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Archive for September, 2009

Cracking Down on Ratings Agencies

[ 0 ] September 23, 2009 |

This is a very important step, and hopefully something like these proposals will go forward. As with the collusive accounting practices that were a major part of the Enron scandal, the principal-agent problems with the ratings agencies are indeed severe — it’s not just that the ratings agencies have their own independent interests, but that those interests are intertwined with the companies they were allegedly scrutinizing. Which means stronger regulation is essential. (And speaking of corporate “free speech,” I’m amused by the recently rejected argument that the First Amendment immunizes credit agencies from being sued for deceptive ratings. Does the First Amendment mean that laws against perjury are illegal too?)

This Can’t Be Right

[ 0 ] September 23, 2009 |

The Yankees may not use the greatest pitcher athlete in Yankee known human history in their post-season rotation? If they remember his countless great starts — why, who can forget that masterful outing when he gave up only 4 runs in 5 2/3 innings, he certainly celebrated like he just pitched a shutout in Game 7 of the World Series, and surely that counts for something — I’m sure they’ll reconsider.

Sotomayor on Economic Issues

[ 1 ] September 22, 2009 |

An interesting article by Jess Bravin about Sotomayor’s recent oral argument queries about whether treating corporations as the equivalent of persons for constitutional purposes:

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong — and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

“Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions,” said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

It does seem possible that while Sotomayor might be a Breyeresque wet on civil liberties issues, she may also bring an economic liberalism that really has no representation on the current Court.

The rest of the article is very much worth reading, with good background information about Santa Clara County. What’s striking is how cursory the arguments in favor of the very important concept of corporate personhood were, although the constitutional text is silent either way and it’s certainly not obvious that it follows from the classical liberal principles that animated the rights in question.

The Liberal Democrats Gunning for Labour

[ 0 ] September 22, 2009 |

Which given the current polling context, is not news that Labour need. While in the early summer I speculated that Labour still had a chance for a hung parliament, especially with the replacement of Gordon Brown with Alan Johnson, now that looks highly unlikely.

The Lib Dems and Labour present the UK with the most likely coalition partnership in an electoral system that rarely produces the need for such talk. Indeed, they did serve in a coalition government of Scotland, but then the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament facilitates coalition government.
This says more about the chances of the Liberal Democrats, and they appear to believe that they can replace Labour into second place. This I doubt; while early polling indicated that the Liberal-SDLP Alliance erm, Liberal, SDP Alliance had a chance at supplanting Labour as the official opposition, by election day their support had attenuated. Now, the Lib Dems don’t even have this level of support in the polls.
An election, of course, is around seven months off, so a lot can change; it remains to be seen whether the sustained support for the Tories and David Cameron result from their innovative policies, or simply exhaustion with 12 years of a Labour government. As Cameron et al. are understandably coy about what, if anything, they stand for, I suspect the latter.
What makes this interesting to watch is that if the Liberal Democrat strategy comes close to success, it might suggest the chance of a realignment in British politics on the left. In 2005, considerably more of Labour’s 5% loss in vote share from 2001 went to the Lib Dems (3.7%) than the Tories (0.6%). If this did not result from only contextual elements specific to the 2005 campaign (e.g. the unpopularity of Michael Howard and the lack of cosmetic innovation in the Tories) this could perhaps bring about conditions that may allow a realignment on the left.
I’ve argued in class for the past couple of years that Brown’s best move, short and long term, is to introduce a form of PR into Westminster elections. With Tory support topping out around 44% in my lifetime, and only currently polling at 43%, it would appear that there is a natural ceiling for the Conservatives. A form of PR, while eliminating the current electoral system’s ability to deliver crushing parliamentary majorities from slim popular vote results (witness the 35% Labour secured in 2005), would ensure a coalition government so long as the relative strength of the three main national parties remained stable. So long as the Lib Dems worked with Labour, it would shut the Tories out of government for the forseeable future. Since neither Blair nor Brown maintained their enthusiasm for electoral system reform following the 1997 results, that was never in the cards.
And of course, the Liberal Democrats can’t seem to agree on much, anyway.

Hack of the Day

[ 0 ] September 22, 2009 |

Michael Barone. (Am I right to remember that Barone once had a reputation as being something other than a fourth-rate op-ed propagandist?)

See also, although of course even if Gladney was a genuine victim of assault it would hardly prove anything about “liberals.”

It’s about time…

[ 0 ] September 21, 2009 |

…conservatives pulsed with outrage over an actual outrage. Or not.

Obstruction of justice

[ 0 ] September 21, 2009 |

It’s always difficult to figure out what’s going on from news reports regarding a criminal investigation, but this story raises a lot of questions.

First, why isn’t Zazi being charged under one of several very broadly-worded federal anti-terrorism statutes? If, as the FBI asserts, Zazi admitted attending courses “at an al-Qaeda training facility in the FATA (tribal) region of Pakistan” and that “he received instruction from al-Qaeda operatives on subjects such as weapons and explosives,” those are very serious crimes — far more serious than giving false statements to investigators.

Second, the crime with which Zazi, his father, and the NYC informant have been charged with is essentially a form of obstruction of justice. But the federal statute that supposedly criminalizes this conduct is a textbook example of a law that’s subject to abuse by overzealous prosecutors. Obstruction of justice at its core involves acts like witness tampering, intimidation, and the like. But a catch-all provision in the statute allows making false statements to an investigator to be treated as a free-standing crime.

Note that when they agreed to submit to questioning none of these people were under oath, or had been charged with anything. The “crime” they have supposedly committed is that of giving inaccurate statements to investigators. Meanwhile the investigators are free to lie with impunity to the people they interview.

Third, this kind of case appears to illustrate how easily civil libertarian and due process concerns can get tossed out the window when the magic word “terrorism” is invoked. From what’s been reported there appears to be no solid evidence of an actual plot of any sort, or the existence of real weapons, or indeed anything beyond some suspicious movements and conversations. This probably explains why the suspects haven’t been charged with any crime other than that of failing to cooperate appropriately with their interrogators. (Note too the absurdly transparent pretext that Zazi’s rental car was stopped by the NYPD as part of a “random drug stop.”).

Now of course it’s always possible that Zazi is part of an actual Al Qaeda cell of some sort, as opposed to say a clownish amateur who hasn’t done enough to be charged with a real crime. But then he ought to be charged with one.

He wanted to distinguish the "known knowns" from the "unknown knowns"

[ 0 ] September 21, 2009 |

Some people evidently had too much time on their hands:

Donald Rumsfeld had to be talked out of editing his own entry on Wikipedia, which he referred to as “Wika-wakka.” He was a Drudge Report reader and used to watch YouTube clips that made fun of his press conference performances.

Good thing there’s not a “Rate My Defense Secretary” site. Rummy totally would have given himself a chili pepper.

Rumsfeld’s Wika-wakaa page, incidentally, has already been updated to include this important news.

The Process Projection

[ 0 ] September 21, 2009 |

I obviously agree with Ed Kilgore’s point that voting for cloture should be the minimal acceptable standard for being a Democratic caucus member in good standing, but I think this is an especially important point:

Since 60 votes are required to “invoke cloture” and proceed to a vote, the White House strategy on health reform has oscillated between efforts to pull a few Senate Republicans across the line (shoring up “centrist” Democrats as a byproduct) to get to 60, and schemes to use budget reconciliation procedures, which prohibit filibusters.

This latter possibility has aroused dire threats of Armageddon from conservatives, most notably from New York Times columnist David Brooks, who said use of reconciliation for health reform would be “suicidal,” and would “permanently alienate independents.” Brooks cleverly conflated public misgivings about health reform with support for a filibuster, and equated a simple majority vote with an effort to “ram health care through” Congress. There is zero evidence at this point that voters are versed in the intricacies of Senate procedure, or cherish the right of 41 senators to dictate national policy.

The idea that because David Broder considers it important to adhere to whatever ad hoc procedural obstruction the Republicans have come up with means that the public cares about this stuff is absurd.

On Paying the Price

[ 0 ] September 21, 2009 |

Mike Goldfarb and I have fun re: missile defense. Here Mike insists that Obama will pay a price for killing the Eastern European system, and I disagree:

24th

[ 0 ] September 20, 2009 |

Holy crap. Not only did we not break Oregon State’s hallowed PAC-10 record of futility, thanks to Idaho (for whom one of my future brothers-in-law works for), but on the heels of the 16-13 upset of USC, Washington is in the rather unlikely position of being back in the national top-25.

Where we belong.
This time last year, the UW would have had a difficult time breaking the state top-25.
I was going to say something about English cricket in the one day internationals against Australia, but they somehow managed to win the seventh and final match, thus dragging their record in that series to 1-6. Good thing the Ashes don’t factor in the ODIs.

Now-Irrelevant Sex Scandal Produces One Potential Thing of Value!

[ 1 ] September 20, 2009 |

It’s kind of sad to see how much Kaus still has invested, and attempting to tar Elizabeth Edwards for the sins of her husband is especially unseemly, but I’ll say this: if Edwards fathering an out-of-wedlock child means that we can be rid of Mudcat “The Future of the Democratic Party is in Mississippi” Saunders,* it won’t have been a total loss for the Democratic Party. Alas, I’m sure the rule that no Democratic conultant shoud be without huge paydays irrespective of their track record will hold up…

*Or, alternatively, “Mark Penn with a Confederate comforter…”

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