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Is the Cajun Primary the Answer?

[ 0 ] June 8, 2009 |

The comments to my Anarchy in the UK post on Thursday spawned an interesting discussion surrounding the cause of polarized politics in the CA state legislature.  While I agree the damning variable that impedes compromise is the 2/3 rule for budgetary measures, I still maintain that closed primaries tend to produce candidates to the left or right of the party support writ large.  There’s heaps of poli sci literature on this: the composition of a primary electorate is more engaged, and more ideological, on average, than either the support for either party in general, or the general electorate, thus you’re more likely (not always, but more likely) to get candidates more ideologically inclined than the general party support.

While I was reading my new Economist on Saturday (when my 2 yr 8 month old daughter would let me, that is) I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on the Washington State primary system (and the article juxtaposed the WA system against the mess in CA, which isn’t sporting).  WA used to have a blanket primary, which is the system I grew up with: no party registration, vote for a single candidate for each office, and the top vote getters from each party proceeded to the general election.  That is, until California adopted a similar system, which was in turn torpedoed by the USSC in California Democratic Party v Jones in 2000.  As collateral damage, that case also stuck down the system used in WA and Alaska.
Washington would not be deterred, and wide opposition existed against a closed primary used in ’04.  The resulting system results from the passage of I-872 in 2004, and was first used in 2008 (I believe — I now vote in the ‘Democrats Abroad’ primary; hey, we get seven entire delegates to the convention man, which I think puts us somewhere between Guam and the American Samoa in terms of influence).  It’s very similar to the Louisiana system (insert gratuitous comment about the suitability of taking pointers on political systems from said state) in that the top two vote getters proceed to the general election, regardless of party.  In theory, this should reduce the chances of ideological outlier candidates, as it creates an incentive for moderation.
I-872 was tossed by the 9th Circuit, but upheld by the USSC in 2008.  Having essentially grown up in WA, and considering my normative view that elections ought to reflect the policy preferences of the electorate as closely as possible, I find much merit in such a system.  However, a legitimate question regarding the role of parties in this process remains.  In the UK, candidates standing for Parliament are selected by their party, not the electorate.  The same is true in the NL, where I used to live; a candidate’s ordinal placement on the party list is a function of the party leadership.  In the US, the closed primary is the norm, thus limiting candidate selection to a declared subset of the electorate.  In WA, the party hardly matters.

The Deadliest Game

[ 0 ] June 8, 2009 |

Via Mr. Trend, we read of this morbid collection of stories about people killed in baseball-related injuries. Trend is right to wonder why the article fails to mention Ray Chapman (or a this more recent echo), but I was more surprised to learn that

[i]n the past 150 years, only one fan at a major league baseball game has been killed by a foul ball—a 14-year-old in Los Angeles named Alan Fish. The liner that fractured Fish’s skull came off the bat of Dodger pinch-hitting specialist Manny Mota…

Ron Carlson wrote a great short story in 1994 called “Zanduce at Second,” about a Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman who kills about a dozen people with foul balls during a stretch of several weeks. He can’t get a proper hit to save his life, but he can take out innocent fans almost at will. After reading that, I always wondered why life didn’t more often imitate art (at least at ballparks more crowded than the Metrodome, where the odds of a foul liner hitting an empty seat were a virtual lock.) I’m sure someone more mathematically capable than I could run a moderately simple calculation that shows that one dead fan in a century and a half is about right (based on the number of dangerous foul balls in any one game and the number of points on the human body that, having been struck, could lead to death, plus who the hell knows what other variables you’d need to know). But still. Only one?

Sunday Night Videos

[ 0 ] June 8, 2009 |

Advocate of Arbitrary Torture Shows Lack of Ethics

[ 0 ] June 7, 2009 |

Although I regret this particular manifestation highly, it’s obviously not surprising that Ed Whelan is a reprehensible, thin-skinned bully. (Who apparently can’t use a search engine.) Or as Cole says:

For those of you keeping score at home, the current President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center not only worked for the Bush administration OLC while they were creating the legal justification for torture, but is now using their email address to send juvenile emails while outing anonymous bloggers because they pointed out he was wrong.

Meanwhile, for anyone tempted to read any of Whelan’s “analysis” of Obama’s judicial nominations, I would just get your relentless parade of vacuous cliches — especially embarrassing in a post-Bush v. Gore era — from Pajamas TV commentators; at least they’re funnier when they’re mangled.

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler says in comments:

Do you have a citation for your claim that Ed Whelan is an “advocate of arbitrary torture”? Others, such as Andrew Sullivan, have apologized making such claims, as Whelan did no work on interrogation-related issues at OLC and, to my knowledge, has never written in defense of coercive interrogation techniques.

Fair enough; I haven’t thought carefully about the responsibility borne by anyone who worked at OLC in that era and hasn’t spoken out, but absent further information I retract this specific charge of supporting torture. Obviously, I stand by my evaluation of his appalling behavior with respect to publius (and certainly don’t agree that his posts about Whelan weren’t “substantive.”)

…OTOH, Matt Weiner in comments:

Also, here‘s Ed Whelan on Jack Goldsmith’s book:

But, as I hope to discuss in follow-on posts, Jack’s book is far more than a discussion of the Bush administration’s understanding and exercise of presidential power. It is, among other things, a deeply conservative critique of the development in recent decades of various “lawfare” constraints on the President’s exercise of traditional wartime powers.

In the current political context, criticism of “‘lawfare’ constraints on the President’s exercise of traditional wartime powers” means supporting the theory that the executive ought to be able to do whatever he wants in the name of preventing terrorism, unrestrained by any laws (sorry, “lawfare”). And Whelan knows full well that what the executive wanted to do was to torture. True, he weasels around this by saying that he is “not well positioned to comment” on the issues, but anyone who’s been paying attention knows what he means. If someone in 1930s Germany talked about the importance of the government’s being able to assume extraordinary powers in a state of emergency, we’d know damn well what they meant.

And here Whelan endorses the idea that torture could well have prevented another terrorist attack, and if it had done so it would’ve been wrong to prevent torture. (I haven’t read Goldsmith’s book, so I can’t comment on whether this is an accurate representation of what Goldsmith thinks; in any case Goldsmith has considerable honor as someone who upheld the rule of law in the face of the Bush Administration’s torture policies, whereas on his best account Whelan was a bystander. I think I’m running out of allowable links, but at Volokh’s Dilan Esper says “he seems to be sorely misreading Goldsmith’s position… Goldsmith’s central point… is that the best way to INCREASE executive power is to do it lawfully, because then there is not as much pushback from other institutions.”)

As Sullivan says, “if anyone dares imply that a member of Bush’s torture-authorizing OLC, who refuses to say what his position on waterboarding, could be, you know, in favor of torture, he goes ape-shit.” Whelan doesn’t deserve a scrap of credit on this issue, and his writings seem designed to obfuscate his defense of torture just enough that professional smoke-blowers (sorry, former directors of environmental studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute) can demand retractions.

That’s Some Catch…

[ 0 ] June 7, 2009 |

Shorter Erin Manning: The superflous amendments tacked onto same-sex marriage legislation to preempt the silly arguments of paranoid cranks prove that the arguments made by paranoid cranks were correct.


Friday Night Videos

[ 0 ] June 6, 2009 |

Economics is hard

[ 0 ] June 5, 2009 |

I’m not sure which of Sarah Palin’s five colleges actually instructed her in the “principles” of Economics 101, but I’d think that someone who reads so many newspapers would at some point have discovered a coherent explanation of Keynesianism. Yes, this is the American press corps we’re talking about, but JFC, it’s not as if we’re asking her to understand how oil gets to market.

Taylor: It’s Not Judicial Activism If Conservatives Do It

[ 0 ] June 5, 2009 |

Despite some attempt to cover himself with some concessions about how all 9 justices are “activists” (although note that his mash notes to Alito routinely referred to him as a proponent of “judicial restraint”), when it comes down to it, when Stuart Taylor agrees with a judicial decision that displaces a policy preferred by elected officials it’s not really “activist”:

But it would more than justify a ruling for the white New Haven firefighters. Far from being activist, such a decision would vindicate the central thrust of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Armando makes the first obvious point: this is a statutory interpretation case, in which stare decisis should carry a heavy weight. If Congress disagreed with judicial interpretations of the Civil Rights Act, it has had nearly 40 years to modify it. The fact that it hasn’t renders claims that the Court was “vindicating” the “central thrust” of the Civil Rights Act nonsensical. (Not to mention that the idea that protecting white privilege was a central thrust of the CRA isn’t very plausible even on its face.) On the idea that it would vindicate the “central thrust” of the Constitution, as Taylor himself concedes the evidence for this is exceptionally weak. Once can agree or disagree with overturning Ricci, but there’s no question at all that doing so would be “activist.” I, personally don’t think this is a very maningful claim in and of itself, but that hasn’t been Taylor’s history. (Similarly tendentious is his assumption that if white firefighters performed well then the paper-and-pencil test must have been accurate enough to function as virtually a sole criterion for promotion. Anybody out there think that Taylor knows anything about the test, and knows enough about firefighting to have any idea about whether the test really can carry such weight? Me neither.)

The same goes, of course, for courts following public opinion polls. Whether one thinks it’s justified or not, it’s “activist” if the term means anything at all. (Although Taylor’s standards here mean that Roe was actually a decision of judicial restraint,” given the public’s strong support for the case; I’m sure he’ll apply his ad hoc theory consistently.)

And, finally, it worth noting again that Taylor’s language about the “vindicating the central purpose” of the equal protection clause mysteriously vanishes when racial classifications can no longer affect the interests of white people…

Live Free Or Die

[ 0 ] June 5, 2009 |

Between travel and parental visits, I neglected to mention New Hampshire’s legalization of same-sex marriage. So you probably already know about it. The key takeaway for the future is that the latest pro-discrimination strategy of making spurious arguments about religious discrimination is that it’s checkers against chess. As New Hampshire shows, it’s pretty easy to counter this by amending legislation to include protections against things the government wasn’t going to do anyway. Hence, victory with “compromises” that compromise nothing but are sometimes framed as compromises in a way that might even appeal to the Fred Hiatt set. Sometimes, having a poor quality of enemy is really helpful….

Deep Thoughts

[ 0 ] June 5, 2009 |

Is Daniel Murphy the poor man’s Dave Madagan, or David Segui without the defense and steroids? Either way, can the Mets really pretend that the guy can be a regular first baseman? Especially since his baserunning combines the footspeed of Mo Vaughn with the instincts of Chet Lemon. (And at least we’re spared his defense in left field, which made Gary Sheffield look like Roberto Clemente — even at 40 Sheff has more range, and he can also do things like “catch balls hit at him” and “throw the ball to home plate from medium left without a cutoff man.”)

Anarchy in the UK?

[ 0 ] June 4, 2009 |

In general, I am a supporter of direct democracy.  I have experienced both the good and the bad directly, and of course it has the potential to be just plain ugly.  One suggestion to come out of the whole over-blown scandal surrounding MP expense claims (some are truly astonishing bordering on the hilarious, but most are well within the rules, however warped those rules might be) is to introduce the recall for sitting Westminster MPs.  Tory leader David Cameron has opportunistically come out in favor (does anybody really believe a Tory government will touch Constitutional reform?) and the electorate overwhelmingly support it – the recent Populus poll (scroll way down) estimates support at 82%.

Any system that elevates B grade actors to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento is a good thing.  But the very institutional nature of a parliamentary democracy, with no clear division between executive and legislative branches, consigns the idea to the realm of lunacy.  In the UK, with the plurality electoral system and multiple parties, it’s common for elected MPs to only win a plurality of support in their constituency (hell, the existing healthy Labor majority was elected on only 35.3% of the national popular vote).  Cabinet ministers are on occasion drawn from marginal seats (to wit: the outgoing Home Secretary Jacqui Smith won her seat in 2005 with a plurality of 2716 votes, only 6.7%, which has to be considered by the Tories an easy swing target in 2010).  In a close parliament, a well organized opposition could strategically pick off marginal seats, potentially pulling the rug of majority support in parliament out from under the government.  Even more fun, they could target cabinet ministers either when they eventually screw up, or the vagaries of political support make the current government temporarily vulnerable.  Many characterize the current government as chaotic (to be fair, LibDem leader Nick Clegg did say “in total meltdown“) but the recall would introduce the sort of chaos that one could profit from selling tickets for admission.

Hello to Me, Goodbye to Gordon?

[ 0 ] June 4, 2009 |

And I’m not talking about Strachan.

First, an introduction.  I’m a political scientist specializing in voting behavior, electoral systems, turnout, and methodology.  While American, I’ve worked at two European universities in the past 8+ years, so my contributions will necessarily be comparative in nature.  I’ve also been a Seattle Mariners fan since 1977.  One of the few benefits (aside from seeing a lot of baseball in the Kingdome) is being well conditioned to losing, a character strength that aids in my equally consistent support for the Democratic Party and progressive politics.

While I aspire to draw comparative links between politics on both sides of the Atlantic, I also aspire to greatness.  The latter hasn’t exactly played out as planned, so I offer no guarantees on the former.  Over the next few days, I’ll comment on British politics.  Of course, intra-party regicide doesn’t have a patch on the Sotomayor nomination, it does make for good, wholesome, family fun. 

The Guardian yesterday called for Gordon Brown to step aside as party leader.  I agree.  When you lose support of The Guardian, and you’re haemorrhaging cabinet ministers (and volunteers for promotion into the cabinet appear to be in short supply), you’re toast.  He’s lost the plot (assuming he ever had one).  While Labor would seem to be my natural political home on this island, and I could tolerate Tony Blair’s kinder, gentler brand of Thatcherism out of political expediency, Brown should have represented, at least, a modest step back towards the progressive inclinations of old Labor.  He hasn’t.  If anything, he’s drifted further to the right than Blair, while simultaneously lacking the charismatic, witty, foppish charm of the former PM (read: electability).   As it stands, if I were able to vote in the 2010 election (an outside possibility), I would struggle to support Labor.

Ideology aside, a Labor government is preferable to that offered by the Tories.   Of course, nobody can divine what David Cameron’s Conservatives stand for, least of all Cameron himself, smart money places the Tories to the right of the present right-of-center government.  Current polls predict Labor getting hammered in the next general election (to be held no later than June 2010).  Both Ipsos/MORI and Populous/Times estimate support for Labor at 18%, with the Tories at 40% or 41%.  While this puts the latter just within the margin of error of the Thatcher-Major years, it estimates Labor support 10 full points below their electoral disaster in 1983 (when the party manifesto was only semi jokingly called the “longest suicide note in history”).  Labor 1983 made Mondale 1984 look like electoral genius.  Labor 2010 under Brown would recast 1983 as an electoral golden age.  Of course, uncertainty is introduced in dropping Brown, and calling an election sooner than June 2010 would be a political necessity.  However, there is no uncertainty about the party’s chances if they retain Brown.