Thursday, January 31, 2008

HulkObamaMania

The Hulkster has officially endorsed Barack Obama. Why even bother having an election at this point?

Local Control Destroying U.S. Schools?

Matt Miller has an interesting article over at the Atlantic on Education. He asserts that local control of the schools is the causal element of the inferiority of public education in the US. The problem with this assertion is that he concedes until the 1960s that US schools were quite good in comparison to other OECD countries. He briefly touches on some shifts in American society that occurred would make local control detrimental such as funding issues; prior to WWII suburban commutter communities were less prevalent, thus property taxes were a force of equity instead of inequity in education. However, he concedes that this is mitigated in large part by the increasing share of state funding of schools (about 50%). Ironically he then complains that the grossest violator in fueling funding inequities is Title I funding (i.e. federal) which is apportioned not on a strict per capita basis but rather on how much was spent previously by the state (this same perversion occurs with Medicaid).

He then goes on to confuse correlation with causation by asserting that America is unique amongst OECD countries in that local control features so prominently in the U.S. where it is mostly absent in other countries and thus determines that local control is the causal factor for American educational ineptitude. Yet again, looking at correlations and ascribing causality to them I could do the same and make the opposite point. Iowa has one of the best school systems in the country both on the basis of performance and cost-effectiveness and it has one of the most decentralized systems in the country. Ergo, the consolidation of school districts over the last 50 years is the primary cause of the decline in American public education.

Miller does touch on the folly of our attempts at national standards, i.e. by making them voluntary or optional and thus not national. And he highlights the basic problem with NCLB in so far as it lets states set their own standards, thus you are not really able to make an apples to apples comparison of state achievement. It was also interesting to see him make the argument that school boards are effectively captured by teachers unions given that he works for the Center of the American Progress which is the nation's flagship liberal/progressive think tank. I found his arguments to be severely lacking which is a shame because it was a bold thesis and would have been interesting to see if he could marshal some evidence to support it.

Jena Six

The Atlantic has a great article on the Jena Six.

Note: The Atlantic has torn down its subscription wall.

Another Reason to Prefer Obama

The NY Times has a brilliant article on President Clinton's new brand of triangulation. Apparently it is quite profitable.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Anti's Endorsement, Xtra's Take

There was one part of Anti's endorsement which just confounds me. Here are some of the illustrated overlaps between Ciresi and Franken which are supposed to frighten Democratic voters:

"Like Al Franken he supports the use of new nuclear power plants to address our countries energy needs.
Like Al Franken he is a supporter of free trade initiatives such as NAFTA, FTAA and CAFTA."


I don't really see an energy source outside of Nuclear that is both clean and scalable in the near term to meet our energy needs without costing a tremendous amount. Certainly I anticipate that renewable technologies will become more competitive, especially if we adopt a carbon tax or cap and trade scheme, but Nuclear Energy is already here and works quite well. Ask France, England or Germany. Now the elephant in the room with Nuclear Energy is nuclear waste, where should it go. Well there is a place in the desert called Yucca Mountain which would be quite good but a strong case of the NIMBYs seems to have prevented that thus far.

And this free trade vs. fair trade nonsense always irks me. I will oppose any and all candidates that mention fair in conjunction with trade. Fair trade is when two parties are able to exchange goods with minimal interference. We are not supposed to endorse trade pacts that don't have fair trade measures because they are not good for the workers. Such is the underlying logic. However, the absence of trade would seem to harm workers even more. I would understand the fair trade phenomenon if the choices were between purchasing products from countries that used slave labor (not sweatshops, but outright slavery) and those that had free labor, but this is not the choice. And this very notion of choice is essential. Under a free trade agreement as opposed to a "fair" trade agreement Anti can still go to the grocery store and buy his shade grown, conflict free bannanas and coffee, and I can get my exploitation/war stricken produce. I reap savings, Anti has clean conscience. It's a win/win. Under a fair trade deal I am stuck with a more expensive product. That Ciresi and Franken support NAFTA or CAFTA or any other trade deal is news to me and encouraging. I wish they would go one step further and propose to unilaterally eliminate all tarriffs imposed on imports, that would be the best of all worlds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Please, I Am Begging You, Don’t Support Al Franken

I guess you could just as well call this post “Do Democrats Want To Lose The 2008 Election – Minnesota Edition”, because similar to my analysis of the Democratic presidential election I am starting to be convinced that Democrats in Minnesota are just as eager to shoot themselves in the foot and lose the 2008 U.S. Senate election. I can’t find any other reason besides this as to why Minnesota DFLers are so eager to back Al Franken. Here is a painful fact:

AL FRANKEN IS THE WEAKEST OF THE THREE VIABLE DFL CANDIDATES AND IF HE BECOMES THE ENDORSED CANDIDATE HE WILL LOSE TO NORM COLEMAN.

Policy issues aside, practically it just makes no strategic sense whatsoever to support Al Franken if Democrats are actually serious about challenging Sen. Norm Coleman in November.

The first thing that we must consider regarding Al Franken’s candidacy is the “Ventura Effect”. By this I mean that Minnesotans ended up being rather unhappy with their election of Jesse Ventura in 1998, a lot of which had to do with the fact that as Minnesotans we really didn’t enjoy being the laughingstock of the country. Due to this in a general election independently minded Minnesota voters are going to be very weary of sending another celebrity to office, especially a national office where the candidate would have a national stage to embarrass the state.

Secondly, in general terms the Republican Party isn’t exactly popular right now. President Bush’s approval rating has been hovering around his all time low for the better part of his second term, meaning that independent voters aren’t happy with him and Republicans (Norm Coleman included), and if you look at primary and caucus turnout nationwide you will see that Democratic voters are much more engaged in this election cycle than Republican voters.

With that said I am having a very hard time understanding why it would be strategically smart to endorse a candidate like Franken who is a hugely polarizing political figure (progressives need to think how involved they would be in stopping the candidacy of Anne Coulter, because that is how conservatives look at Al Franken). If DFLers want to jump start and energize the Republican base around Norm Coleman’s reelection then I would by all means suggest endorsing Al Franken, but I don’t see the logic in shooting yourself in the foot from the get go.

Thirdly an endorsement of Al Franken would only work to help Coleman in his reelection. As I noted earlier Minnesotans and Americans aren’t happy with President Bush and his management of the war in Iraq and other issues. Combine this with the fact that Norm Coleman’s voting record since he has been in the Senate demonstrates that he is an ardent supporter of Bush initiatives and policies. This is a goldmine for a Democratic candidate; so long as the focus can be kept on Norm Coleman’s voting record.

An endorsement for Al Franken would just open up the door for Coleman to change the focus from his abysmal voting record to Franken’s lack of experience and seriousness for the office, as is already evident from a recent Coleman ad, if Franken is the DFL endorsed candidate Coleman is going to focus on Franken’s political divisiveness. Furthermore, with support for the war in Iraq being very low in Minnesota it would be easy for a Democratic candidate to draw attention to Coleman’s unwavering support for this war, this becomes rather tricky if Al Franken receives the endorsement since Franken had basically supported this war until about late 2006 (check out Eric Black’s excellent summary of Franken’s position on Iraq), and Coleman is already attempting to do just that if you look at one of his recent campaign ads that appeared on his website.

Here is a quote from Paul Hogart concerning Al Franken’s support of the war:
“Not only will Franken’s position on Iraq depress anti-war progressives, it is really bad politics as the War continues to get more unpopular. We might forgive Franken for not matching Paul’s (Wellstone) progressive record on other issues, but the defining issue in 2008 will be the question of withdrawal. Unless Franken unequivocally renounces his earlier position on the War, and begins to take a strong stand on withdrawal, he won’t deserve progressive support. After all, Paul’s last act in the Senate before he died was to vote against the Iraq War Resolution.”

Again I don’t see the point in DFLers shooting themselves in the foot and endorsing Franken when they could easily endorse a candidate who has consistently opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and can take Coleman to task for his record. And the funny part is that Al Franken actually agrees with me, here are his comments from his radio show back on May 1, 2006 when Franken was talking about a possible run for U.S. Senate:
“We might need a candidate who actually said that (that they were against the war from the beginning) before this war, because this war is a debacle. It's one thing for somebody who voted for this war saying, you know, you have to assume the President is telling the truth. You can't assume the president is lying. But, then on the other hand, the American people want someone who is a better BS detector than they are. And, and, you know, I think I would have voted for the use of force because I would have believed, I believed Colin Powell."

The part that most baffles my mind is the fact that there are plenty of better and more viable DFL candidates out there, so I don’t see the point of settling for Al Franken.

One example would be Mike Ciresi. Basically Ciresi is Al Franken without the aforementioned personality baggage.
  • Like Al Franken he did not originally come out in opposition to the war on Iraq.
  • Like Al Franken he supports the use of new nuclear power plants to address our countries energy needs.
  • Like Al Franken he supports a universal health care system.
  • Like Al Franken he is a supporter of free trade initiatives such as NAFTA, FTAA and CAFTA.
  • And like Al Franken he pays lip service to addressing climate change by supporting initiatives that do too little too late.

As opposed to Mike Ciresi and Al Franken there is Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.

Jack is the only candidate who did not support the war on Iraq in the beginning, has been opposed all along, and calls for immediate withdrawal of our troops over the next six months. Prior to the invasion Jack actually debated Congressman Jim Ramstad concerning the war and he also served as a foreign policy advisor to the late Senator Paul Wellstone and helped to shape Wellstone’s vote against the authorization of force.

Jack is the only candidate who is opposed to the use of new nuclear power plants to address our country’s energy needs and sees nuclear power as a distant last option.

Jack is the only candidate saying that we should have a single payer, universal health care system that provides comprehensive coverage free from the insurance industry.

Jack is by far the strongest proponent of fair trade, not free trade. For years he worked in the U.S. and Central America fighting for economic fairness and against NAFTA, FTAA and CAFTA.

Jack is also the strongest candidate when it comes to addressing climate change. Jack is the only candidate who has signed onto the One Sky Initiative on global climate change that meets what scientists say is necessary to save the planet. The One Sky Initiative calls for (1) the creation of 5 million new green jobs conserving 20% of our energy by 2015, (2) freezing climate pollution levels now and cut at least 80% by 2050 and 30% by 2020, and (3) a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. Jack describes global warming as our biggest national (and global) security threat and outlines a new “Marshall Plan” to rebuild our energy infrastructure in a sustainable and renewable way in the line of Paul Hawken which will place the United States as the world leader in sustainable industries and businesses.

Furthermore, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer simply brings a sense of hopefulness and inspiration that is lacking in the other two candidates. Additionally in my opinion he has the best chance of defeating Norm Coleman come November. To quote Rich Broderick at Twin Cities Daily Planet:

"This year, the DFL candidate with the worst chances of gaining the party endorsement for Senate (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer) is the candidate with the best chance of winning the general election...As a result of this paradox, leading progressive DFL officeholders are torn. Though actively courted by the Franken and Ciresi campaigns, their hearts belong with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer who, for whatever reason – lack of resources, a principled refusal to indulge in politics-as-usual – has not been as active in garnering their support. Now It’s not unusual for party activists to feel that their hearts belong to one candidate but their heads belong to another, with “electibility” usually trumping “idealism.” In the case of Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, however, no such split between heart and head is necessary. If DFL-ers can shake off conventional wisdom and take a really clear-eyed look at today’s political realities, they will see that, this time around, Nelson-Pallmeyer is that rare electoral commodity, an underdog who is, in reality, the topdog – an outsider with the best chance of landing a Democrat in Coleman’s Senate seat."

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Endorsements

Ed Glaeser endorses McCain. My favorite line was this one: "The environment has become too important to leave up to the environmentalists." Glaeser is getting at an important point here. Republicans have sought to cope with the shifting political dynamic by denying the existence of key policy challenges, whether it be health care or global warming. In doing so republicans are ceding the discussion and implementation of potential solutions to the left.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kennedys Endorse Obama and Other Sundry Links

Here's news on Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama (done while sober). Politico has a half-assed analysis on what this means for Obama (might mitigate Obama's lack of success with Latino voters). Caroline Kennedy endorses Obama here saying that he reminds her of dad. I have generally though a liberal Reagan is more apt but I wasn't even a thought during the Kennedy administration.

NY Times reports that housing prices declined (duh) for the first time since 1968. These things happen when bubbles burst.

Not only is the subprime mess a new crisis, it is apparently a new "financial apartheid". This is ironic because before lenders were accused of racism of the account of being too stingy with credit and now their racism is manifest in their generosity with credit.

Oh...

and it should go without saying that John Edwards is still in the race. Maybe he is setting up a run for prez in 2012?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Franken for Senate

This is the sort of thing that will keep Coleman in the Senate. I think the Minnesota dems should be very wary of nominating Al Franken.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

NAFTA

Why do Democrats get a collective hard-on when it comes to trashing NAFTA. I tend to think free trade is a good thing both on grounds of efficiency and liberty, am I crazy?

Positive Rights

Ken Salazar (D-CO):

"We must finally embrace as a society, the concept that health care, for every Americans, is a fundamental right."

I have always found this formulation a bit troubling. I agree that every American should have a bunch of different goods- food, shelter, and yes, health care. By and large this is true, including with respect to health care. Now it is true that millions are uninsured but they do receive charity care and are not truly denied health care (though, their care is clearly inferior to those who are insured). But more broadly as we move towards embracing positive rights we split society into two groups: those who have the obligation to provide for others and those who are provided for. Such a notion seems to undermine the universality of rights as we commonly perceive them. I do in fact believe that we have an obligation to do a better job of providing certain goods to those who cannot provide for themselves, but I call this charity or public assistance depending on who is doing the provision.

MacBook Air

I think it looks great like most Apple products but Apple has emphasized form at the expense of function with the MacBook Air. The only advantage it has over my MacBook is that it is two pounds lighter. For most people it is the screen size that determines the portability of a notebook (can you fit it in your purse or backpack with ease), not so much weight. It has a less storage and slower processing speed and according to the folks at Engadget it is impractical for some basic functions. Oh, and it is $600 dollars more expensive.

Kling on Macroeconomics

Arnold Kling has an interesting essay on Macroeconomics. Its intended for a non-econ literate audience (such as yours truly) and I think succeeds at being accessible. Give 'er a read.

The Clintons and Progressives

William Greider has an interesting post in the Nation screaming bloody murder about the Clintons and Billary's presidential campaign. I wonder how much tension this campaign will create between the Clintons and the left as they ramp up their campaign against Obama. I think there is a distinct possibility, especially in the event that Clinton gets the nomination, that the Left will go from Clinton nostalgia to resentment.

Tuition

I am always bemused by politicians "solutions" to the problem of the costs of higher education. In general there seems to be two schools of thought (raise taxes or create more tax breaks/credits) as to how make college more affordable and no challenge to the underlying premises that college isn't affordable or that the sending more people to college is optimal as opposed to another vehicle for improving human capital.

With regards to the solutions my main problems with either increasing state subsidies to universities and/or creating new tax breaks for college tuition is that I think that it actually causes price escalation as opposed to mitigating it. Say Minnesota raises property taxes or some form of sin tax to increase public funding to Minnesota's institutions of higher education so that tuition can be reduced or frozen, in practice this doesn't appear to occur. Over the last 25 years increases in state subsidies and tuition increases have tracked each other. And this is entirely predictable, universities get a wad of taxpayer cash ostensibly to offset tuition but decides it would be better spent on any number of other worthy or dubious projects (new science building, updated fitness center, better mess hall, maybe even a healthier COLA for professors, new departments, or more professors), then turns around and raises tuition again shortly thereafter. My basic problem with operating through the tax code, unless it is in the form of a nonrefundable tax credit (or is it a refundable credit?), is that the benefits primarily inure to the wealthy. If I sock away a $1000 a year in a Coverdell account and my marginal tax rate is 10% then I have merely saved a hundred dollars, whereas if my marginal tax rate is 35% then I have saved $350. Those that need the assistance the least get the most. This doesn't seem to do much to spur affordability and actually can exacerbate the problem by making the wealthy even less price sensitive.

I would like to see States attempt to deal with the tuition problem in two ways, which I dub: the administrative solution and the market solution. The administrative solution is essentially wielding a big stick. Simply legislate that your state's public universities (and any private universities receiving state funds) cannot increase tuition beyond inflation. I think this while seemingly clean will be circumvented by ginning up increases in housing costs and whole myriad of new user fees (a $500 library card, maybe). The market solution would be to shift public funding away from institutions and instead have the funds follow the students. I think this would incentivize cost control.

Aerotropolis

The good folks over at GoodSpeed Update have an interesting post on a proposed development around Detroit's airport. They ask why we don't develop around airports? Good question, simple answer. Airports are loud, they have lots of fumes from jet fuels and are generally unpleasant. Would you really want plunk down a couple of c-notes for a penthouse condo that shakes every 10 minutes while you are trying to enjoy "Private Practice" (which by the way is so far superior to Grey's Anatomy as Kate Walsh is way sexier in every way then Ellen Pompeo, and for that matter Katherine Heigl)? I didn't think so either.

PeP Daily Links

Public Transportation Edition:

Ed Glaeser has an interesting article on how public transportation contributes to the concentration of poverty in urban areas. hat tip: Ryan Avent (Ryan Avent has a blog, the Bellows, that focuses on transportation and planning mostly as related to D.C. and is uniformly interesting).

The Ideas Primary, a sounding board for the DLC, has an interesting proposal on funding passenger rail (something we should do more of in my opinion at the expense of highway funding)

Ryan Avent pines for light rail in D.C. and a cross town metro line. I agree. Mandingo what say you?

Here is an interesting post on the proliferation of light rail in America over at The GoodSpeed Update.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PeP Daily Links

Fiscal Stimulus Edition:

Paul Krugman has an interesting post on how to effectively target fiscal stimuli.

Bruce Bartlett argues that fiscal stimulus delivers little bang for the buck and that we should skip the whole mess altogether. He touches on Friedman's permanent income hypothesis which Krugman also gets into in his post.

Dean Baker argues we should have a Green Stimulus Package over at TPMCafe. The thrust of his proposal is to offer tax credits/rebates to businesses for the installation of Green building stuffs or something like that.

Greg Mankiw argues, channeling Paul Krugman, that we should skip fiscal stimulus altogether or at least until the fed has demonstrated its monetary tools to be ineffective.

Jason Furman and the Brookings Institute have put out a handy dandy white paper on when and how to administer a fiscal stimulus.

Peter Orzag, CBO Director, has a couple of good posts summarizing fiscal stimulus options.

Arnold Kling offers his typically curmudgeonly perspective on fiscal stimulus (I say this as a positive). Short version: Politicians screw everything up, mainstream macro in this area is voodoo, since this is an election year politicians will really screw it up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

PeP Links

There is a really interesting forum on the economics and history of Marriage over at Cato-Unbound.

Tim Harford (aka the undercover economist) has an article over at Slate comparing Facebook and Ikea. I thought this would be business case study porn but it was underwhelming (this generally describes Tim Harford).

Somebody who is an avid Marginal Revolution reader made a webpage consisting of links to a MR recurring feature: Markets in Everything. My favorite edition of Markets in Everything: the Russian company who for a fee develops alibis for adulterers.

Daniel Gross wrote a slightly funny, heavily obnoxious column (as per his usual) imploring rich people to spend money to help the U.S. stave off a recession (probably too late).

The folks over at TPMcafe, formerly one of my favorite sites until they discontinued the TPMCafe book club, have a post on what John Edward's next act should be. Her is my suggestion, withdraw from public life. Here is my bet, campaign for president, remind people that his father worked at a mill.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Huckabee's Rhetoric

A lot of commentators and reporters look at Huckabee as if a martian had just landed. I think this stems from the fact that inside the beltway religiosity is in short display. The East Coast (really the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast) and in particular urban areas within the East Coast typically regard religion as an almost purely private matter. For a large part of the country, Huckabee's social conservatism (heavy on the God talk) and economic populism is not out of the ordinary and in fact mainstream.

Canada “Unofficial” Declares the United States Is A Country Which Utilizes Torture

The BBC has reported today that Canada has “unofficial” declared the United States as being a country where prisoners are at risk of being tortured.

The Canadian training manual lists U.S. interrogation techniques such as forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and the blindfolding of prisoners under "definition of torture".

This is just another example of how far we have fallen in regard to policy under the Bush administration.

Tim Russert

I am thoroughly amazed at how Tim Russert is considered this enlightened and tough interviewer. I find most of his questions to be daft. A couple weeks ago I saw him interviewing Ron Paul and Russert was attempting to do one of his "gotcha" routines on Paul (this was before the Paul as a massive bigot news emerged) for engaging in the practice of earmarking appropriations. Russert was trying to highlight Ron Paul's hypocrisy for advocating a smaller government while engaging in earmarks. Russert along with much of the media has made earmarks something of a pet project. The reality is that earmarks represent a minute portion of government spending that his criticism is essentially worthless. I am not a fan of earmarks per se but I don't think they are necessarily bad either. In the scheme of things they are trivial. If Russert wants to use his pulpit to expound on the virtues of fiscal discipline he would be well advised to focus on the things that we actually spend money on: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Defense.

If Your State Was A Country


This map attempts to show what each state's GDP is relative to the rest of the world. Thus, if California were its own country it would have the 8th largest GDP, roughly equal to that of France. But what tickled me was that the map has pegged Norway's GDP as the equivalent of Minnesota's. Having gone to St. Olaf College (AKA University of Oslo-USA) I found it particularly appropriate.

PeP Hero of the Week: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Sen. Schumer demonstrates that he is not a total twit and calls for reducing trade imports on Ethnaol:

“Ethanol has increased the average American’s grocery bill $47 since July,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, citing figures from Iowa State University.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing for an immediate end to the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on ethanol imports as a way to increase the supply of the federally mandated fuel additive, reduce pressure on the corn market and bring down milk prices.
“Bring the cheaper ethanol in, reduce the price of corn, and then reduce the price of milk,” he said."


It's a start.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Housing Decline to Continue


The housing Price-to-Rent ratio still looks to be significantly out of whack which would tend to indicate that the housing slump is likely to continue for the forseeable future.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Anthony Bourdain's New Blog

Anthony Bourdain, author of "Kitchen Confidential" and "A Cook's Tour", has a new blog that is eminently worthwhile if you are a foodie. Bourdain style, a mixture heavy on self-indulgence and semi-witty snark and disdain for all things bourgeois (notably for the Food Network), lends itself quite well to the blogging. This is one of the problems with his books, is they give the appearance that he did most of the editing himself, i.e. none. But they do accurately convey his personality. And frankly I can't get over his aversion to the Food Network, besides the campiness of some of the shows I think the Food Network is doing a great service in elevating the level of American cuisine. Anyhow, he does have some really insightful comments and I would suspect he provides a fairly accurate lens into the Restaurant industry. Now if you really want a good foodie book you should read Bill Buford's "Heat" which was written by writer for the New Yorker who ditched his career to basically be a glorified intern to Mario Batali. Anyhow, fascinating and the writing was great.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rock of Love 2

Thank god for VH1. They keep coming out with some of the best television programs since Cheers and Seinfeld. Bret Michaels is a real life saver with this whole writers strike going on.

Singapore's Health Care System

Bryan Caplan has an interesting post on Singapore's health care system over at EconLog. What is particularly startling is that Singapore only spends 4% GDP compared to 15% GDP in the US and around 11% GDP in France on health care but still obtains similar outcomes (better than the US and similar to the French). Some of the features of the system:
  • "There are mandatory health savings accounts: "Individuals pre-save for medical expenses through mandatory deductions from their paychecks and employer contributions... Only approved categories of medical treatment can be paid for by deducting one's Medisave account, for oneself, grandparents, parents, spouse or children: consultations with private practitioners for minor ailments must be paid from out-of-pocket cash..."
  • "The private healthcare system competes with the public healthcare, which helps contain prices in both directions. Private medical insurance is also available."
  • Private healthcare providers are required to publish price lists to encourage comparison shopping.
  • The government pays for "basic healthcare services... subject to tight expenditure control." Bottom line: The government pays 80% of "basic public healthcare services."
  • Government plays a big role with contagious disease, and adds some paternalism on top: "Preventing diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tobacco-related illnesses by ensuring good health conditions takes a high priority."
  • The government provides optional low-cost catatrophic health insurance, plus a safety net "subject to stringent means-testing."
I wonder why Singapore's health care system isn't touted more in the media as an example. We have heard of the wonders of the French, Canadian, British and Cuban systems but this is a vastly different method of health care delivery that is equally successful in terms of outcomes but vastly superior in terms of cost effectiveness. Now, I am sure to some extent a health policy wonk like Ezra Klein would say something to the effect of "Well, Singapore is a small homogeneous nation and it is unlikely to scale", but I would think the same criticism would apply to a lot of the European countries whose systems we are told should be models for reform. Inquiring minds want to know. This tends to reinforce my broader view that health care does not correlate highly with health outcomes and the basic problem with the U.S. health care system is it encourages people to consume too many units of health care and the insulation between consumer and provider encourage excessive costs per unit.

Friday, January 11, 2008

China to Freeze Energy Prices

Here is my question, will Hu Jintao make an address wearing a cardigan?

hat tip: cato @ liberty

Mac Convert

James Fallows has another post on Vista and in turn how he has switched over to being Mac user. My experience is slightly different. As I was getting ready to enter law school I decided that it would be prudent to get a laptop. At this point all new lap tops came loaded with Vista and it was Vista's first year. I knew from all the previous rollouts of both Office and Microsoft Operating Systems that the first year or so was as if Microsoft had decided to market the beta version and then would go about in a piecemeal fashion and issue a variety of patches, sometimes for free and other times at considerable cost. Anyhow, I wanted to sidestep this process entirely and bought a Mac. I have been thorouhly pleased with it.

Something Minnesota Needs

"Keep Right Laws"- In Oklahoma police are now pulling over drivers who are driving to slowly in the left lane, aka the passing lane. Bravo.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kerry Endorses Obama

Well you knew he wasn't going to endorse Edwards. Anyhow, check out this bizarre analysis from Politico:

"Kerry, who had contemplated another run of his own this year, remains one of the Democratic Party's most popular figures, and gives Obama a big boost as he is trying to regain his momentum after finishing second to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday."

My impression was that Kerry wasn't particularly popular within the Democratic Party. In fact, I sort of remember folks on the left telling him to shut up during the mid-term elections. I don't think this harms Obama in the least, it has to be viewed as a net positive, but not necesarily a watershed moment.

Question for Edwards

How many second and third place finishes until he final bows out of the race?

I am going to say 30.

Question for Obama

As submitted by Megan McArdle:

"Senator, you used cocaine and marijuana. Would it have been just and right for you to have been sentenced to multi-year prison terms under today's drug laws?"

My proposed answer for the Senator:

"Of course not. Today's laws regarding drug possession and consumption are batshit crazy. Seriously, the people that came up with this War on Drugs must have been higher than shit. Crackheads really. Think about it, we spend all of this money on interdiction, but the addicted are not price sensitive. They are addicted! So we drive up prices and thus make the drug trade more lucrative. In the meanwhile we send people who do not have violent histories or criminal histories save for drug addiction into a facility with a bunch of violent people and act surprised that they are even more screwed up when they leave than when they came in. If I was getting raped in the shower that would fuck me up too."

"If the objective of the War on Drugs and the attendant drug laws was to make organized crime more lucrative and to remove hundreds of thousands able bodied men from the work force while spending billions in doing so, well then, yes, yes I would say the War on Drugs has been a wild success and we should preserve the current drug laws. But I don't think that is the intent of the War on Drugs but sadly it is the result."

Krugman on Prediction Markets

Krugman seems to think the conventional wisdom that prediction markets are worthwhile is bearing out to be false:

"[P]rediction markets — which you see, again and again, touted as having some mystical power to aggregate information, know no more than the conventional wisdom."

I think Krugman's assertion both false and correct at the same time. There is a substantial body of literature that indicates that prediction markets outperform pollsters in predicting elections. However, in this election, both prediction markets and pollsters seem to be wildly off. For a market to function properly it requires information and in the case of prediction markets this has been recently hampered by restrictions on online gambling. InTrade and TradeSports (both incorporated in Ireland) will not accept any online payments originating from the U.S., now maybe the Iowa Electronic Markets are different, but this would tend to remove those with the best information about U.S. electoral politics (U.S. residents) from the betting process and thus depriving the market of information save for that which is reported in the press.

Clinton's Tearjerker

I have to echo Anti's sentiments. I find difficult to believe that anything the Clintons do on a campaign is spontaneous, genuine, and not poll tested. I think the crying was bait for Obama, except he didn't bite, Edwards did. Anyhow, the desired affect was achieved, women broke overwhelmingly for Hillary, and I think the sense that she was being ganged up on and beaten down as manifested by the tearing up and Edwards' response played a large part.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hillary Clinton & Crying

A lot of fuss, and rightly so, has been made in the media recently concerning Hillary Clinton and how she managed to turn around the New Hampshire primary last night.

Today I received an email from a group calling on me to sign a petition that will be sent to all of the major media outlets in the country. The petition focuses on the media’s coverage, specifically an op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd in the NYT, of Hillary Clinton’s little teary-eyed spout of emotion last Sunday. Here is a portion of the petition:
Your organization's focus on punditry over journalism is perverting our democratic process. And the misogyny that was unleashed by a feeding frenzy on the video of an exhausted Clinton tearing up at a small New Hampshire roundtable of voters was just the tip of the iceberg. Whether we agree with Clinton on the issues or not, the media's (and indeed your organization's) assault on her candidacy based on gender is unacceptable. So too is biased and uninformed commentary on the minority status of other candidates (Obama's ethnicity and Romney's religion, to name just two).
I will be the first to admit that portions of Dowd’s column are crude and sexist, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that her argument, however crudely presented, is dead on correct.

Please don’t get me wrong I am all for personal emotion and compassion in politics. I think that if our politicians were more emotionally connected to the people that are actually effected by the decisions they make, instead of being connected to special interests and the accumulation of even greater power, that our country and our governmental policy would be in a much better state. I completely and whole-heartedly support honest outpourings of emotion in politics, and I think every politician could use a whole lot more emotional attachment to the issues.

I would even have felt some empathy for Hillary Clinton and her outpouring of emotion if I for one second thought it was remotely genuine, but the fact is I don’t.

At best the only genuine outpouring of emotion that was demonstrated in this small New Hampshire café last Sunday was simply a self-realizing act on the part of Hillary Clinton that her dreams of power may soon be over. Add to this a good amount of self-pity and you have all the ingredients you need for a good tearjerker accompanied with some coffee and a crowd of people.

At worst it was a calculated act on the part of the very skilled Clinton political machine.

Where was this emotion when she enabled the president to carry out an unjust and illegal war in Iraq that thus far has resulted in the deaths of 3,921 American service men and women, as well as the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians?

Where was this emotion as she vehemently defended this decision on the campaign trail?

Where was this emotion as she spouted her hawkish rhetoric towards Iran, which may lead to even greater death, destruction and heartache in the Middle East?

Where was this emotion during the summer of 2006 as she vehemently supported Israel’s right to perform whatever atrocities they wished on the Lebanese people, including the utilization of cluster munitions on women and children?

Hillary Clinton is a politician who strives on making politically calculated and convenient decisions, even when those decisions relate to such important issues as War & Peace and Life & Death. So I am sorry Hillary that I don’t buy for one minute that your little emotional breakdown was related to anything besides your own political self-interest.

By the way Hillary, since your little tearjerker on Sunday nine more U.S. service personal have died in YOUR Iraq war. Maybe next time you will show a little emotion and cry about that, just make sure that it takes place at a politically convenient time while the cameras are rolling.

Ron Paul, Not Just a Crank

Also a massive bigot:

"Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, "Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little."
...In January 1995, three months before right-wing militants bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a newsletter listed "Ten Militia Commandments," describing "the 1,500 local militias now training to defend liberty" as "one of the most encouraging developments in America."
...A 1988 newsletter cited a doctor who believed that AIDS was created in a World Health Organization laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland. In addition, Ron Paul & Associates sold a video about Waco produced by "patriotic Indiana lawyer Linda Thompson"--as one of the newsletters called her--who maintained that Waco was a conspiracy to kill ATF agents who had previously worked for President Clinton as bodyguards.
...His adversaries are often described in harsh terms: Barbara Jordan is called "Barbara Morondon," Eleanor Holmes Norton is a "black pinko," Donna Shalala is a "short lesbian," Ron Brown is a "racial victimologist," and Roberta Achtenberg, the first openly gay public official confirmed by the United States Senate, is a "far-left, normal-hating lesbian activist." Maybe such outbursts mean Ron Paul really is a straight-talker. Or maybe they just mean he is a man filled with hate."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Truer Words...

From George Will:

"The way to achieve Edwards' and Huckabee's populist goal of reducing the role of "special interests," meaning money, in government is to reduce the role of government in distributing money. But populists want to sharply increase that role by expanding the regulatory state's reach and enlarging its agenda of determining the distribution of wealth. Populists, who are slow learners, cannot comprehend this iron law: Concentrate power in Washington and you increase the power of interests whose representatives are concentrated there."

Random Media Notes

First off, Fox News, you are a bunch of perverts and pederasts. How can one justify excluding Ron Paul from a debate while inviting Rudy Giuliani. Last I checked Paul got more votes in Iowa than Giuliani and is leading in money. Comparatively, I would consider him viable. Now he is a crank and has some positively loony ideas, but that hardly distinguishes him from the rest of the field. Is slavish devotion to a discredited idea like the gold standard worse than embracing the fair tax (Huckabee), or advocating the invasion of half of the world (Giuliani), or the doubling of Gitmo (Romney)? Paul is being excluded because he is anti-war and this is not consonant with Fox News editorial position. I would be ok with his exclusion if Fox News simply owned up to this. Bias is inherent and the media will always have its positions and axe to grind, just own up to it. Give up the fair and balanced schtick and just say that you are an appendage of the RNC and that you are following in the great tradition of political propagandists from pamphleteers to Leni Riefenstahl.

Next rant item, NY Times has just hired Bill Kristol I gather as William Safire's permanent replacement. Now, I actually think Bill Kristol is sort of smart when it comes to political commentary although in the big picture policy world he is basically batshit crazy. This is not an anomalous result, I am sure Stalin would have been a great grassroots organizer. That said his viewpoint is essentially the same as David Brooks: "Compassionate Conservatism" or "Big Government Conservatism" or "National Greatness Conservatism" or whatever you would like to call it. A Kristol column is as if Brooks rewrote one of his own columns after frontal lobotomy was performed on him. NY Times would have served its readers much better if they had hired somebody with a small-government or libertarian orientation, or at least somebody smarter of any political persuasion. Maybe just run a dilbert comic strip right there instead? Ok that's all, I am running out of steam.

The Edwards Criticism

Anti, there is one thing that is specious about Kucinich's hypocrisy claim: according to Edwards he took the gig at Fortress to learn about financial markets and how they can alleviate poverty. Duh. Nothing to see here. keep moving.

John Edwards – Wall Street’s Candidate?

Yesterday Dennis Kucinich’s campaign sent out an email where he explained why he didn’t support John Edwards on the second ballot of the Iowa caucuses. Here is what Kucinich had to say:
In answer to your questions about why I didn't support former Senator John Edwards on the second ballot in Iowa: I have serious concerns about his connections to a Wall Street hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group. While attacking others for accepting campaign money from Washington lobbyists, he is up to his ears in money from Wall Street special interests.

He made half a million dollars in a single year for attending a few meetings for Fortress and has invested a substantial part of his own personal wealth in the hedge fund whose portfolios are responsible for sub-prime predatory lending practices, Medicare privatization, and an entire range of corporate sharp dealings that are driving the middle class into poverty.


I find the criticism to be especially interesting since Edwards is out stumping about how greedy corporate interests are ruining this country and destroying the livelihood of Americans. Apparently Edwards isn’t a member of this country because it sounds like he is doing pretty well.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Republicans & “Freedom Haters”

I watched a fair amount of the Republican presidential debate last Saturday (not so much of the Democratic debate since the Wild game was on at the same time and it is way to early in the political season to sacrifice hockey games for politics), but there was one aspect of the debate that I just couldn’t put my head around, that being the threat of terrorism.

During the debate Charlie Gibson asked Ron Paul a question regarding U.S. foreign policy, “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?” To which Ron Paul gave a very succinct and intelligent reply which basically explained that simply stating that the United States is the target of terrorism because we are free and prosperous is inaccurate and wrong. Here is his response:

But the Bush doctrine of preemptive war is not a minor change; this is huge. This is the first time we, as a nation, accept as our policy that we start the wars. I don't understand this.

And that all options are on the table to go after Iran?

This is not necessary. These are Third World nations. They're not capable.

But I think it's the misunderstanding or the disagreements that we've had in this debate along the campaign trail is the nature of the threat.

I'm as concerned about the nature of the threat of terrorism as anybody, if not more so. But they don't attack us because we're free and prosperous.

And there are radicals in all elements, in all religions that will resort to violence. But if we don't understand that the reaction is, is because we invade their countries and occupy their countries, we have bases in their country -- and we haven't done it just since 9/11, but we have done that a long time.

I mean, it was the Air Force base in Saudi Arabia before 9/11 that was given as the excuse.

If we don't understand that, we can't win this war against terrorism.

Let me try to explain so you can understand this better.

Try to visualize how we would react if they did that to us, if a country, say China, came that great distance across the ocean, and they say, "We want you to live like us. We want you to have our economic system. We want bases on your land. We want to protect our oil."
Even if we do that with good intentions -- even if the Chinese did that with good intentions, we would all be together and we'd be furious.

After this the rest of the candidates were given a chance to respond and all of them basically laughed at Paul’s analysis and instead responded that terrorists target the U.S. because “they hate our freedom” (here is the full transcript).

I just don’t understand how anyone could begin to believe such a simplistic explanation to a complex issue. How anyone could believe that individuals living half way across the globe would go to the extreme of coming over to the United States and kill themselves in a terrorist attack would do so for no other reason than because they “hate our freedom”.

Yet sadly it appears that, in all likelihood, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 will be a candidate who subscribes to this overly simplistic world view, and thus if elected will make foreign policy decisions on the same lines.

End The Writers Guild Strike Now!!!

If there was ever a reason for Hollywood executives to end the Writers Guild strike I witnessed it last night when I sat through the two hour premier of the new American Gladiators.

Honestly this show is beyond terrible. I will be the first to admit that I watched the original version years ago. But there is a big difference between watching a crappy syndicated Saturday morning TV program and the garbage that pretends to be primetime television these days.

So regardless of how you feel about the strike please go to this website and sign the petition to end the strike, if for no better reason then to bring some level of respectability back to the filth we watch.

Plus with the presidential campaign season officially upon us I am suffering through an extreme case of Daily Show and Colbert Report withdrawal.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Iron Chef Blogging

Mario Batali is facing off against Jamie Oliver tonight at 10pm Eastern. I fully expect Mario to destroy his British opponent. I am pulling for an exotic secret agreement like tamarind.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Best Part Of The Iowa Caucuses

I completely forgot to note this in my post yesterday, but there was one aspect of the Iowa caucuses that regardless of party I found to be uplifting and just great news. Young people turned out in large numbers to vote.

Overall turnout for the caucuses was at about 12 percent for Iowa, but the turnout for the age group of 17 to 30 was at 17 percent. I don’t know of anyone, except maybe a few crotchety old people, who aren’t excited to see that young people are getting involved in the political process.

And what makes this even more amazing is the fact that since the caucuses were held so early this year the large turnout meant that a number of college age students made the effort to get out and vote while on their winter breaks.

Pundits beware

Here's some wisdom - a cautionary tale - from Bob Dylan, for those who are quick to opine about the significance of the Presidential race under way:
"Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen...don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin, and there's no tellin' who that it's namin'. For the loser now will be later to win."

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thoughts On The Iowa Caucuses

I have to give credit where credit is due. In my post a couple of days ago I underestimated Iowa Democrats and was pleasantly surprised by the Democratic caucus results last night. I guess I should have never doubted our friends to the south. I mean, aside from the fact that they don’t know the first thing about hockey, all of the Iowans I know are very smart and pleasant people.

With that said I couldn’t be happier with Hillary Clinton’s third place finish, and it is rather amazing/historic that a state which is 95% white voted for a black man to be America’s next president.

The results also help to solidify my (and I guess Xtra’s) hypothesis that the Republican base is demoralized and unengaged in this election, which means that Democrats in no way have to settle for a sub-par candidate like Hillary Clinton. Just look at the caucus turnout 239,000 people came out for the Democratic caucuses, an increase of 93% over 2004, and only 115,000 people came out for the Republican caucuses.

I guess Democrats do not want to lose the 2008 presidential election, but then again we will see what happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Regardless Of What Candidate Is Chosen U.S. Foreign Policy Won’t Change pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote about who is advising the leading Democratic presidential candidates regarding their foreign policy. Don’t worry I didn’t forget about the Republicans, their foreign policy advisors are no peaches either.

Here is yet another brief list of who is advising the candidates and some of the human rights atrocities they are responsible for.

Rudy Giuliani:

  • Daniel Pipes – he has been leading the charge against “Islamofascism” on college campuses and has put out his Campus Watch, in terms of going after professors that he deems are not pro-Israel enough.
  • Norman Podhoretz – in his new book “World War IV”, he says bomb the Iranians. And he’s not just talking about pinpoint Iranian nuclear installations; he’s saying bomb the Iranians.
  • Ex-Senator Robert Kasten – he is formerly a major backer of the Pakistani military dictatorships and the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia.
  • A Super Trooper team of neoconservative war hawks from numerous conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Hoover, and the Hudson. Some of these advisors include Martin Kramer, Stephen Rosen, and Peter Berkowitz. All of these people are supporters of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war in the name of fighting “terror” or as Rudy likes to call it “Islamofascism”.

John McCain:

  • General Alexander Haig – he oversaw the US policy of mass terror killings of civilians in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, when American nuns and religious workers were abducted, raped and murdered by the Salvadoran National Guard.
  • Max Boot – he points to El Salvador, where 70,000 civilians were killed by American-backed death squads, as a model counterinsurgency for what the US should be doing today.
  • Henry Kissinger – he was responsible for mass deaths in Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, and countless other places (and I personally think he should be tried as a war criminal).
  • Bud McFarlane – during the Reagan administration he was a key backer of the Contras.
  • Brent Scowcroft – he was the one who, during the Bush 1 administration, went to China right after the Tiananmen Square massacre and reassured the Chinese leadership, “Don’t worry about it, we’re still behind you.”

Mitt Romney:

  • Cofer Black – he is a longtime CIA operative and was one of the key people behind the invasion of Afghanistan. He is also the one who organized Detachment 88 in Indonesia just recently, the supposed antiterrorist outfit that went after a Papuan human rights lawyer.
  • Mark Falcoff – he was a key figure in backing the old US policy of terror in Central America during the Regan administration.
  • Roger Noriega – another key figure in backing the old US policy of terror in Central America during the Regan administration.
  • Dan Senor – a major supporter of the early invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Mike Huckabee:

  • Huckabee is kind of like Edwards in the sense that he doesn’t really have any big name foreign policy advisors and not much is really known about who is advising him.

Let The Fear Mongering Begin

So today I received a forwarded email discussing the church that Barack Obama belongs to, the email is below. Here is what I find interesting about the premise of the email. Basically the author is alarmed by the fact that Obama is a “racist” and justifies this stance through closeted racist comments and overtly hostile and discriminatory comments about Muslims.

I guess you have to love fear mongering evangelical American politics.

Obama mentioned his church during his appearance with Oprah. It's the Trinity Church of Christ. I found this interesting.

Please read and go to this church's website and read what is written there. It is very alarming. Barack Obama is a member of this church and is running for President of the U.S. If you look at the first page of their website, you will learn that this congregation has a non-negotiable commitment to Africa. No where is AMERICA even mentioned.

Notice too, what color you will need to be if you should want to join Obama's church... B-L-A-C-K!!! Doesn't look like his choice of religion has improved much over his (former?) Muslim upbringing. Are you aware that Obama's middle name is Mohammed?

Strip away his nice looks, the big smile and smooth talk and what do you get? Certainly a racist, as plainly defined by the stated position of his church! And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today.


This guy desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa! I cannot believe this has not been all over the TV and newspapers. This is why it is so important to pass this message along to all of our family & friends. To think that Obama has even the slightest chance in the run for the presidency, is really scary. Click on the link below: This is the web page for the church Barack Obama belongs to: www.tucc.org/about.htm

Biden and the Primaries

Biden has dropped out of the race but I still think he has the potential to have an impact in the primaries with his endorsement. I tend to think he will endorse Obama because Biden wants to be the next Secretary of State. Clinton is likely to pick Richard Holbrooke in the event that she is nominated (a scenario I don't envision though still plausible). Thus, I don't see Biden endorsing Clinton if for no other reason that it would subvert his own professional ambitions.

Brooks on Iowa

David Brooks has a very good column over at the NY Times about the Caucus results. I think he does a good job at fleshing out Huckabee's rise:

"Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has."

I don't think Huckabee will win the nomination. The party establishment will be against him but more interestingly, I think the evangelical policy leaders such as James Dobson and Richard Land will seek to torpedo his candidacy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama Projeted to Win

I think we are looking at a general election match up between McCain and Obama.

Huckabee Wins

I think that means the end of Romney.

Regardless Of What Candidate Is Chosen Tonight U.S. Foreign Policy Won’t Change

As the Democratic candidates go back and forth trying to convince Iowans and the rest of the country that they are the best candidate to reshape U.S. foreign policy in a post Bush White House, all you really have to do is look at who is advising the candidates to see that if elected, regardless of candidate, not much is going to change.

There was a great article published in The American Conservative about this back in October. Here is a brief look at who is advising the candidates:

Hillary Clinton:

  • Madeleine Albright - she was the main force behind the Iraq sanctions that killed more than 400,000 Iraqi civilians.
  • General Wesley Clark - he was the one who ran the bombing of Serbia in the former Yugoslavia, he came out and publicly said that he was going after civilian targets, like electrical plants and the TV station there (which by the way is a war crime under international law).
  • Richard Holbrooke - in the Carter administration he was the one who oversaw the shipment of weapons to the Indonesian military as they were illegally invading East Timor and killing a third of the East Timor population, and he was the one who kept the UN Security Council from enforcing its resolution against that invasion.
  • Strobe Talbott - during the Clinton administration he oversaw Russian policy and a backing of Yeltsin, which resulted in turning over the national wealth to the oligarchs and a drop in life expectancy in much of Russia of about fifteen years.
  • General Jack Keane - backer of the Iraq invasion and occupation.
  • Michael O’Hanlon - backer of the Iraq invasion and occupation.

Barack Obama:

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski – he gave an interview to the French press a number of years ago where he boasted about the fact that it was he who created the Afghan jihadi movement, the movement that produced Osama bin Laden. And he was asked by the interviewer, “Well, don’t you think this might have had some bad consequences?” to which Brzezinski responded “What’s a few riled-up Muslims?” Apparently 9-11 answered that question.
  • Anthony Lake - he was the main force behind the US invasion of Haiti in the mid-Clinton years during which they brought back Aristide essentially in political chains, pledged to support a World Bank/IMF overhaul of the economy, which resulted in an increase in malnutrition deaths among Haitians and set the stage for the current ongoing political disaster in Haiti.
  • General Merrill McPeak – shortly after the Indonesian Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991 he oversaw the delivery of US fighter planes to Indonesia.
  • Dennis Ross – he was an advisor to both the Clinton and Bush 2 White House. He oversaw US policy toward Israel/Palestine and pushed the principle that the legal rights of the Palestinians, the rights recognized under international law, must be subordinated to the needs of the Israeli government. Ross also recently led an assault on Jimmy Carter, because regarding Palestine, Carter was so bold as to agree with Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa that what Israel was doing in the Occupied Territories was tantamount to apartheid.
  • Sarah Sewall - she wrote the introduction to General Petraeus’s Marine Corps/Army counterinsurgency handbook, the handbook that is now being used worldwide by US troops in various killing operations.

John Edwards:

  • He doesn’t really have any big name advisors but the Edward’s campaign names that are out there mainly come from the Army and the Air Force and the Navy Material Command. Those are the portions of the Pentagon that do the Defense contracts, that do the deals with the big companies like Raytheon and Boeing, etc. One of those listed on the Edwards team is the lobbyist for the big military contractor EADS. So, although Edwards talks about going after lobbyists, if he tries to go after the military lobbyists, he may get a little blowback from his own advisers.

Xtra's Midwestern Holiday Trip

Your loyal correspondent recently returned from a brief trip to Minneapolis and Iowa, mainly Iowa. Before I get into some of the finer policy discussions held and other observations I must first issue a public service announcement for Minnesota drivers:

MOVE OVER, THE LEFT LANE IS A PASSING LANE.

Outside of the passive driving of Minnesotans (who by the way are always polite drivers even if they are obscenely slow) I had a wonderful stay in the heartland. It was tremendous to be in Iowa so close to the caucuses. I spent much of the time attempting to shame Iowans into caucasing and stalking my future father-in-law to dissuade anybody he tried to convince to caucus for John Edwards from doing so. Barack Obama, yes; Hillary Clinton, maybe; John Edwards, HELL NO!

While in Iowa I had the good fortune to meet up the PeP founder himself, Piedpieper. We had a very engaging discussion of pensions and health care, though mostly pensions. In some degree our conversation was illustrative of our conservative and liberal priors. Pied, prefers defined benefit to some degree, I prefer defined contribution. While our conclusions differed our assessment of the underlying facts was near identical. Our assessment of the pros and cons of each defined benefit (traditional pension plans) and defined contribution (401-k, IRA, TSP) is as follows:

1. A well managed defined benefit plan will get better returns for the common worker than they would likely manage on their own

2. Workers are not terribly good at managing their own investments, key example, they keep company's matching stock contributions in company stock (see Enron for the risks of doing so) or entirely to passive (i.e. invest in cash or bonds at excessive ratios)

3. A defined benefit plan is not well adapted to the modern economy where a worker jumps from job to job, company to company

4. Companies that have defined benefit plans (and for that matter governments, especially governments) have been rather poor in meeting their end of the bargain (Auto, Steel, Aviation, Muncipal and State Governments)

5. People don't necessarily invest at all in a defined contribution system as it is optional, whereas a defined benefit is not

6. Defined benefit plans have reinsurance in the form of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Coropration (PBGC)

7. the PBGC is bleeding money and headed towards insolvency


Coming away from the conversation we were in total agreement about the underlying facts of both defined contribution and defined benefit pensions. Pied still favored a defined benefit program even as he conceded it was ill suited to today's economy and I still favored the defined contribution in spite of its inefficiencies. I think some of the defects of a defined contribution plan can be remedied through regulation such as prohibiting the employer match in the form of stocks, increasing diversification ratios, and decreasing the vesting period. However, a defined benefit program will always hold the worker hostage on two levels: 1. if the worker leaves he loses his pension; 2. there is no guarantee that the employer will fully meet his end of the bargain (and in fact across many industries the employer is failing to do so and egregiously so). Anyhow, this conversation occurred at a party and we bored the shit out of everybody in a five mile radius.

Later in the week I had the good fortune to see Bill Clinton in the flesh. He was stumping for Hillary at a local gymnasium. Iowans are truly spoiled. The venue could hold maybe 200 people. I was in the last row and was maybe 30 feet away. Anyhow, he was as charismatic, charming, self-aggrandizing and as slippery as ever.

My favorite moment was a particularly disingenous praise he heaped on ethanol. I mean it was truly remarkable. He goes on to explain in the span of a paragraph how great ethanol is because since it can't be transported in pipelines a bunch of factories will have to be built to process the stuff and this will create jobs in processing and the supply chain and then because of its positive impact on global warming that there will be less illegal immigration. Now, in fact the truer version would follow something like this: Ethanol is so damn inefficient that we will have to build a crap load of factories to process it in small batches so it could never be competitive on price save for generous subsidies, which in turn will drive up the price of corn thus putting more land into production which will require more illegal immigration, all the while having a negligible to negative impact on global warming while making us all poorer in the process. A great policy indeed. Sadly, while ethanol is horrible policy it makes for great retail politics. Iowans, truly lovely folks, I doubt there are nicer folks in the union, they love them some ethanol, or more specifically the federal monies that come along with it. I really struggle to think of two aspects of our domestic policy that are more pernicious and perverse than ethanol and agriculture subsidies (and I don't mean the structure but their very existence), however, to be viable in Iowa you have to throw yourself to the altar of Agri/Energy subsidies.

One other bit from the Bill Clinton speech that I found absolutely appalling was his discussion of education. I admire the Clintons for their intellect, which is formidable. However, I was really surprised at how little attention he gave to education in his speech and how paltry the content was. He did the standard ditty on why NCLB is bad. I think NCLB has things positively ass backwards. The feds should be coming up with a standard test and the states should figure out how best to meet the content not the other way around and then the tests should track students in a longitudinal fashion instead of taking annual snapshots of each class to assess progress. Anyhow, his basic policy prescription was for the Department of Education to come up with best practices and make sure they are uniformly applied across the country. Totally underwhelming not to mention stupid as well. In a nation as diverse and large as ours the challenges from state to state and within each state, nay, within each county are so varied. It is doubtful indeed that any one practice or pedagogy will adequately meet the needs of our students.

And this is one area, education policy, that always confuses me. One of the benefits of federalism is that it allows states to adapt policies to the needs of their population but also it allows for experimation which can be adopted at the federal level (such as how the Wisconsin Works program became the basis for Welfare reform). We never discuss Iowa in the context of education. Iowa excels at education, though, you would never think it would. It is by no means a rich state. Why don't we look to Iowa for some tricks as to improve our educational system. Now it may very well be that there isn't much to translate, strong communities and strong families make for good schools. That might be hard to replicate in Anacostia or East LA. Anyhow, that's all for the moment. Stay Classy Iowa.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Do Democrats Want To Lose the 2008 Presidential Election?

As it is the day before the Iowa caucuses and the “official” start of the 2008 presidential campaign I thought I would ask a simple question, do Democrats want to lose the 2008 election? If Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire coronate Hillary to be the Democratic nominee for president then I will be convinced that they do.

As Xtra pointed out earlier it seems like, at least until this past month, that Democrats are planning to settle for Hillary Clinton even though she isn’t the most ideal candidate. From my conversations with Clinton supporters the rational for backing Clinton comes down to two main reasons:

  1. She is the candidate with the greatest chance of winning the general election.

  2. Unlike in 2000 (the whole Democrats are still blaming Nader thing) all progressives need to unite around a candidate and Hillary is as good as any to achieve that unity.

Now, policy differences between candidates aside, let me explain why putting Hillary on the Democratic ticket is the worst idea Democrats could possible have for trying to win the general election.

Let’s take a look at the Republican side. To quote Xtra, “this election cycle I think just about anybody with a -D besides their name will win. Most of the Republican candidates have major problems with the base, the base is clearly disengaged at this point, and the Republican Party is not exactly popular right now.” With that said there is, however, one sure fire way to promptly and quickly get the Republican base fully engaged in this election, give them a chance to vote against Hillary.

Whether it is fair or not Hillary Clinton is one of the most polarizing figures in American politics, as far as polarization goes she is the ying to George Bush’s yang. People either love Hillary or despise her. So I really wish someone would explain to me the logic of potentially nominating a candidate who doesn’t do much in regards to engaging the Democratic base, but will cause massive voter turn out for the Republican base, it just makes no sense to me.

Furthermore, who has been the most loyal voting base for the Democratic Party since the 1960s? African-Americans, on average Democrats receive about 90% of the total African-American vote. Instead of selecting a candidate, like Hillary, who has the potential to cause a historic voter turn out for her opponents, it would seem to make much more sense to select a Democratic candidate who at least has the potential to do the opposite and galvanize a massive turn out for African-American voters.

But alas I don’t have the greatest amount of confidence in Democratic voters to strategically consider all of the options, instead they will bring up how Nader lost the election for them in 2000 and if we don’t all unite around a sub-par candidate that it will happen again, completely losing sight of the fact that Democratic caucusers and primary voters have the chance to select a candidate that can both unite the Democratic Party and end eight years of polarizing politics.