Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't forget the sexism!

And here I thought the attacks on Sotomayor would just be race-related. G. Gordon Liddy:
Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.
I really must stop paying attention to this stuff, but I can't avert my eyes.

Credit where due: To the extent that Gingrich, Liddy, Beck, Tancredo and others are trying to make Republican senators look sane by comparison, they're doing an excellent job.

"A Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses"

That's how former Rep. Tom Tancredo described the National Council of La Raza, of which Sonia Sotomayor is a member. Yes, obviously a bombastic statement, but an interesting one. Let's take the "hoods" to represent secrecy and the "nooses" to represent violence. What would the KKK be without secrecy or violence? Just a bunch of guys with unpopular views who sit around and bitch about the world.

I can think of many organizations that fit that description. La Raza is not at the top of that list.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fantasy GOP

I'm still working on that lecture on the future of the GOP, but it looks like the Washington Times isn't doing me any favors. This article (thank you, Coloradopols) is filled with all sorts of fantastical claims about how well positioned the GOP is now that they're unpopular and out of power. The Colorado Independent takes care of some of the more obvious problems with the article, such as the claim that Colorado had two Democratic senators last year (it didn't) and the claim that Republican leaders like competitive primaries (they don't). But my favorite quote has to be this one from former Gov. Owens:
"One of the prerequisites for victory is to go through a defeat," said Mr. Owens, who served two terms as governor in the Republicans' heyday from 1998 to 2006. "I would have preferred it not happen, but that definitely lays the groundwork for victory."
Okay, does anyone know what he's talking about? Defeat lays the groundwork for victory? Defeat is a prerequisite for victory? I mean, let's just grant that some day -- maybe years or decades from now -- the Republicans will again be the majority party. Does anyone think that's because they're out of power now? Oh, wait, here's more from Bill:
"Being in the minority focuses the mind," Mr. Owens said. "It allows us to bring new people into the coalition and reminds us we have more in common with each other than we do with the Democrats."
Yes, you get the pleasure of bringing new people into the coalition. Of course, it might have been nice not to lose those people in the first place.

This logic seems familiar.

Can an LA kid root for the Nuggets?

I grew up in LA. (Well, the LA suburbs, but whatever.) While I don't normally pay much attention to professional sports, I was a proud Laker fan during my teenage years. I attended numerous Laker games in the 80s, including a playoff game at which my brother sank a halftime free throw to win 600 RC Colas. I cheered them on as they defeated the Celtics in '85 and '87. I saw Mike Smrek at a Baja Cantina in Marina Del Rey after one of those games. All this is to say that my Laker fandom credentials are intact.

That said, I have lived in Denver for the past five years. The city has been good to me. I found a job here when no one else would hire me, and the city's Democrats elected me as a national convention delegate last year. I have many friend here and I own a house here. I grew up in LA, but Denver is my home.

So where does my loyalty properly lie in a rivalry between the Lakers and the Nuggets? I feel pained rooting against either one, but given how infrequently I actually follow NBA playoffs, I feel stupid remaining silent now that I'm paying attention. (Let's just stipulate that I have zero impact on the outcome of this series one way or another.)

The truth is, I've been rooting for the Nuggets. I feel more of a loyalty to them than I do to today's Lakers, who, as it turns out, no longer employ Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, or Byron Scott. I don't feel especially loyal to Kobe Bryant, who's kind of icky, or to Phil Jackson, who was one of the Laker's main enemies two decades ago.

Of course, it's a situational alliance. I will root for whichever team emerges victorious from the Western playoffs. I mean, you've got to consider the situation, right? I will always root for the Lakers over the Celtics, for Cal over Stanford, and for UCLA over USC. But if Stanford were playing against, say, the University of North Korea, I'd pretty much have to root for Stanford, wouldn't I? Just as I'd have to root for USC if they traveled back in time to play against Berlin State in 1939.

Advice to Sotomayor's opponents

Stop using overt racism. Symbolic racism works much better.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Red shoulder bug

These guys are all over my garden this year, although they don't seem to be eating any vegetables. Anyone know if they're a problem?

Pushing Popkin to the limit

Sam Popkin's The Reasoning Voter opens with a discussion of the use of food in politics. As he argues, a high profile food faux pas, such as Gerald Ford eating an unshucked tamale in San Antonio or George McGovern ordering a kosher hot dog with milk in Manhattan, can send a loud signal to voters who normally don't pay much attention to politics. So what to make of this?
Canada's governor general ate a slaughtered seal's raw heart in a show of support to the country's seal hunters, a display that a European Union spokeswoman on Tuesday called "too bizarre to acknowledge."
Governor General Michaelle Jean, the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as Canada's head of state, gutted the seal and swallowed a slice of the mammal's organ late Monday after an EU vote earlier this month to impose a ban on seal products on grounds that the seal hunt is cruel.
Presumably this is an expression of support for the Inuit. Or Michaelle Jean is the most gangsta representative the Queen has ever appointed.

Classes are done!

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All right! Let's par-tay! Oh, maybe I should finish grading these papers. And then writing a conference paper. And some journal reviews. Okay, never mind.

Defining the opponent

I get the idea of defining an opponent quickly, before she can define herself. That's standard fare in political campaigns. But conservatives aren't doing themselves any favors with these lines of attacks on Sotomayor (via TPM):
I flagged Sen. Inhofe's statement yesterday. Here are some new morsels from the right:

National Review Online
's Mark Krikorian: "Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English... and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to."

Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb: "Obama seems to have the views of a 21-year-old Hispanic girl -- that is, only by having a black president, an Hispanic justice, a female secretary of State, and Bozo the Clown as vice president will the United States become a true 'vanguard of societal ideas and changes.'"
The fact is that the numbers are in Sotomayor's favor. Obama's popular and his party has 59 (maybe 60) senators. Barring any huge surprises, she will be confirmed.

That said, Sotomayor probably has judicial views that are not consistent with the views of conservatives. I don't think there's anything wrong with reading some of her opinions to try to glean those views and then have some sort of national debate over them. Actually, debating a Supreme Court nominee's judicial views would be wonderful -- a lot better than looking for evidence of pot use or failure to pay taxes on nannies. Yes, digging up judicial views takes more time than looking at a speech on YouTube or reading talking points. But it would likely be better for both the nation and for the Republican Party to go that route rather than just flooding the airwaves with stupid, borderline racist crap.

Picking battles strikes me as a useful skill. When one cannot win, there is a difference between losing well and losing poorly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Studies that probably didn't need to be conducted

From the Denver Post:
Children whose parents refuse to have them immunized against it are 23 times more likely to get whooping cough, according to a new study that is perhaps the most definitive yet linking vaccine refusal to disease.
Er, duh? I mean, don't we have decades of evidence that vaccinations actually work? My impression of those who refuse the vaccinations for their kids (and I know a few of them!) is not that they believe they don't work, but that they believe that there are under-publicized risks associated with them. So, yes, the whooping cough vaccination will make my child more resistant to whooping cough, but she's unlikely to encounter that disease anyway, and the vaccination may make her more likely to develop allergies, autism, etc.

So I'm not sure who this study is convincing what.

Brief reaction on Sotomayor

Good. At the very least as a rebuttal to Jeffrey Rosen's hit piece.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Fan" is short for "fanatic"

As a fan of good writing, video games, and freaks, I am grateful that Robert passed along this GameSpy article, which contains all three. It's a listing of the top five real-life fanboy recreations of video game weaponry, including video demonstrations of their usage. You've got to see the video of the guy trying to wield the Cloud Buster sword from Final Fantasy VII.

But my favorite description was of the Gears of War combination machine gun/chain saw:
There's no reasonable excuse for anybody to have this. If you're using it for hunting and you miss that deer with your spray of bullets, it's not exactly going to stick around while you charge at it screaming and frantically hitting the choke button on your chainsaw bayonet (because it's kind of chilly out on this theoretical day, in which case a chainsaw is about as reliable as a drunken promise). Or, if you're using it to face a human opponent, the bullets again are going to be quite a bit more effective than chasing them around with a chainsaw, which is like running with scissors on meth. And also: There's no way these things are going to be allowed in any kind of official combat, and any perceived "burglar" you could protect yourself from with the weapon would be two counties away as soon as you fired it up, covered in urine and frantically calling his mom over and over again, having her reassure him that monsters aren't real. So, with that in mind, the only way you're using this thing against a human would be to hunt hobos for sport on your own private island, and that's just generally frowned on it polite society. So quit it.

Fixing California

According to this NY Times piece, California's leaders are finally giving up on the state constitution and considering a rewrite. Not a bad idea, but you could fix a lot of the problem by embracing George Lakoff's idea of using the current outrage toward Sacramento to get rid of the two-thirds budget passage rule:
The Democratic leadership should immediately take the initiative on a 2010 ballot measure, a supremely simple one-sentence measure. It would go something like this:

All budgetary and revenue issues shall be decided by a majority vote in both houses of the legislature.

One sentence. Simple. Straightforward. Understandable. And democratic. It should be called the California Democracy Act. From grade school on, we associate democracy with majority rule. It will make sense to voters - at last! [...]

People understand that majority rule means democracy. 55% means nothing.

Even if you don't address taxes and just address the budget process, the Republicans will still say you're going to raise taxes. You may as well go for real democracy.
I'm guessing it'll be easier to pass such an initiative than to completely redraft the Constitution. I'd also strongly support an initiative to ban all further initiatives, but I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Republicans can't be trusted on security

I guess that's the lesson from state Sen. Mitchell's recent breach:
A state senator's after-hours security code for the Capitol has been deactivated after he made it available to a class he was teaching.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he had no idea he was breaching security when he provided his individual code to the 11 graduate students in his Colorado government and politics class at the University of Colorado Denver.

Mitchell might own the distinction of being the only lawmaker to ever be "deactivated."

On Ritter dissing labor

Gov. Ritter pulled an interesting move yesterday, vetoing a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for striking grocery workers who are in the middle of contract negotiations with supermarket chains. He did so, he claims, because he didn't want to insert the state in the middle of these labor negotiations. Of course, vetoing the bill that everyone saw coming is also a form of inserting the state, just on the other side.

Assuming Ritter's decision was made on the basis of anything other than complete sincerity (a debatable point with him), he seems to have made the calculation that he's not going to get a serious primary challenger by next year (he's probably right about that) and that his path to reelection is moderation. Of course, at least with labor, he's getting a reputation as someone who doesn't dance with the gal what brung him. (Really, if your main issue is unions, how is Ritter an improvement over Owens?) Even if they don't run another Democrat against him, they could make his fundraising harder for next year, and a lot of them might just not turn out to vote for him.

Ritter and Sen. Bennet are in this curious little competition. Both are trying to portray a somewhat moderate image to improve their re-election prospects for next year, which may be a tough year for Democrats. But Bennet seems to be doing more to reach out to active Democrats (he kinda has to since they don't know him) and is at least vague on labor issues. I'm really curious which of them will have a higher vote margin next year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Here are the final pre-election poll numbers for California's ballot measures, c/o Calitics. The only one with a real shot is 1F, which would limit the salaries of elected officials.

Data by SurveyUSA

Faulty assumptions

I was talking with some colleagues recently about California's budget issues. Perhaps, one suggested, it has something to do with an unrealistic expectation by policymakers that economic growth will bail the state out of its problems. Why else would state leaders keep coming up with short term fixes to structural budget shortfalls?

I found some potential evidence for such expectations by looking at state and national figures for GDP growth. The graph below shows the trends in GDP growth for California (green line) and the U.S. (red line):
Unfortunately, these are current dollars, not chained, so they don't account for inflation, which explains the huge bump in the late 70s. I've used a lowess smoother for both series.

Note that California enjoyed strong annual economic performance well in excess of what the U.S. as a whole was doing for much of the 1970-1990 period. I think it fair to say that this was the period when most of today's state party leaders and lead policymakers started paying attention to and getting involved in politics. So they might be of the conviction (delusion?) that no matter what the national economic scene looks like, California will do pretty well. Of course, the state really hasn't outperformed the nation since 1990.

The lesson is that California exceptionalism, to the extent it once existed, no longer does.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Interrogating Spock

Spoiler alerts, etc.

A commenter at LGM writes,
I was thinking about this new timeline. Nero changed a lot of "history" in space local to Earth and Vulcan, but space is really big and lots of "future" events had already been set in motion. Moreover, Spock v1.0 is still hanging around, and he's a smart guy who's been around for a while. He knows about the existence of the Borg, the Q, the Dominion. He could probably calculate out the Botany Bay's current location. He knows that Earth will be destroyed if we don't find some humpback whales. V'ger, the Doomsday machine! The list goes on. I hope Spock has a long sit-down with Starfleet intelligence.
Good points! Nimoy's Spock seemed quite comfortable in messing with the timeline, divulging info about the future, etc. (After all, it's not the real timeline anymore.) What's he going to do about Kahn (who will cause his own death)? Or all the other threats out there that will lead to so much suffering? Does he just assume that it's a different universe than the one he knew, and things might turn out differently? Or does he be a total dick about it, suggesting that the Klingon High Council take a visit to the mining moon shortly before it explodes?

Sun setting in the West

It seems likely that all of California's budget measures will fail tomorrow, meaning more doom! (By "doom," I mean the state needing to find another $21 billion in cuts, as opposed to a mere $15 billion.) In case you wonder why California is in the budget nightmare it's in, the Sacramento Bee's Daniel Weintraub does an excellent job explaining it here. Hat tip to Wesley Hussey for the link.

As Wes reminded me this weekend, there are a lot of moving parts to the state's budget politics, but one of the key ones is the state's great reliance upon income taxes for revenue. Income taxes are very progressive there, of course, which has the political virtue of sticking it to a few wealthy people while easing the pain on the many poor. But a real down side is that income taxes are a fickle revenue source. When the economy's booming, you get a surplus, and when it's stalling, you get a deficit. The state has compounded this problem by making long term spending commitments during the boom years, which of course it can't pay for the following year when the boom dries up.

More regressive taxes like car registration fees are much more steady sources of income, but of course they're much less politically sellable since they stick it to everyone. Gray Davis lost his job in 2003 at least in part because he jacked up auto registration fees.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Party differences, Pelosi, and torture

Since differences between the parties seems to be today's theme, let me just pick up on a point Steve Balboni and others have been making about Pelosi and the torture briefings. As Steve said,
I don't think I've read anyone anywhere on the internet arguing that Nancy Pelosi should not be held responsible for anything she may have done to further these crimes. Yet there seems to be some sense that this is somehow an "Ah-ha! Gotcha!" moment for those of us committed to the rule of law and basic human rights. It's not. I and others have said all along that anyone involved in this should be prosecuted. Unlike many conservatives I'm not willing to make exceptions to the Constitution for politicians of my own party or political persuasion.
It is possible that, for entirely psychological reasons, conservatives have a deeper desire to defend their imperiled leaders than liberals do. You could call this a manifestation of the authoritarian personality, although that has certain negative connotations that aren't necessarily helpful to this discussion. But think of the Clinton impeachment. Yes, virtually all House Democrats voted against impeachment and virtually all Senate Democrats voted against removal from office, but just about all of them felt some need to publicly criticize Clinton for his behavior and demand his apology, if not his resignation. Keep in mind that he had roughly a 65% approval rating at this time.

Compare this to the way Republican officeholders rallied around Bush throughout his second term, despite an approval rating that was usually below 40 and often below 30. How many GOP senators or representatives stood up to criticize Bush on warrantless wiretapping, or torture, or the conduct of the war, or Abu Ghraib, or any other potential violation of the law or the Constitution? They just don't do that sort of thing. They pick their leader and they stick with him, for better or worse.

So I think the whole Pelosi gotcha game by conservative pundits represents a fundamental misreading of liberals by conservatives. Liberals don't hold their leaders in such high regard. They probably think Pelosi a reasonably good Speaker and are proud to have a woman in that role, but they wouldn't hesitate to dump her if they saw clear evidence that she enabled a torture regime.

Differences between Republicans and Democrats

Man, the Internet's full of this stuff today. Here's Timothy Noah:
When the Republicans lose a presidential election, it's a shock to their system. When Democrats lose, it mostly just confirms their tragic view of life.
For Noah, this difference is situational:
During the past 40 years, the GOP won seven presidential elections. Democrats have won only four, and all of these were under conditions that were unusually favorable (a Watergate hangover in 1976, a sluggish economic recovery in 1992, a booming economy in 1996, and a very deep recession in 2008).
Of course, it could also be a general attitudinal difference.

Understanding conservatives and liberals

I need some fresh readings for my parties class. Luckily, Sadly, No! is there for me. In her post on sex and marriage, conservative columnist Marie Jon writes:
Today’s women often work and are tired after a long day. When they walk into the door, they immediately begin tending to the children, cleaning, helping with schoolwork, and preparing the evening dinner. Men frequently get up early to hit the freeways. They spend eight or more long hours at work before their tedious commute in heavy traffic to return home. All of this stress takes a toll on marriage. Too often, couples collapse into bed with hardly enough thought or energy to say good night.
To which HTML Mencken responds,
This gets it all wrong, Marie. First of all, in a proper relationship between liberals, neither person “works;” both simply cash the welfare checks sent to them by Barack Hussein Hitler who coerces the money from those hardluck wealthy people who never can seem to catch a break. I admit it can be a chore to walk to the mailbox and back, but somehow we manage the task and have energy reserves left for tantric sex. Then there’s the “children” thing. Sorry, Marie: again, this is not applicable. I’ve had all my kids aborted. No distractions that way, plus it comports with liberalism’s longterm goal to make the white race extinct. Then there’s the commute thing. Pfft. Silly Marie, liberals use public transport! So, yeah baby, I gots the energy.
I think this is all we need to know about ideology.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The 111th Senate thus far

UCLA's Jeff Lewis has been keeping the numbers on Senate votes so far this session. In a helpful graph posted by Simon Jackman, we see that Democrat Arlen Specter is well to the left of Republican Arlen Specter, although with only 14 votes to the former's name, the standard error is a bit wide as yet.
Also of interest: Michael Bennet (D-CO) has been maintaining a relatively moderate voting record for a Democrat, sandwiched between Conrad and Carper. He's a few slots to the right of Udall, which seems like smart positioning for next year, as long as he can keep the base happy enough to avoid a primary fight.

Finally, as John Sides notes, Keith Krehbiel has predicted that Specter would not change his voting record as a result of his party change, while Nolan McCarty predicted the opposite. Color me shocked.

Johnston in SD33

It looks like Johnston won on the first round of ballots.

Replacement election tonight

The vacancy committee for Colorado's 33rd Senate District is meeting tonight to pick a replacement for Sen. Peter Groff, now on his way to DC. I'm curious how this will shake out. One of the candidates is Anthony Graves, a fellow delegate to the Democratic convention last summer and a current member of the DNC. He's running against former state house member Rosemary Marshall, school principal Michael Johnston, and a few others. Former Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma have already backed Graves, and this sort of pressure got two other candidates to drop out and endorse Graves. (Disclosure: I'm backing Graves.)

A straw poll at ColoradoPols shows support for Graves. I have no idea how representative that straw poll is of the "electorate" in this case, but I'm guessing not too many people outside of that group would care to register such an opinion. Also, I'm pretty sure all the candidates were Obama backers last year, so we don't have that interesting angle to examine.

This is a safe Democratic district. A small number of people tonight will be picking someone who could theoretically serve until 2019. Fun stuff!

Should we care whether torture works?

Joshua Tucker asks some very good questions. If we found some hard evidence that torture works, should we report the results? And if we're not prepared to do that, should we be conducting this evidence in the first place? What's the proper social science approach?

Charli Carpenter agrees that social scientists should not be in the business of supressing inconvenient findings, but then adds,
But this whole discussion misses the mark. Torture probably does work occasionally. But so what? The whole point of the anti-torture regime is to stay the Inquisitor's hand even when it's in our interest to torture. If we only refused to torture when/if there was no conflict with our self-interest, the rule would be unnecessary. Torture is wrong because it's wrong, not because it's never effective.
Um, yeah. Chopping off the hands of thieves probably does deter petty crime. That doesn't mean we should do it.

Playing with the big kids

My earlier post on California's budget politics and party polarization has been the source of some interesting discussions over at Monkey Cage and Edge of the American West. I'm guessing that, if you read this site, you probably read one or both of those already, but if not, enjoy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On party change as a choice

Via Scott Lemieux, Publius has a really interesting post contrasting the Democrats' anointing of Barack Obama with the Republicans' anointing of Jeff Sessions. He frames party history interestingly:
In the 1960s, both parties were in flux. The Democrats had traditionally been the racist party, while the Republicans had been far supportive of civil rights. But then both parties made a fateful choice. The Democratic Party – and its base – decided to support and fight for civil rights. It also made a lasting, long-term commitment to equality, and has actively embraced and promoted diversity for the past 40 years.

The Republican Party – institutionally, that is – went a different way. They adopted the Southern Strategy. They demagogued welfare queens. More generally, the party was institutionally hostile to laws and regulations and practices intended to correct centuries of state-sanctioned discrimination. To people like John Roberts, the world apparently began anew in 1964.

For years, the Republicans benefited from this choice. Nixon won. Reagan won. The South shifted to the GOP, giving it nearly 12 years of Congressonal control. Times were good.

But the checks are now coming due. The Democrats are beginning to see the benefits of the choices they made in the 1960s – the choices they remained firmly committed to over the years. Demographically, the country is getting less white. Individually, the most promising young African-American candidates and officials (people like Obama, Artur Davis, and Deval Patrick) are all firmly within the Democratic Party. Indeed, an entire generation of African-Americans have come of political age knowing nothing but hostility from Republicans and loyalty from Democrats.
He's basically right on the history. A commenter complains that Publius ignores the Democrats' showdown with the Dixiecrats in '48. This is true, but that showdown kind of went nowhere. The southerners decided to stay with the party through the 50s, resulting in softened stances on civil rights from Democratic leaders (including Adlai Stephenson(!) and Eleanor Roosevelt(!)), much to their shame.

It's convenient, but somewhat misleading, to think of the Democrats' abandonment of southern whites as a simple choice, as though they could have chosen to remain the party of Walter Mondale and Strom Thurmond into the 80s and 90s. Yes, some key choices were made --Kennedy (tepidly) integrating Old Miss, Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, etc. But there were larger historical forces at work, as well. Outside the South, Democratic leaders had been pretty liberal since the New Deal, while Democratic leaders in the South were some of the most conservative politicians in the country. The only glue keeping those folks together was southerners' hatred of Lincoln. They got a lot of mileage out of that one, but it couldn't last forever.

I'm still partial to Polsby's air conditioning theory as an explanation of southerners' ultimate acceptance of Republicanism.

If David Lynch directed "Dirty Dancing"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Accountability -- what a concept!

Louis Caldera, the head of the White House Military Office who conceived of the Air Force One flyover of Manhattan, has resigned. Honestly, when was the last time you heard of someone stepping down from a prominent post because they screwed up on the job? Not because of some personal Spitzer-like scandal, but because they did their job poorly? This strikes me as pretty rare.

Getting it from both sides

It seemed like a good idea -- the president and vice president taking a bunch of reporters out for a regular guy lunch at a burger place. But now the foodies are angry at Obama for ordering his burger medium well, and the cultural conservatives are angry at him for ordering it with Dijon mustard.

This presidency is basically over.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reaching out

Conservatives to African Americans: Start voting for us already, you ingrates.

It's an interesting strategy. Can't wait to see how this works out.

(via Atrios)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Partisanship and budget crises

During a difficult economic year in which the state faced a severe budget shortfall, California's Republican governor worked with Democratic leaders in the state legislature to craft a budget that contained a mixture of tax increases and service cuts. The Republican party stood together on the vote, with the exception of one holdout in the Senate.

Sound familiar? Actually, the year was 1967. Many of the story's details are familiar because they recur from time to time in California. The real difference, though is the fate of the Republican state senator who refused to vote with his party. Instead of being driven out of politics, John Schmitz was renominated by the Republicans and reelected by his Orange County district the following year. Also, all the other Republicans in the state Senate voted for the budget. Schmitz refused go along with the tax increases that the rest of the Republicans in the senate, and Governor Ronald Reagan, found acceptable.

The situation in California is notably different today. The state legislature still requires a two-thirds vote in both houses to pass budgets, but that rubicon has proven steadily more difficult to cross. Virtually all Republicans will oppose any tax increase; any Republican willing to cross party lines and vote for a Democratic tax will find himself out of work before the next election. This happened after the 2003 budget stalemate; four Republican Assemblymen were dispatched to private life because of their votes in favor of Governor Gray Davis' tax hike. Notably, none were dispatched in the next general election. None made it that far. Most faced difficult primary challenges from their own party and either lost or decided to retire.

The same thing happened earlier this year when Democratic legislative leaders worked with Gov. Schwarzenegger to produce a compromise package of service cuts and tax increases. The Democrats once again found a few Republicans to cross party lines, and once again those Republicans are being purged from the party. The state party has cut off funds for the six apostates, each of whom now faces a recall petition.

The treatment of these lawmakers sends an unmistakable signal to future lawmakers who would consider crossing party lines: the wrong vote will be your last.

One could blame any of California's political peculiarities -- the two-thirds budget rule, initiatives that have placed much of the budget off limits, term limits, etc. -- for the budget stalemates, but the fact is that they wouldn't occur if the parties were less disciplined. Note what has happened in the parties over the past sixty years. The figure below charts the mean DW-NOMINATE score, which is a measure of roll call liberalism/conservatism, for Democrats and Republicans in the state Assembly:
The parties have moved farther apart, with the Republicans becoming more conservative and the Democrats steadily more liberal. Compromise, which is usually necessary when passing a budget by a two-thirds margin, becomes almost impossible in this environment.

Why are the parties moving apart? (Self-promotion coming.) This is something I explore in my new book. Part of it can be explained by national ideological trends. But part of it is a function of who is running the parties.

California's political parties are run at the most local level by informal networks of activists, donors, and a few key officeholders. These people work together to pick candidates they like and provide those candidates with endorsements, money, and expertise that can put them over the top in the next primary election, and they deny other candidates these same resources. Because these actors are relatively ideologically extreme, so are the candidates they select. If a politician they put in office strays too far from the principles they hold dear, they can deprive that politician of her job by withholding funding, by running a more principled challenger in the next primary, or, in the most extreme cases, by organizing a recall.

This informal style of organizing parties is not unique to California but fits particularly well there because of state rules limiting the formal parties' participation in politics. As the informal parties have grown more organized, largely since the 1960s, the legislative parties have moved further apart. While there are still plenty of moderate legislative districts in the state, there are almost no state legislators who could accurately be described as moderate; the penalty for moderation is too high.

Should Californians reject Proposition 1A on May 19th, we'll no doubt see another round of budget negotiations in the legislature. These will be made difficult by the party operatives on the right (who will punish any Republican who votes for a tax increase) and the party operatives on the left (who will punish any Democrat who votes to eviscerate key social programs). Partisanship makes legislative progress much more challenging, particularly during times of divided government. This is the reason the state keeps coming up with short term methods of financing its deficits and kicking them down the field for a few more years rather than actually addressing its budget shortfalls -- given the political climate, it has no other choice.

This is certainly not to suggest that parties are the cause of California's problems. The state more or less tried bipartisanship in the early 20th century. The result? Corruption. But while strong parties can keep a tab on corruption, they carry their own burdens. They aren't necessarily the problem, but they can make other problems worse.

(Cross-posted at Edge of the American West)


Last fall, I wrote a post expressing derision towards liberals who talk about leaving for Canada when elections don't go their way. I pointed out that conservatives never talk this way.

Allow me to revise and extend these remarks. Conservatives do talk about leaving, only in a different way. They talk about seceding. In a recent Daily Kos poll, 27% of Georgians said that their state would be better as an independent nation than as part of the U.S. A majority of Georgia Republicans felt this way. Another poll got similar numbers out of Texas. And Oklahoma has sought to reassert its sovereignty.

Strange to hear talk of secession from the former Confederate states. But I'm sure it has nothing to do with race.

Anyway, why do conservatives choose secession? Well, liberals at least have some place to go. Conservatives have to create their version of paradise where they already live.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Torture can help you win the war...

...if it's your side being tortured:
Whatever role the bombings played in hastening Japan’s unconditional surrender, it was probably enhanced by the testimony of captured Air Force First Lieutenant Marcus McDilda. Though he initially professed to know nothing about the Manhattan Project or the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima—because he didn’t—under torture he “confessed” that, contrary to Japanese hopes that the Americans could not possibly have produced more than a few, the United States had hundreds ready for deployment, with Tokyo and Kyoto next on the list of targets. In this case, of course, that was best for all concerned but it’s one more reminder that information obtained under duress is not always the most reliable.
(via Yglesias)

Specter stuck in the middle

Arlen Specter's continued travails are surely doing him no good, but they're delicious for party scholars. To review:

-He left the Republican Party because he's too liberal and couldn't survive a Club for Growth-backed primary challenger.

-He may be denied the Democratic nomination because he doesn't support card check legislation, making him anathema to labor unions.

So he's too liberal for Republicans and too conservative for Democrats. If he gets denied the Democratic nomination, that strikes me as a win all around. The GOP is happy that he pays a big price for leaving the party, the Dems are happy because they can get a real liberal elected to the seat, and political scientists are happy because we've got some great ethnographic evidence about polarization. The only real loser here would be Specter, and I can live with that.

Luckily for him, though, Specter has always been ideologically flexible enough to win office under pretty much any circumstances, and he'll probably figure something out here. (He did come up with the single bullet theory, after all.) Either he'll change his mind on card check, some other senator will pull the Employee Free Choice Act off the Senate calendar for the year, or he'll pull a Lieberman and run under the "Pennsylvanians for Specter" party.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I said share, not scare

On Sunday, the Denver Post led with a story about a Denver man who was allegedly paralyzed for several years by the 1976 swine flu vaccine that the federal government urged everyone to take. The front page included a huge picture of the man. Sounds pretty scary.

Oh, tucked deep down in the story, waaaay off the front page, was this graf:
Today, many scientists believe links between the 1976 vaccine and neurological disorders were exaggerated, at best. Even if there were adverse reactions, vaccines today have fewer proteins and additives with the potential to cause problems.
And this one:
Many of those severely sickened after getting the vaccine had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder. But studies since then have shown the incidence of the syndrome was no higher among people who had the swine-flu vaccine. [...]
The 1976 inoculation campaign proved unnecessary, said Dr. Edward Janoff, director of the Mucosal and Vaccine Research Program at UC Denver. But he called the notion that the vaccine was dangerous a "persisting urban legend."
Given that there will likely be a vaccine developed for the current swine flu in the next few months and that people will be encouraged to take it to avoid a deadly pandemic, is it really responsible to be scaring the hell out of people about vaccines and burying the caveats deep down in the story?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Condi grilled by student

It would be nice to see an administration official face this sort of scrutiny a) while she's in office; and b) by a reporter or member of Congress rather than a Stanford undergrad.

The times they are a-changin'

Two men being married by a female rabbi, in Iowa.
Along with the Berlin Wall coming down and a president being impeached for lying about oral sex, this is one of those things I didn't think I'd live to see.

(via TPM)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Innovative campaign stance

A friend send me this story about Neal Horsley, a candidate for governor in Georgia. You should really read the whole thing. The highlights are that he wants Georgia to secede, he wants to break up the United States to stop legalized abortion, and he's willing to sacrifice his son for this effort, a la Abraham. Yes, he's willing to kill his child to stop abortion. Oh, and his first girlfriend was a mule.