Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Drone War

[ 0 ] September 14, 2009 |

Had a good diavlog on Friday with Rachel Kleinfeld of the Truman Project. This clip focuses on the problems that the drone war in Af/Pak presents for a progressive security policy:

….and regarding the hat:

One thing I love about Rob Farley is his totally guileless, weirdly stylish stylelessness. Just look at that hat. That thing has no business outside of Boca city limits, or on a head with hair, but Farley couldn’t care less. He’s is a man who knows how to dress not cool, without trying to be cool, which is itself pretty cool.


Serena Williams: A Qualified Defense

[ 0 ] September 14, 2009 |

Scary black woman throws tennis into turmoil.

Update: When I proposed this piece to the Daily Beast, I suggested I might not even mention race because the piece is primarily about the role of gender perceptions in the context of athletics, and mentioning race tends to derail the conversation, even when, as here, it’s clearly relevant (as is class).


[ 1 ] September 14, 2009 |

At this point, Reynolds, Malkin et al. have dug up parody’s corpse to kill it again so many times I can’t believe there’s anything left in the grave at this point. (You’d think that a college professor might, say, take 20 seconds to check ABC’s website to see if the transparently implausible numbers being attributed to ABC were actually produced by them, but I guess that’s too much to expect.)

Campaign Finance and Oral Arguments

[ 0 ] September 14, 2009 |

In response to Jeff Rosen’s recent argument that Elena Kagan blew it at the recent oral arguments on a campaign finance case, Yglesias argues that oral arguments at the Supreme Court probably don’t matter anyway. John Sides responds with a summary of some recent scholarship buy Johnson, Walbeck, and Spriggs:

We posit that Supreme Court oral arguments provide justices with useful information that influences their final votes on the merits. To examine the role of these proceedings, we ask the following questions: (1) what factors influence the quality of arguments presented to the Court; and, more importantly, (2) does the quality of a lawyer’s oral argument affect the justices’ final votes on the merits? We answer these questions by utilizing a unique data source—–evaluations Justice Blackmun made of the quality of oral arguments presented to the justices. Our analysis shows that Justice Blackmun’s grading of attorneys is somewhat influenced by conventional indicators of the credibility of attorneys and are not simply the product of Justice Blackmun’s ideological leanings. We thus suggest they can plausibly be seen as measuring the quality of oral argument.

A couple points:

  • Even assuming that the J/W/S data establishes that the causal relationship runs in the direction they claim (i.e. that Blackmun didn’t just consider oral arguments better when he agreed with them on the merits a priori), generalizing from the case they use is very problematic. It’s not just that it’s an n of 1 — whatever might be optimal, in practice social science frequently has to proceed through small case studies. The bigger problem is the identity of the n in this case. Small case studies are most convincing when they represent “tough cases”; that is, if a case shows something occurring when one would expect the opposite. If you were going to name a Supreme Court justice who was unusually likely to be affected by oral arguments in marginal cases, however, the insecure, indecisive, and fussy Blackmun would be at the top of the list. I would be very leery about assuming that this applies to other justices.
  • Even if we assume arguendo that Blackmun represents the rule rather than the exception, I think Rosen is engaging in a classic pundit’s fallacy. On the merits, I agree with Rosen 100% that the ability of monied interest to dominate political campaigns and the consequences for democracy are a more convincing justification for campaign finance restrictions than the need to alleviate the appearance of corruption. The idea that an argument based on structural inequality is more likely to convince the conservative Republicans who represent a majority of the Court, however, is unpersuasive in the extreme. Kagan made the argument most likely to appeal to the median justice; it almost certainly won’t work, but that’s because she was drawing dead, not because she made a strategic error.

Iranian Ballistic Missiles

[ 0 ] September 14, 2009 |

It’s hard to say how to take this long post on the Iranian ballistic missile program; there’s a lot of detail, but where evidence is not openly available conclusions are always questionable. The assertions that Iran is receiving substantial missile technology support from North Korea (not surprising), China, (not really surprising), and Russia (very mildly surprising) is probably the biggest takeaway. In any case, give it a read if you’re interested in Iran, ballistic missiles, or the proliferation of “illicit” technology.

Inevitable, But Still Irritating

[ 0 ] September 14, 2009 |

Shorter Susan Collins: “I can’t support a trigger for a public option; everyone knows there’s no chance the insurance companies I’m shilling for could decrease their looting enough to get up to code.”


[ 0 ] September 13, 2009 |

It’s obviously just one formula, but the Yankees and Dodgers being 1 – 2 in the “Secret Sauce” rankings is nonetheless depressing.

Better conspiracy theories, please

[ 1 ] September 12, 2009 |

From the silliest protest since their last:

At some level, I suppose you have to admire the effort.

Gelbart RIP

[ 0 ] September 12, 2009 |

Larry Gelbart has passed. He was one of the key creative elements behind the early, funny years of M.A.S.H., and was also one of the authors of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Tootsie.

Of Bargaining And Leverage

[ 1 ] September 11, 2009 |

To follow up a bit on Rob, I would have to say that I’m if anything a little more in sympathy with Matt’s point. At the very least, if one thinks that Obama could get a good bill out of the Senate if he wanted one, I need to hear specifics about how, exactly, he can make this happen. While I agree with a lot of Armando’s recent health care arguments, I think that here he’s skating a little too easily over the fact that in order that for threats to gain leverage in bargaining they have to be credible. American political institutions don’t provide a symmetrical bargaining ground; supporters of the status quo and powerful interests have the playing field titlted strongly in their favor, particularly in the malapportioned and countermajoritarian-on-many-levels Senate. So, for example, Matt Taibbi’s argument that starting with single payer would have constituted the Democrats “start[ing] from a very strong bargaining position” is silly, because everyone knows that single payer had no chance of passing. In Matt’s comments, Petey does actually make a good case that Obama has considerable leverage over House Blue Dogs — owing to the fact that a health care bill failing to pass is going to mean a wave of Republicans taking over marginal House seats in 2010 — but as of now getting a decent bill out of the House hasn’t been the problem. Over the Senate, though, Obama’s sources of leverage are much less obvious unless you think a threat to defeat the whole process (which would obviously hurt Obama much more than marginal conservative Senators) would be credible.

I’d also be curious for those who think that the President is effectively in charge of domestic policy to explain the abject failure of Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme. Surely, this wasn’t because Bush lacked the willingness to engage in the requisite nut/ovary cutting, to shift rhetoric to the right, or to accept minimum-winning-coalition votes.

No Surprise

[ 0 ] September 11, 2009 |

Joe Wilson a big fan of commemorating treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid.

On Trust and Political Action

[ 0 ] September 11, 2009 |

I don’t trust the Obama administration either, but in the end that’s not a very relevant political fact. I guess I think that Chris sort of gives the game away when he says this:

Nonetheless, trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action. The degree to which an individual trusts a party, a policy, an individual politician will heavily influence that individual’s interpretations of the efficacy of and / or willingness to support, that party, policy or individual. As such, for no real other purpose but to provide disclosure on my general orientation to the ongoing health care fight, here is a long list of how much I trust the different players and aspects of the debate. Mainly, it is a long list of why I don’t really trust anyone involved.

What I don’t get is this; if trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action, and if Chris doesn’t trust anyone involved, and if Chris understands himself to be a political activist, then where does that leave us? I guess I’m not really seeing what role “trust” is playing; Chris sort of suggests that people who trust the Obama administration are less critical than those who don’t, but we don’t really get any farther than that. Chris’ lack of trust doesn’t seem to impede his activism on behalf of progressive causes, including direct and indirect support of candidates that he doesn’t trust. Call me excessively analytical, but I’m not seeing how trust is a critical variable.

I have the following expectations of political actors; that they will have policy preferences, that they will pursue those policy preferences, but that they will not pursue them to the extent that their own electoral survival is seriously endangered. Although I believe that politicians will *sometimes* make terrible miscalculations about how their behavior will affect their political prospects, I think that by and large they tend to be pretty good judges of the political landscape. As such, I tend to be a touch skeptical of arguments about how Republicans or Democrats as a whole just don’t understand that policy X will lead to utter electoral disaster. To give an example, I understand the tendency of Republican politicians to shift to the right, endangering their own general elections chances, as a relatively rational response to the threat of primary challenges. This is not to say that egregious miscalculations never happen, but I suspect they happen rather less often than you’d think from a cursory glance at the blogosphere, where you’ll find every conceivable variation of “don’t Democrats understand that X will lead to political disaster in Y!??!?!”

But this, of course, isn’t “trust” in the same sense that Bowers is using the term. The above is simply dependable, regular expectations of behavior; I “trust” that Republicans are going to be obstructionist, but that’s not trust in terms of a mobilizing attitude. However, if a) trust is critical to mobilization and political action, and b) you literally don’t trust any of the relevant political actors, then it’s really difficult for me to understand where you go.

I should also say that I don’t quite agree with Yglesias’ response to Bowers, because I tend to concur with Bowers that the Obama administration could pursue action that drives the debate to the left of the median Congress critter. Arms can be twisted, rhetoric can be crafted, favors can be offered, and so forth to push the envelope of the possible. I appreciate that it’s harder to press conservative Democrats than progressives, but there are still methods capable of winning agreement. These tactics have costs, however, and I don’t “trust” the Obama administration to be willing to pay these costs at the expense of other legislation or of its re-election chances. Where I part with Bowers, I suppose, is that I don’t find my lack of trust very politically relevant.