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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 8 ] May 2, 2008 |

Lyndon Johnson, in a televised address given on 2 May 1965, just after the United States invaded the Dominican Republic to thwart an alleged communist revolt:

To those who fight only for liberty and justice and progress [in the Dominican Republic] I want to join with the Organization of American States in saying, in appealing to you tonight, to lay down your arms, and to assure you there is nothing to fear. The road is open for you to share in building a Dominican democracy and we in America are ready and anxious and willing to help you. Your courage and your dedication are qualities which your country and all the hemisphere need for the future. You are needed to help shape that future. And neither we nor any other nation in this hemisphere can or should take it upon itself to ever interfere with the affairs of your country or any other country.

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Dumbest. Spin. Ever.

[ 7 ] May 2, 2008 |

Seriously. Maybe Kerry should have tried that logic out in 2004. “Why does the media keep setting up all these hurdles in front of me? I’ve proven that I’ve won! Obviously, the relevant criterion for judging the success of my campaign should be my performance in an arbitrarily selected group of large states, not irrelevant factors like ‘electoral votes’ or even ‘the popular vote.'”

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Today In Wingnut Public Policy

[ 16 ] May 2, 2008 |

Apparently, “critics of evolution are turning to a higher authority: state legislators.” In some states, this has involved private screenings of Ben Stein’s creationist wankery. Goody. I think this speaks for itself:

The academic-freedom bills now in circulation vary in detail. Some require teachers to critique evolution.

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1860 and Electoral Systems

[ 0 ] May 2, 2008 |

Matt says that “I think there’s an underexplored historical counterfactual in which the United States uses a different kind of electoral system — like popular vote with a run-off — that resulted in a Stephen Douglas presidency without any change in the underlying shape of public opinion.” One of the best parts of Gerry Mackie’s brilliant demolition of public choice claims the democratic outcomes are arbitrary is an extended analysis of the 1860 election. One of the things he shows is that under any common method of counting votes more accurate than the plurality system (such as Condrocet, Borda, or approval voting), Douglas would have won.

The larger context of the argument is that the 1860 election is one of the key examples of the anti-democratic theories of Commander Riker and his disciples. Riker claims that there was a cycle in the 1860 in which any of Lincoln, Douglas or Bell could have won according to different rules and comparing pairs of candidates would lead to a tie. As Mackie points out, though, once you remove Riker’s exceptionally implausible assertion that Bell — the candidate of the more moderate South that got roughly 2% of the vote in states carried by Lincoln — was the second choice of 75% of Lincoln voters, the cycle vanishes. In fact, any reliable voting system that didn’t entirely throw out alternate choices in the absence of a majority would produce Douglas > Lincoln > Bell > Breckinridge. The 1860 election wasn’t evidence of a cycle; rather, it’s just evidence that 1)plurality-based electoral systems are less reliable than many other means of tabulating votes, and 2)institutions designed to constrain majoritarian preferences will sometimes constrain majoritarian preferences.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether this fact has created artificial support for the indefensibly anachronistic system that the U.S. uses to choose presidents. Because the country got lucky in the leader chosen against the majority of the country’s wishes in 1860 and the outcome of the Civil War the election made inevitable was relatively fortunate, what would otherwise be the best example of the electoral system going haywire is obviously not a politically useful one. But it should be remembered that given somewhat different immigration and migration patterns the system could have also given us a President Breckinridge, and the most recent example of the plurality/electoral college system producing a different winner than a more accurate system would was rather less fortunate.

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Where are the Degenerate Gamblers?

[ 12 ] May 2, 2008 |

Not at the track, according to Tim McClelland. From my accumulated experience at Keeneland this sounds about right; betting on the horses is wholly incidental to the Keeneland experience. It helps, I think, that Keeneland is only open for six weeks a year, which tends to give it event status. The main attraction is simply to see and be seen; if you happen to drop $2 on a 30-1 glue factory candidate, all the better.

Also, I’m still bitter that the 11-1 that I bet on last Thursday lost by a nose…

…Oh, and as for the Derby tomorrow; hell, I have no idea. How about this:

1. Colonel John
2. Z Fortune
3. Tale of Ekati

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8th Grade?

[ 17 ] May 2, 2008 |

What’s the point of this?

One day. Two games. An eighth-grader competing against players 15-years-old and younger.

Those factors made for perhaps the most surprising commitment in the history of University of Kentucky basketball. UK Coach Billy Gillispie noticed Michael Avery, an eighth-grader from Lake Sherwood, Calif., while attending a youth basketball event sponsored by LeBron James last weekend in Akron, Ohio.

Less than a week later, Avery accepted Gillispie’s offer of a scholarship to play for the Wildcats … beginning with the 2012-13 season.

“Oh my goodness,” recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger said of the commitment. “A school taking a commitment from someone that young — there’s no telling what will happen.”

In four years of high school (by the way, Avery has not yet decided what high school he will attend), the 6-foot-4 guard could get injured. He could have peaked physically, meaning he could be surpassed athletically by other players who mature later.

And who’s to say Gillispie will be Kentucky’s coach in 2012?

The Boss:

When news of the commitment reached a meeting of the UK Athletics Association Board of Directors on Thursday, it stunned school President Lee T. Todd Jr.

“An eighth-grader?!” he blurted out.

After noting that plenty of time remained for such an early commitment to be rescinded, Todd expressed his wish that Kentucky not regularly seek a college choice from a child who had not yet entered high school.

“Not that you’d tell people not to ever do it,” Todd said, “But I’d hope there aren’t very many eighth-graders thinking of playing at a specific college. …

I don’t know; myself, I think I’d tell people not ever to do it. I understand that the commitment can be rescinded, and that it depends on a certain (low) level of academic achievement in high school, but the idea of 8th graders making commitments to play college basketball strikes me as wrong. The “student” part of “student-athlete” has been in difficulty for some time now, and this really helps to clarify how little the former means compared to the latter. The strangest thing about it is that, if the kid pans out, he’ll probably only be a Kentucky for one year.

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LCS Ennui

[ 14 ] May 2, 2008 |

Last week’s NYT article on the difficulties with the Littoral Combat Ship is quite fantastic. The LCS project publicly began in November 2001, but the ship is a natural outgrowth of shifts in USN doctrine in the 1990s. Contrary to the general belief that the Navy continues to prepare to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy/Red Fleet/People’s Liberation Army Navy on the high seas, 1990s doctrine focused on the ability of the Navy to affect developments on shore. Primarily in the documents …From the Sea and Forward… From the Sea, the Navy began to think seriously about how to project power on land. This was entirely reasonable given the disintegration of the Red Fleet, the weakness of the PLAN, and the overwhelming dominance of the Allied navies over any potential enemies. Whatever criticisms can be made of the Zumwalt destroyer, it can hardly be said that the ship is a relic of Cold War Mahanianism; the ship’s mission is to directly support US and Allied land forces engaged in a Gulf War I style battle. Older platforms, from aircraft carriers to submarines, were similarly refocused away from high-intensity sea combat to land attack capability.

As the article notes, the critical moment for the LCS was the attack on the USS Cole. The Cole attack freaked out the Navy, because it indicated that expensive, high capability platforms could be damaged or destroyed through inexpensive means. Frankly, I think that the Navy rather overstated the threat of these kinds of attacks; the Cole incident could not have been repeated in a wartime setting, and modern naval vessels can deliver ordnance at ranges that make the prospect of swarming small attack boats considerable less dangerous. Nevertheless, the LCS wasn’t, in my view, a bad idea; lots of small, relatively inexpensive ships can carry out more missions that a few large, expensive vessels. The LCS, with its operational flexibility (different mission modules are supposed to be switched in and out for different tasks) seems to me to be an ideal contributor to the vision of a 1000 Ship Navy in which the USN and other navies provide global maritime security, but also would have an important part to play in a high intensity littoral war.

But all of this depends on the LCS being really cheap, and it isn’t so cheap. A lot of ideas that weren’t terrible went into the development of the LCS, but there have been some negative interactions. As the article details, the Navy decided to use a variety of civilian technologies in design and construction. Unfortunately, as the process of construction has gone on, the Navy came to the unsurprising conclusion that these technologies would not meet naval specifications. Courses had to be changed in mid-construction, leading to substantial delays and cost overruns. Another problem was the drive for privatization in acquisition, which led to minimal oversight of the Lockheed and General Dynamics construction processes. The privatization movement, based on the idea that government supervision was inefficient and undesirable, in effect made government oversight impossible by gutting the capacity of the services to manage large projects. This is not to put the blame on GD or Lockheed, as they were simply responding to the structure of the situation. In fairness, the changing government requirements make the entire construction process very difficult.

And so what we have is a ship that is expensive and late. As I mentioned above, I think the project is still worthy; others disagree. It’s hard to imagine where the Navy will find a vessel that’s as inexpensive as the LCS (especially given that the operating cost of the LCS is supposed to be low because of its relatively small crew; we’ll see if that works out), and without the LCS the size of the Navy will decline substantially.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 6 ] May 2, 2008 |

Richard Nixon, 1 May 1971:

This is not a police state. I have been to police states; I know what they are. I think that the best thing that could happen to some of the Congressmen and Senators and others who talk about police states is to take a trip–I mean a trip abroad, of course [laughter]–and when they go abroad, try a few police states.

This isn’t a police state and isn’t going to become one.

I should also point this out: Where were some of the critics in 1968 when there was Army surveillance of the Democratic National Committee–at the convention, I mean? We have stopped that.

This Administration is against any kind of repression, any kind of action that infringes on the right of privacy.

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In Which a Student Single-Handedly Destroys the Entire Project of Higher Education

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

The Course: SSCI 102: Reading and Writing in the Social Sciences.
The Content: Survey of contemporary, peer-reviewed social science articles and monographs; discussion of basic research methods and analytical skills useful to the various social sciences.
The Assignment: Produce a 750-1000 word review of a scholarly book from any of the social science disciplines.
The Submission: A review of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.

I suppose it’s to this student’s credit that he chose not to review Big Russ and Me.

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McCain Care

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

You may have heard somewhere that John McCain’s health care proposal is crap. Andrew S., one of two new additions to Alterdestiny, has more.

The numbers tell the real truth—the amount of the tax credit/rebate is $2,500 per individual and up to $5,000 for families. I received some quotes from various on-line health insurance providers, and the results are telling. I only selected plans that had deductibles less than $2,500, copays less than $50, and coinsurance (the percentage of total medical costs the policy holder is responsible for after the deductible is paid) of less than 15%. This nominal coverage costs around $434 per month ($5,208 per year). The tax credit covers the premium only; remember that every office visit will cost you $35-$45, the insurer won’t cover a dime until you spend the deductible amount, and you will be paying 10 – 15% of total expenses after you shell out $2,500 for the deductible.

But this isn’t even the worst part, really. In order to get the tax rebate, you have to purchase a plan—for low and middle income people, just having that extra $434 per month is insurmountable. Take a family of four making $30,000; after state and federal income tax withholding, the net pay per month is $2,062. The $434 per month to even buy into the tax credit system is 21% of monthly take home pay. How many low and middle income people can afford to spend the 21% to buy in to the system?

But after a decade in Iraq, I’m pretty sure the occupation will wind up paying for itself — which will free up a lot of money for health care. And if that doesn’t work out, the Maverick in Chief will bail us all out with a few more gas tax holidays.

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Conflict in Abkhazia About to Get Unfrozen?

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

This backs up something I heard at the recent International Studies Association meeting:

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said that “a bridgehead is being prepared for the start of military operations against Abkhazia”.

Russia accuses Georgia of amassing 1,500 soldiers and police near the rebel areas of the upper Kodori Gorge.

Russia is hardly a trustworthy source on questions of Abkhazia (a part of Georgia that has sought independence since the 1990s), but the speaker at ISA suggested that Georgia has gone beyond talk and is beginning active preparations for an assault on Abkhazia. According to the presenter, the Georgians expect the Russian troops currently in Abkhazia to stand down when the invasion begins. This report comes on the heels of the shoot down of a Georgian UAV by what appears to have been a Russian MiG operating out of Abkhazia, a incident which Russia has implausibly denied.

In any case, it’s incidents and accusations like this that make me extremely leery of allowing Georgia into NATO anytime soon. Long story short, the Western Alliance really doesn’t need to get mixed up in an obscure border dispute between Russia and Georgia; there’s much to be lost and little to be gained.

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Can Someone Please Tell Me

Why Wright gets all the airtime, and no one is making a bigger deal of this? It boggles the mind. And also makes clear just how much the media is shaping this election. Anyone else for a network tv blackout?

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