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Talking Turkey

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

If you don’t prefer my heretical choices (i.e., just skip tradition altogether and if you’re a carnivore go with ham or salmon or roast beef or some other meat with flavor in it), Lindsay has good tips. And, actually, having tasted roast turkey done well at Thanksgiving in recent years (including once by Lindsay herself) has increased my appreciation somewhat…

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Ugh

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |


Shorter Democratic Party: Please, endorse the other party’s presidential candidate and smear ours. We don’t mind!

The Stevens Situation

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |

Hopefully Alaska’s voters will be shown to have made the decision before the Senate has to…

Bailouts And Consequences

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

I think this article by Jon Cohn is very important. There are two points here that I think should be emphasized. First, I do think that there’s a tendency to go a little overboard when it comes to the quality and popularity of American cars. This is largely the fault of the companies themselves — if you buy one crappy, unreliable car in the 70s or 80s you won’t buy another one — but in addition to what Jon mentions the Malibu is selling well and has been well-regarded by critics, and Cadillac makes as good a car as anyone in the luxury market. I don’t think it’s terribly unreasonable to think that GM and Ford, at least, could become profitable companies after the downturn.

But secondly, and more importantly, I think that at the very least it’s important to be clear-eyed about the consequences of bankruptcy. I don’t think sanguine claims that auto companies could just file bankruptcy like an airline and keep running their operations and re-emerge in better shape. This might work for airlines — where all that matters to most consumers is price to the destination, many customers aren’t even paying the modest price themselves, and you don’t care if the airline you fly next Tuesday is in business in 5 years — but car companies, who need customers to make one large-term purchase with their own money they will be exceedingly reluctant to make if they don’t think a company will be around to honor warranties and provide parts. Bankruptcy will almost certainly lead to liquidation with horrifying economic consequences.

Does this mean that the bailout is good policy? Not necessarily; we have to see what the plan looks like first. There are real reasons to be skeptical of government intervention. I do think, however, it’s important not to kid ourselves about the consequences of deciding against the bailout. Is it worth letting hundreds of thousands of jobs (many of them good union jobs) go while a region of the country is completely devastated as a selective token of adherence to Free Market Principles? Maybe, but let’s be clear about the choice we’re making. The idea of GM going through an orderly Chapter 11 restructuring in this economy is almost certainly dreaming in technicolor.

Haloscan

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

This does not seem to have been a…smooth rollout of their new technology.

Wishing Conflict Away

[ 0 ] November 17, 2008 |

I certainly respect E.J Dionne far more than I do Will Saletan. But it must be said that his new column has a pretty strong whiff of the “originating policies pro-choicers have been advocating for many decades” routine that Saletan has patented. Apparently, the solution to ending the conflict over abortion includes “contraception programs, even if these are a sticking point for some social conservatives, along with ‘programs that are going to encourage women to bring their children to term.’ Among them: expanded health coverage for women and children, more child care, adoption help, and income support for the working poor.” Since pro-choice liberals have pretty much always supported these policies and they don’t seem to stop the anti-choice minority from supporting criminalization (as well as opposing most or all of these programs, almost as if reducing abortion rates isn’t a terribly important goal for American “pro-lifers”), it’s not clear what’s actually supposed to change about the abortion politics here.

Of course, if fine old wine can broaden the coalition for reproductive freedom if we dust off the bottles with some rhetoric that appeals to some members of the ofter side, what’s the harm? Well, I worry about defending good policies with such justifications as “encouraging women to bring more pregnancies to term,” justifications that can pretty quickly end up in arguments for burdensome abortion regulations. But the real problem with Dionne’s argument is his apparent belief that enacting this (as stated) worthwhile program would somehow “make cultural warfare a quaint relic of the past.” This won’t happen, simply because anti-abortion politics tends to be bundled up with an array of other reactionary attitudes about women and sexuality that undercut support for other policies that will reduce abortion rates. Some examples from Margaret Tabot’s superb new article:

But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual début”–to use the festive term of social-science researchers–shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease. More provocatively, Regnerus found that only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.

Read the whole etc. It would be fine if Democrats passed legislation funding contraception and rational sex-ed, as well as assistance for young mothers (not to mention legislation recognizing a federal right for a woman to choose an abortion.) But even the Democrats pass only the first two sets of policies, it’s not going to magically end conflicts over abortion or take the issue off the table. You’d thunk contraception use would be an issue on which it’s easy to build consensus, but it’s not.

Is This Rich?

[ 1 ] November 16, 2008 |

All-star commenter IB says:

OT (but appropriate to a previously stated position of this blog): Another smart Sunday piece by Frank Rich.

(Noted because: About a week ago, someone (SL, I think, but correct me if I’m wrong) argued a la Somerby that one’s saying something unfair about Al Gore in 2000 should forever banish one from publication. I defended Rich by saying that, while he has certainly on occasion been wrong, he is more often right and worth reading. So here’s what I feel confident is the first of many examples offered in treal time.)

Well, first of all, “something unfair” is one thing, “making up lies about Al Gore when not obsessing about trivia while repeatedly arguing that he was indistinguishable from George W. Bush” quite another. (And, to be frank, I am in fact inclined to think that someone who thought that it wouldn’t make any difference whether Al Gore or George Bush is in the White House really shouldn’t be pulling down six figures a year to write about politics.) At any rate, while I will concede that (as with many of his columns) there’s nothing especially objectionable about this one, I would also be interested in IB (or anyone else) IDing the point at which Rich tells any mildly informed liberal anything they don’t already know. Parties engage in circular firing squads after losing elections? You don’t say!

I should also say that, to the extent that Rich’s point isn’t banal, I don’t actually agree with it. Obviously, comparisons to 1936 are silly; the Republicans, working in exceptionally bad structural conditions, got 162 electoral votes (as opposed to, say, 8) and lost several other states by very close margins. They maintain a solid regional base that is going to gain electoral votes in 2010, and their coalition remains probably more internally coherent than that of the typical large brokerage party in a two-party system. Party fissures are always more apparent in defeat, but it’s premature at best to think that 2008 portends a major realignment in American politics.

Moneyball Campaigning

[ 1 ] November 15, 2008 |

I think Ezra gets this right. Obama’s primary campaign, in particular, was clearheaded, methodical and rational, focusing on delegates rather than “media cycles” and other mystical nonsense. With the Clinton campaign, the frightening thing was not merely their “voters/states that vote for us count more even if it’s a minority coalition” spin — when doomed campaigns are spinning, they have to by definition say things that aren’t true — but that they acted as if it was true.

None of this is to say, of course, that Obama’s win was inevitable. Resources and institutional advantanges matter; you can get away with hiring a Mark Penn or a Ned Colletti if your opponnent is a Bob Dole or a Brian Sabean. If Edwards had been Clinton’s major opponent, her old-school campaign/attractive candidate combination would have been enough. And Obama’s ability to get funds from online donors is a rare instance of the internet really having a major impact on a campaign. Even Billy Beane can’t win consistently with nothing to work with, and without the ability to tap enough small donors to make his campaign clearly viable the Obama’s vastly superior tactics wouldn’t have been enough. Same thing in the general — although I rarely say such things, I think McCain’s campaign really was abysmal, but under the right structural circumstances he could have won. (And conversely, under these structural circumstances he had virtually no chance; we can quibble about margins, but I don’t think there’s any serious question that Clinton/Penn would have also beaten them pretty badly.)

But, then, sabermetric analysis is always about probabilities, not certainties. Obama’s smart decisions increased his odds, and in both cases it was enough.

Joan Walsh Would Like You To Pay For This

[ 0 ] November 14, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.” Ah, yes, center-right “contrarianism” defined: you expand a progressive coalition by simply defining “not-x” as “x.” The value of this type of expansion is not explained.

Or try this one: “For example, I had thought for many months that the flap over Obama’s birth certificate was a tempest in a teapot. But simple questions about the certificate were never resolved to my satisfaction.”

Or…well, look, pretty much every sentence she’s ever written for Salon could be a “verbatim.” Why they think that this will attract readers — let alone subscribers — in 2008 remains inexplicable.

Exit Polls and Retrospective Bandwagons

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Bob Somerby, responding to CNN’s exit polls:

It’s hard to believe that those data are accurate. Did four percent of last week’s voters really vote for someone other than Bush or Kerry in 2004? And what would explain that nine-point gap between Bush and Kerry voters? In theory, Democrats were enthusiastic about last week’s election, Republicans somewhat less so. Can it really be that 46 percent of last week’s voters voted for Bush in 2004—versus only 37 percent who voted for Kerry?

Bob isn’t considering one crucial possibility here: misreporting. Political scientists have found a “retrospective bandwagon” effect in which some people will remember having voted for the winner even if they didn’t. One example, as this paper reminds us, is that after his razor-thin victory about 65% of respondents claimed to have voted for JFK. Admittedly, Bush’s extreme unpopularity should lessen these effects, but then this a pretty small retrospective bounce.

It is, of course, true that exit poll data should be treated carefully. But there’s nothing about the 2004 election question that would suggest that CNN’s sampling was bad; it’s about the result you would expect.

But I Manage ‘Cuz I’m A Savage Inside

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Some excellent work from Dan Savage here:

The point about churches engaging in political funding and activism and then hiding behind the bushes is a particularly important one. It’s also good that Savage has apologized for his post-election scapegoating of African-Americans.

By the way, does the backlash against Prop 8 prove that initiatives are a bad political strategy? Or does this logic only apply to backlashes against progressive strategies?

Doubling Down on Twenty

[ 0 ] November 13, 2008 |

Apparently, in response to their initiative getting roughly 0.0% of the vote in Colorado, advocates for giving zygotes constitutional rights are planning to broaden their campaign. I would advise anti-choicers in the strongest possible terms to put their resources behind this movement. But who will protect the Spermatazoan-Americans?

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