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Archive for October, 2012

What’s the Game?

[ 116 ] October 31, 2012 |

In the face of polls that increasingly suggest that Obama will win at least the electoral vote, major right bloggers (not just those connected with the Romney campaign) continue to voice confidence in Romney’s chances. This trend has been developing for some time, and has manifested in the War of the Skew, the War on Nate Silver, the War on the Central Limit Theorem, the War on Averages, all of which are part of a broader War on Numbers.

Mitt Romney may win, either because the polls turn at the last moment, or because the polls are wrong.  Every day, something happens that has never happened before.  Nevertheless, I’m curious about how guarantees of victory seem to become increasingly shrill as objective measures show Romney’s chances fading.  Possibilities:

  1. Conservatives genuinely believe that the polling is wrong, that only Rasmussen and Gallup have it right, and that Romney will win 300+ electoral votes.
  2. Conservatives don’t genuinely believe Romney will win, but continue to think that he can win, and  believe that putting an extremely positive spin on bad numbers helps enthusiasm, turnout, etc.
  3. Displays of confidence in Romney are part of intra-movement political posturing; allowing that Obama may win indicates lack of faith, commitment, enthusiasm, et al. In the post-2012 conservative movement landscape, having a reputation as a loyal soldier (even in a lost cause) is seen as a positive good.

Of the three I’m certain there’s some of #1; motivated bias is a strong thing.  I’m curious about the balance of 1 with 2 and 3, however.  Broadly speaking, both 2 and 3 are quite reasonable.  Indeed, conservative optimism in the face of adversity is, in some cases, arguably more sensible than progressive despair. Romney can win,  and its unclear that public recognition of the magnitude of the obstacles to victory is helpful to his cause. And given that the marketplace of conservative thought continues to generously reward a select number of opinion leaders, #3 is also altogether reasonable.




[ 71 ] October 31, 2012 |

Reassuring to know that Dick Morris thinks there will be a Romney landslide. -(Dick Morris) works about as well as the most sophisticated model.

Math class is tough

[ 96 ] October 31, 2012 |


Silver’s gold.

I’ve Had Enough Of You Water-Drinking, Air-Breathing Urban Elitists

[ 247 ] October 31, 2012 |

Ben Jacobs’s piece reminds me of my favorite part of the Politico’s war on Nate Silver.   As others have pointed out, this botched hack cliche is comedy gold:

For this reason and others — and this may shock the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis. — more than a few political pundits and reporters, including some of his own colleagues, believe Silver is highly overrated.

Look, I knew those snooty elitists in Seattle and San Francisco looked down on me and my kind, but now you tell me that they drink coffee? No real American would ever be caught dead consuming this obscure product.

I tell you, every election cycle it becomes harder to be a regular American. White wine, Lipton Green Tea, orange juice, Grey Poupon, coffee — every day you discover some product that my relatives in rural Saskatchewan would always have in their pantry that marks you as an out-of-touch urban elitist in the eyes of D.C.-based Ivy Leaguers.

Deserve’s Got Nothing To Do With It

[ 206 ] October 31, 2012 |

Glenn has found yet another “provocative” (or is that proactive? Third party vanity campaigns — a totally strategically dynamic new paradigm!) piece arguing that True Progressives should be working to throw the election to Romney. I probably shouldn’t take the bait, but this one is built around a particular fallacy I’ve never really addressed before, so I might as well. The piece has a lot of common errors — green laternism, an allergy to historical perspective — but this is the real key to his argument:

But, let us be clear. Win or lose, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama will all be fine. They win either way. Lucrative lobbying, banking, and advising jobs await all of them. “Speaker fees,” often six-figures, will be plentiful. The gravy awaits, and it’s all good. Of that we can all rest assured. What of the economic fortunes of the vast majority of the American people? Obama’s former supporters? The unemployed? Underwater homeowners? The victims of fraudulent foreclosures?

Well, here’s some news: He’s just not that into you. We’re adults. It is time to get over it. You owe him nothing because he has done nothing for you and plans to do nothing for you – unless you count the positive harm of cutting Social Security and enacting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If voting for such a person “rocks your boat,” feel free. But surely it can be understood why more than a few people may feel differently.

The idea that Obama has “done nothing” for his constituents is obviously absurd. (Hint: when a True Progressive dismisses, say, a massive expansion of Medicaid as being too trivial to even be worthy of consideration, the well-being of the less affluent may not actually be their top priority.) But I want to focus on the argument that progressives don’t “owe” Obama anything. Well, of course they don’t. No part of the coalition, from socialist to Blue Dog, “owes” their vote to the Democrats. What progressives do have a moral and ethical obligation to do with their vote is to advance progressive values. Obama and Axelrod (and, it must be said, most people urging people to support third parties) will be fine if Republicans win — but nobody actually thinks this is important. The issue is what happens to the “the vast majority of the American people” if enough people were to take Prasch’s advice. How does withholding support for Obama advance the progressive values that Obama is being criticized for not sufficiently advancing?

As with virtually all such arguments, Prasch spends very little time on this question, and rather devotes most of his attention to a litany of things Obama has done that were not sufficiently progressive, and linking to other such litanies. But in and of itself, withholding support from leaders of parties in two-party systems don’t agree with you on every issue is puerile. Positing a President who agrees with you about everything (and, implicitly, can win a majority coalition and will have the powers of a Westminster Prime Minister to enact this agenda) as a solution to political problems is no less narcissistic wankery coming from a leftier-than-thou Obama critic than from Tom Friedman.

So how exactly would throwing the elections to Republicans advance the progressive interests Obama is neglecting? He has an answer:

Anyone who has ever gone shopping knows that their bargaining power depends ultimately upon his/her willingness to walk away. The ability to walk away explains why the service we get from our local dry cleaner is significantly better than what most of us get from our local cable provider. When you have a choice, and demonstrate a willing to take that choice, you become empowered as consumer (I might add that the same is true of labor markets, which explains why most employers prefer a higher level of unemployment than their employees). Right now, a deeply cynical reelection campaign is betting that progressives will be too afraid of Romney to seek to empower themselves. This, let us remember, has been the strategy pursued by an increasingly right-wing Democratic National Committee for close to thirty years. Every four years we are asked to vote for the lesser evil. In a couple of weeks we will all learn if this plea will pay off again. The question is, will we learn? Will we learn to bargain with a faithless leadership of the Democratic Party? If not this election, then when?

This voters-as-consumers thing is silly. “Walking away” isn’t actually how political change works in the real world — never has been, never will be. Conservatives didn’t take over the Republican Party by running third party vanity campaigns. Before the Great Society, it was the segregationists who got routed, not the civil rights and labor groups who eventually prevailed, who were threatening to take their ball and go home. A left-wing third party threw the election to Bush in 2000, but this certainly didn’t radicalize the Democratic Party. Indeed, according to Prasch the Democratic Party has actually been moving to the right. I think this is dumb — I don’t long for the Golden Age of the Democratic Party 30 years ago when Robert Byrd was the Senate majority leader and four years of unified rule produced pretty much bupkis — but certainly Obama is only marginally more progressive than Gore. “Bargaining” by throwing elections doesn’t actually provide you with any leverage, not least because the strategy is self-discrediting in subsequent. People who believed Ralph Nader when he spent a year telling them that George W. Bush was a harmless moderate no different than Al Gore aren’t going to get fooled again when you say the same crap about Mitt Romney hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and two massive upper-class tax cuts later.

Actual progressive change is hard work. Magical thinking about third parties that agree with you about everything doesn’t make hegemony go away. It’s a bad idea not because Democrats “deserve your vote” but because if it “succeeds” it actively bad for the interests and values progressives are supposed to care about, in exchange for no benefits whatsoever.

…rea in comments: “If your town has only two dry cleaners, and one turns your suits purple when you take your clothes there to be cleaned, your ability to walk away in the course of bargaining with the other is somewhat constrained.”

…and, yes, what Pierce said.


[ 42 ] October 31, 2012 |

I’m a bit outraged by Paul Anderson’s piece arguing essentially that NFL players have the right to play after they’ve had a concussion. Anderson argues that our national concussion outrage should focus on college football–and he’s right about that. During last week’s Arizona-USC game, Arizona QB Matt Scott was leading his team down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. Near the end of the drive, Scott scrambled and took a knee to the head. He immediately puked on the field and was clearly concussed. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez left Scott in the game to complete the drive. This was an egregious violation of player safety. College football is absolutely terrible on this issue.

But Anderson’s piece also basically feels like an apology for the NFL. He rightly notes that the lawsuits currently under litigation are about old players and the old NFL and that in today’s NFL, everyone knows the risk of concussions. Since those players are getting paid, the have the right to work after concussed. But from my perspective, this feels an awful lot like employers in other high risk workplaces abnegating responsibility for their actions by invoking labor’s “freedom to work.” Sure that coal mine is egregiously unsafe, but I’m not forcing the worker to go down in the hole! Now there is some difference of course between the two situations–NFL players are highly paid and coal miners aren’t. But most NFL players are looking at a very short career and within NFL culture, any sign of not putting your body through extreme hell is considered soft and a good way to find yourself unemployed.

Moreover, and this seems so obvious as to not need saying, when you have just suffered a concussion, you are not in the right mindset to make a rational decision about continuing to play. Yet Anderson portrays concussed players as rational actors who will make the best decision for themselves. That’s totally absurd. He argues that they can apply for workers’ compensation if they are permanently hurt, but anyone who has gone through that system can tell you it’s neither easy nor does it fully compensate your pay.

Anderson is supposed to be some of sort concussion expert, but to me he’s sounding an awful lot like a libertarian who is happy to put workers at risk in favor of larger principles of “free will” for which he personally will never face the consequences.

Voter ID=Voter Intimidation

[ 22 ] October 31, 2012 |

Excellent story about a reporter in Williamson County, Texas (deep red suburbs north of Austin) trying to vote with a utility bill as an ID. Mind you, Texas doesn’t require photo ID for voting since its law is being challenged in the courts. But precinct workers are demanding it. This reminds me of the old Jim Crow era literacy tests, where local election workers got to decide who voted and who didn’t. A white person who is going to vote for the powers that be and is illiterate–go right ahead! A black college professor–not literate! America’s decentralized election system creates and exacerbates power inequalities through allowing for intensive intimidation of voters. In states with voter ID laws, you have older Republicans making decisions over who can vote in Republican dominated counties. I don’t see any way these laws lead to greater democracy. Which is exactly the point.

Elected Police Commissioners — Why?

[ 28 ] October 31, 2012 |

In filling out my ballot yesterday and posting it off to Oregon, one of the decisions I had to make was for Clackamas County Sheriff.  This decision was nearly as easy as President, seeing as how the incumbent sheriff is running unopposed.

On November 15th, English and Welsh voters get their first chance to vote for such a position, which they’re calling the Police and Crime Commissioner.  This has generated criticism from most points on the political spectrum, and both regarding the fundamental need to its botched implementation.  The criticisms include a violation of the separation of powers, the politicisation of the police, that it will be a low information election both in terms of the office and the date the government chose to hold it, and that turnout will be perilously low to the point where the election itself will be illegitimate.

The Electoral Reform Society are particularly critical of the implementation and, according to their analysis, 18.5% predicted turnout.  I agree with much of what they have to say.  However, they’re rather fuzzy on how they arrived at the 18.5% estimate, and even then, judging the legitimacy of an election based on turnout is an ultimately arbitrary game.

I’ve been doing the usual bit of local media for the BBC during an American election cycle.  This year has brought something new — a seven day run on BBC Radio Devon called ‘pause for thought’.  Instead of the normal back and forth of an interview, it’s a set piece of about two minutes where I have clear air time.  The hardest part of it has been waking every morning to be in the studio around 6am.  Otherwise, it’s like writing blog posts, but pitched to an entirely different sort of audience, and read live on air.

I addressed a couple of the critiques mentioned above in this morning’s piece.  Specifically, while it’s a low information election, the partisan label of the candidates (those not running as independents) does serve as a voting cue and communicates some information.  Furthermore, local media have a role to play.  Radio Devon is trying to raise awareness on the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary election, and pieces like this in the Seattle Times (on the current election for King County Sheriff) are not uncommon in US media.

Second, using turnout as a metric for legitimacy is never going to fly due to its inherent arbitrary nature.  I get the normative problem: public policy in a democracy should represent the general will of the population (however measured and defined), but ultimately, and rationally, instead represents those who vote.  When the composition of the electorate is systematically different from that of the general population, policy will likewise deviate.

However, again, where to draw the line and claim an election illegitimate?  In 2005, Tony Blair was re-elected with 35.5% of the vote on a turnout of around 62%, resulting in a durable parliamentary majority that governed for five years.  Yet, when examined closer, 78% of the population either explicitly voted for someone else or failed to participate.  Labour’s re-election in 2005 was predicated on the support of 22% of the population.

Furthermore, while the position here is laudable for devolving accountability and some policy to a more local setting, it remains largely bereft of policy responsibility, so I’m not sure how far one can take the turnout critique.  Indeed, if the Seattle Times piece linked above is any measure, the election for King County Sheriff is about administrative and personality qualities, not policy.

I’m not terribly sure how to address the critique that these offices somehow violate a separation of powers.  The entire concept is, at best, muddy in the British constitution.  This isn’t a violation in the US context.  We might legitimately argue whether or not these positions should be selected by vote or on pure merit (as we might likewise debate voting for judicial positions), but I don’t see this as a separation of powers issue, much to the chagrin of an ex-student of mine.

This leaves the politicisation question.  On one level, this is a trade-off — adding the partisan label, useful as a cue for voters, by definition politicises the office.  However, claiming non partisan offices to be de-politicised is laughable.  Poring over the list of non partisan offices in Clackamas County and the State of Oregon yesterday, one cue I used to make decisions were endorsements.  Every candidate for “non partisan” positions have endorsements that cluster in readily identifiable, partisan clusters.  While removing an office from the electoral purview would seem to aid in its de-politicisation, that itself is superficial.

The theme of my piece this morning was that expanding democracy is a normative good, especially in the UK.  While extending democracy in England and Wales to the office of Police and Crime commissioners is open to criticism, the most damning are about implementation.  While spreading democracy is good, a much better place to start expanding democracy might have been giving local government real policy power (additionally, with few exceptions, there is virtually no relationship between local government as its understood in the UK and policing).  At present, only about 25% of the local council budget comes from local taxation, and the council’s ability to vary this is tightly restricted by central government.  These positions don’t really matter much at all, and, unsurprisingly, turnout to local elections is unsurprisingly modest.

Senator Sam

[ 8 ] October 30, 2012 |

No evening is complete without a track from the album Senator Sam Ervin put out after the Watergate hearings.

Sandy Should Be Politicized

[ 92 ] October 30, 2012 |

This couldn’t be more right:

What you are going to see over the next week is an overt effort by Democrats to politicize the issue of disaster response. They’re right to do it. Conservatives are already complaining about this, but the attempt to wall disaster response off from politics in the aftermath of a disaster is an attempt to insulate Republicans from the consequences of their policies.

Funding for FEMA is something the parties wrangle over, with Republicans pushing to limit the agency’s budget, and Democrats pushing back. FEMA has to fight for its share of a constricted pot of money for domestic non-entitlement spending, a pot of money that the Republicans propose to radically constrict. How radically? Romney’s budget promises require shrinking domestic non-entitlement spending as a share of the economy by about two-thirds.

The Republican proposal to eviscerate this wide array of public functions is one of the underdiscussed questions of the election. Republicans have defended it using a very clever trick. They don’t explain how they would allocate the massive cuts to all these programs. When President Obama explains what would happen if those cuts were allocated in an across-the-board fashion, Republicans scream bloody murder. And when any single one of those programs enters the political debate, they can deny plans to make any specific cuts: They won’t cut education, they won’t cut support for veterans, and so on.


The GOP is the party arguing for splurging on a long vacation at the beach rather than repairing the roof. Naturally, they want to have this argument only when it’s sunny and never when it’s raining. There’s no reason to accommodate them.

Policies have consequences, and the Republican program of indiscriminately slashing domestic spending to fund superfluous defense spending and upper-class tax cuts has serious consequences. It’s “political” to point this out, but not in any negative sense.

Relatedly, read Plumer on Sandy and climate change. And speaking of the consequences of elections, this is like Matt Millen offering advice on how to run your draft.

That’s Some Catch

[ 13 ] October 30, 2012 |

The Obama administration is continuing to argue that the potential legal defects of the warrantless wiretapping regime established by Congress should insulate the program from meaningful legal review. I continue to find this…unconvincing.

Jeff Rosen is also good on this.

Then the grasshopper said, “You’ve got a drink named ‘Doug’?”

[ 59 ] October 30, 2012 |

The person who subtitled Alias is either brilliant or an idiot:




RUSSIAN SPY: ALRIGHT! Alright, I’ll tell you …

It’s like a spy novel written by old Jews.

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