we'll have spent 30 times that figure on this war. So our economy could have sustained 30 9/11 attacks before it will have spent this kind of money. Okay, this sort of math is morbid. How about spending a few hundred billion implementing the security reforms recommended by the 9/11 commission? You know, safer ports and airports, that kind of stuff. It would have been a bargain.
  4. "What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented?" Hard to say, Tony. What attacks have been prevented? Can you show us evidence of any attacks that have been prevented by the war in Iraq? That would certainly help your case.
  5. "Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?” Man, do these guys hate scientists.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama and the Jews

If you were bothered at all by Tim Russert's shameless baiting of Obama at last night's debate, I'd like to recommend this post by Ari Kelman. Ari looks at a recent speech by Obama to members of Cleveland's Jewish community on the subject of Israel. The speech contains a number of the traditional "I'm a huge friend of Israel" panders that one would expect from any politician worth his or her Kosher salt these days. But it also shows some real sensitivities and nuances that I think border on politically courageous. Case in point, Obama's description of his pastor, the one who said nice things about Farrakhan:

It is true that my Pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who will be retiring this month, is somebody who on occasion can say controversial things…He was very active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there was a tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish communities during that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South Africa, because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time…

But I have never heard an anti-Semitic [remark] made inside of our church. I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on part of the Pastor. He is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don’t agree with. And I suspect there are some of the people in this room who have heard relatives say some things that they don’t agree with. Including, on occasion directed at African Americans.

So the point I make is this that I understand the concerns and the sensitivities and one of my goals constantly in my public career has been to try to bridge what was a historically powerful bond between the African American and Jewish communities that has been frayed in recent years.

He hasn't been at my house during Passover, but he may as well have been.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reinstated, and it feels so good

The Denver Democratic Party reinstated me as a county convention delegate last night after I proved I'd been registered with them for over a year. I was not alone:
Ten of the 172 delegates and alternates suspected of crashing Feb. 5 party caucuses persuaded a credentials committee Monday that they are, indeed, Denver Democrats.
The story last week was that high turnout brought in a lot of idiots who didn't know that they weren't registered Democrats or didn't know what precinct they were in. In short, it was the voters' fault. But as ten of us proved last night, voters sometimes get it right, while local parties sometimes fail to keep accurate records. I wonder how many other people are still going to be disqualified just because they couldn't get to a meeting on Monday night.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Way to go, Ohio

It really feels like the next eight years will be determined by how close these two lines get in the next seven days.No pressure.

Climate data

Has it been a cold winter where you are? Do we think the global warming scare is over? Well, the National Climatic Data Center helpfully provides data on temperatures in the U.S. since 1895. Their chart output is a bit messy -- I prefer exporting the table into a program like Stata that can do nice graphs with smoother lines, like this one:Isn't that pretty? Oh, wait, we're gonna die.

The kids are alright

There's been plenty of criticism out there about Obamania. You know, all the young, adoring fans who worship the ground on which Obama walks even if they don't know his policy positions and then go to Starbucks and sip soy lattes while blogging about "The Wire" on their MacBooks. And we've all seen the starry-eyed college students who fit this stereotype pretty closely. And God knows I've engaged in some of this bashing myself.

But I think it's getting a bit old, a bit mean, and a bit silly. For an example of all three, see Kathleen Parker's recent column at
[Obama] is a perfect storm of the culture of narcissism, the cult of celebrity, and a secular society in which fathers (both the holy and the secular) have been increasingly marginalized from the lives of a generation of young Americans.
Please. Ever since I was a starry-eyed college student, torn between casting my primary vote for Mike Dukakis or Jesse Jackson (they seemed more inspirational at the time), I can remember reading articles about how apathetic and disappointing young voters were. Either they believed in the wrong things or they didn't believe in anything at all. Well, suddenly a lot of young liberals are finding something to believe in again. They're organizing, they're paying attention to politics, and they're voting. No, they're not all as articulate as Mario Savio was in 1964, but they're actually in the fray doing what we say we want good citizens to be doing. So let's give them a little credit.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why you gotta be a Nader Hater

Ralph's running again.

Okay, people are always talking about deeds rather than words. Fine. Let's look at Nader's actions for a moment. Not his work on product safety and the environment in the 1960s and 70s, for which he is a legitimate national hero, but his actions in the past decade. And let's ignore, for the moment, his words about corporate dominance of American politics (which has hardly been mitigated by his recent efforts) or the similarities between the two major parties (which haven't been less similar in a century). If we were to judge him simply on his actions, what would we deduce his goals to be?

Simply, we would deduce that he desires to increase Republican chances of winning the presidency. Gore undoubtedly would have taken the White House in 2000 had Nader not been running. No, Nader didn't cost Kerry the White House in 2004 -- Nader only got .38% of the vote. But again, that's a chunk of the vote that would have leaned strongly Democratic had Nader not been running. How many individuals in American politics can actually swing a presidential vote away from Democrats by nearly half a percentage point by themselves? How many Republicans would sell their children into slavery for that kind of power?

If Nader were true to his stated goals, he would be celebrating this current presidential race, not trying to mess with it. The Democratic nominee will hardly be a radical but will definitely be left of center. The likely Republican nominee is a bit of a jumble policywise, but he's moderate enough that conservatives don't trust him. And most polls suggest that the Democrat will win in November, despite being somewhat more ideologically extreme than the Republican. In other words, the government is likely to shift, modestly but detectably, to the left next year, without his help. His entry into the race reduces the chances of that happening.

I am so tired of this guy.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Condi Condi Condi...

Yes, it's time that folks in the Balkans finally got their act together and stopped fighting. Nothing has a way of putting to rest six centuries of strife like a stern little rebuke from Condoleeza Rice:
"We believe that the resolution of Kosovo's status will really, finally, let the Balkans begin to put its terrible history behind it," Rice said. "I mean, after all, we're talking about something from 1389 — 1389. It's time to move forward."
Rice is a Sovietologist. Surely she has some sense of the number of foreign ministers in the past half millennium who have said roughly the same thing, with no effect.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The down side of high turnout

Apparently, 172 of the delegates elected at Democratic caucuses throughout Denver on February 5th are ineligible, mainly because they're not registered Democrats. Some were Greens, some were Republicans. Overwhelming turnout is blamed for this -- literally 10 times as many people turned out in Denver's Democratic caucuses this year than showed up in 2004.

Elected delegates who are not eligible to serve received a letter from the Denver Democratic Party informing them as such. I know because I received one of those letters. Now, I don't know how many of these problem delegates are like me, but I actually am properly registered -- I confirmed this over the phone with the county registrar. They just didn't update their public listings. So now I have to go get certified proof of my party registration and bring it to a county Democratic meeting on Monday night.

Okay, I'm just one case, but maybe, just maybe, the problem wasn't all with the caucus-goers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Can a woman be president?

Pretty amazing what can get printed in a newspaper these days. Out in New Hampshire, the Concord Monitor ran a piece by Dick Marple, who claims that the Constitution does not permit women to serve as president of the United States. I am not making this up:

Most people believe not only that the 19th Amendment permitted women the right to vote but that since women serve in Congress, the courts and other offices of government, the office of president of the United States has been de-genderized.

Not true. This important legal question exists now and has not been constitutionally addressed. The language and syntax of the 19th Amendment merely removed the barriers that prevented women from voting. It did not identify women to be qualified to become elected president.

Okay, yes, the 19th amendment did not remove the barrier against women serving as president. It didn't remove that barrier because that barrier never existed. Here's what the Constitution, Article II, has to say about the qualifications to serve as president:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.

Nice, gender-neutral language.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bring out your tapes!

I don't know what sick bastard unearthed videos from his bar mitzvah to produce this video (it wasn't me - my bar mitzvah was 11 years earlier), but he's a genius. I've got to go into my parents' storage lockers to find some more of this stuff.

(h/t Monkeys for Helping)

McCain's has a "close bond" with female lobbyist?

So says the NY Times. I dunno. This sorta reminds me of the Schwarzenegger groping hit piece the LA Times ran just before the 2003 California recall election. I'm wondering how many people will discount it because it's in the NYT.

Thanks, Bill

Well, I guess the Clinton campaign strategy of lowering expectations hasn't really been paying off. So now Bill's out there saying that if Hillary doesn't win Texas and Ohio, it's over. And Carville's saying pretty much the same thing.

I guess these guys are paving the way for Hillary's quasi-graceful exit early next month. I suppose they could go all negative on Obama and join Bill O'Reilly's lynching party, but I rather doubt that will happen. Which means this thing is just about over, and the candidate with the bulk of the early insider support will not become the nominee. I'm still flabbergasted.

Protecting the party, Colorado style

In their book Legislative Leviathan, Cox and McCubbins describe how one of the main jobs of legislative party leaders is to protect the party's label. People have to run for office with that party label next to their name, and party leaders need to make sure that that label isn't degraded by the behavior of its members.

Colorado has recently been witnessing a great example of this, as the minority Republican leadership in the statehouse tries to deal with the newest member of its caucus, Rep. Doug Bruce (R-Colorado Springs). Bruce is a longstanding anti-tax activist. He's the author of the state's 1991 Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR), which was amended in 2005 by voters because the state was no longer able to pay for stuff like education or roads. Through a vacancy, Bruce has been appointed to fill out a term in the lower house.

Bruce first apostasy in the capitol was to insist on delaying his swearing in as a new House member by five days. He did so to shorten his time in this session, which makes him eligible to run for an additional term under the state's term limits law. This was considered silly by many, but it was just the beginning. At his swearing in, a photographer tried to take a picture of Bruce kneeling during the session's opening prayer. Bruce responded by kicking the photographer. Let me repeat that. He kicked the photographer. The House responded in a bipartisan manner by passing its first censure resolution ever, 62-1.

Last week, there was more. The legislature was voting on a symbolic measure to honor the U.S. armed forces. This bill was co-sponsored by every member of the legislature, except Bruce, who incidentally sits on the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Bruce then asked to be excused from voting on the measure, calling it "a waste of our time." Now, yes, one can see his point. It was a purely symbolic bill that did nothing to measurably affect the U.S. armed forces. But symbols do have value in politics, and members' mailboxes have reportedly been flooded with letters condemning Bruce's behavior.

How did the Republican leadership respond to this? Just as Cox and McCubbins would predict. House Minority Meader Mike May stripped Bruce of his committee assignment. Democrats, for the most part, are watching Bruce with a mixture of amusement and mild annoyance. Republicans are outright embarrassed. And they're punishing him to protect the party's brand name.

Now, a new test emerges. Remember how Bruce insisted on waiting five days into the session to be sworn in as a new member? Well, it turns out he charged the state his $150 per diem for those five days in which he was not yet a member. Classy, particularly for a guy so concerned about government waste. Can't wait to see how the state GOP handles this one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More on Clinton's brittle* strategy

Via Atrios, here's yet more evidence that team Clinton had planned for Hillary to sew up the nomination early and really hadn't come up with a plan for what they would do if she didn't:

The Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, which will be held on April 22nd, requires voters to pick among pledged delegates, rather than candidates. Thus it's vitally important that candidates pick a slate of pledged delegate candidates well in advance of the primary.

As of now, Obama has a full slate of delegate candidates. Clinton is short by 10 percent, despite having the full backing (and presumably the advice) of Gov. Ed Rendell and Philly Mayor Nutter. What's more, Clinton would have twice as many unfilled candidacies if not for Gov. Rendell extending the deadline. Yes, people are even cheating for her, and she's still blowing it.

Again, Clinton's campaign had all the insider advantages a campaign could reasonably hope for: money, endorsements, experience, a good candidate, etc. By ignoring whatever isn't immediately in front of it and by not doing its homework, the campaign is making really stupid mistakes. Rookie mistakes. (The experienced candidate, my butt.) It was dealt a great hand, and it's not playing it very well.

*By "brittle," I refer to this 2002 article in the Atlantic Monthly about security systems. It cites a security expert who notes that every security system will eventually fail. The good ones manage to fail without compromising everything. Example: the metal detectors at Denver International Airport are at the main terminal, rather than at individual concourses. Suppose TSA discovers that one of those metal detectors has been unplugged for several hours. They'll have to evacuate the entire airport (rather than just one terminal) to remedy the situation. That's brittle.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The larger meaning behind Clinton v. Obama

A few months back, I heard a discussion about how the Clinton/Obama race was actually representative of a serious strategic dispute among Democratic Party factions. The Clinton team, that is, consisted of the James Carville/Mark Penn types who studied the red/blue maps and wanted to ignore the reddest and bluest of the states in order to focus all general election campaign efforts on the "swing" states. The Obama team, conversely, was an outgrowth of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy, which sought to grow the Democratic Party by competing in areas they didn't normally compete in and keeping Republicans on the defensive everywhere.

I didn't think too much of this theory at the time, but the behavior of these campaigns during the primaries is lending some credence to it. The Clinton team has been very strategic, putting all its eggs into a few key baskets and ignoring a lot of smaller states that just couldn't produce that many delegates. The problem with this strategy is that it works until it doesn't. They didn't bank on Obama being competitive in the large states. Fine, no one really did a year ago, but team Clinton didn't have a backup plan. Their plan was rigid. Obama, meanwhile, really has played to his strengths in some areas and played to at least not lose by much in others. He hasn't written any areas off.

Now, of course, targeting one's campaign to a few key states makes perfect sense when resources are limited. But here's the thing -- the Clinton team had the closest thing to unlimited resources we ever see in these sorts of campaigns. She had scads of money and a lock on early party endorsements. She could have been competitive everywhere. Obama has managed to do that with no more resources than she has.

Bringing this argument to the general election, yes, it makes sense to target ruthlessly in most years, writing off the reddest states because spending resources there is wasteful. But this is not most years. I believe the Democrats took the Senate in 2006 precisely because they were not willing to write off places like Montana and Virginia, which have not been kind to them in recent years. The Republican Party is facing tough times right now, largely due to the war, and an aggressive campaign to compete in more conservative areas can pay dividends down the road. I think the Obama strategy is the smarter one in this environment.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Clinton's ill-advised campaign approach

Eric Kleefeld make some interesting observations here, noting that a winner-take-all system of delegate allocation would be benefiting Hillary Clinton. Of course, that's not the system Democrats compete under, so it's weird that her campaign seems to be acting as if it is.
In the race as it's played out, [Obama's] approach leading up to Super Tuesday was to keep the margins close in big states where he was having trouble, and then to run up the score in smaller states where Hillary wasn't really trying to compete. [...] In a way, it almost seems like the Hillary campaign was running as if the Dems did WTA primaries, while the Obama camp was running to maximize their strengths under the proportional system.
It is odd that a campaign with as much money and organization as Clinton's just decided to write off so many states. From my experiences and those with whom I spoke after the Colorado caucuses, there was really not much of a Clinton presence here. Yes, granted, Bill and Chelsea Clinton spoke in Denver shortly before the caucuses, and that ain't nothing. But the Obama campaign had volunteers trained in running caucuses at every single precinct. More of an effort in CO and other caucus states could have yielded Hillary a few more delegates, and it's looking now like every delegate counts.

The limits of campaign theme music

Members of the band Boston are hopping mad that Huckabee is using "More than a Feeling" at rallies. Tom Scholz, the band's main songwriter, is particularly het up:
"Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for," wrote Scholz, adding that he is supporting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. "By using my song, and my band's name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I've been ripped off, dude!"
This is all uncovering some interesting intra-Boston rifts, since Barry Goudreau, who left the band 25 years ago, has been doing appearances with Huckabee.

If memory serves, Neil Diamond sent a similar letter to Mike Dukakis for the latter's use of "America" at campaign rallies.

There shouldn't be such discord. It's supposed to be about the music, man!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hollywood depictions of academics

What's the best film ever made about academic life? It seems like there have been so few.

For my money, the best is "Altered States" (1980). While technically a sci-fi/horror flick, this is a rare vision of the promises and limits of academic life. Dr. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) theoretically has it all. He's a tenured Harvard professor who publishes regularly and occasionally sleeps with his undergrads, but he's bored, dammit! He studies the concept of consciousness and just knows that there's more out there that we don't yet understand. So he pushes the limits, doing field research which often involves sitting in a flotation chamber and taking psychoactive drugs generated by indigenous peoples in remote mountainous regions of Mexico. He gets lectured by his colleagues on his responsibilities to science and to his family, but he keeps pushing it anyway, discovering a link to the consciousness of hominids who walked the earth millions of years ago. Ultimately, he loses himself (literally) in his work, unable to keep his head in the here and now. Only the love of his ex(!)-wife, a fellow academic, pulls him back to the present.

And then, of course, there's Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, who is reappearing in theaters this spring. Look, "Raiders" (1981) was a classic, "Last Crusade" (1989) was a most enjoyable romp, and "Temple of Doom" (1984) was kinda stupid and offensive. That said, I just never bought Jones as an academic. Sure, he's devoted to his work and his students love him, but his passions obviously lay elsewhere. Recovering antiquities and preserving them in museums is field research for an archaeologist; killing Nazis is not, and that's what he spends much of his time doing. It's a great hobby, of course, but no self-respecting department would grant tenure for that.

A few others come to mind. "Wonder Boys" (2000) was an enjoyable look at faculty life. I have to admit that I never saw the film adaptation of "The Human Stain," (2003) but the book by Phillip Roth was excellent, and did a nice job portraying the professional environment of a liberal arts college.

What other good ones are out there?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rules matter

Via Monkey Cage, Michael Franz produced this chart showing how the GOP presidential race would be looking if the Republicans awarded delegates proportionally, as the Democrats do, rather than winner-take-all:Romney and McCain would be pretty much tied. Impressive.

The cooler candidate

Americans should not be choosing a president based on who they think is cooler. That way lies damnation.

That said, was this really meant to compete with this? The horror.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two steps closer to parliamentary government...

Two primary elections in Maryland yesterday featured moderate incumbents - one Republican, one Democratic - getting dumped in favor of more ideologically pure challengers. Rep. Wayne Gilchrist (R) was tossed out with the help of Club for Growth, while the League of Conservation Voters, EMILY's List, and the SEIU worked to unseat Albert Wynn (D). Moderate incumbents, who live in constant fear of losing their jobs, notice this stuff and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Party government. Get used to it.

More on McCain's troubles

To follow up on my earlier post, McCain's difficulties as frontrunner are not without precedent. Mike Huckabee has been comparing himself to Ronald Reagan in 1976, and the comparison isn't a bad one, although Huck's got a ways to go. Reagan mounted a conservative challenge to moderate incumbent Gerald Ford that year right up into the convention, where Ford narrowly won with 1,187 delegates to Reagan's 1,070. Reagan went so far as to announce a vice presidential candidate and even attempted to woo delegates at the convention, with Ford counter-wooing by offering rides on Air Force One.

The rest, as they say, is history. Ford loses the general election, but Reagan is in the key position as the conservative that the party should have turned to to avoid the loss. This analogy would explain why Huckabee hasn't dropped out yet. He's not playing for 2008; he's playing for 2012.

The radical center

Thers does a nice job tearing apart the whole "why can't we all get along" meme here:

Via Jim Henley, one of the most annoying things ever printed in any newspaper ever:

So who are these angry voters? I call them "restless and anxious moderates," or RAMs. Most come from the third of the electorate that identifies itself as independent, but some Democrats and Republicans have also joined this new bloc. These voters tend to be practical, non-ideological and unabashedly results-oriented -- people such as Gary Butler, 60, who lives in Show Low, Ariz. Both parties, he says, "are way too far apart, and nobody is looking out for the good of the people."

"Address my life and the problems I face in my terms," another RAM told me. "Cut political rhetoric, cut political fighting, cut the game-playing, stop the five-point programs; just address my issues in a real-world, straightforward way."

You might think that the emergence of a potentially decisive bloc of disaffected voters would seize the attention of the two major parties. But they've been strangely oblivious to the RAMs' prodding.

I think the reason they have been "oblivious" to this "bloc of voters" is that this "bloc of voters" doesn't actually fucking exist. People don't blame both parties equally for the current shit state of affairs that is our nation right now. They blame the Republicans for fucking things up and they blame the Democrats for not doing a damn thing to stop them. RAM that up your ass.

Now, in fairness, there actually is some sort of legitimate issue here. There actually are moderate voters out there who are increasingly having a hard time finding elected officials who represent them. Elected Democrats are becoming more liberal; elected Republicans are becoming more conservative. But the idea that elected officials could "cut political rhetoric, cut political fighting, cut the game-playing, stop the five-point programs; just address my issues in a real-world, straightforward way" is pretty silly. Addressing issues inevitably requires making choices, some of which you'll agree with and some of which will make your blood boil. There's no correct, nonpartisan way to manage an economy or provide health care coverage or build a bridge. People have different approaches to governing, and often those differences will fall along party lines.

Voters get to choose which party overall is more competent, but they really do have to choose if they want to vote, and they're not served well by articles like the one mentioned above.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why I'm with Obama

I supported John Edwards from pretty early on. When it was clear last month that his campaign just wasn't going to make it, I knew I'd have to make a decision, but I tried to put it off for a while. The fact is, I like and respect both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I see them both as intelligent, passionate public servants with their hearts and heads in the right place. They're also both absurdly ambitious, but pretty much anyone playing at that level has that trait.

In terms of experience, I consider them roughly even. Yes, Hillary has been a U.S. senator a few years longer, but Obama was a state senator for a while, and I think that pretty relevant experience, too. I don't really consider the job of First Lady as relevant White House experience. Yes, she was there, she saw history happening first hand, she met all these heads of state, yadda yadda, but so did Laura Bush, and I wouldn't consider her ready for the presidency. Hillary Clinton did play a policy role in the 1990s, but it went profoundly sour in 1994, and after that, she voluntarily withdrew from policymaking for a few years -- something an elected official simply cannot do. So it's not particularly relevant experience, and if it is, I wouldn't say it went all that well for her.

Another important criterion is electability. Again, I see this as a wash. Yes, many polls show Obama doing better than Clinton against McCain, but as I've mentioned earlier, this is probably misleading. Everyone knows her flaws, while Obama's have yet to be widely revealed and examined.

So, on the major dimensions I care about -- experience, competence, intellect, electability -- I see these two as pretty even. One other dimension of interest, however, is inspiration: the extent to which the candidate can bring people into politics, make them feel good about their country, get them involved in fixing its problems, etc. I wouldn't rank it as highly as the others, but all else being equal (and I think they are equal), I believe inspiration matters. And, fairly or unfairly, that one clearly goes to Obama.

To be sure, inspiration carries its own problems. A lot of Obama's supporters clearly believe he's the Messiah. These people are pretty annoying, and they're in for a great deal of disappointment should Obama become president. Nothing against Obama -- no one can live up to this kind of hype.

So I'm largely supporting Obama in spite of his backers rather than because of them. Nonetheless, I'm proud to do so. Yes, he's the Adlai Stevenson/Gary Hart/Howard Dean/Macintosh computer of 2008, but that candidate actually has a good shot this year, and I think it would be good both for the Democratic Party and for the country if he won.

Key quote

According to Bill Clinton, when it comes to presidential nominations, "Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line."

That quote seems particularly apt right about now.

McCain's troubles

I can't recall a presidential nomination race in which one candidate was, by consensus, the eventual nominee, but was still having such trouble winning primaries. My recollection of previous races is that resistance to the overwhelming delegate leader fades quickly, and by the time they clinch the nomination, it's pretty much a formality. And yet this year we see John McCain fighting for every inch of ground in what should be his victory lap. He lost two races to Huckabee over the weekend, and we're still not sure what happened in Washington state, since the state GOP chair called it in McCain's favor before the votes were counted. Hey, it's not what you know...

McCain did better today in Virginia, beating Huckabee by a comfortable nine points. Of course, polls just last week had McCain up by 30 over Huckabee in Virginia, so those nine points weren't all that comfortable.

McCain will breath a major sigh of relief when he finally reaches 1,191 delegates. And when he does, will that resolve all the problems? There will still be a substantial chunk of the party that despises him and does not want him as the nominee. Do they suck it up and vote for him? Stay home and let the Democrat win? Or go find another candidate for a third party run?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Tao of Steve

Another obituary for my old car. My brother put this one together.
Steve Landcruiser, the slow but dependable wagon who
moved countless pieces of furniture across the
country, was destroyed Saturday at the age of 22.

Steve was purchased by the State of California as part
of the vehicle retirement program for cars unable to
reach emission standards. "He left the world as he
lived in it, conscious of god, fearless of death and
at peace, surrounded by toothless car wreckers," the
family said in a statement.

On a cold, cloudless January day in Los Angeles, 1986,
the Masket family needed to replace their 2 year old
Jeep Laredo, who's engine had recently melted due to a
family "misunderstanding". The long search for a new
car ended when they fell in love with a 1985 Toyota
Landcruiser. Little did they know, they had
purchased their last SUV.

Steve got his name from one of Seth's high school
teachers, Steve Tothro. The soft-spoken civics
teacher was noted to be slow but dependable. Over
the next 201,000 miles, Steve earned his nickname
galavanting across the continent without a single
speeding ticket.*

The proud career of this noble wagon paralleled a
generation's search for meaning on the highways of the
"Old West". Steve made his first road-trip to the
desert to watch the Space Shuttle land in '87. He
moved to the Bay Area later that year and soon after
became the consumate "road-trip" car.

Noteworthy trips included: the first EVER Lair
day-off to Canada; a seperate tour of the San Juan
Islands/Victoria, BC; and a winding sojourn through
Arizona, Nevada and SoCal where an overheating Steve
forced us to drive through the Summer desert with the
heater on.

Steve crossed the continental U.S. twice, in '95 and
'99. In all, Steve travelled to 3 countries, 28
states and a district. And even though he was
"salvaged" after a head-on with a deer, he never had
significant engine troubles. It was the emissions
laws, enacted after his birth that proved to be his

"Watching him driven into the wrecking yard felt wrong
some how. I'd prefer to imagine him taken out the
back door and into the African outback, where his
brothers and sisters dominate the terrain as Hashem
intended," the Maskets said in a statement.

Wherever Steve is, the memory of countless friends
who's furniture he moved will live on for eternity.
Steve is survived by Barbara, Sam, Seth, Vivian, Eli,
Sadie, Sirena, Harris, Delilah and Reggie. In lieu of
flowers, the Maskets ask that you please recycle, as
they did.
*Factually speaking, I got a ticket at Steve's helm, driving 35mph in a 25 zone on College Avenue in Berkeley.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Obama Curve

A friend of mine noted a few weeks back that Obama seemed to be doing best in states with either a lot of African Americans or none of them. I heard a CNN pundit saying something similar recently. So I thought I'd check it out. The results bear out the hypothesis nicely.A few interesting notes: the home-state effect is huge, assuming Arkansas counts as Clinton's home state. Also, California is really close to the trend line, suggesting that the screwy ballot that made it difficult for independents to vote in the Democratic primary didn't necessarily hurt Obama all that much.If this pattern holds, it augers well for Obama in next week's contests in Virginia, DC, and Maryland, as well as next month's contest in Texas. Ohio would tend to lean toward Clinton in the above graph, and it might help her that Governor Strickland is backing her.

Update: Graph updated to include Louisiana results.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Steve, alav ha-shalom

Steve, the 1985 Toyota Landcruiser that has been in my family for 22 years, was finally put to rest this week. Apparently, the state of California has some program where they buy your old high emission-producing vehicle off you and dismantle it. My brother took advantage of the program and put the aging, feeble, but ever loyal vehicle on its road trip to Elysium.

Steve was my ride in high school and college. He was named after Steve Totheroh, my high school American history teacher who taught me about the Cross of Gold speech and the Depression era song "One Meatball." Steve (the car) safely carried me to many places, including:
  • Downtown LA, to participate in Hands Across America
  • Vancouver, BC, to see how far I could travel during a day off
  • Over the Sonora Pass at 10,000 feet, more times than I can count
  • Dodger Stadium, with 10 passengers, to see Genesis and Paul Young
  • Westley, CA, where Pitt the Auto Repairman replaced a fan belt
  • Several unsuccessful dates
My brother has been Steve's keeper for the past 15 or so years and has taken him all over North America. Steve lived well and lived long. Now he belongs to the ages.

Just lost my shirt on Intrade

Romney's out.

And what a ridiculous statement:
If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.
It's no secret that Republicans believe electing a Democrat is the equivalent to surrendering to Al Qaeda, but it's rare that it's stated so brazenly.


My brother bought me season one of "Flight of the Conchords" for my birthday. If you haven't seen it, I strongly urge that you do so immediately.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Inspiration vs. Accomplishment

I've been speaking with friends and students about the choice Democrats face between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. To some extent, I think, you can compare this to the choice Democratic leaders faced in 1960 when they had to pick between Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy. On the one hand, a powerful, experienced senator who could clearly get things done with Congress even if he lacked humility or much of a public speaking style. On the other, a charismatic but young, inexperienced senator who was a member of an ethnic group that had never been elected nationwide before yet could nonetheless inspire millions with his words.

Okay, the parallel isn't perfect -- Clinton isn't as powerful or experienced as LBJ was, and there's no reason to believe she'd be as effective in dealing with Congress as he was. After all, he pushed through Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. And we saw how well she worked with Congress during her health care reform push in 1993-94. Not great. (I know, she wasn't president then, but if she can claim her time as First Lady as relevant White House experience, then so can I.)

But let's just say that you had a choice between Johnson and Kennedy. And, just for the sake of argument, let's leave out the Vietnam War, for which both presidents deserve culpability anyway. Do you go for Johnson and his impressive ability to push a meaningful agenda through Congress? Or Kennedy and his talent for inspirational words that make people feel proud to be American?

Asked another way, what if Kennedy had never been president? Would we have gone to the moon? Would hundreds of thousands have enrolled in the Peace Corps? Who would Democrats quote when they feel patriotic? And what if LBJ had never been president? No Medicare, voting rights, or federal aid to education? How do you weigh this?

And if you can answer that, maybe it can tell you how to vote in 2008, when inspiration and accomplishment are again on the ballot.

Political interest

Somehow this video is up to 74,000 hits.

Everybody should caucus

I attended my very first precinct caucus last night (actual photo at left), and I have to report that it was a delight. It was a bunch of neighbors trying to figure out who their party should nominate for president. People debated, argued about procedures, ran for party posts, gave speeches, and cheered the results. I even got elected a delegate to the county convention next month.

It's not obvious what's the best way for party members to nominate candidates. There's a fair argument to be made that the rank-and-file should have no role in that at all. But since we (with the exception of West Virginia) seem to have decided that voters will play a role in this, a neighborhood meeting in which party members deliberate seems like a nice way to do it. I'm sure the caucus system advantages some candidates (like Obama), while secret ballots seem to favor others. Also, it's potentially possible for a caucus to be manipulated by a wealthy candidate who pays a bunch of people to just show up -- that's harder to do in a primary when there are so many more people voting. But I would say that the rewards outweigh the risks. It's the good sort of social capital that Putnam and Etzioni are always talking about and Normal Rockwell loved to paint, without the bad stuff, like Italian fascism.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Huck Scenario

Too much information to process on ƜberTuesday right now. Still sorting it out. But Josh Marshall is reporting that the Romney campaign, disappointed in today's events, will be having a "frank discussion" about their prospects tomorrow. Perhaps, just perhaps, he's considering packing it in.

Meanwhile, Huckabee had a very good day, picking up states all across the South, and exit polls show him splitting social conservatives with Romney. If Romney drops, Huckabee is the only thing standing between John McCain and the GOP nomination. Are the likes of Coulter, Dobson, Limbaugh, and Hannity willing to jump in to help Huck and stop McCain? How cool would that be?

McCain backlash

Seems like we're overdue for a Republican backlash against John McCain. Should be along any time now...

Oh, there it is.

Ann Coulter: Hillary better than McCain.
James Dobson: I will never support McCain.
Rush Limbaugh: Might as well let a Democrat win.

Ditto Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt...

Foreign journalists

I met with a group of correspondents from Turkey, Austria, Romania, Italy, Albania, and Estonia this morning. I was told they wanted to learn more about Colorado's role in American politics. So I started with basics, talking innocently enough about the electoral college, competitive elections, etc.

And then I kept getting interrupted with questions about superdelegates and candidate viability thresholds in caucuses. These reporters knew their stuff. More to the point, they knew our stuff, much more so than many American political journalists I've met.

Dave and Hillary debate freedom and equality

Letterman hosted Hillary Clinton last night. It was a good interview, pretty funny, mostly softball questions. Letterman seemed appalled by the cost of presidential campaigns (all the candidates will spend about half a billion, by Clinton's estimation) and drew her into a nice discussion about free speech versus equal access. But then Letterman made the suggestion that maybe we should use this money to feed the hungry instead of using it on campaigns. Here's the video:

That's just cheap. He should know better, and Hillary should have rebutted him better, although I certainly understand why she didn't. Money raised by campaigns goes almost exclusively to one purpose: educating voters about the upcoming election. And I think we can all agree that that's an important task. Maybe there are better ways of educating millions of adult voters in such a short period of time, but when you rule out forced re-education camps, there aren't that many other options.

So is educating the population more or less important than feeding the hungry? We can certainly debate that, but that's not really the issue here. The issue is, if we've decided we're going to feed the hungry, where does the money come from? With due respect to Letterman, there are plenty of better sources. You could cover that half-billion dollars by just cutting one B-2 bomber, and you'd still have plenty of change.

Late surge toward Romney in CA?

It's winner-take-all. McCain looks to have a good day across the nation, but if Romney takes California's delegates, this race is far from over.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Obama more electable?

In the latest head-to-head matchups, Obama does notably better against McCain than Clinton does. Both Democrats beat the snot out of Romney.

For the record, I'm not sure how reliable these polls are. Hillary, my colleagues keep reminding me, is pre-slimed. Everyone in the country knows her negatives, and they're not likely to get much higher. Obama, meanwhile, has enjoyed a very nice media ride over the past few months (hell, years). Should he become the nominee, his past (his years doing crack in a madrassa with Saddam Hussein, etc.) will come to the fore, and he won't look quite so pristine. Of course, the same lesson goes for that other media darling, John McCain.

The tracks of her tears

Wait, Hillary Clinton cried publicly again, on the eve of another big election day?

Once was okay, but fool me once... fool me... we won't get fooled again. Yeah, that's it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


If polls are to be believed (and that's a big if this year), John McCain is poised to clean up on Super Tuesday. He can't clinch it that day, but he'll be most of the way to the Republican nomination.

Just for the record, no, that's not supposed to happen. A large chunk of the party despises McCain. They hate his maverick style, his unreliability, his betrayals on issues like campaign finance, etc. George Will recently criticized McCain thusly:

In ABC's debate, McCain said: "Why shouldn't we be able to reimport drugs from Canada?" A conservative's answer is:

That amounts to importing Canada's price controls, a large step toward a system in which some medicines would be inexpensive but many others -- new pain-relieving, life-extending pharmaceuticals -- would be unavailable. [...]

There are decent, intelligent people who believe that equity or efficiency or both are often served by government setting prices. In America, such people are called Democrats.

Traditionally, Republican insiders are able to prevent a candidate like McCain from winning. That's what they did in 2000. Why is McCain succeeding now? Because the GOP is in terrible disarray. For any number of reasons, they simply could not converge on a candidate. When a party can't control its nomination process, talented (if unreliable) politicians get through. That's what happened with Schwarzenegger -- he could only get into office as a Republican in the recall election, which had no primary.

The Republicans could actually win with McCain as their nominee, but they'll have to get used to disappointment.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Harry Cake

I made this last night for my son's birthday. Pardon my auto-kvell, but I'm very proud of this one:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Super Tuesday polls has provided some very helpful graphics for those of us wondering what will happen next Tuesday. Here's the Democratic one:(The red line is the median. Circles represent individual polls. The darker they are, the more recently they were conducted. The bigger they are, the more delegates are at stake. BTW: This is a really nice way to display a lot of variables in one chart.)

Note that Clinton is pretty heavily favored in most of the states, although the more recent polls almost all show movement towards Obama. It looks like California will be a wash, although Hillary will pick up the bulk of delegates in the delegate-rich states of NY and NJ, while Obama will clean up in IL.

The Republican one is more surprising:Can McCain really have such substantial leads in all these states? Most of them, I think, are winner-take-all, unlike on the Democratic side. So McCain seems poised for a really good night. Granted, Huckabee is still an X-factor out there, although I'm guessing he's pulling more from Romney than McCain at this point.

USA Today has an interesting little study showing that no candidate can clinch next Tuesday. The beat goes on...