LET'S COMPARE BUCKET LISTS

Posted in Rants on May 17th, 2011 by Ed

The mainstream media understands its target demographic, or at least it seems like they do. That is the only reasonable explanation of why fluff like "Baby boomers eye adventure, bucket list" qualifies as a front page story – it's guaranteed to attract great interest from Boomers despite causing violent gagging among all other readers. I mean, who doesn't want to read the nauseatingly self-congratulatory description of how the travel industry is accommodating the Boomers' intention to spend all of the money bequeathed to them by the WWII generation before they die?

It's a gripping human interest narrative. On the plus side, the comments are good for major shits & giggles – I think the proper scoring is 10 points for every time some 55 year old says "I worked so hard for everything I have!", 20 for calling everyone under 55 "whiners" for being so bitter toward them. I guess 30-plus years of "I made it on board! Now pull up the ladder!" social, political, and economic policies has robbed them of the ability to appreciate irony. Or perhaps the reactions of others are strange and inscrutable to people who have been so selfish for so long. Check this out:

Another trend? Baby boomers want to cross items off their "bucket list" — the inventory of experiences they've dreamed of doing all their life, be it taking in the beauty of Machu Picchu, bungee jumping in New Zealand or going on an expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands.

"We all have those things we want to do and then of course as you get older, time is running out," said Don Mankin, an adventure travel expert and author of "Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean: A Guide to Fifty Extraordinary Adventures for the Seasoned Traveler."

"So you begin to think about, 'Well I don't have unlimited time so what are those things that I always really wanted to do, where are those places that I always wanted to go?' … I think that drives a lot of the travel decisions these days."

Good luck on your quest to fill that big void in your lives with expensive travel, folks! Here's our Bucket List. Before we die, we'd like to:

  • Have a job with health insurance
  • Have a job that won't be outsourced as soon as technology allows
  • Have a job with paid vacation time
  • Make $30,000 in a single year
  • Be able to afford a home, and maybe a new compact car every 15 or 20 years
  • Go to a museum to learn about "pensions" and subsidized public education
  • Be legally classified as a full-time employee at least once

    Boy, that would be sweet. Be sure to tell us all about your Napa Valley wine tours; take plenty of pictures from the summit of Kilimanjaro.

    At least there are a few honest people posting in the comments (click to embiggen):

    Laugh it up, assheads. Just remember: you're not going to outnumber us forever, and once your monopoly on the institutions of the media, economy, and government loosen you're still going to need your Medicaid and your pills and your Social Security and your untaxed pensions – and a cooperative nation to continue heaping these benefits upon all of you self made successes.

    (to be continued)

  • SEDUCTION

    Posted in Election 2012 on May 16th, 2011 by Ed

    The morning after the 2008 election, The Onion did the best job of bringing some perspective to the year-long spectacle of the presidential election in "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job":

    African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday…In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation's broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it.

    I teach a presidency class at least once per academic year; in it I always ensure that we spend some time talking about the basic but often overlooked question of who would actually want this job. Aside from subjective benefits – prestige, attention, political power, a feeling of importance, getting to learn cool secrets, etc. – it's really not a very appealing job.

    The pay is subpar compared to the alternatives available to anyone capable of being elected president. The president has no normal family life, and neither his spouse nor his children can go anywhere without heavy security. In the average month 500-1000 different individuals threaten to kill you, about 1% of whom are making an actual plan to do so. The president works 70 or 80 hours per week and is on call 24-7. Everything on TV and in the newspaper is about how terrible the president is, why everything he does is wrong, and why he has ruined the nation. In the modern era, 60% is considered an astronomically high approval rating, i.e. the best you can hope for is that only about 120,000,000 Americans will hate you and consider you an abject failure. The odds of leaving office as a "success" are virtually nil.

    It's not surprising that we see people who could conceivably be competitive in a presidential election declining to run. Mike Huckabee was a nobody ex-governor in 2008 until he won the Iowa Caucuses. That success made him a legitimate contender for the presidency (although certainly not an undisputed favorite) in 2012. But it also made him a TV host to the tune of $500,000 annually for one show per week, a syndicated radio contributor for an undisclosed six-figure salary, a highly compensated public speaker, and a fixture among the select group of authors who can churn out 250 pages of empty crap every 8 months and have it sell a million copies. As Chris Wallace said in response to claims that Fox unfairly boosts certain GOP candidates who happened to be paid on-air talent, "I have a theory that in fact (Fox News makes) life so pleasant for these folks like Mike Huckabee, I'm not sure Mike Huckabee wants to go campaign. I think he loves what he's doing here at Fox."

    Mike Huckabee, in short, has been seduced by the good life of the pundit class, the Beltway pros who get paid a lot to work very little – "work" in this case consisting of offering opinions that range from the obvious to the deliberately provocative to the inane. The part of him that wanted to be president for personal glory or to serve the country was gradually worn away by the allure of money and stardom. The only thing more seductive than the limelight is money, and people like Huckabee are increasingly offered both as alternatives to presidential politics.

    Huckabee certainly isn't the only one. Al Gore, who could have run a very credible campaign in 2008, realized that writing books, spending time with his wife, making movies, appearing on sitcoms, and winning awards was a lot more appealing than dragging himself and his family through the mud again. Sarah Palin is a right-wing brand name par excellence, with $50,000+ speaking fees and million dollar advances on ghostwritten books. She appears before crowds of sycophants who adore her, which is probably as ego-rewarding as political power. Michelle Bachmann could get a six-figure job at any Christian right powerhouse she chooses, and Mitt Romney could hit the Board of Directors circuit without breaking a sweat.

    In short, many of these people are vacillating about 2012 not only because Obama will be difficult to beat but also because there are so many private sector temptations. For Republicans in particular, with the conservatives' strong network of targeted media outlets, non-profits, and interest groups, the temptation is getting darn near overwhelming. Unless an individual has an ego that can only be satisfied by the presidency, choosing between a couple million dollars per year hosting a TV show or "writing" "books" and serving as president is no choice at all.

    (PS: For a decent summary of what Huckabee's exit does to the GOP field see Chris Cillizza)

    NPF: DICK PARADE

    Posted in No Politics Friday on May 13th, 2011 by Ed

    The end of the semester entails many tedious tasks – grading, listening to endless student "But I need a higher grade" speeches, manually entering hundreds of grades into the university's system (with an interface fresh out of 1996), etc. – but I always get a kick out of going through the class rosters and enjoying the ridiculous names. People name their kids some seriously stupid crap, moreso here in Georgia than at my previous school. Misspelled "regular" names are popular (i.e., Nichoal, Abigale, Morgyn…no, I'm not making these up) as are made-up names that saddle kids with a burden they will never be able to shed. Incidentally, though, some of the most hilarious ones are bad first-last name pairings. "Crystal" would be a fairly normal name for a girl, but when one's last name is Waters it turns into a porn name. And of course if the family name is something like Sackrider or Raper the first name is irrelevant.

    It would be inappropriate at best (and illegal at worst) to actually post hilarious student names here. Instead, I'll use the disproportionately large number of genital-themed names in this semester's crop of students as inspiration for a list of my own favorite real names from the world of penis humor and related disciplines. It's Friday, I'm finally done with a year that dragged on forever, and we could all probably use a giggle. And if you're as mature as me this will probably do the trick on a Friday. Note: Be sure to check out two older posts: the Most Ridiculous College Football Names and All-Time Ridiculous Baseball Names. Man, those were fun.

    1. Dick Assman. David Letterman devoted most of a summer to Mr. Dick Assman…from Regina, Saskatchewan. The city is pronounced like the genitals, as if a beneficent God would allow Dick Assman to be from any other city.

    2. Dick Pole. Covered this one with the Baseball Names All Stars.

    3. Dick Pound. The former International Olympic Committee official provided history with one of the greatest headlines of all time: "The Righteous Fury of Dick Pound."

    4. Dick Wolf. Every Law & Order fan giggles at the end of the opening credits, just as the awesome music fades out, when producer Dick Wolf is credited for his fine work.

    5. Dick Trickle. Olbermann may recall that in the mid to late 1990s, every episode of ESPN Sportscenter hosted by Keith prominently featured the starting and finishing position of an obscure, not-very-good NASCAR driver Dick Trickle. He now sponsors a race in his native Wisconsin called, I shit you not, the "Dick Trickle 99", which sounds like either an extremely questionable trick football play or an unfortunate memory of a careless summer.

    6. Dick Blazer. Anyone who has driven through Kokomo, IN has enjoyed billboards for Blazer Farms, a proud family run operation under the direction of Mr. Dick Blazer.

    7. Dick Hammer. The 1970s TV series Emergency! (a largely forgotten forerunner of today's popular hospital/emergency dramas) featured a fire captain named Dick Hammer. Not only was the actor a real fire captain, but he was actually named Dick Hammer.

    8. Dick Hyman. A world-renowned pianist. That's right: Dick Hyman, the pianist.

    9. Dick Butkus. Pronounced Dick Butt-Kiss. Yep.

    10. Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA). Too bad Dick Armey is no longer in the House. The possibilities for hilariously co-sponsored legislation are endless.

    11. Peter Bonerz. Prolific producer and sometimes director of forty years of popular TV series such as ALF (imagine how hard this image made me laugh when I was eight), The Bob Newhart Show, Wings, and many more.

    12. Tobin Buttram. You haven't heard the name but if you play video games you've probably heard his music. Most recently he scored the hit game Left 4 Dead.

    13. Chubby Cox. This needs an asterisk, as his given name was actually John.

    14. Sally Mangina. A college tennis coach in Illinois. Let's hear it for the ladies, at long last!

    15. English football (soccer) stars Dean Windass and Nicky Butt. If only they played on the same team. The Butt-Windass duo would be…I don't even have the words.

    Do you feel ashamed of how hard you laughed at this? Lighten up. Embrace it. Use the comments to add your own.

    Special Bonus: A legend and pioneer in the field of geology, Prof. Reinhardt Adolfo Fuck.

    POLLING EXPERTS

    Posted in Rants on May 12th, 2011 by Ed

    I don't have the patience or energy to tear into this in depth, but today's Right Wing Histrionic Talking Point of the Day is less amusing and more infuriating than usual. Don't you know, the AP poll that gave Obama a 60% approval rating is a result of "poll cooking" by the AP. According to the polling experts at Newsbusters. And comment sections on your local newspaper website.

    Apparently the fact that the sample in the AP poll (n = 1001) did not contain the exact same number of Republicans and Democrats – that's what polls are supposed to have, after all! – is de facto evidence that AP is rigging the numbers. The poll in question had 46% Democratic identifiers and 29% Republicans. The chicanery is obvious. Pant-shitting rage ensues.

    The response is unsurprising, since that is exactly how someone who knows dick about polling would interpret this.

    The 46% is just about what we would expect for Democrats + Leaners. The 29% for Republicans + Leaners is lower than I would expect. In a different AP poll conducted this spring, the split was 43% D to 40% R. That's the kind of variance one gets when taking a random sample of 1000 people in a country with 200,000,000 adults. Random sampling is absolutely fundamental to polling, and the word "random" means that sometimes we will get results that are not precisely what one would expect.

    Let's say there are 100,000 poker chips in a bag – some unknown mix of red and black. We mix them up so they are completely random. We don't want to count all of them so we select 500 at random to estimate the red-black mix. We find 300 black and 200 red. Therefore we conclude that the bag contains 60% black and 40% red, plus or minus a margin of error of about 5% (i.e. we are 95% certain that black chips are between 55% and 65%, but the best guess is around 60%). That is how a random sample works.

    Now let's say that you call 1000 people using a random phone dialer, 600 of whom are "red" and 400 of whom are "black". But you're convinced that the bag actually contains more black chips, so you pull out a few hundred more chips, throw out all the new red ones, and add more black chips to the original sample. That is how a manipulated, biased, and egregiously fucked-with sample works.

    If 35% of the population is Republican and 40% are Democrats, we would EXPECT a random sample to have 35% R / 40% D. Right? Right. And if I flipped a quarter 100 times we would EXPECT to get 50% heads, right? Right. But will I get exactly 50 heads every time I flip a quarter 100 times? Nope. I might get 51. Or 47. If I do it enough times I might even get a wacky result like 37 heads. It's random. Raaaaaaaaaaandom. That means each outcome is totally independent of the one prior. A probability is merely an expectation. A random sample of 1000 people in an electorate with 200,000,000 voting-age adults is going to vary from our expectations, sometimes considerably.

    That's why polls have…margins of error. The AP poll in question has a MoE of +/-4.4%. The MoE creates a 95% confidence interval, so the data actually tell us that we are 95% certain that Obama's approval is between 56% and 64%. There is only a 5% chance that his rating is higher or lower than that. Now, if reality is on the low end of that interval, would 56% really be so surprising? He has been hovering at 50% for a while, occasionally popping up to 51-52 or dropping to 45-48. A little bin Laden bump to 55-58 wouldn't be so shocking, would it?

    It would be if you're Newsbusters and, among other things, you don't understand a random sample or margins of error.

    Idiots. The lot of them.

    Tags:

    PRAGMATISM vs. THE GAG REFLEX

    Posted in Rants on May 11th, 2011 by Ed

    The great but largely forgotten journalist Sydney Harris once said, "You may be certain that when a man begins to call himself a 'realist,' he is preparing to do something he is secretly ashamed of." That quote kept coming to mind as I read this:

    A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

    A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise."

    Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they've funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

    Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.

    My favorite Calvin and Hobbes panel features Calvin lamenting not that everyone has a price, but that the price is always so low. It took all of $1.5 million – a pittance by the standards of a large research university – for Florida State to surrender the power to make its own hiring decisions. Sorry to play the slippery slope card, but one must wonder how far off we are from non-profit "foundations" sponsoring their own departments and purchasing university naming rights. If the story itself wasn't depressing enough, the comments from the Dean finished the job:

    A separate grant from BB&T funds a course on ethics and economics in which Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is required reading. The novel, which depicts society's collapse in the wake of government encroachment on free enterprise, was recently made into a movie marketed to tea party members.

    "If somebody says, 'We're willing to help support your students and faculty by giving you money, but we'd like you to read this book,' that doesn't strike me as a big sin," said Rasmussen of the BB&T arrangement, which the bank has with about 60 schools. "What is a big sin is saying that certain ideas cannot be discussed."

    Nor does he fear that the agreements with Koch and BB&T will prompt future donors to demand control over hiring or curriculum.

    Said Rasmussen, "I have no objections to people who want to help us fund excellence at our university. I'm happy to do it."

    Is there a sadder phrase in the English language than "It's really not so bad…"? A more tacit admission that one is engaged in some kind of morally repugnant activity? Even in print the extent to which the Dean is over-justifying what he knows implicitly is disgusting is loud and clear. People like him will likely find little success in convincing academia to try what he's doing because, you know, it's really not as bad as it seems once you suppress the gag reflex and get used to the taste.

    FARM SYSTEM

    Posted in Election 2012 on May 10th, 2011 by Ed

    It seems odd given that the 2012 election is still 18 months in the future, but it's never too early to look ahead to 2016. In many ways I expect that to be a far more interesting election, given that it is likely to be an open seat like 2008. Beyond that, it looks like a very weak GOP field in 2012 belies the strength of their candidate pool for 2016. On the other hand the Democratic contenders for the post-Obama era do not inspire much confidence at the moment.

    Let's assume for now that Obama is re-elected in 2012. Until we see a plausible contender rise to the top of the current GOP field we have to give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt. All the usual caveats apply – Obama is beatable, the election is a long way off, etc. But if you had to bet your life savings on it today, would you pick the incumbent or someone out of the Trump-Romney-Gingrich-Palin grab bag? I thought so.

    First, elephant in the room: Joe Biden. He will turn 74 three weeks after the 2016 election. The odds that he will run seem very slim. He's not very popular on his own and unless the hypothetical Obama Second Term is the greatest four years in American history it doesn't seem like he would generate much enthusiasm.

    The GOP field will have a good deal of new blood. Most of the 2012 candidates are people who are getting their last shot. Romney is finished if he doesn't win the nomination this time. Mitch Daniels, although you'd never tell by looking at him, is 62 years old and will be 67 on Election Day 2016. This is the best shot he'll get. Gingrich is already old and not very popular. Mike Huckabee is only 55 today but he would run in 2016 as a two-time loser. So it's a very good thing for the GOP that there are some prospects in the farm system. Who makes the most sense?

    Marco Rubio – This guy is good. Scary good. If I am a Republican I'm grooming this guy for the big time (possibly with a keynote at the 2012 Convention) and if I'm a Democrat my mind is already working overtime thinking of how to counter him. Rubio has what George W. Bush had – that magical ability to hold far, far right policy positions but to sound moderate, reasonable, and sane to the average person. You never hear him and think, "Wow, this guy is way out there." So he not only appeals to the Teabag crowd but to mainstream Republicans and moderately attentive independents as well. He looks good, sounds good, and would have a stranglehold on a very important state. He'll be 44 in 2016.

    John Thune – The quintessential Empty Suit candidate, I can see Thune garnering a lot of support from party insiders and corporate donors. He's a blank slate with good presentation skills. Teabaggers probably wouldn't tolerate him given his support for bailout bills while in the Senate. He seems more like a young John Boehner than a real presidential contender.

    Jeb Bush – I don't see it. I don't see this at all. He couldn't even win Florida if Rubio was also in the race, and George W. Bush remains so unpopular that even the ant-like memory of the American public would force Jeb to run with a gigantic weight chained to his ankle.

    Bobby Jindal – He never impressed me and I think his charisma is a fraction of what Republicans imagine it to be, but he'll almost certainly run. It's not clear how he carves out a niche or who his coalition would include.

    Paul Ryan – You can tell that the GOP thought of him as a rising star, but he has the personal appeal of a desk lamp and once he gets done touting his plan to gut Medicare and Social Security he'll have a tough time getting elected dog catcher let alone president.

    Chris Christie – If we're trying to be nice we could say he's a Republican Howard Dean, exciting but too unfiltered and aggressive to be a serious mainstream candidate. If we're being mean we could say he's a braying jackass who will be lucky to avoid being blown out when he runs for re-election in New Jersey.

    Mike Pence – He's a strong favorite to be the next Indiana Governor. As a presidential candidate I see him as little more than a Sam Brownback / Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee type who will get some acclaim from evangelicals and the Religious Right but not much else.

    That's nothing to sneeze at. Rubio, Christie, Thune, and Jindal all strike me as plausible contenders if they were to win the nomination. What about on the Democratic side?

    Hillary Clinton – She'll be 68 in 2016. Personally I think 2008 was her shot. She'll be the Democratic equivalent of Gingrich by 2016, a name that has been around forever but never made it to the top. She burned a hell of a lot of bridges within her party in 2008. But I don't doubt that she could raise a ton of money and mount a campaign with little effort.

    Rahm Emanuel – The name is getting thrown out there but I don't see this at all. Obama clearly saw him as something of a protege, but he just seems like a corporatist tool with no charisma. He has insider skills but it's hard to see who gets excited about him in a presidential race.

    Martin O'Malley – Who? Keep an eye on the two-term Mayor of Baltimore, current Governor of Maryland, and chair of the Democratic Governors Association. Currently 48, O'Malley is one of the few sitting Democratic governors who qualifies as a youngish up and comer. He presents well and has cred among different factions of the party. You heard his name here first.

    Andrew Cuomo – The very polished Governor of New York, now 53, seems like the strongest candidate at the moment but I have reservations. As we saw with Kerry, the Republican Party is basically a machine designed to destroy New England liberals (especially, in Cuomo's case, "ethnic" ones).

    Brian Schweitzer – The Montana Governor and former DGA chair is a great candidate on paper, moderate and popular in a typically Republican state. However, he's dull and moderate to a fault. It's unclear who would get excited about a pasty Montanan who talks about centrism even more than Obama.

    Is that everyone? Of course not. More names will come and go over five long years. Just for the fun of making a long-term forecast, though, I'd say the odds are with Marco Rubio and Andrew Cuomo based on what we know today. In that match-up I think Rubio would have the upper hand, although obviously much depends on how the Obama second term goes…if there is one.

    Who else seems like a contender?

    PROHIBITION

    Posted in Rants on May 9th, 2011 by Ed

    Recently a few of my colleagues have been debating drug legalization, an issue Ron Paul is hitting heavily in what I assume is a not-terrible strategy to appeal to more young voters. I never tire of talking about the War on Drugs – a flawless example of everything wrong, deceptive, and misguided about the Reaganite vision of America – and, unusually, I get a kick out of watching other people talk about it too. It forces people to argue based on either morality ("Drugs are evil!" vs. "It's a personal choice!") or logic ("Drug X should be illegal because has Y and Z consequences.") Of course I am always happy to see people attempting to come to logical conclusions rather than emotional ones, but as my colleagues' debate currently illustrates the attempts at logic usually proceed from fundamentally false assumptions.

    People inevitably attempt to make sense of U.S. drug policy based on the assumption that illegal drugs are illegal because of health and/or safety concerns. In other words, cocaine is worse for you than alcohol so beer is legal and cocaine is not. Or meth makes people violent while tobacco does not, hence the latter is legal. It is very easy to poke holes in these arguments – tobacco kills people by the millions and alcohol causes far more violence than, say, marijuana – or to segue into secondary arguments like the "gateway drug" hypothesis in order to keep the conversation moving in circles. It all misses the point entirely. The purpose of the War on Drugs is not to keep people safe or healthy. The purpose of the War on Drugs is to put people in prison, and from that perspective it has been a smashing success.


    Note the mysterious spike in 1980

    The War on Drugs is, at its core, a blunt form of class warfare.

    Around 1980 Americans began to accept in large numbers the idea that wealth should be concentrated entirely in the hands of a small group of people – sure, we tried that in the 19th Century and the results were subpar, but this time there were fancy Austrian economics to reassure us that the rising tide would lift all boats. Abandoning the social safety net, public schools, and the like was a recipe for increased wealth inequality and, as the past 30 years have shown, it worked like a charm. So now our society is less like those we used to consider peers (the U.K., Germany, Canada, etc.) and more like the ones we usually condescend (Brazil, India, and other 2nd World countries with great but poorly distributed wealth).

    In a society like this, there is a small elite with phenomenal wealth; let's say it's the top 10%. Below that is a large mass of people living somewhere between affluence and poverty; let's say that's 70%. These people have some economically valuable skills, even if, in the case of unskilled service industry work, that skill is merely the ability to show up to work regularly and follow instructions. Many of the people in this 70% enjoy comfortable lives, but they have income and not wealth. At the bottom end they live paycheck to paycheck; at the top, they make good money but they carry far more debt. In other words, if they lost their job things could fall apart rapidly (stop me if any of this sounds familiar). Then we have the bottom, the remaining 20%. They have no economically valuable skills that the top 10% can exploit. The rest of society sees this group as a burden. Since no one wants to pay to support them or improve their circumstances in any way, you just have to find a way to get rid of them somehow.

    In the average African or Latin American country, they send out the cops or, in many cases, paramilitary "cleansing" squads to crack skulls. Since America can't quite get away with that, we have to think of more subtle ways to get them out of our sight. We tried segregation. We tried jamming the poor into vertical filing cabinets. Eventually it dawned on us to simply incarcerate most of them, if not for life then in an endless cycle among the criminal justice system, the underground economy, and poverty. So you ratchet up the drug laws with the full understanding that the huge demand for narcotics (mostly among the upper classes and their children, of course) will funnel tons of people with no other economic opportunities into the trade. So you invest billions in policing, arresting, convicting, and incarcerating them – conservatively estimated at around $40 billion annually.

    That's what the War on Drugs is about. The widely debated social and physical effects of drugs may be real but they have nothing to do with drug policy in the U.S. It's just a means of dealing with the people who are remainders when the rest of the population divides up the economic pie.

    LACK OF WILLING DONORS

    Posted in Election 2012 on May 5th, 2011 by Ed

    Lots of things going on this week, many of them unpleasant. Forgive me for keeping it (relatively) brief again.

    In the wake of bin Laden mania a lot of other news has fallen by the wayside, and I think more attention should be paid to the result of the special state legislative election in Wisconsin's 94th Assembly district. It's not often that an off-year special election for a vacant seat in the state house merits discussion, but given the recent events in Wisconsin it is worth noting that Democrat Steve Doyle won a seat held by Republicans since 1994.

    My first reaction to The Walker Plan earlier this year was "Well I guess whoever the GOP nominates in 2012 can forget about Wisconsin." Wisconsonites are hard to rile but a mass of energy once riled (Minnesotans fit that description as well, for the record). Anything other than a strong backlash against Republicans in next year in Wisconsin will be a real surprise. The special election result and the increasing momentum of the efforts to recall Republican Senators support the argument, although as always we should be careful to note that much can change between now and November 2012. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume for a moment that Wisconsin is indeed a dead zone for Republicans in 2012. Adding it to the list of states that no moderately informed observer believes Obama (or any Democratic presidential candidate for that matter) can lose, we get:


    242 Electoral Votes

    That would mean Obama starts from a position where adding one additional state could be enough to secure victory. Granted, the states he would need to get over 270 are all tough battlegrounds – Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, etc. – but a potential Republican challenger would have to be intimidated by the idea that Obama begins the race within spitting distance of 270 barring a complete meltdown of some kind. Maybe that is why a GOP primary debate scheduled for May 2 had to be rescheduled to Sept. 14 due to lack of confirmed candidates. Except for the ones who have no chance of winning (Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, etc.) candidates have been hesitant to make things official. It doesn't mean Obama is a shoo-in, but you can bet that a lot more candidates would be "in" at this point if they expected a race against Obama to be easy – or anything short of a long struggle with long odds.

    KRESKIN

    Posted in Quick Hits on May 4th, 2011 by Ed

    You know how I feel about making predictions. There is relatively little to be gained by being correct and quite a bit of embarrassment to be endured on account of a spectacularly incorrect prediction. Sometimes the effects of bad predictions are greatly magnified by proximity to the event that disproves them. Did the lauded economist Irving Fisher ever live down saying "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau" three days before the great crash of 1929? Can you imagine how many times George Will has been taunted for having written "Liberalization is a ploy…the Wall will remain" on Nov. 9, 1989 – the day the Berlin Wall came down? Talk about humiliating.

    Now imagine that you are a law professor who turns the opportunity to write an op-ed for syndication and you use this opportunity to go on an extended bitch session about the failures of the current President. Then imagine that you say something like this…

    Meanwhile, on foreign policy – another Carter weak point – Obama also looks worse. Carter blew it with Iran, encouraging the Iranian armed forces to stay in their barracks, while Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's radical Islamists (whom Carter thought of as "reformers") took power, and then approved the ill-conceived hostage rescue mission that ended with ignominious failure in the desert. Obama, by contrast, could only wish for such success.

    …and the column was published on the same day that the President authorized a high-risk mission that ended up accomplishing something George Bush tried to do nine years ago. I bet you'd feel pretty embarrassed. Unless of course you're Ol' Perfesser Dumbass, who inhabits a world in which facts are so irrelevant that butchering them is of no consequence to the smug perception of one's own brilliance.

    SYMBOLISM

    Posted in Rants on May 3rd, 2011 by Ed

    There is so much to say about bin Laden; in an effort to avoid devoting a week's worth of posts to the topic I am going to attempt to cover several points here at once.

    1. The news of bin Laden's death excited me mostly because I couldn't wait to hear how Republicans were going to criticize Obama over it. Would it be that it took him too long? That he didn't decapitate the corpse and put it on a pike outside the Capitol? According to K-Lo, Obama isn't being sufficiently modest:

    It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like "I met repeatedly," "at my direction," and "I determined," trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not.

    Yeah, I suppose he should have been more humble. You know, the whole land on an aircraft carrier in a fucking flight suit to declare "Mission Accomplished" routine.

    Republicans find credit-claiming spectacles immodest and distasteful.

    2. To say that the public reaction was somewhat disturbing is an understatement. Watching Americans once again unironically become the people they demonize – remember those Palestinians dancing in the streets when the WTC fell? – was as predictable as it is gross. It was not our finest moment. I understand why people feel exhilarated or maybe even that we've had a rare moment of Collective Victory. Hooray, the evil bad guy is dead. I get that. But to what end? What are we celebrating in the streets like drunken late 1980s Detroit Pistons fans?

    This reaction reminds me of hearing capital punishment advocates talk about how killing the Bad Guy brings "closure" and a lot of other polished up words that mean "revenge." The villain dies, you feel the juvenile thrill for a moment, and then you feel as empty as before – only more so, because now you can't tell yourself that revenge will make you feel better. I wouldn't say it's "wrong" to celebrate as much as it's just pointless. To me, the best gloating would come from putting him on trial. But that wouldn't have brought all of his victims back to life either.

    3. So, uh, how 'bout our ally Pakistan? Good to know the world's most wanted man was hiding out 100 meters from a Pakistani military academy. Bang up job, fellas.

    4. Now that the body has been disposed of, good lord can you comprehend the conspiracy theories we're going to have to endure for the next decade-plus? My god, they're going to make the 9/11 twoofers look sane in comparison.

    5. The "Well, Obama has the election sewn up" meme betrays some ignorance. Eleven months before the 1992 election, George H. Bush was at 88% approval. The public opinion effects of this will be measurable and most likely temporary. Gas will be $4.50/gal by the 4th of July and bin Laden will be ancient history by then. I'm not saying this won't be a useful talking point or a source of long-term benefit for Obama, but beware the awesome ability of the American public to A) forget things almost immediately and B) refocus on economic issues to the exclusion of any others.

    This is important, but it is important symbolically. Bin Laden was a sick old man who served as a figurehead but probably exercised little direct control over terrorist activities. Terrorism is a hydra; whenever a terrorist falls there are three more ready to replace him. The fact is that the world is not safer today than it was last week and the death of OBL isn't going to bring terrorism to a screeching halt. So, yay. "We got 'im!" and all that. But by the time the election rolls around the realizations sink in that this hasn't A) ended the war in Afghanistan or B) meaningfully reduced the threat of terrorism, Obama isn't going to be riding this to victory. The best thing about it from his perspective is having a great comeback ready when Republican presidential candidates try to call him "Soft on terror" or whatever.

    6. Obama played the Birth Certificate thing pretty well after all. How petty and stupid does the GOP look now? Oh, I'm sorry guys. I was busy authorizing a mission to get that guy you've been chasing for nine years. But here's your precious birth certificate, since we know that's very important to you…

    7. Raise your hand if your inbox and Facebook page filled up with crap like this over the past 24 hours.