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Hack Economist of the Week

[ 17 ] January 11, 2008 |

Shorter Steven Landsburg:

A regressive sales tax plan that (barring the creation of a massive state apparatus for investigation and enforcement) would encourage fraud, drive up government spending, and (barring a constitutional amendment to abolish an earlier constitutional amendment) give birth to yet another level to the tax bureaucracy? Why, it’s a libertarian’s wet dream!

…UPDATE (BY SL): Jon Chait points out that Landsburg also posits the potential for a progressive consumption tax, charging different amounts for different people at the cash register. Because rich people would never pay cash or use poor people as fronts to buy stuff under such a system. And three ponies!

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The Case Against Clinton

[ 59 ] January 11, 2008 |

Publius, while accepting the validity of grievances against the frequently sexist coverage of her campaign, tries to make it. To me, #1 remains the most persuasive. I think Obama might have a marginally more progressive domestic policy, but the differences are narrow enough that this could be mistaken. But it’s hard for me to get around the fact that Clinton completely botched the most important issue of the Bush era. (Moreover, I’m not willing to assume that her vote for the war was an “insincere political gamble;” that’s possible, but I think we have to accept the possibility that she voted for the war because she supported the war.) See also Ann Friedman on this issue.

And her pro-war vote is not merely problematic on the merits; it’s also bad politics. On the “Clinton electability” issue, as Ygelsias says Drum is narrowly right but takes on only the weakest version of the argument. I have never argued that Clinton is “unelectable,” and it’s likely that the structural conditions in November will make any Democratic candidate a favorite over any Republican. But this doesn’t mean that Clinton/McCain isn’t the worst plausible matchup for the Democrats. And even assuming that head-to-head polls aren’t useful at this point, the fact that Clinton took the Republican position on the most important issue and hence will be unable to exploit an issue that should favor the Dems will surely be a problem. And there are a variety of other areas in which Obama has more upside. Obama has the ability to mobilize voters who generally turn out in relatively smaller numbers, while Clinton’s core constituency (older women) already votes at disproportionately high levels. And while we don’t know for certain that Obama’s lower negatives and favorable media coverage will hold up, the worst that can happen is dropping to Clinton’s levels, and it’s more likely that he would be a better candidate than Clinton in those areas. (And I’m not arguing that conservatives won’t attack Obama; the question is how much right-wing critiques will penetrate the mainstream media and swing voters.)

Now, if you want to argue that given a candidate than can win a primary “electability” is just too unpredictable a factor to be meaningful, that’s fair enough; but I don’t really see a good progressive case for Clinton on the merits either.

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My Panel

[ 78 ] January 11, 2008 |

Just finished my panel presentation, and I’m happy to say that I’ve achieved a new personal record in panel attendance. We had three presenters, no discussant, and two audience members (one of whom wandered in halfway through the panel). 4.5 beats the previous record of 5, set at the 1998 Pacific Northwest Political Science Association conference.

The world continues to conspire to keep the masses ignorant of Mahan, Dreadnought, and National Identity….

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Big Easy

[ 38 ] January 10, 2008 |

So, I’m in New Orleans for the next three days for the Southern Political Science Association conference. Anything to do here?

…and yes, I’d certainly be up for an NO LGM Happy Hour if there is a sufficient critical mass…

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When Science Attacks

[ 22 ] January 10, 2008 |

Damn.

What happens if you give an elephant LSD? On Friday August 3, 1962, a group of Oklahoma City researchers decided to find out.

Warren Thomas, Director of the City Zoo, fired a cartridge-syringe containing 297 milligrams of LSD into Tusko the Elephant’s rump. With Thomas were two scientific colleagues from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, Louis Jolyon West and Chester M. Pierce.

297 milligrams is a lot of LSD — about 3000 times the level of a typical human dose. In fact, it remains the largest dose of LSD ever given to a living creature. The researchers figured that, if they were going to give an elephant LSD, they better not give him too little. . . .

Whatever the reason for the experiment, it almost immediately went awry. Tusko reacted to the shot as if a bee had stung him. He trumpeted around his pen for a few minutes, and then keeled over on his side. Horrified, the researchers tried to revive him, but about an hour later he was dead. The three scientists sheepishly concluded that, “It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD.”

There are 19 more of these, all from Alex Boese’s list of “Top 20 Most Bizarre Experiments of All Time.” Several classics from 20th century American social psychologists make the list — the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments are included, naturally — but the Soviet scientists really take the cake. There’s Vladimir Demikhov, who grafted the head and torso of a puppy onto a German shepherd in 1954 Sergei Brukhonenko, who chopped the head off a dog and kept it alive with a crude heart-lung machine in 1928; and Ilya Ivanov, who sought in the 1930s to interbreed humans and various apes.

And the less said about Stubbins Ffirth — Philadelphia’s “vomit-drinking doctor” — the better.

(via The Kircher Society)

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"I’m not a Hillary supporter, but …"

[ 13 ] January 10, 2008 |

Rebecca Traister explains her one-day support for Clinton in response to her sexist trashing by the media. Violet Socks describes it in fiction form.

While it’s hard to establish definitively, it does seem likely that the egregious sexism of the media played at least some role in Clinton’s win.

…relatedly, a blogger at Swampland (via) is inventing a mythical catfight between Pelosi and Clinton because…another (male) member of Congress endorsed Obama. I’m serious. Expect her on the Times op-ed page — if it’s still in business — within the decade unless they decide to give it to Althouse or Camille Paglia instead. The first commenter: “Someday political historians will write books on the damage done to political journalism by the legacy of Maureen Dowd. This will be good for at least a footnote for somebody.” Indeed.

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Give ’til it Hurts

[ 0 ] January 10, 2008 |


I, too, would like to urge conservative bloggers to “man the oars” for Fred Thompson.

Really. I can’t imagine a wiser investment. Sure, he’s going to get creamed in Michigan, Nevada and Florida, but . . . um . . . dude, his wife is hot, or something.

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The NYT Against LBJ

[ 33 ] January 10, 2008 |

The NYT has a very strange criticism of Hillary Clinton, which was also made by Dowd on Monday:

Why Mrs. Clinton would compare herself to Mr. Johnson, who escalated the war in Vietnam into a generational disaster, was baffling enough. It was hard to escape the distasteful implication that a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change.

Sandy Levinson has the appropriate response:

I find this astonishingly ignorant and, indeed, almost offensive. Speaking as someone who opposed the Vietnam War and published (with Doris Kearns) an article in The New Republic suggesting that the left organize a third party in order to assure the defeat of President Johnson should he run again in 1968, I have no problem describing the war in Vietnam as “a generational disaster.” That being said, I also believe that Lyndon B. Johnson was, by a large measure, the greatest domestic policy president in our history, at least as significant as FDR as an agent of “change” (the mantra of the day). Indeed, he gave the single greatest speech of any president in my lifetime, the “we shall overcome” speech when he introduced the Voting Rights Act in1965 following the Selma debacle and, more to the point, accepted the death of the Democratic Party in which he had thrived precisely by pushing for the full inclusion of African-Americans in the polity. Those who believe that the Supreme Court is unique in being a “forum of principle” might ask themselves if anything other than principle is a better explanation of Johnson’s willingness to jettison the Democratic Party as it then existed.

Perhaps the Times’ editorial writer is simply appallingly ignorant of that aspect of the Johnson presidency. There is a lot of nostalgia being expressed these days for JFK. He didn’t hold a candle to Johnson as an agent of genuine domestic change. Why can’t the Times recognize that, even if it wants, altogether properly, to go on to say that the tragedy of LBJ was his inability/unwillingness to accept American defeat in Vietnam (perhaps itself based on “principle,” which proves, among other things, that “principled” commitments are not necessarily worthy of support)?

Clinton is open to criticism on a number of fronts, but to praise LBJ in the context of civil rights is entirely unobjectionable.

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On the Voter ID Case

[ 5 ] January 10, 2008 |

I have more thoughts here.

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Dunlap Makes the Case…

[ 10 ] January 10, 2008 |

…for abolishing the Air Force better than I ever could. In a rather incoherent op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, Major General Charles Dunlap makes the following series of claims:

  1. The military success of the Surge is due to an increase in “boots on the ground”; so much for those “boots on the ground zealots“.
  2. The counter-insurgency manual still sucks, but its proponents misunderstand its key tenets, which are much more forceful than commonly believed, even though it still sucks.
  3. The Air Force really won the Surge, through a substantial expansion in airstrikes.
  4. Actually, the Surge didn’t work, because the only success we’ve seen is due to segregation of neighborhoods and cozying up to Sunni tribal leaders, so consequently the counter-insurgency manual still sucks.
  5. And then there’s Russia, which proves we need more F-22s. Why won’t anyone think of the Russians?

If you don’t believe me, read it yourself. Building and burning strawmen is a time-honored strategy of the op-ed, but the author ought, at the very least, make sure that the flaming strawmen are consistent with one another. In any case, Dunlap seems to have a substantial misunderstanding of the connection between points 1, 2, and 3. The success of a counter-insurgency strategy depends on the production of good intelligence for the use of force. Every such strategy will have both protection and projection components; the key is that the protection component, if well done, is supposed to make the projection component more effective. The reason we saw a substantial increase in airstrikes during the spring and summer was not that the gloves were coming off, as Dunlap or Ralph Peters would have you believe, but rather because the intelligence provided through better protection (which was a function of both changes in tactics and an increase in troops) produced better targeting opportunities.

Point number four is true enough, but irrelevant to Dunlap’s argument. The decrepitude of the F-15 is actually lending some weight to the F-22 argument; thirty years old airframes are both prone to failure and expensive to maintain. But then, the big debates about the F-22 have always been more about the price and the pace (do we really need a lot of them now?) than whether or not the purchase should be made.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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The Voter Fraud Fraud

[ 16 ] January 10, 2008 |

In the wake of yesterday’s oral argument in the Indiana voting rights case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which the Bush v. Gore majority played ping pong with Paul Smith, the lawyer for the Indiana state Democrats challenging the law, facial challenges to laws that are allegedly unconstitutional seem shakier than ever.

Dahlia tells us why
:

The real problem with Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is that the whole case is a dance of the seven veils. By which I mean that voter-identification laws are phony ways to solve pretend problems, while today’s challenge to those laws is thin on evidence of real voters who’ve suffered real harms. A chimera doing battle with a fantasy. Oh, goody.

The problem is this: the Indiana law, which was passed by a Republican legislature, signed by a Republic governor, and upheld by judges appointed by Republicans talks a big game about preventing voter fraud in Indiana, despite the fact that voter fraud has yet to be proven. Why? Because the people stopped from voting by laws like this “skew Democrat” in the words of a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge. But because the law was challenged before an election took place, there are no people with actual injuries as plaintiffs. That is, no one who is a plaintiff has actually been prevented from voting. Which is the nub of the problem for this case, and which left a huge gaping hole through which Scalia and his cronies could argue that the Democrats didn’t have standing to bring this case (a facial challenge) at all, and would have to wait til someone was prevented from voting to bring an “as applied” challenge. Trouble is, once that happens, as Justice Ginsberg put it, the horse is out of the barn. The person can’t get their vote back. And a unjust election has taken place.

What’s particularly interesting here is the way in which the conservatives on the Roberts court are chipping away at people’s ability to bring facial challenges when they believe a law violates their constitutional rights, even if the law has yet to go into effect. Dahlia’s take on how the oral argument yesterday plays into this:

With increasing frequency, the court’s conservative wing has been chipping away at facial challenges (the better to bar litigation), and today Scalia takes out a sledgehammer: “I mean, every facial challenge is an immense dictum on the part of this court, isn’t it?” He goes on to characterize all facial challenges as the court “sitting back and looking at the ceiling and saying, oh, we can envision not the case before us, but other cases …”

Trouble is, facial challenges are the bread and butter of progressive civil rights advocates. They burden potential plaintiffs less than as applied challenges do and they help ensure that people can challenge laws without being forced to wait and sacrifice their constitutional rights. And the Roberts court – Scalia particularly – thinks these are odious. We’ve already seen it in Gonzales v. Carhart, where the Court upheld the federal abortion ban, but left open the possibility that the law could be challenged on an as-applied basis, where it could be proven that the banned procedure was the only way to protect a woman’s health. This, of course, is a total farce. Imagine the woman who needs the procedure. She is sick and pregnant and needs to terminate her pregnancy in order to preserve her own health or life. But in order to do so, she has to go through the courts (an onerous, expensive, and often lengthy process). Even on an emergency basis, it’s hard to imagine than an answer could come quickly enough from big Daddy Supreme Court.

Or, as Lithwick says at the end of her recap of yesterday’s oral argument: “To recap: I fear I am counting five justices who believe that a nonexistent problem can be constitutionally cured by burdening the fundamental right to vote. Happy byproduct? Doing away with those pesky facial challenges that liberals like to use to address massive injustices. So in the guise of doing away with hypothetical future challenges to a law, the court is poised to uphold a law that solves hypothetical future problems in voting.”

Yep, seems about right to me…and so utterly wrong.

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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 36

[ 31 ] January 10, 2008 |

Richard Milhous Nixon was born 95 years ago today.

After California’s gubernatorial election in 1962, one observer wrote that Richard Nixon had been sent to “that small place in history that belongs to natural disasters that did not happen.” The disaster, as it happened, was merely postponed by six years. When it came, ordinary language nearly failed to describe it.

As nearly everyone who studies Nixon’s life and works has observed, the man was a stew of psychopathology. As both candidate and as president, Nixon made a virtue of secrecy, which he viewed as the key to strength. Rather than soliciting enthusiasm from Congress and the public for his policies, Nixon’s White House preferred to act without public scrutiny and debate. Among other things, this disposition enabled him to continue a war in Vietnam that he knew could not be won but which, in public, he insisted could be concluded with “honor” as well as victory. By the end, more than 20,000 Americans died so that Richard Nixon would not have to suffer the indignity of appearing weak. In every other venture, he concealed whatever he could — including the invasion of Cambodia — for as long as he could, bypassing government bureaucracies and actively deceiving nearly everyone outside his inner circle. Nixon ran foreign policy from the White House with very little input from the Defense or State Departments, both of whose secretaries, Melvin Laird and William Rogers, Nixon’s goons had wired for sound. Like most of the late 20th century’s behemoths of the right, Nixon was particularly suspicious of the State Department, which he believed to be staffed with Ivy League liberals who would “sabotage us from within [or] sit back on their well-paid asses and wait for the next election to bring back their old bosses.”

When the “next election” actually cycled around in 1972, Nixon’s squad of burglars and saboteurs — backed by the full faith and credit of Tricky Dick himself — set in motion the events that would eventually leave him wandering the White House, soaked with drink and pondering suicide, by the summer of 1974.

When Nixon’s brain exploded nearly twenty years later, Hunter Thompson offered him a fitting eulogy.

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.

If hell exists, Richard Nixon is surely there now, bubbling on a spit like an unwanted convenience store hot dog.

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