Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Rocky, RIP
Some of the most prominent names in progressive politics launched a major new organization on Thursday dedicated to pinpointing and aiding primary challenges against incumbent Democrats who are viewed as acting against their constituents' interests.
Accountability Now PAC will officially be based in Washington D.C., though its influence is designed to be felt in congressional districts across the country. The group will adopt an aggressive approach to pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction; it will actively target, raise funds, poll and campaign for primary challengers to members who are either ethically or politically out-of-touch with their voters. The goal, officials with the organization say, is to start with 25 potential races and dwindle it down to eight or 10; ultimately spending hundreds of thousands on elections that usually wouldn't be touched.
The philosophy of this PAC is that members of Congress are not representing their constituents well. This is half right. Most members of Congress deviate from their constituents, but in the more extreme direction, not the more moderate one. Michael Herron, among others, has demonstrated this nicely. There are plenty of moderate congressional districts and states. Moderate members of Congress are an endangered species.
Of course, a group like Accountability Now is probably less concerned with how elected officials vote in the aggregate than how they vote on a few key issues. Joe Lieberman, on average, has a moderate-liberal voting record. He's pretty in step with his Connecticut constituents (try saying that five times fast). But he was way out of step on the war, and that's the main reason Connecticut Democrats kicked him out of the party.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Students get a taste of Schattschneider
I've been hearing stories from students about how the student senate meeting went. The anti-tobacco forces produced a petition with more than 1,000 signatures on it -- not a small feat on a campus with around 5,000 students. A small but very passionate contingent of anti-tobacco activists showed up at the senate meeting, along with a larger but less passionate group of students who opposed the ban. Senators were reportedly torn on the issue, and no reliable polling data existed. The two freshman senators, told that the freshmen on campus were split on the issue, reportedly split their vote in response.
In the end, the senators voted with the organized minority rather than the disorganized majority.
This is far from being the law of the campus, of course. The faculty senate, interestingly enough, has already rejected this policy. So now the chancellor gets to decide whether he values students or faculty more.
How do we know?
By contrast, your average voter probably can make some determination as to whether the $700 billion dollar stimulus package works. If the economy is growing again next year at a reasonable clip, it would be believable that the stimulus made a difference. Of course, we can't really know that without looking at some hardcore numbers and making some serious counterfactual assumptions, but people have a vague idea of what the stimulus is supposed to do and can compare that with reality.
The financial sector is another animal altogether. Most people (and I include myself and just about all political journalists in this group) really don't understand how this sector of the economy functions or how a bailout is supposed to help. If I have an easier time getting a loan next year, is that because the bailout was a success? Because banks are comfortable making risky loans again? Is it good or bad? I suppose with such an information asymmetry at work, people will be relying on all sorts of cues -- hearsay, ideology, etc. -- in deciding whether this trillion dollar venture was a success. Probably not the kind of accountability the founders were hoping for.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Pity Bobby Jindal
All that said, Jindal still came off pretty bad. Telling jokes without an audience is generally a risky move, and Jindal does not seem like a particularly gifted comedian.
*If I'm not mistaken, Fred Thompson gave a pretty good response to Bill Clinton's 1995 state of the union address. Thompson's an actor who knows how to play to the camera, even if there's no audience in the room. Nice skill to have.
I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.
And if we do - if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered."
The era of big government?
Seriously, I appreciate Obama acknowledging and defending the role government plays in the economy:
I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.
For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Make this cookie
I recommend wringing out the carrots and following some of the user comments about the frosting, omitting the honey but using powdered sugar.
But what's up with this comment?
My husband said I can make these cookies any time I want. Very delicious and easy.How thoughtful of him.
CA and the runoff primary
Included in the compromise was a provision to put a constitutional amendment before the state's voters that, if approved, would create Louisiana-style primary elections. In these elections, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would go to a runoff. In many districts, this would likely mean a runoff election between two candidates of the same party.
Schwarzenegger and Maldonado love this plan:
Schwarzenegger said the current primary system – which has led to few moderate legislators – discourages bipartisanship.
"It's not good for politics," Schwarzenegger said of an open primary system. "But remember, what is not good for politics is good for the people. That's the bottom line."
This is a pretty obnoxious line, assuming that politics is antithetical to the public will rather than the manifestation of it. But you can see why Schwarzenegger would be saying this sort of thing. He's governor because of a glitch in the party system; the recall election in California does not allow for party primaries. He likely would not have survived a regular Republican primary because his views on social issues are so out of step with those of GOP primary voters in California. More open primaries means more Schwarzenegger-like moderates getting into power. It potentially paves the way for a Republican majority in the statehouse, although that will take a lot of work to pull that off.
My take on the Louisana-style primary is far less positive than Schwarzenegger's. As I've written elsewhere, weakened parties tend to produce less accountable government and allow for greater corrpution. I'm really curious whether voters will approve this amendment.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
GOP to go hip-hop
Late update: the title of this post should have been "Hip-GOP-apotamus." I'm off my game.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Great moments in airport security
All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again
At any rate, here's the opening paragraph of my book, which will hit stands later this year:
In the summer of 2003, as California’s state legislators attempted to close a $38 billion deficit in a $100 billion budget, the parties stayed about as ideologically distant from each other as possible. Democrats wanted only modest cuts in services, but higher income taxes on the wealthy, a tripling of the car registration fee, and a hike in the state sales tax, which, at 7.25 percent, was already the highest in the nation. Republicans, for their part, opposed any new taxes, and not a few wanted tax cuts. To close the budget deficit, they called for massive cuts in spending, including eliminating the Seismic Safety Commission, a subsidy to poor blind people to feed their seeing-eye dogs, and public payments for the burial of dead foster children. It seemed unlikely that the Democrats would get the tax hikes they sought (particularly with the Democratic governor facing a Republican-led recall), and even less likely that the budget could be balanced by starving seeing-eye dogs or leaving dead foster children unburied. Yet the lines were thusly drawn, and they held.I post this paragraph not to boost book sales (although feel free!) but more to illustrate that California's current crisis is hardly a new one. The state goes through some variation of this crisis pretty much every year, but it's particularly acute during economic downturns. Yes, this one seems particularly bad, but the problem isn't new.
As many others have noted, this is due to a toxic combination of several factors, notably intense partisanship, a two-thirds requirement for budget passage, a reliance on progressive income taxes which prove tepid during recessions, and a series of constitutional amendments that have put much of the budget in the non-discretionary category. Democrats have usually controlled the legislature in the past half-century, but almost never with two-thirds of the chamber. Budget passage requires some Republicans to compromise (i.e.: vote to raise taxes), which they have no electoral incentive to do and considerable incentive to avoid. So the legislature usually comes up with something that involves not raising taxes to pay for the social programs the constitution requires them to pay for, instead kicking the costs down the road a bit in some sort of bond measure. This gets more expensive over time.
Friday, February 13, 2009
It's not their job
The puzzle is that large companies like WalMart aren't demanding that the federal government take this responsibility off their hands. American companies pay enormous premiums for employee health insurance, an operating expense that most of their foreign competitors do not have. If the larger business community demanded single payer health care in the U.S., we'd have it by next year. And it would probably be good for them to have it. Why do they not clamor for something that would benefit them? Is it pure ideology? Are America's business leaders, in a sense, voting against their interests?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Give Romanoff something. Now.
In the weeks since [Sen. Michael] Bennet took office, Colorado Democrats continue to keep an eye on [Andrew] Romanoff - who left office in January because of term limits - to see whether he will challenge Ritter's hand-picked successor.
Romanoff could not be reached for comment Monday, but multiple Colorado sources said there has been increasing chatter in political circles that Bennet will not make it through the 2010 primary without a serious challenge.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was a primary against Bennet," said Steve Welchert, who heads up a Denver-based Democratic consulting firm. "It would shock me if he wasn't challenged."
Romanoff is even being drafted through a spontaneous Facebook group! Okay, seriously, this is an issue. I don't know whether Romanoff would actually do this and risk splitting the party this way, but it's definitely splittable, and Welchert is a reliable source. And if Romanoff believes that he could win the general election in 2010 and Bennet couldn't (not a crazy assumption), why wouldn't he go through with this?
It would be an ugly primary. Romanoff has a lot of fans among party leaders throughout the state. Bennet would have the backing of the governor and his people, along with whomever he's able to convert in the next year. Both are very bright and likeable candidates with access to money.
Ritter would be wise to try to buy Romanoff off with some sort of plum appointment. (Secretary of state would have been a good idea, but nooooo.) Hell, make him head coach of the Broncos or something.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Bipartisanship is a punishable offense
An influential conservative political action committee is pledging to support primary challengers to any Republican senator who supports President Obama's stimulus package - the latest public show of dissatisfaction from the right over the massive measure before Congress.
"The American people don't want this trillion dollar political payoff that will just line the pockets of non-governmental organizations who supported [President] Obama in the election," said Scott Wheeler, the executive director of The National Republican Trust PAC, an organization that calls for less government spending and lower taxes.
"Republican senators are on notice," Wheeler said. "If they support the stimulus package, we will make sure every voter in their state knows how they tried to further bankrupt voters in an already bad economy."
This is how the final purge of Republicans from New England begins. If Collins and Snowe are forced to move rightward to fend off primary challenges, or if they lose their primaries to more doctrinaire Republicans, those seats go Democratic. I'm sure the folks at the National Republican Trust PAC know this and rationalize it by saying that it's not worth weakening the Republican Party by defending such disloyal RINOs. Perhaps. But that's a risk when Democrats control 59 Senate seats.
First lesson in negotiating
They were pleasantly surprised and complimentary about the tax cut that were presented in that framework. Those tax cuts are still in there. I mean, I suppose what I could have done is started off with no tax cuts, knowing that I was going to want some and then let them take credit for all of them. And maybe that’s the lesson I learned.Um, yeah. Duh. I mean, no offense, but you don't begin a negotiation with a compromise.
Cylons are flip-floppers
Thus far, the Cylon have changed policy towards the Colonial government five times. The Cylon began the war by initiating a campaign of genocide against the colonials. They continued to pursue this campaign until, quite suddenly, the Cylon shifted to a policy of disengagement. This policy continued for about a year, until the Cylon undertook a policy which could be best described as benevolent despotism. Shortly after the failure of the despotism option, the Cylons resumed pursuit of genocide. After once again failing to accomplish genocide, the Cylon split between pro- and anti- genocide factions. More recently, the anti-genocide faction began throwing humans out the airlock of the base star, and training its weapons on the fleet.If you want to talk about some temporary marriage of convenience, like the US and USSR teaming up to fight the Nazis, fine. But the idea that the Colonials should be responsible for the safety and well being of the Cylons with the latter given full citizenship rights is nuts. Tom Zarek was an extremist, but that doesn't make him wrong.
A death in the family
For what it's worth, my Nana Shirley was a remarkable woman. She started her own clothing shop in the mid-1950s, when it wasn't particularly fashionable for middle class moms to be working outside the home. She ran that business until her retirement in the 1990s. Many of her customers are still alive and remember her well, and they plan to attend next week. She was widowed in 1981 but found a boyfriend about ten years later whom she dated for at least a decade. Her apartment was always clean and neat, and she was always impeccably dressed. She pinched cheeks way too hard. She made fantastic tunafish and rugelach. She drove drunk. She loved Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, and Julio Iglesias. She taught me how to play bridge.
That doesn't come close to summing up a life, but those are the memories I'm sorting through right now.
President Potty Mouth
Late update: I just turned one of these into an iPhone ringtone. Paradise.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Wrath of Khan Opera
Friday, February 6, 2009
Mapping the vote
Networks and institutions
(hat tip to NW)
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Actually, as far as government spending projects go, I've heard worse ideas.
(hat tip to Robert)
Update: In retrospect, this figure is grossly inflated. $12.8 septillion is devoted to actually putting the estimated 134 quadrillion metric tons of steel into space. That's based on current Earth-based space-faring rates, which of course come from incredibly inefficient rockets that can only put a few tons in space at a time.
Any civilization that can figure out how to move that much mass from one star system to another (say, from Alderaan to Yavin) in a matter of hours or days has obviously come up with a much more efficient way of moving objects into space. (Even old beat up land vehicles seem to have no problem defying gravity in this world.) I'd guess the costs of moving the steel into space are pretty negligible. This project wouldn't cost more than a few quintillion dollars.
Also, they could probably come up with something lighter than steel. Just guessing.
Still, isn't the whole Death Star a really wasteful project? I mean, basically, all you really want is a giant gun that can move quickly from one planet to the next. It just has to be a credible threat to disobediant systems. And the gun itself doesn't seem to require too many people to operate and maintain it. Do they really need all that other stuff and personnel in there?
Tom Daschle channels Steve Martin
You can be a millionaire... and never pay taxes. Yes you can be a millionaire... and never pay taxes! You say, "Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?" First... get a million dollars. Now, you say, "Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, 'You have never paid taxes'?" Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: "I forgot." How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don't say "I forgot"? Let's say you're on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, "I forgot armed robbery was illegal." Let's suppose he says back to you, "You have committed a foul crime. You have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, 'I forgot'?" Two simple words: Excuuuuuse me!!"
Koger on Filibusters
There are two questions here: 1) why don't senators have to work to filibuster by killing floor time, Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington style? And, 2) why do the Democrats treat this as business as usual?I think the blame game could actually work, if Obama were truly willing to campaign against the "do-nothing Republican Congress," a la Harry Truman. But I'm not sure it's his style.
As it happens, I have written an as-yet-unpublished manuscript on this very topic. The very short answer to question #1 is "because they can credibly threaten to last longer than the Democrats would be willing to wait." That is, since the late 1960s senators have generally conceded that any threat to kill floor time was valid. In this case, that means, "hey, if the GOP has 41 votes against the stimulus bill, they could probably field teams of floor speakers for weeks/months if we pressed them." The critical commodity in this equation is TIME. The majority party has other legislation to bring up which would be delayed by a prolonged floor fight. More than that, modern senators can't be bothered to actually, you know, be in the Senate. They are sitting in committee, holding fundraisers, sobering up, or traveling back and forth to their states (Biden, I'm lookin' at you). Floor fights are more demanding on the majority than the minority, so Democrats would find their days and nights completely disrupted.
That having been said, why don't the Democrats do more to shame the Republicans? After all, there are at least 5-10 moderate GOPers who will find it very hard to vote against a stimulus package (Collins & Snowe, I'm lookin' at you). There are three reasons, all based on the notion of party reputations. A) the Dems don't want to officially call an end to the era of bipartisanship. Sure, the GOP so far has been drinking the Dems' liquor and voting against 'em in the morning, but they haven't declared war yet. B) Declaring war (i.e. calling a cloture vote and then holding press conferences to blast the GOP when & if it fails) would solidify GOP lines...you can't count on the votes of GOP moderates after you call them heartless bastards. C) it's unlikely to work. For every hi-info convention-attending daily-blogging political scientist out there, there are a thousand voters who couldn't tell you who voted for what, or what the rules of the Senate are, or what's in the stimulus package. They just know that they want something done, and that the Dems are the majority party in Congress. If Obama and the Dems can't get something done, the blame falls on them. And any effort to say, "but the mean old Republicans keep voting against cloture!" will be met with "Whatever. You're in charge...get things done. Negotiate or compromise or whatever. All I know is that I'm out of a job and my unemployment benefits are running out. So shut up about 'Rule 22' and pass something." In particular, Obama has eschewed the "blame game" so even if the GOP deserves some, any effort to blame the GOP for inaction and walk away will appear duplicitous to the median voter.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
We're learning that the minority still controls the Senate. So long as Republicans fundamentally don't want a bill to pass, they can make virtually limitless demands. The worst that happens is that Democrats simply give up and admit failure to the American people. Put another way: The worst that happens is overwhelming success. The trick is making sure the demands seem reasonable rather than obstructionist. But that's not too hard. Republicans know full well that they won't actually be forced to publicly filibuster the bill and defend their obstructionism while Democrats fan out across the news shows to warn of the economic dangers. Instead, Harry Reid will ask how the bill can be made smaller and leaner and more Republican. And maybe, for this, he'll get the crucial two votes assuring passage of an insufficient measure, the failure of which Republicans will run against in 2010.I still don't understand why the minority party is allowed to stop legislation through the threat of a filibuster. Or why, as Nancy Pelosi put it, 60 is the new 50. An actual filibuster (against a popular piece of legislation) requires a great deal of work to pull off and risks making the Republicans look even more outside the mainstream than they currently look. Yet the Democrats are trying to accommodate Republicans without forcing the GOP to embarrass itself. I do not get this.
The Republicans have a pair of threes and they're playing like they have a straight flush. The Democrats are doing the exact opposite.
From the letter Michael Phelps should have written:
Worth the read.
Here’s a crazy thought: If I can smoke a little dope and go on to win 14 Olympic gold medals, maybe pot smokers aren’t doomed to lives of couch surfing and video games, as our moronic government would have us believe. In fact, the list of successful pot smokers includes not just world class athletes like me, Howard, Williams, and others, it includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, the last three U.S. presidents, several Supreme Court justices, and luminaries and success stories from all sectors of business and the arts, sciences, and humanities.So go ahead. Ban me from the next Olympics. Yank my endorsement deals. Stick your collective noses in the air and get all indignant on me. While you’re at it, keep arresting cancer and AIDS patients who dare to smoke the stuff because it deadens their pain, or enables them to eat.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
A brief conversation with my daughter, age 3 1/2
Me: "Actually, I don't think that's how it works."
Sadie: "But that's not what my boyfriend said."
Getting to 60
While true, this ignores an important point. We haven't had a cloture vote yet this year. That is, the ladies of Maine have not cast a pivotal vote -- the roll calls on which they voted with the Dems would have gone in the Dems' direction no matter how they voted.
In a cloture vote, with all 58 or 59 (assuming Franken gets seated) Dems voting aye, would Collins or Snowe really stand against their party? The cross-pressure would likely be terrific, with their increasingly liberal constituency pulling them toward the Dems and their increasingly disciplined party pulling them the other way. I'm not sure if the party leadership can offer anything or make any threat that would seem as credible and tangible as voters kicking them out of office, which has happened to many Republicans in New England of late, but they can sure try.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Good Alt-History writers at Newsweek
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The Masket Projection
Oh, for my previous cake works, see here, here and here. And for a wonderful discussion of maps and bias, see this West Wing scene.