Priorities Meme

March 12, 2007

This is something I’ve been intending to do for a while. It goes back to a discussion thread here about political quizzes; I’m genuinely interested in looking at people’s political views. A big part of it is priorities, which is what I want to start with at this time. Simply put, what political issues do you consider the most important?

You only have a finite number of total priority points, for lack of a better term. You can divide points among issues however you want; the interesting part is the ratios, not the absolute numbers. For example, here I’m using 100, but if you feel like using a different scale, go ahead. The idea is to list the issues you evaluate politicians, political movements, etc., based on.

If you want, you can put a position next to each issue. And finally, you can give multiple slates of answers if you follow more than one country’s politics. Obviously, EU integration is a higher priority in British and German politics than in American politics, while health care is a lower priority.

In the US, my priorities are,

Abortion – 15
Iran – 15
Eavesdropping and domestic spying – 13
Iraq – 9
Health care – 7
Immigration – 6
Free trade – 5
Farm aid – 5
Gay rights – 4
Budget balancing – 4
Stem cell research – 4
Climate change – 3
Welfare – 3
Education – 2
Alternative energy – 1
Taxes – 1
Affirmative action – 1
Military spending – 1
Minimum wage – 1

All of these track the gamut of acceptable political opinions. All other things being equal, I’d rather see a pro-life President who’s for dismantling the national security state entirely than a pro-choice President who supports a police state. But the gamut on abortion is wider than the gamut on civil liberties in the US, so abortion gets 15 points to civil liberties’ 13 even though only the latter is the subject of serious dystopian fiction.

If you respond to this on your blog, let me know by email, comment, or trackback. I’m not blogwhoring; I’m genuinely interested in archiving people’s political priorities.

Zionism and the Left

March 12, 2007

Three eons ago, I wrote something here about how both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian politics originates in the left. On 3QD I expanded this to a full-blown article about how Zionism ceased to be considered left-wing, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This is important insofar as it’s always important within the left to sort groups into oppressed and non-oppressed. This is also useful in segueing into the post I promise will come very soon about lived experience; part of the appeal of lived experience is that once a group has been determined to be oppressed, it gets to define its own experience in left-wing circles.

Dog Bites Man; Conservative Pundit Abuses Statistics

March 10, 2007

Tyler DiPietro fisks conservative pundit John Hawkins who’s clueless about science, but leaves fisking his statistical claims to me. I’m always happy to oblige; the claim in question is that liberals are more racist than conservatives. I hate to disappoint Tyler, but Hawkins isn’t making an error in mathematics, but in basic reasoning. He quotes a study saying,

White Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is black…In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote Democratic if their candidate is black.

The most shoddy part of the quote is the ellipsis, which covers several paragraphs in the relevant article. The 25% and 38% figures are not meant to be compared; after all, the 25% figure applies to Senate races while the 38% applies to House races, in which different dynamics might be in play.

In addition, just comparing white Democrats to white Republicans is somewhat misleading, since Democrats also have a significant black and Latino vote. In the 2006 election, a sixth of the Democratic House vote was black and 10% was Latino compared with only 2% and 5% of the Republican House vote respectively.

The remainder of Hawkins’ point about racism is a short screed about how Republicans are the party of Lincoln whereas Democrats had a Dixiecrat contingent. Not surprisingly, Hawkins stops short of looking at Democratic versus Republican behavior sometime in the 1960s, when the Dixiecrats defected to the Republicans after LBJ did something to help black people.

Incidentally, the other point of Hawkins refuting which Tyler left to me – namely, that conservatives contribute to charity more – is something I talked about a while ago. In a nutshell, charity is meaningless. If you have 200 dollars to burn, the best way of spending them is contributing to politicians who help the poor; for a billion dollars every four years you can elect a President and a Congress that will push through programs that will increase federal payments to both the real (i.e. third-world) poor and the US poor by 30 billion dollars a year each.

Union Politics

March 8, 2007

Ezra approvingly quotes a commenter who says unions are important because, among other things, they lobby for greater worker protections. After reading Ezra’s quote, I started thinking of how labor organizations could lobby in a non-union structure and realized there’s a striking analogy to other movements. I said,

Actually, there’s no reason unions have to combine the roles that in the pro-choice movement are filled by two distinct organizations, Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Women who get abortions aren’t expected to pay dues to NARAL; women who file sexual harassment lawsuits don’t get told to pay NOW a percentage of the settlement; wrongly incarcerated people don’t have to pay ACLU membership fees to be represented.

A better way of organizing labor is to have two distinct organizations, albeit with the natural understanding that they’re going to employ the same kind of people and support the same kind of policies. The PP-like organization should focus exclusively on good works, such as class action lawsuits, strikes, and pay negotiations, and should be funded out of membership dues. The NARAL-like organization should lobby politicians and endorse like-minded candidates, and be funded by calling up supporters and asking them to cough up money.

The NARAL-like mode of action makes sense even from a purely union-side perspective. A pro-labor political organization can call up people and ask them to contribute without asking them to risk firing. People contribute to NOW and NARAL despite the free rider effect; why doesn’t a new organization, or for that matter the AFL-CIO, solicit donations?

Dominionism, Separation of Church and State, and Moderation

March 7, 2007

Jessica Dreadful notes that although Edwards claims God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he nonetheless rambles about how God agrees with him on issues like foreign policy and poverty. And as many people who know nothing of religious politics in the US, he ends up inventing his own position on school prayer, which is that children should get time to pray on their own. Jessica responds, “Great idea! Give children a certain amount of time to themselves where they can pray, think, basically do whatever they want! Why haven’t we thought of this before? Oh right, we have.. it’s called ‘recess.'”

Tyler uses the interview to start a frontal assault on the Democrats’ fellation of Dominionism. Why, he asks, do Democrats keep inviting people whose values are inimical to those of liberalism to the table? Or, in his own words,

The primary problem with Democrats appealing to evangelical voters is that most of them are bound to be like Jim Wallis. Maybe we have dragged them over on the economic issues, but they’re bound to be the same “culture of life” yahoos who current mill about on the right. In other words, we’ll probably end up with a crowd of modern William Jennings Bryans.

For a group to take over a party the way the religious right has seized the Republican Party, it must first have large numbers of voters and then have a leadership capable of telling the party to listen to its concerns. The leadership needs to be concerned primarily with the group’s main issues, and have a credible “We’ll vote the other way” threat; right-wing Dominionists don’t have the latter threat and aren’t interested in cultivating it, but make up for that in numbers.

Born-again Christians are already a quarter of the Democratic vote, but so many of them are minorities, whose leaders use their political capital to move the party left on race instead of right on religion, that they so far haven’t forced the party to adopt their religious agenda. More importantly, among minorities this arrangement has been there for decades; the influence of black churches has deterred the Democratic Party from cracking down on preachers who deliver tax-free political sermons, but has so far not prevented it from being pro-choice and mostly pro-science.

It’s plausible that the same arrangement could develop with working class whites. In such an arrangement, white Evangelicals would have a leader focusing primarily on labor and the environment, who would use religious language to talk to them but under no circumstances demand that the Democratic Party sacrifice a single socially liberal platform plank.

However, Jim Wallis is not such a leader. On the contrary, he openly disdains abortion and gay rights, and instead of telling religious people to vote Democratic spends his time telling the Democrats to lure religious people. His response to an incident such as Jerry Falwell’s claim that global warming is a Satanic myth would be more along the lines of telling the Democrats they must respect religious sentiments instead of ripping Falwell apart.

On the contrary, the group it makes the most sense for the Democrats to give voice to on matters of religion is non-religious voters. These probably comprise around 17% of the electorate now, albeit only 10% of voters, compared with 20% of the American population that attends church regularly. They naturally tend to be liberal, voting Democratic by margins approaching 3 to 1. And their primary issues are socially liberal platform planks that are already part of the core of liberal values.

When talking about issues important to people who vote based only on religious issues, it then makes much more sense for the Democrats to go all the way left. Obama shouldn’t be talking about the importance of religious charity; that only gives Wallis more political capital. Instead, it makes more political sense for him to talk about preventing religious charities from engaging in discrimination, which will lose him a small number of religious voters and regain an equal number of secularists.

Edwards’ approach is the worst, because it’s unreflectively moderate. On some issues, primarily foreign policy and some economic debates, there have evolved strong moderate positions that make sense in their own right. On religion, none has, so people who want to sound sensible end up making statements that are liable to piss everyone off. When Edwards says students need to get free time at school to pray, he doesn’t come off as a sensible centrist but as a clueless invertebrate.

The same pattern, in which there’s no serious moderate position, appears all over the map in social debates. On SSM, the moderate position, civil unions, has limited merit. On other gay rights issues, the American electorate has already abandoned the ad hoc compromise that is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On issues of science, there’s no compromise between good science and bad science. Abortion is alone among cultural issues in the US that admits a serious moderate position, but even it is different from what is considered sensible centrism on abortion, which is empty rhetoric about reducing the number of abortions.

And even on abortion, the Democratic Party has traditionally deferred to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. It’s changed lately, partly due to its courting of Dominionists and partly due to the waning influence of the old pro-choice movement. However, the latter has resulted mostly from women’s interests shifting to other issues; in contrast, no 34-year-old pro-secular consensus has existed that would make secular voters less interested in separation of church and state.

Hivemind Question: is This a Real Issue?

March 7, 2007

The New York Times has a story about Obama’s financial transactions. What stands out is that on his behalf his accountant made a highly speculative stock purchase that coincided with his major donors’ investments, which Obama sold at a loss after finding out about. However, the purchase included a biotech buy, two weeks after which he began making fighting avian flu a priority (though the corporation in question hasn’t received any federal funds for avian flu).

Is this a real issue? I’m too cynical to care about ethics issues – in my mind, every politician is as ethical as Vito Corleone, but some are better than others at hiding it – but your mileage may vary. Do you think it’s a real instance of corruption, or a legitimate dealing?

Giuliani is not Presidential

March 6, 2007

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post helpfully reminds non-New Yorkers who the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is. Giuliani, he reminds everyone, is hotheaded, abusive, and authoritarian, three characteristics that don’t make a good leader. There’s a reason Michael Corleone was a better don than Sonny.

Giuliani could be vindictive. He had no qualms about using government to settle a score. When the City Council overrode his veto of a bill to change the operations of homeless shelters in December 1998, Giuliani sought to evict five community service programs, including one that served 500 mentally ill people, in the district of the bill’s chief sponsor, and to replace them with a homeless shelter.

What’s more, he released a list of sites for other shelters that would be housed in the districts of council members who voted in favor of the override. (He backed down two months later, after much public outrage.)

He’s a moderate, and normally I’d appreciate it. But I’d rather have my moderates temperate, calculated, and effective; Giuliani is none of the three. Indeed, he’s even displaying that one ubiquitous characteristic of everyone in his profession – namely, hypocrisy.

Normally I don’t give a damn about intra-family feuds. That Giuliani is twice divorced means nothing to me. But that he’s asking for privacy when it comes to his son’s public refusal to support his candidacy is just hypocritical. For a start, when a candidate’s immediate family members refuse to stump for him and go as far as talking about family problems in public, it’s news. This is especially true in Giuliani’s case, because his second wife found out he wanted a divorce by watching him announce it at a press conference.

In addition, Giuliani has implied he does not believe in the right to privacy. When asked about judicial nominations, he specifically mentioned Scalia, Roberts, and Alito as his judicial rolemodels; none of the three believes in a constitutional right to privacy. So Giuliani is asking the media to remain silent about a legitimate story by citing a right he doesn’t think the unwashed masses deserve.

Walter Reed

March 6, 2007

Via the Sideshow: Walter Reed is not a VA hospital, but an army hospital, which belongs to a different system. This is important because a lot of people, including Gordo, are drawing the wrong lesson from the scandal and attacking the best health care system available to non-millionaires in the United States.

First, the VA is mind-bogglingly cheap. In 2005, the VA system cost $28.2 billion to operate; in 2004, it had 7.4 million enrolled veterans, for a per capita cost of $3,800. That’s still higher than the average of almost every country in the world, but is finally lower than this of Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland, unlike the general US average.

In contrast, Medicare and Medicaid cost $900 billion in 2005 and had 80 million enrollees, for $11,000 per capita. It’s expectable for them to cost somewhat more than the national average, because old people, who’re on Medicare, use more health services than younger people. But Medicare and Medicaid’s total cost divided by the USA’s entire population is already higher than the per capita cost of almost every public health care system in the developed world and almost as high as this of the VA system.

The VA is not only cheap but also good. On many indicators, the VA system is rated the best health care system in the US, largely thanks to a rebuilding effort in the 1990s produced by the system’s shocking state of neglect. The VA system reproduces many of the elements of good public health care: a focus on prevention, since enrollment is for life; a centralized database keeping track of who has gotten which tests and is suffering from what condition, since all VA hospitals are managed by the same system; efficient administration and a small paperwork burden, because of the centralized database.

That’s why, as Paul Krugman documents, opponents of public health care do their best to deride the VA system and instead promote bloated, inefficient programs extending Medicare, such as Medicare Part D. Walter Reed plays right to their hands, since it allows them to shift their argument from an ideological opposition to public health care, which is unpopular, to an attack on the government’s incompetence, which everyone likes to hear regardless of whether it applies.

Obama Winks to Dominionists

March 5, 2007

What appears to be an innocuous battle between Clinton and Obama for black voters has in fact turned into a Dominionist reference on Obama’s part: “Generation Joshua.”

Obama, an Illinois Democrat, declared himself part of a new cohort of black political leaders that he called “the Joshua Generation.” It was Joshua, the Biblical successor to Moses, who led the Jewish people to the Promised Land after Moses delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

To the average voter, the term means nothing; it could just as well be yet another of Obama’s hope-inspiring phrases, one of many Biblical references to civil rights. It’s not exactly out of the ordinary to use religious language to refer to the struggle for black-white equality in the US.

But in fact, it has a very specific meaning to Dominionists: Generation Moses was the generation of parents who sequestered their children from the outside world by homeschooling them, while Generation Joshua is the generation of those now grown-up children who will conquer American politics for the movement. Like Bush’s phrase “Compassionate conservative,” this is a calculated wink to Dominionists that Obama is in fact one of them.

Unlike cases in which an organization coopts an opposing movement’s language, as in Feminists For Life’s title, here there is nothing to gain by talking about Joshua. The terms “feminist” and “pro-woman” have significant levels of support and are familiar throughout mainstream politics; the reference to Joshua is something nobody except Dominionists and people who have read Kingdom Coming will catch.

The actual racial references Obama makes are clever, but still not very remarkable. Obama notes that just like slave-descended blacks have a family history of slavery and segregation, so does his father have a history of being on the receiving end of colonialism. It’s clever insofar as it will define him as black to black Americans, who tend to care more about that than other Americans, and as practically white to white Americans, who only know about slavery; but it says nothing about his politics or even his campaign.

However, the religious references peg him once again as a Dominionist. His attempt to split the difference in his Call to Renewal and endorse the Dominionist charity agenda could be plausibly described as excessive moderation. However, excessive moderates don’t generally use extremists’ language. On the contrary, they’re typically more concerned with language than they should be, taking great care to e.g. not sound too socialist when they advocate more government in health care or education.

Even the appeal Obama made to black voters seemed to be too much about religion and too little about racial equality. Clinton at least paid lip service to poverty and inequality, though months earlier, when push came to shove, she was silent when NYPD murdered an innocent black civilian. Obama doesn’t even pretend to talk about those issues; instead, he tries talking to black people the same way the religious right is, and hopes that because he’s a black Democrat, he’ll succeed.

Bush Admits the Failure of Bushism

March 5, 2007

The North Korean deal has a very Clintonian character to it; I wish I were the first person to note that, but Ice Weasel beat me to it. Nonetheless, the fact that Bush is engaging in serious diplomacy, consisting of negotiating a food for nukes program, suggests that he’s not so reckless as he seems when one looks only at Iraq.

Iraq is a spectacular occupation that the global media can’t get enough of. If he changes anything in it, even by commissioning an Iraq Study Group report that he has no intention of following the recommendations of, the media will notice and write about Bush’s admission of failure.

Bush is a politician. He wants to do good, subject to the constraint that what he thinks is good for the country and the world is slanted by what he thinks is good for himself and his wing of the Republican Party. He also wants to accumulate kudos, and that means getting the 30-35% of Americans who still approve of his performance to keep approving him. This means that while he can admit failure in private and change course in places where he can do so safely, he won’t do that in public.

In situations like this, it’s therefore a great boon for the relations with a country to be relatively out of the media spotlight. That way, politicians can learn from experience in dealing with it, leading to more Clintonian deals that emphasize pragmatism and fewer Bushite threats that emphasize grandstanding and self-righteousness.

Why Gore is not a Hypocrite

March 4, 2007

Stentor summarizes three rebuttals of the conservative argument that Gore is a hypocrite for preaching reducing emissions while having a huge electric bill. Two he agrees with; one he doesn’t, but makes an argument against it that I think shows, in a strictly Machiavellian way, why Gore is not a hypocrite. Says Stentor,

3) Gore does so much good work on this issue that he deserves to be allowed to be a little wasteful in his personal habits.

The problem is, argument 3 is not a valid one. It essentially says that the more you talk the talk, the less you need to walk the walk. Can you imagine anyone saying “you know, Mark Foley did so much good chairing the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children that he deserves to hit on a few pages. He earned it!” Of course not.

Actually, comparing environmentalism to not abusing teenagers is exactly why arguments from hypocrisy fall short here. Sexual abuse is an individual problem: the abuser hurts the abused individually. In contrast, environmental degradation is a collective problem, a tragedy of the commons: reckless energy consumers collective put a strain on natural resources and pump CO2 into the air.

It, of course, gets subtler than that. There are sexual abuse issues that are collective, especially if you believe that media images promote violence (and I don’t). And there are environmental issues caused by individual action; for example, a factory that dumps arsenic in a river is harming people’s health without regard for what other polluters do. Yet other issues straddle the line by being based on a tragedy of the commons among only a few actors.

However, energy use is very clearly a collective rather than an individual problem, so it makes no sense to talk about Gore’s immoral use of energy. Unlike in the case raping a single person to prevent ten from being raped, there is no real moral dilemma around issues that never affect people except collectively. If Gore causes less carbon to be emitted than he emits himself by a combination of carbon credits and activism, which we can assume he does, he’s a net energy saver.

There is possibly a meta issue around Gore’s energy use – namely, the fact that symbolically, if he uses less energy then people will take him more seriously. However, this is never the argument that’s peddled against him. Blogs like Common Sense Political Thought instead laugh at how Gore leaves the peons to conserve and pays his way out of his dues. But is conservation a moral tax to pay or a way of helping people? A rich person who contributes $30 billion to the eradication of AIDS is after all not told that he must fly to Africa and prescribe anti-retrovirals in remote villages to be credible.

And even if they did, it would in itself promote more carbon emissions. It’s acceptable for an impartial analyst to note that Gore’s energy use is causing people to take him less seriously. It’s not acceptable for a conservative activist to tell people not to take Gore seriously because he makes himself vulnerable to not being taken seriously. That kind of concern trolling should be reserved for party politics rather than for real issues, such as conserving energy.

Eternal Night

March 3, 2007

My book, Eternal Night, is finally edited in such a way that it’s readable. Before I send it to publishers, though, I’d like to run it by anyone here who’s willing to read it and comment on it. Please don’t post it publicly; I want to try publishing it on dead trees. If you think it’s bad, say so. Frankly, I think “You shouldn’t ever write fiction again” is more useful advice than “oh, it’s good” with no specifics.

As a reminder, the plot is about religious nationalism, defined loosely by Dominionism in the US, Islamism in the Islamic world, Hindutva in India, and so on. As Dominionists threaten to win the 2020 Presidential election in the US, in which case they’ll be able to pack the Court and roll bills through an obsequious Congress, the protagonist is drawn into large-scale conspiracies to keep them out of the White House.

This eventually becomes a political pissmatch between a secular liberal and multiple religious fundamentalists attacking him on various grounds… and at the same time, an Islamic superstate and a Catholic one are coalescing in the Middle East and Latin America respectively, and China and India are turning to naked aggression to fulfill their national ambitions.

Any takers?

Beating Brownback

March 3, 2007

On Ezra Klein, Stephen has a long, wonky piece about why Brownback is likely to win the Republican primary. Giuliani and McCain, he says, are mired in personal problems – public divorces or age – and used to be very hostile to the religious right. Romney is a Mormon, which is a serious problem for many Protestant fundamentalists in the US.

SLC suggests this will turn Hagel into a serious candidate, but Hagel’s trademark issue is isolationism, which doesn’t have a big constituency within the Republican Party, while Brownback’s is Dominionism, which does. Because of Bush, Stephen says (and I concur), Evangelists are very keen on a candidate who looks authentic, such as Brownback but not McCain.

The main problem with Brownback, as far as I’m concerned, is that he’s extremely electable. Polls aren’t very useful at this stage, but for what they’re worth, they pit Obama as the most electable Democrat and give him a higher share in the primary. The problem with Obama is that he’s perfect against any of the three currently leading candidates in the Republican primary, but useless against Brownback.

Giuliani, McCain, and Romney will all bleed support from religious voters, who could find solace in Obama’s hyper-religiosity. Giuliani would bleed the fewest because he could use race-baiting the most effectively to keep them in the Republican column, but as the aftermath of the macaca incident shows, racism is not so strong a political force as it used to be. Unlike Edwards, who says all that matters is class, Obama speaks religious voters’ native language. Furthermore, his general demeanor is one that can lock the Northeast and can play in Peoria.

Brownback changes everything. He’ll be able to effectively use cultural issues like abortion to lock the South and Plains states. He can drag Obama into a religious pissmatch Obama has no chance of winning; while Obama preaches faith-based prison rehabilitation programs at a Sojourners conference, Brownback does so from within a prison participating in such a program.

A Brownback candidacy will turn off a lot of people in the Interior West, who are more libertarian than fundamentalist. However, the Democrats have no good candidate who could regain their support; Warner and Feingold and possibly even Vilsack could, but none of them is running. Clinton could win in Arizona and New Mexico on immigration, and Edwards could win in Colorado and Montana on economic populism, but Brownback will be able to more than make up for that by thrusting into the Midwest. Richardson might be able to make significant gains, but his chances of winning the primary are marginally higher than Kucinich’s.

The Democrat who has the highest chance of defeating Brownback, Edwards, will probably not win the primary (and shouldn’t). In an Edwards/Brownback race, Edwards won’t win a single Southern state, but will likely be able to keep Pennsylvania and Michigan, and possibly win Ohio. Edwards’ natural weakness in the Northeast will matter less, since New Jersey won’t vote for Brownback no matter what (though it’s plausible Maryland will).

Further, the Midwest isn’t socially liberal. In a religious pissmatch, Obama will probably keep most blue states in the Midwest by wooing religious voters, and so can Edwards; however, Brownback will probably make gains. In particular, Pennsylvania is politically Midwestern; whereas the rest of the Northeast is to the bottom left or bottom right of the American center, Pennsylvania is to the top left, which is why it elected a pro-life Democrat to replace Santorum.

What this boils down is ultimately the Democrats’ lack of appeal to libertarians. Obama is overtly courting Dominionists and Edwards is covertly (Clinton will court whoever is willing to vote for her), but nobody is courting libertarians. On the contrary, on one of the most important issues to libertarian voters, budget-balancing, the Democrats are wavering even though they could cut the deficit in half by forcing a withdrawal from Iraq and then eliminate it by reducing administrative health spending, say by VAening Medicare.

Ironically, that’s part of Feingold’s appeal. In Wisconsin, he got support from libertarians by promising honest government and budget balancing and creating an outside the Beltway persona, and then living up to his promises and persona. Despite his being even more economically left-wing than Edwards – for a start, his health care ideas make more sense from a realist perspective – he has an almost unparalleled ability to appeal to libertarians. Add his Iraq War vote and his stance on civil liberties to the mix, and you have someone who’s in an excellent position to turn the election from a referendum on Christianity to a referendum on Bush.

Richardson might be able to fulfill the same role if only he could win the primary. He’s a Hispanic Governor, which already makes him strong in the Southwest; although he comes from the bluest and smallest Southwestern state, he could probably win Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada as well. Like Warner, he projects utmost managerial competence, in particular when it comes to diplomacy, making him strong on Iraq. He’s not going to be competitive in any state Bush won in 2004 east of the Mississippi, but there’s enough ground to make up west of it. Most significantly, a Brownback candidacy will cede the Northeast to the Democrats, leaving them room to concentrate on the West.

Oh, Crap

March 2, 2007

Hat-tip to SLC in the comments: Obama is discovering his hawkish side when it comes to Iran. He’s slightly less militant in rhetoric than Clinton and Edwards, but he more than makes up for that in inexperience, which may lead him to foreign policy blunders (to be honest, that also holds for Edwards, though less so for Clinton).

The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Here goes another candidate who’s practically begging for Ahmadinejad to stay in power. 6 down, 0 to go. I don’t mind much that Obama says Bush’s Iraq policy is bad for Israel; that’s true, and completely relevant given that he was speaking to AIPAC. In fact, it’s possible he’s just lying to Asher Levy et al to get their money and will screw them once in office. But, you know, he had the opportunity to talk about the potential for a democratic Iran without military action, and still chose to not only use the words “take no option off the table” but also especially mention “military action.”

SLC likes to ask me why I don’t support Hagel, who’s not into any of those stupidities. That’s because he’s decidedly conservative on all other issues, including civil liberties. In addition, Hagel is very pro-life, with a 0% rating from NARAL. I don’t know what kind of justice Giuliani will replace Stevens with – I’m guessing Gonzales, who’s suitably authoritarian – but I know Hagel will nominate a Scalia.


March 2, 2007

The article about hunger’s killing 18,000 children every day is now reverberating through the left-wing blogosphere. One of the persistent problems with hunger is that it’s not an especially spectactular mode of death. Most people who die of hunger die of malnutrition rather than outright starvation. People tend to only start caring when it coexists with a different problem, such as war or disaster:

The response to these disasters and conflicts such as in Sudan’s Darfur region and Lebanon has meant that most development aid has been used to save lives — not to help communities prevent disasters and promote development through agricultural programs, education for children and water conservation, Morris said.

The agency’s biggest operation today is in Darfur, where violence and security are major problems and 2.5 million people have fled their homes and now live in camps.

There aren’t that many posts around about hunger politics, which is regrettable. This is primarily an economic and political issue rather than a scientific one. Globally there are food surpluses; thanks to Norman Borlaug, famines are largely restricted to areas where food distribution is in shambles. Still, since the number of malnourished people in the world is about 850 million higher than it should be, here is a good program for reducing hunger:

1. Abolish first-world farm aid. It undercuts farmers in the third world; although they don’t affect subsistence farmers, they throw everyone else into poverty. NAFTA increased poverty in Mexico not because it’s free trade – free trade agreements everywhere else in the world raise standards of living in the poorer partner countries – but because unlike those other agreements, it let the rich partner dump government-subsidized corn in the poor one.

2. Divert development aid from economic to political development. Poor countries are usually able to grow on their own given a government that’s interested in development. Every democratic one is by design; most authoritarian ones aren’t.  As Amartya Sen has noted, no independent democracy with a free press has ever had a famine. India’s last one was just before it achieved independence (though it would’ve had a few but for the Green Revolution).

3. Support greater access to genetically modified crops. This largely involves either buying unlimited use licenses from Monsanto in exchange for strands whose seeds can be replanted, or cutting off the research funds of every corporation that asserts a right to trademark DNA and establishing university labs aimed at producing useful GMOs instead. Right now, low-income farmers often find themselves straining to pay for the extra seeds each year. In addition, corporate control is one of the reasons for suspicion of GMOs, which reduces its use below what is scientifically sensible.

4. Unilaterally open first-world markets to third-world goods. As Krugman has shown in his research of international trade, free trade doesn’t always provide comparative advantage to the poorer trading partner. Indeed, with the exception of the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore, every newcomer to the first-world club developed by replacing imports, rather than by inviting foreign corporations to set up shop. However, first-world tariffs on third-world goods negatively impact third-world economies, making it sensible to cut them without expecting reciprocal reductions in trade barriers.

5. Invest economic aid in infrastructure rather than capital or relief. Charity aid doesn’t do anything to help depressed regions; the Tennessee Valley Authority was good for temporarily providing jobs but never promoted any long-term development. Better uses for the money include road networks that make it easier to provide local relief and startup capital for economically productive regions (i.e. cities).

6. Debt relief. Need I say more? The US can afford to pay down its debt – it just chooses not to. Countries with a GDP per capita of 800 can’t. Note to creditors: you’re not going to see that money ever again anyway; deal with it.


March 1, 2007

The seventh installment of Philosophia Naturalis, the quadriweekly carnival of physics and technology, is up on Geek Counterpoint; the highlight is John Conway’s two-part series about the search for the Higgs boson. The next carnival will be posted on March 29th; the carnival webpage is here. Note that although the host is not yet publicly posted on the carnival webpage, the next available hosting opportunity is on 5/24.

The 33rd Carnival of the Liberals is up on Blue Gal in a Red State. The next edition will be posted on Brainshrub on 3/14.

The 108th Carnival of Education is up on Dr. Homeslice. No highlight is offered, although there were a few possible candidates. The 109th carnival will be hosted on 3/7 on What It’s Like on the Inside.

The Skeptics’ Circle is now up on The Second Sight, with a special numerology theme. The highlights are Hlynes’ takedown of yet another a scare story about genetically modified food and Phil Plait’s rant about the story of the creationist who got a Ph.D. in geoscience and made national headlines.

And, of course, remember that the Carnival of Mathematics is up on Michi’s Blog on 3/9 and the next Carnival of the Godless will be posted on Hell’s Handmaiden on 3/4.

Immigration Political Scorecard

March 1, 2007

Hat-tip to Lindsay: Amy Taylor of DMI Blog reports the position of each American Presidential candidate on immigration so that you don’t have to. I’ve only read the positions of the six serious candidates – honestly, Tom Tancredo’s position doesn’t matter since even if he wins the primary, he’ll lose the general by a Goldwaterian margin – but they don’t sound that different from one another.

All candidates, except possibly Romney, say they support giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, after they pay a fine. They differ on the details somewhat, but the differences are small. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the most restrictive that’s acceptable in American politics (e.g. Tancredo) and 10 is the most permissive (e.g. Kennedy), I’d say the gamut ranges from 5 to 9. And, mind you, the scale could easily expand; a Le Pen-style racist would be about a -5, while I’m about a 20.

Clinton follows her husband in being a hardliner on enforcement issues; she supports a mandatory ID card as a means of cracking down on illegal immigration. At the same time, on welfare-related issues she’s consistently taken a pro-immigrant stance, cosponsoring an act that would consider long-term residents who are in the US illegally as legal permanent residents and supporting a bill that would grant them in-state tuition (7).

Obama supports tough enforcement and in fact broke a promise not to vote for any enforcement-oriented bill that did not include a legalization component. In addition, he supports a guest worker program, but at the same time acknowledges its shortcomings and proposed an amendment that would require employers to pay everyone the prevailing wage regardless of immigration status (7).

Edwards talks about immigration as a labor issue, as he does on all other issues. He publicly rejected the notion that illegal immigrants suppress American workers’ wages. He also supports unionization as a means of helping illegal immigrants. On the other hand, he’s far vaguer than even Obama, and tends to underplay the issue (7).

Giuliani has repeatedly praised immigrants’ economic contributions. As Mayor of New York, he opposed an anti-immigration bill in 1996; more recently, he supported the more conciliatory Senate immigration bill over the punitive House version. On welfare his record is mostly positive; he had the City sue the federal government to restore welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. On the other hand, he has an anti-immigrant record on language issues, including bilingual education, and talks about the issue in terms of security just like Edwards does in terms of labor (8).

McCain clearly distinguishes between people who overstay their visas and terrorists. Together with Ted Kennedy, he introduced the conciliatory Senate bill mentioned above. He’s against the security fence, but prefers alternative high-cost gadgets to seal the US-Mexico border. Speaking to the AFL-CIO, he said that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want (9).

Romney supports the fence, and as Governor of Massachusetts supported requiring local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. He has said nothing about issues like a guest worker program or a path to citizenship. Conversely, he supports increasing the rate of legal immigration, which the US throttles (5).

The Globe and Mail: McCain is a Mustelid

March 1, 2007

The Globe and Mail has a delightful takedown of McCain’s announcement that he’ll run for President. Just as many American news outlets wrote about how Romney’s positions on the issues were prone to mutation under the pressure of political expediency, so does the Globe and Mail note how McCain is hardly the straight-talker people say he is.

Mr. McCain has changed his stripes in other ways that have alienated the independent voters and right-wing Democrats who used to adore him.

He opposed Mr. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and now vows to extend them. Once supportive of abortion rights, he now states that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, should be overturned.

And he is courting the Christian right wing of the Republican Party after dubbing evangelicals Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance” in 2000.

Despite his support for the war, Mr. McCain has parted ways with Mr. Bush and has condemned the use of torture by U.S. forces.

He also recently said that former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld “will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defence in history.”

Asked in a recent interview whether the Iraq war would be the major issue of the 2008 campaign, Mr. McCain engaged in what was probably a bit of wishful thinking, responding, “If things got under control in Iraq, if we are showing success, I’m not sure that it will be the biggest issue.”

My Take on the Latest Anti-War Bill

March 1, 2007

I’m not sure whether the Democrats’ latest attempt to remind Bush they won the election will do any good.

House Democratic leaders are developing an anti-war proposal that wouldn’t cut off money for U.S. troops in Iraq but would require President Bush to acknowledge problems with an overburdened military.


In the Senate, a group of senior Democrats wants to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Iraq would have to wait until the Senate finishes work to improve homeland security.

The latter resolution looks like something real, but the idea of requiring Bush to “acknowledge problems” sounds more like noise than like real action. It’s not something totally new to politics; the Republicans are only pro-life on election years, having a federal abortion law more liberal than Roe requires even though they have nearly veto-proof majorities for at least restricting it to what Anthony Kennedy will accept.

The Commissar is a lot less ambivalent than I am. He says, “I propose a nonbinding resolution suggesting that President Bush admit he has been a bad boy, and (per John the Marine) he should be politely requested to write on the blackboard 500 times, ‘I will not invade Middle Eastern countries based on weak intelligence ever again!'”

I still think it’s a buildup for a real bill, but, honestly, it’s more an issue of cowardice now than of political capital. The Democrats have proven that they possess the political capital for real action. Dragging the issue further just to be sure it’s safe makes no sense except when the party is as spineless as a flatworm. The Republicans have been reduced to using shoddy polls to get even small majorities on Iraq; there’s no need to delay action any further.

Tuesday Night Links

February 27, 2007

Echidne examines the consequences of shrinking government to the point that it can be drowned in a bathtub. She looks at what spending cuts have done to the FDA, which is conducting just half the food safety inspections it did three years ago (link). I don’t want to blow government out of proportions; I just want to increase it to the size that I can ride the subway without being infected with cholera, eat uncooked chicken without getting salmonella, and walk under a shed without worrying about the possibility of a collapse.

Ezra writes about free trade; although he has populist sentiments, he’s fairly pro-trade. In a heated argument between Brad DeLong and Jeff Faux, he comes down clearly on DeLong’s side after Faux dodges a legitimate question about free trade’s positive effects on China. Ezra takes Faux to task for ranting about Chinese domestic economic policy for being bad for the poor. Why impoverishing China by slapping tariffs on it will cause its government to change its policy when similar sanctions against other countries have miserably failed is beyond me.

Samhita asks whether it can truly be called feminist empowerment when women in Pakistan protest the demolition of illegally built mosques. The people on the comment thread tend toward realizing that, to quote EG, “Women are a huge segment of the population, and no social/political/religious movement would succeed without any support from women. But that doesn’t make the movement inherently feminist.”

Jenny explains why it’s not a feminist duty to support Hillary Clinton. Just like I don’t accuse anyone who opposes Obama of hating black people and anyone who opposes Richardson of hating Hispanics, so do I oppose allegations that opposing Clinton is something sexist. The proper feminist or antiracist or pro-gay or pro-atheist thing to do is support a candidate based on real issues, regardless of gender/race/sexual orientation/religion. Feminism doesn’t exist to empower Hillary Clinton, but to empower the 3,249,999,999 women who aren’t so powerful as to have a shot at becoming the most powerful person in the world.

Lindsay writes about the difference between the left-wing American blogosphere and the right-wing one. While the left-wing blogosphere seeks to turn itself into part of the Democratic Party, featuring a motley crew of policy analysts, movement activists, fundraisers, and screamers, the right-wing blogosphere only engages in scalping of the type Donahue did to Amanda.

Ruchira reproduces an article about Tehran that seems to strike the correct chord in depicting the city as highly cultured and developed and at the same time suffering from a fundamentalism problem. This isn’t Kandahar or even Baghdad we’re talking about, but a modern city that doesn’t have many ingrained problems a revolution won’t solve.

Brent notes that Mitt Romney is hardly the only person in the US who thinks atheists can’t be Presidents. A clueless law professor at Colorado University rants about atheists from about every imaginable angle, including coming out in support of Romney’s bigotry. Brent takes him to task for spouting inanities about atheists’ morality.

Skatje takes down arguments for preserving the Pledge of Allegiance so that you don’t have to. Hitting the nail right on the head, she says, “An oath of loyalty is something you see in totalitarian regimes, not something you’d expect in a nation that prides itself on freedom. In a classroom with children from as young as age five robotically chanting at a flag every morning, I’d also expect a big silver screen on one of the walls. I’ve already written about nationalism. Submission and obedience to a government is another leg of it.”

Tyler rants about excessive moderates who in order to look centrist compare atheists to fundamentalists. Unlike Tyler I don’t care enough for Dawkins to get agitated when someone does a hatchet job on him, but I do care enough for reality to see that atheism is as extreme as fundamentalism to the same degree that supporting full racial equality is as extreme as apartheid.