DELAY

Posted in Quick Hits on November 11th, 2010 by Ed

Working on an FJM, but dammit if this loser didn't write an 1100-word column of stupid. I'll post it as soon as possible.

NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

Posted in Quick Hits on November 10th, 2010 by Ed

From MacKuen, Erikson, and Stimson's classic article "Macropartisanship", American Political Science Review 83(4), pp. 1125-1142

PASSING ALONG

Posted in Quick Hits on November 10th, 2010 by Ed

I often express my disdain for the "Here are some links, now leave my lazy ass alone" school of blogging, but these two pieces are just too good to pass up. There's little I can do to improve upon either of these arguments.

1. Mike is pinch-hitting for Ezra Klein this week and has a great comment about the long-term effects of unemployment. That is, the effects that persist after the worker has re-joined the labor force after a period of being out of work. Simply put, you never make up what you lost, and the gap (for both communities hit hard by economic downturns and individuals who end up jobless) never closes regardless of how many years pass:

Figure 1 summarizes evidence from a study that compares the earnings trajectories of workers who lost their jobs in a sudden mass layoff in the early-1980s recessions to workers who maintained their jobs throughout those recessions (von Wachter, Song, and Manchester 2009). Prior to the recessions, the earnings of displaced and nondisplaced workers followed a similar pattern. After the recessions, however, displaced workers faced devastating long-run earnings losses. Even in 2000, almost twenty years after the 1980s recessions, a sizable earnings gap remained. According to the study, the net loss to a displaced worker with six years of job tenure is approximately $164,000, which exceeds 20 percent of the average lifetime earnings of these workers. These future earnings losses dwarf the losses associated from the period of unemployment itself.

Nice. The other day I was wondering how long it would take me to catch up to the gainfully employed members of my age-cohort, but it's good to be reminded that I never will.

2. Anne Applebaum checks in with a terrific essay on the latent conflict (and hypocrisy) of today's Tea Party-flavored GOP. Despite three years of Palin's attempt to sell Alaska as the frontier of personal responsibility, rugged individualism, and a rejection of Big Government, the state is of course a giant cesspool of Don Young's and Ted Stevens' pork barrel projects. Alaskans are practically drowning in other people's tax dollars, which highlights the tensions I spoke about last week.

If nothing else, Alaskans' interesting choice must be keeping the Republican leadership awake at night: When faced with the reality of actual funding cuts, a year or two from now, might not other Republican voters suddenly feel they need someone like Murkowski, too? This must be a particular dilemma for the new Republican speaker, John Boehner. During his two-decade career as a Washington insider, Boehner has resembled Murkowski a lot more than Miller. As chairman of the House Education Committee, for example, one of his primary tasks was to entertain and indulge the companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars from federally funded student loan programs and that have been major donors to his campaigns.

Will the new GOP Heroes pay anything more than lip service to their promises to "cut spending" and "eliminate earmarks"? Or will Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, et al have their lips firmly attached to the Federal teat as soon as they hit K Street? Yeah, I'll put money on the latter.

THE MANDATE

Posted in Rants on November 9th, 2010 by Ed

Being in political science and watching Election Night coverage makes me feel how I imagine doctors must feel when they watch ER. The temptation to yell, "That's not how it works at all! This is ridiculous!" at the TV is occasionally overwhelming. In the end we have to remind ourselves that the viewing public doesn't care if what they are seeing is realistic or accurate, only that it is entertaining. They only care that House comes up with a mystery diagnosis or that Sam Waterston wins over the jury or that the barking pundits explain the election results in unfathomably simplistic terms that happen to coincide with our own beliefs.

Watching CNN's gaggle of idiots – and I do mean gaggle, as there were at least 15 of them rotating through an archipelago of tables while Anderson Cooper was forced to play ringmaster – "explain" the election last Tuesday was enough to drive me to drink. They were absolutely obsessed with thematic explanations and sweeping claims of mandates and referendums. A referendum on health care reform. On Obama. On government spending. A mandate for Change. For the Tea Party. For John Boehner. A sign of voters' anger. Or their fears. Or their desperation. Or their impatience. Basically they did what the media do best – vomit a dozen explanations at the camera and let viewers pick whichever they most prefer.

Of course this simple chart by political scientist John Sides provides a more satisfying explanation of the results than any lame (and inevitably inaccurate) attempt to read the minds of voters could:

So here's your explanation. Democratic House candidates in districts where Obama received less than 55% of the vote in 2008 were more likely than not to be defeated in 2010. In districts in which Obama got more than 55% in 2008, Democratic candidates were almost unanimously safe this year. Why? Most likely because turnout fell 18-20% compared to 2008. Some people who showed up just to vote for Obama did not show up again, and some people who voted for him decided to vote Republican this time. How hard is that to explain?

Oh, I forgot. We need a "mandate" or some dreck about voters "sending a message to Washington." I am reminded of my mentor who once said that elections are to Americans what the Oracles were to the ancient Greeks; everyone agreed that the Oracle was the voice of a god, but only some admitted that its messages were not as intelligible as might be desired. Rather than admitting that we don't really know what was on the minds of the 100,000,000 people who voted or sticking to an analysis of the numbers, our brave media insist that they alone possess the power to read the Oracle clearly.

Personally, I believe that the argument in Sides' data is an adequate explanation of the outcome inasmuch as one is necessary. But for those who need the grand explanation, the sweeping conclusions drawn from limited data, the themes that allow us to boil elections down to slogans, I humbly submit the following. The 2010 midterm elections were a mandate for the new GOP sorta-but-not-really majority in Washington. The American voter has clearly demanded:

1. Social Security reform that guarantees my current level of benefits, alters someone else's, and cuts everyone's Social Security taxes to boot.

2. A world-class national infrastructure that can be built and maintained without tax dollars.

3. A balanced budget that doesn't sacrifice any of the government programs – especially the sacred military-industrial complex and the various old age benefits – that we like.

4. Clean air without pollution controls, clean water with a neutered and underfunded EPA, and businesses that do socially responsible things without any regulation whatsoever.

5. Consumer goods at Made in China prices that create high-paying jobs in America.

6. Giant trucks and SUVs that drive like Formula One race cars, look cool, fit into small parking spaces, cost under $18,000, and get the fuel economy of a Toyota Prius.

7. Complete freedom and complete security at the same time.

8. An America that acts like a swaggering, sociopathic asshole on the global stage yet is beloved by all the nations of the world.

9. Wars against every enemy, real or imagined, all of the time, with no U.S. casualties and no effect on the budget.

10. Incredibly rich and rewarding professional lives while supporting our employers' right to do whatever they want to us without recourse.

11. A vibrant, consumption-based U.S. economy with good jobs for anyone willing to look for one resulting from free trade policies that encourage money and capital flows to cheap labor markets.

12. A highly educated workforce produced by a school system that requires no tax dollars to achieve excellence, students who have no interest in learning, and a virulently anti-intellectual society.

13. Closed borders and an endless supply of cheap labor to keep prices low.

14. To buy whatever we want irrespective of what we can afford while maintaining the drumbeat of personal responsibility.

15. Health care that is cheap, superior, and readily available to me without the danger of the same being enjoyed by anyone I deem undeserving.

It couldn't be any clearer: we want a government that will resolve every problem we currently face with solutions that require no effort, no sacrifices, and no money. And I have no doubt that we have elected a group of people brave enough to promise exactly that.

A SHOW OF HANDS

Posted in Rants on November 8th, 2010 by Ed

The tiny flame of optimism deep within my bitter core is kept alive by the infrequent occasions on which common ground can be found between people of radically different ideological bents. This is rare, even though in a functioning democracy it should not be. We should all be able to agree on the basic principles of our system; that the law should be applied to everyone fairly, that elected officials should be held accountable regularly, and, perhaps most importantly, that we are a nation of laws and not mob rule.

I struggle to think of an idea responsible for more historical wrongs than the half-assed populist assertion that the distribution of rights (i.e., the application of written law) should be carried out by a show of hands. In other words, courts should make decisions based on what a majority of the country wants. Thus if segregation is sufficiently popular, its blatant unconstitutionality should be overlooked. If gay marriage is unpopular, the role of judges should be to construct legal rationalizations against it. If abortion contradicts your moral code, the Supreme Court should be stuffed with ideologues until the relevant laws are struck down. If everyone is afraid of brown people in turbans, the legal system is obligated to agree that anyone caught up in the ensuing witch hunt has "no rights which the white man (is) bound to respect."

Only partisan hacks subscribe to this kind of logic. That is, only people whose principles are limited to agreeing with whatever their ideology or party says on a given issue are willing to advocate for such a system irrespective of the fact that any remotely educated understanding of the Constitution, our government, or the attitudes of the sainted Founders precludes it. Oddly enough, a correct understanding of civil libertarianism – not Glenn Reynolds/Megan McArdle "libertarianism" that provides a glib echo chamber for GOP talking points – brings the far left and right together in opposition to this kind of nonsense.

You can imagine how rarely I find myself in agreement with someone named Allahpundit, but the former Michelle Malkin employee has, to his credit, actually read enough to understand the traditional conservative position on the role of the courts. So rather than making this a left-right issue, it appears that this is an issue dividing people according to their ability to distinguish their asses from a hole in the ground. He states, regarding the failed retention bid of three Iowa state Supreme Court justices who allegedly were "pro" gay marriage:

Everyone wants courts to be independent enough to issue unfavorable rulings that the majority might not like; it’s the only way to protect minority rights, after all. But then, everyone (or almost everyone) also wants courts to be accountable somehow so that they’re not tying the majority’s hands with nutty extraconstitutional rulings. Iowa’s solution: Let the governor appoint supreme court justices but put each one to a “retention” vote every eight years. That’s a nice long period of time during which they can rule however they want without worrying too much about elections, followed by a referendum by the public on how they did. A happy compromise! Or … not so happy? (…)

One potential problem with the “retention” framework is that it doesn’t insulate judges from popular referendums as well as it purports to. For instance, the gay marriage ruling that got these three tossed was actually endorsed by all seven justices; the next one will be up for election in 2012, and may well be looking to “atone” somehow in his rulings before then if he gets the opportunity. That’s inevitable in a system where judges have to face the electorate at any point, but like I said up top, it comes at the price of total independence. (Imagine how desegregation rulings in the 50s might have differed if federal judges couldn’t rest easy in knowing that they had lifetime tenure.)

He is even astute enough to point out that any system that elects judges outright – as many states do for local, appellate, and state Supreme courts – might as well not even have a court if voters' criterion is, "Do I agree with the outcomes of the cases he/she decided?" At that point it would be cheaper, easier, and more efficient to simply decide how the law will be interpreted and applied via internet polls and AM radio call-in shows. The Founders were smart enough to insulate Federal judges from the whims of public opinion once in office; unfortunately few states followed their example. Electing a judiciary works if we assume the best of voters, assuming that they will choose judges based on competence and fairness rather than ideological or single-issue litmus tests. In reality, it cheapens the law and causes our system of checks and balances to collapse. Legislatures are conduits of public opinion. Courts exist to apply the brakes when public opinion demands things that contradict the basic legal principles of our system.

The still-anonymous (after all these years, no less) Allahpundit is probably against gay marriage while I am for it. But he/she understands that we are not supposed to be choosing judges based on whether they agree with us. Americans believe (or claim to believe) that justice should be blind, impartial, and consistent, yet they elect and reject judges using crude and uneducated opinions as a litmus test. It is to some extent a slippery slope argument, but one does not have to be a full-fledged alarmist to see the dangers of a judiciary that panders to the preferences of people fervently committed to a strange, imagined version of the Constitution and totally ignorant of the real one.

NPF: HOW NOT TO RESPOND TO ANYTHING EVER

Posted in No Politics Friday on November 5th, 2010 by Ed

My little nephew is in town for three days of fun so I must be brief tonight – I'll try to do a full post sometime on Friday. But this is rich.

Judith Griggs of Cooks Source Magazine decided that the best way to write a feature for her new issue was to troll the internet for a blog post about food and steal it. So she snatched a Livejournal post from 2005 called "A Tale of Two Tarts." When the LJ user noticed and requested compensation (which is, if I'm not mistaken, what authors get when their work is published in a for-profit magazine) this is how Ms. Griggs responded. This is a textbook example of how not to respond to anything, and most certainly how not to respond to a writer who points out that you are a magazine editor who basically plagiarized something like a dumbassed 18 year old sorority girl.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!

Awesome! Judith Griggs, you sound not only very smart but also like a great person. Let's be friends.

Have some fun with the mag's Facebook page if you want.

EFFECTIVE REPRESENTATION

Posted in Election 2010 on November 4th, 2010 by Ed

There was only one race on Tuesday with an outcome that legitimately qualified as "shocking." Certainly there was a lot of turnover throughout both the House and Senate but all of it was, if not expected, at least somewhat plausible in the pre-election analysis. All of it except for the defeat of 18-term Congressman Jim Oberstar by a 50 year-old retired Northwest Airlines pilot named, I shit you not, Chip Cravaack. Even the RNC and the pro-GOP media seemed utterly shocked by Congressman-elect Cravaack's victory over one of the more well-established and -respected Democrats in the Midwest.

Political scientists are often accused of elitism for trying to tell voters what is in their own self-interest, but I will run that risk. Removing Oberstar from office is very, very contrary to the self-interest of the people in MN-08. The district is in the far northeast of the state and it is essentially a rural wasteland (former Mesabi Range iron country) excepting the "urban" areas of Duluth and Brainerd. Which is to say, the entire district is a wasteland. More accurately, and to quote a Minnesotan colleague from graduate school, "the entire district is one continuous Federal highway project." This is relevant because of the lack of meaningful alternative economic activity in the district, the primary exports of which are snow and suicide. And it certainly didn't hurt that Rep. Oberstar was the chairman (or ranking minority member when under Republican leadership) of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, better known in Washington as the High Temple of Targeted Economic Development Spending. You know, the slush fund.

Oberstar did a remarkably effective job of funneling highway projects to his district, and in fairness the horrible winters in the area made highway maintenance a more costly proposition than it would be in Texas, for example. Well, the people of MN-08 can kiss most of that money goodbye (although we'll reconsider that in just a moment). Chip Cravaack isn't going to be the chairman of anything, and the odds that he will be remotely influential in Congress between now and 2012 are extremely long. Jim Oberstar's job was to bring money back to his economically moribund district. Chip Cravaack's job is going to be to sit there with his mouth shut and vote how Glenn Beck John Boehner tells him.

But! But! Surely the voters of MN-08 will be thrilled by this development. They want nothing more than to see "pork" and "earmarks" and "government spending" slashed to zero as soon as possible. After all, that's why they voted for Chip Cravaack, right? Let's hope that the Tea Party delivers what they asked for.

One of the following two things will happen, and in my view the most interesting part of the next two years will be seeing how this plays out.

  • 1. The new GOP majority will slash all of the local pork projects along with lots of other government spending, decimating the economies of places like MN-08. Wait. What I mean is, they will grow the economy by cutting business taxes, so that small businesses in MN-08 (you know…road construction companies) can start hiring again! Free enterprise to the rescue! In the complete absence of demand, surely a tax cut will hammer away at unemployment. Sarcasm aside, if they actually cut everything they have promised to cut, rural districts are about to get bent over and unceremoniously fucked.

  • 2. The coalition of incoherent retirees, slack-jawed rubes, and businessmen that elected the Chip Cravaacks of the world will have a remarkable change of heart about government spending when they realize the likely impact on their own district. And Rep. Cravaack will respond the same way every other Congressman in the history of the institution has responded – by declaring the highway funds, ag subsidies, and other Federal dollars to his district "essential spending" while decrying the money funneled to the other 434 districts as "waste" and "pork."

    Option #1 would force voters to live with the consequences of their decisions and the policies they claim to support. As our entire political culture is built on the foundational idea that no one has to live with the consequences of their own actions, that means that Option #1 is about as likely as a Pittsburgh Pirates World Series appearance in 2011. Option #2, of course, means that absolutely nothing will change. The giant freshman class of Republicans – an unsightly parade of the lame, the halt, and the ugly – will very quickly fall in line with the norms of the institution, trying their damnedest to secure their own re-election by redirecting as much of everyone else's tax dollars to his or her district as possible.

    In short, this is going to be hilarious, at least until 2012 when they successfully blame the fact that the deficit continued to grow (thanks to more irresponsible tax cuts without either offsetting spending cuts or the subsequent economic growth that supply-siders constantly promise) on those goddamn liberals.

  • SHIP OF FOOLS: A GINANDTACOS ELECTION LIVEBLOG

    Posted in Election 2010 on November 2nd, 2010 by Ed

    All times Eastern Standard. All exit polls bullshit.

    7:01 – Kentucky polls closed 38 seconds ago and CNN calls KY for Rand Paul. They must have a high level of confidence in their inside information…

    7:06 – The changing face of voting. CNN's story "Light turnout in Nevada" barely notes that 400,000 people voted early. 400,000!

    7:18 – I am starting to realize how likely it is for that Nevada Senate race to be resolved 8 weeks from now in a courtroom, and Sharron Angle is already starting to fling idiotic lawsuits around.

    7:32 – Charlie Crist is not putting up much of a fight in Florida, which I find somewhat surprising. Holy God is CNN's panel of "experts" lousy with retards.

    8:10 – I like how CNN and NBC have reporters at Christine O'Donnell HQ. The race isn't competitive, but they want someone there on the expectation that some seriously crazy shit will go down.

    8:22 – Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but in a desperate search for good news tonight it looks like Joe Manchin is running strong in WV.

    8:39 – With Manchin and Blumenthal winning WV and CT, it is almost mathematically impossible for the GOP to take the Senate. It's just not plausible.

    9:07 – Rand Paul just promised a balanced budget. I've met some fucking idiots, and if I meet Rand Paul I will know one more. His crowd is chanting "END THE FED!"

    9:08 – Rand described the evening as a "Tea Party tidal wave." Meanwhile, Mark Kirk and Pat Toomey are getting cornholed in the early returns.

    9:19 – I'm shocked at how uncompetitive that IL Senate race is, although it is worth noting that the early returns include part of Cook County.

    9:33 – Marco Rubio isn't even saying anything. He's just throwing random words at the camera, and he actually said "Older people were once my age."

    10:13 – It is impossible for me to listen to Jim DeMint without asking "Is this guy fucking serious? I mean, is this a real person or some sort of performance artist?"

    10:23 – Turnout is shaping up to be absolutely pathetic. The pooled exit polls indicate that almost a full quarter (24%) of the voters nationwide were over 65. Wow.

    10:38 – I'll tell you one thing, these IL and PA Senate races are going to be up in the air for weeks while recounts and absentee ballots fly.

    11:15 – The level of election analysis on the news says more about the trouble we're in than the election outcomes tonight.

    11:32 – Rossi is up 4% in Washington but they haven't reported a single precinct from King County yet. I think they're just about to write off Sestak in PA. I figured Toomey would win, although we're guaranteed to see some hot recount and courtroom action in that one.

    11:58 – With CA (and CO soon, I think) it's no longer possible to lose the Senate. Frankly it doesn't make much difference in terms of outcomes – 52 isn't much better than 48 in a chamber that now requires 60 for everything – but it does keep the leadership.

    12:12 AM – On the plus side, Sharron Angle isn't going anywhere.

    12:26 AM – CNN is shocked that a state that elected Rick Santorum would elect someone as conservative as Pat Toomey.

    12:39 AM – I like how Sharron Angle is psychotic and had no real chance to win but the media played it up like a competitive race for months because lunatics deliver good ratings.

    ELECTION NIGHT

    Posted in Quick Hits on November 2nd, 2010 by Ed

    No morning post, because I'll be devoting the vast majority of Election Night to liveblogging. So, you know, if you get tired of listening to Wolf Blitzer or you need to see some election discussion peppered with dick jokes and profanity, make G&T your election night home. You're probably going to need to swear.

    INSPIRATIONAL ELECTION DAY SPEECH, v2010

    Posted in Election 2010, Quick Hits on November 1st, 2010 by Ed

    The recently-deceased James Gammon as Lou Brown in the 1989 baseball-comedy classic Major League:

    "All right people, we got 10 minutes 'till game time, let's all gather 'round. I'm not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I'd just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give 'em all a nice big shitburger to eat."