Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

In Other News, Sun to Rise in East

November 15, 2011

In June 2010, Daniel Klein published a gratuitously silly piece in the Wall Street Journal’s gratuitously silly op-ed section, purporting to show that liberals are stupider than conservatives and libertarians, at least in terms of basic economics. This occasioned some amount of delight among conservatives and libertarians—vide Veronique de Rugy in the reliably obnoxious National Review Online (to be fair, not all conservative pundits fell for it). The “methodology” Klein relied on centered around a series of agree-or-disagree statements, things like “Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited” and “Minimum wage laws raise unemployment,” most of which I would call at best “arguable,” all of which are pretty clearly politically charged in that they challenged various liberal positions, and all of whose “correct” answers were on the conservative/liberal sides of various issues. So, surprise! liberals did worse on the “do I agree with the conservative/liberaltarian author” test than conservatives and liberaltarian.1

To his (relative) credit, Klein eventually realized the problem, and he did a similar exercise with questions slanted the other way (“gun-control laws fail to reduce people’s access to guns”). To what should be no one’s surprise, this time he found that conservatives were the stupid ones. Read about it in the current Atlantic. Klein now thinks what both surveys demonstrate is “myside bias.” Really!

I feel a little sorry for Zeljka Buturovic, Klein’s (possibly more academic) collaborator. According to Klein’s Atlantic article, her goal wasn’t to prove anything about economic literacy, but rather to “[explore] the possibility that ideological differences stem more from differences in people’s beliefs about how the world works than from differences in their basic values.” There might be something to that, although I don’t know how to sort out the causality there (and I haven’t read the journal articles). Since she wasn’t the one who wrote either the WSJ or Atlantic articles, I don’t want to tar her with the same brush. Sorry, Zeljka!

Oh, another annoying thing. The questions and “correct” answers are reported in the most confusing way imaginable. From the Atlantic, citing the questions with the canonically incorrect answers in quotes:

Here’s what we came up with, again with the incorrect response in parentheses: a dollar means more to a poor person than it does to a rich person (disagree); making abortion illegal would increase the number of black-market abortions (disagree); legalizing drugs would give more wealth and power to street gangs and organized crime (agree); drug prohibition fails to reduce people’s access to drugs (agree); gun-control laws fail to reduce people’s access to guns (agree); by participating in the marketplace in the United States, immigrants reduce the economic well-being of American citizens (agree); …

So how many negatives to I have to wade through to figure out what an enlightened person thinks of gun control laws? I’m pretty sure Klein thinks they reduce access to guns (I think that too), but that’s more because that’s what you would ask if your goal is to prove conservatives are wrong than from trying to cancel out the “fail to” and the “incorrect response in parentheses.”

 

1. For what it’s worth, on the original set of questions I would probably have mostly given the “conservative” answers, but only if “it depends” wasn’t an option, and only if I had inferred the context that would be generally implied from the fact that someone was asking about that particular set of things and using that particular phrasing.

Blame Ben Nelson!

August 3, 2011

In any sort of catastrophe it’s important to decide who to blame. A good scapegoat almost never helps to avoid future catastrophes, but who cares? Blame is fun!

So who do we blame for the Sugar-coated Satan Sandwich? Which on its own merits isn’t as bad as it could have been, really… at least civilization didn’t collapse, as was a real possibility; and the creation of the terrifyingly-named Super Congress has the great virtue of postponing the really awful decisions for a few months. No, the real problems with it are the precedents it set, and the fact that our governing class’s (including the punditocracy) has decided to respond to a genuine economic crisis by focusing on the single least relevant factor and as a result implementing the stupidest possible policies. Who can we blame for that?

The obvious answer for liberalish coastal elites like me is the Tea Party. But that’s too easy. Sure, the Tea Partiers are stupid and crazy, and it’s absolutely terrifying how much power they wield. But that is their nature, and you can’t expect them to go against their nature. They’ve said all along that they don’t like government, so by golly they’re going to try to get rid of it any way they can. They’re the mad bomber from Source Code (name whited out in case you don’t want to know what I’m very mildly spoiling) (paraphrasing, because I forget the real quote): “We can build a new and better society out of the rubble. We just need to make the rubble first.” No wonder they’re cross that they got everything they asked for: they didn’t hold the government and economy hostage to have their demands met; they made their demands so they could shoot the hostage. This is crazy, but, well, they’re crazy, and have a pretty credible insanity defense. “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.”

The sane Republicans, insofar as that’s not an oxymoron now, are considerably more culpable. They at least knew what they were doing, and I can only hope they’re full of self-loathing now. This goes double, of course, for Boehner and Cantor, who remind me of Count Baltar from the old Battlestar Galactica (Baltar from the NEW Battlestar Galactica is much more interesting), allying with the sworn enemies of their very existence. But I can almost understand them; like so many politicians through history, they’re acting out of fear, terrified for their jobs. Well, Cantor is trying to get a better job, but close. Again, you can’t expect someone to against their nature.

How about the Republicans’ corporate masters? We’re getting closer here. At the risk of having Godwin’s Law justifiably invoked, they are treading perilously close to the Weimar-era German business interests who backed the Nazis, thinking they would be easily-controlled tools. I do hope the Chamber of Commerce is reconsidering its priorities. But business leaders in our society, even the allegedly brilliant ones, are always short-sighted, greedy, and stupid, so again you sort of have to expect this.

Pundits? Journalists? Bloggers? Well, yes, they’re mostly pretty bad. But there’s only so much pundits can do to influence the national debate, as much as they would like to think otherwise.

It’s fashionable among my progressive brethren and sisteren to blame Obama for all this. Now I won’t pretend that I’m not disappointed in Obama, but honestly, what could he have done? Obama really wants to make deals and compromise and bring people together, not productive strategies in dealing with modern Republicans, but I honestly don’t know what anyone could have done, no matter how tough. You can’t play chicken with someone who WANTS a head-on collision. Yeah, I know, he should have seen this coming, but IIRC that was just after the LAST hostage crisis; even if Obama could have imagined the teabaggers were that crazy it would have been difficult to continue. It’s kind of like the way we didn’t attack the Russkies in August 1945.

So who do I blame? How did we get to this point anyway? The proximate cause is of course the great Shellacking of 2010, an inevitable result of a lousy economy and a high unemployment rate (and a fickle Democratic base). But one lousy election—one where only one house of Congress changed parties—really shouldn’t have sent the nation’s political discourse so quickly off the sanity cliff. I can easily imagine a parallel universe in which the Democrats lost the House not to the Tea Partiers but to more or less sane Republicans. My theory is that the underlying problem is in what should have been Obama’s greatest triumph, health care reform. You’d think that people would be pleased with some guarantee of health insurance, but no, they HATE it. And it was that hatred (say I) more than anything else that allowed the teahadists to sweep into office, so cowing Democrats that in their confusion and terror they willingly stipulated to the Republican view of the world.

Obviously much of the anti-Obamacare bile is due to Republican lies, not just the flashy ones like Death Panels, but the underlying lie that our health care system is The Best In The World (something I think you can only believe if you’ve never actually meant someone from another country). But lies can only get you so far. As I see it the real problem was with the Democrats themselves, specifically with the Senate Democrats, for doing such a miserable job of getting the the thing passed, and inviting the world in for an open house at the Sausage Factory. The most egregious example (that I know of; perhaps were even worse things that weren’t so obvious) was the legendarily odious Cornhusker Kickback—even though it didn’t make it into the final bill, it was so appalling that it rather justifiably convinced the world that the whole process was corrupt and its result inevitably evil. So, on behalf of the Tea Party, thank you Ben Nelson!

Corporations are Persons, Money is Speech, Ignorance is Strength

January 24, 2010

I haven’t actually tried to read the decision in Citizens United v. FEC—it’s long (looong) and written by the odious Anthony Kennedy, whose pompous arrogance, untempered by Scalia’s savage and entertaining wit or by Thomas’s clarity and brevity, pisses me off—and if I did it’s not like I’d really be a reliable interpreter, not being a lawyer and all. But, well, jeez.

I’m trying to buck up by telling myself that

  1. This will merely make advertising more honest; corporation already contribute pretty much whatever they want to political campaigns, they just have to weasel through loopholes;
  2. Political advertising makes less difference than people think, and we’re pretty much saturated as is; and
  3. Let’s face it, existing restrictions on campaign finance do suppress speech.

But no, I’m not buying any of that either.

From what I’ve read about the decision (from which I may admittedly have drawn wildly inaccurate conclusions, see above) I think the real problem with it is that it doesn’t acknowledge the principal-agent problem. Owners of large corporations—that’s all of us who own stock—do not have any input into those corporations’ political advertising. It’s our agents—the officers and boards—who decide that, and their incentives are wildly different from ours. I certainly don’t want corporations I own stock in to be spending anything at all on political ads, but my wish makes not one whit of difference.

If the world were otherwise ordered, then maybe shareholders would control in some meaningful sense how corporations behave. The fact that such is not the case, and really can’t be, is exactly the sort of real-world inconvenience that Anthony Kennedy can’t be bothered with. How I miss Sandra Day O’Connor.

On the Bright Side

January 21, 2010

Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are completely irrelevant now, right? The Democrats can get just as much nothing done with 57 votes as with 59.

And maybe, just maybe, Harry Reid will grow a pair. Or, since that’s not going to happen, step down in favor of Schumer, who already has one.

I hope the Democratic “leadership” is watching Jon Stewart; watch the whole thing, or start at about 6:30.

Martha Oh Dear

January 19, 2010

I’m trying not to get depressed about today’s election until it actually happens, but it’s difficult. The hope I’m clinging to is that the polls are basically worthless because of wild self-selection bias. Those of you not in MA have no idea how annoying this last week has been, with constant calls from both sides. Any reasonable person’s first response to any poll at this point would be a string of obscenities. I don’t know how I’ve managed not to rip the phone out of the wall yet. God knows what that does to the responses.

My pre-post-mortem is pretty conventional. After a reasonably good campaign in the primary, Coakley (and her handlers, who deserve a lot of blame here) assumed she’d coast in the general, and effectively shut down her campaign. That allowed Brown to get out his base—MA may be the Bluest of Blue states, but all states are really Purple, and we do have a big Republican base here, ready to have its blood angried up (see also this). When a couple of polls showed the race getting close, the Republicans smelled blood and the Democrats panicked. Panicked Democrats are even less competent than calm Democrats, and Coakley’s ads over the last week are starting to turn even me against her. She can’t seem to decide whether to campaign against Bush and Cheney or against Operation Rescue, and neither makes a particularly good target. Yeah, we all hate W and Dick, but we’ve all noticed that they’ve been out of office for a year now; and the abortion thing is based on obvious exaggeration to the point of, well, lies. So, feh.

UPDATE: Apparently turnout is heavy, which (i) is likely good for the Coakley, since she’s a Democrat in a Democratic state, and (ii) means the polls are probably crap, since they assumed the low turnout appropriate for an off-election in January. Say what you (and I) will about all those vile robocalls, at least every last person in the state knows there’s an election today.

Traditional Marriage, Bible-style

January 3, 2009

Apropos that last post, I should say that I really don’t understand Rick Warren’s statement (with which I’m certain many others would agree) that

For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews – historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

It doesn’t take a particularly deep reading of our own sacred scriptures to see how wildly wrong that is. Biblically, marriage is a man and a woman, and another woman, and another woman… Mitt Romney was sorta right on that one, if you really believe your scriptures. And let’s not get started on Levirate marriage.

That’s all Old Testament, of course. Without knowing anything about it I assume that Hellenization and then Romanization put the kibosh on polygamy at some point after the Exile. Or maybe it was just relative peace—polygamy works better if there are constant wars and things to create a nice supply of widows. But the New Testament isn’t particularly friendly to “traditional marriage.” Jesus—not noticeably family-friendly—seemed to care at least as much about marriage as a metaphor as an institution. And has there ever been a less ringing endorsement of anything than Paul’s “better to marry than to burn?”

So seriously, can anyone explain this to me? It’s not a rhetorical question. I genuinely don’t understand how anyone who has read the Bible can think it even conceives of, let alone mandates, anything like what we label “traditional marriage.”

The Purpose-Driven Inauguration

January 3, 2009

I was not at all surprised that Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Not that I called it, but hey, I did write that “he’s headed towards being the next Billy Graham, only without the anti-Semitism.” I was surprised at the outraged reaction of many of my fellow liberals, including those who are generally thoughtful and reasonable—see for example Dahlia Lithwick (whose writing I love) et al. of Slate‘s “XX Factor.”1 We liberals loved Obama’s inclusive bipartisan rhetoric, but many of us are apparently appalled to find that he actually meant it.

Now I understand not much liking Rick Warren. I wouldn’t go to his church. His book left me cold.2 I am annoyed about Proposition 8. But (AFAICT) Warren is very much not Pat Robertson and James Dobson. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but he really does seems to represent what’s good about evangelical Christianity. And there is much that is, or can be, good about evangelical Christianity. The fact that so many of us liberals don’t seem to understand that saddens me. Anathemizing anyone who disagrees with you just isn’t good policy. Warren and the many evangelicals he represents don’t demonize us; we shouldn’t demonize them.

The Bush administration and its many admirers lived in an echo chamber that drowned out anything they didn’t want to hear. We shouldn’t make that mistake.

[But if you’d prefer to think of Obama as Machiavellian than broad-minded, see this.]

 

1. Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, objects to Warren for more considered self-consistent reasons: he objects to anyone religious.

2. True, I had a hard time getting past the font.

Election Day!

November 4, 2008

PolAt last, it’s almost over! I don’t expect the 2012 campaign to fire up until at least next January.

The polls were more crowded than I’ve ever seen them. Which is saying almost nothing; I probably had to stand in line for all of five minutes. That is one of the advantages of living in a small town. Despite the Small-Town Values that I must thus possess, I voted for Obama.

Is it more funny or sad that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will certainly have the most intelligent and insightful commentary of the evening?

We had to destroy the village in order to save it

November 2, 2008

Jeff Jacoby opines in today’s Boston Globe that a vote against Massachusetts’ Question 1—the ballot question to eliminate the state income tax—is a vote in favor of Dianne Wilkerson continuing to stuff her bra with cash. Or something like that.

Now Jacoby’s job as the Globe‘s token conservative op-ed guy is to say crazy-ass things like this. He is at least entertainingly provocative, and sometimes he’s even right (well, half-right). But this seems a little over the top even for him. Previously he (et al.) had argued, in what I now realize was a fit of comparative reason, that we should vote yes on 1 to Send A Message To Those Bastards on Beacon Hill. Now he seems to have come to the conclusion that the best way to get a hornets’ nest out of your attic is to burn your house down. At least, that’s all I can discern of his “logic” today. I should think that ballot questions about taxes are a rather less effective way to fight political corruption than, for example, arresting corrupt politicians. And they’ve already done that.

BTW: that Ballotpedia site I linked to above looks pretty nifty. Check it out!

Postmodern Politics

September 14, 2008

I’ve been thinking about straight-talking John McCain’s somewhat flexible relationship with “truth.” He (and the Sarracuda) seem to be even more blatantly ignoring reality than the master liars in the Bush administration—they generally seem to give up and at least change their stories when called on sufficiently blatant fibs, and I think even Rove acknowledges the existence of some sort of objective reality. I’m not so sure about McCain. He seems to let reality trouble him not at all. Could it be that for him and his campaign there is no objective reality? That the signification of words is a mere social construct? That “Il n’y a pas hors-texte?”1

Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel Nah, probably not. Maybe this is better…

I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t– till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

‘When _I_ use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master– that’s all.’

 

1 “There is nothing outside the text.” Or maybe, “There is no outside-text.” I French isn’t much better than my grasp of deconstruction.