Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wasteful Spending

Finally, a way to cut truly wasteful spending:

"Now more than ever, we must eliminate needless spending wherever possible," President Obama said at a press conference Wednesday. "When we sat down to go over our annual budget, we asked ourselves, where can we safely trim back? What programs can we do away with without negatively impacting the American people? Which bloated and ineffective institutions can we no longer justify having around?"

"The answer was obvious," Obama added. "The U.S. Senate just needed to go."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Love and Honor to Miami

Miami University is in the Frozen Four!



Took two overtimes to get past those pesky Wolverines, but we got there. I just want to win one more game than we did last year.

The Redhawks play with heavy hearts this year. Team manager Brendan Burke died in a car crash earlier this winter. Burke's story is a remarkable one, do yourself a favor and read this John Buccigross article from a couple months before he tragically died. Every player is wearing a black clover with the initials BB on it in his honor. I can't think of a better way to honor his memory than winning it all.

Transit and Opportunity Costs

One of Ackerman's many quality guest bloggers points to a couple posts by Ryan Avent on smart phones and commuting. The basic thrust is that mobile computing, in the form of smart phones, is shifting the balance toward using public transit to commute to work instead of driving. You can't surf the web, check email, etc while driving. Or rather you can, but not safely.

I saw the tweet mentioned in one of Avent's posts this weekend and it certainly made sense to me. As a result, I made a point of getting up a bit earlier than usual this morning and grabbing a bus to work instead of driving. I was very pleased with the decision. It only took one bus to go nearly door to door, and I was able to relax, enjoy my coffee, and read the Economist on the way. Much better than driving through rush hour traffic of Minnesotans who don't know how to merge.

The price difference is negligible, thanks to the cheap parking in St Paul. $2.25 each way for the bus during rush hour versus $3 in parking. Add in gas, wear and tear and general annoyance, and it's about equal. I foresee more buses to work in my future.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to fix the Senate

Ned Resnikoff has an idea:

Democratic Senator X threatens to place a blanket hold on everything–and I mean everything–filibuster anything that does happen to make it to the floor, and generally abuse the hell out of every single parliamentary stalling tactic he can get his hands on until enough of his colleagues get fed up and agree to negotiate reform.

That sounds like it would backfire. But after hearing stories like this one, drastic measures to reform the rules of the Senate sound better and better. Unfortunately, even a retiring Senator like Evan Bayh probably doesn't want to tarnish his reputation with this sort of stunt. Fun idea, though!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pizza-gate heats up

Ackerman has an apparently unlimited number of guest-bloggers, and many of them are into pizza:

Dude, have you ever seen the wedges they serve at any given hole-in-the-wall Ray’s in New York? Those things aren’t snacks, they’re spatial-reasoning problems. And the square footage of cheese and meat loaded on is so unholy that it’s a miracle Bloomberg hasn’t tried to regulate it yet. New York slice, a snack? The First Lady would be deeply ashamed.
[...]
I want to push back more robustly against the dominant assumption that comparing regional pizza styles is worthwhile to begin with. We as a nation need to acknowledge that over the decades, we’ve developed at least three different styles of pizza — New York, Chicago, and New Haven — that have evolved into such distinctive eating experiences that putting them up against each other doesn’t even make sense.

Perspective on Pizza-gate

Another of Ackerman's guest bloggers analyzes the pizza choices of the President and First Lady.

Consider that traditional New York pizza is so thin and wide that you have to fold it to eat. Chicago style pizza, on the other hand, is basically a foot of cheese. If you happen to be a First Lady interested in fighting childhood obesity it’s a no-brainer which kind of pizza you pick.

Ok, I can see that. But she should have chosen her words more carefully. Say good things about the relative healthiness of New York style pizza, don't put it above Chicago pizza in general. He does make a salient point regarding the general battle between the two types of pizza:

Truthfully, they really aren’t that comparable. Thick crust is a meal, thin crust is a snack.

Anyone who has tried to eat more than two slices of Connie's deep dish in one sitting can attest to this.

Amateurs

TNC draws on his experience in the civil rights movement, and proclaims the tea party activists amateurs for allowing racist and hateful acts to happen during their protests:

I hear GOP folks and Tea Partiers bemoaning the fact that media and Democrats are using the extremes of their movement for ratings and to score points. This is like Drew Brees complaining that Dwight Freeney keeps trying to sack him. [...] [M]y point is that the whining reflects a basic misunderstanding of the rules of protest. When you lead a protest you lead it, you own it, and your opponents, and the media, will hold you responsible for whatever happens in the course of that protest. This isn't left-wing bias, it's the nature of the threat.

He points out that in the Million Man March, they went to great lengths to avoid embarrassing incidents:

The last thing any of us wanted to do was to march down to the Mall and have the next day's headline read, "Niggers Can't Even March Without Fighting."

He makes a very good point, and one I hadn't really thought about. But he realizes a problem with it, as well:

It's possible that if the Tea Partiers cleaned up their ranks--purged the birthers, publicly rebuked people like this guy, banned Hitler signs, loudly rejected any instances of racism--that they simply wouldn't have much of a movement left.

(It makes me really sad that I couldn't fit a Big Lebowski quote into this post.)

Divided Government

Many very smart, self-described independents or centrists enjoy touting the idea that divided government is the answer to all our woes. The idea is that forcing the president to compromise with a congress from the other party, you get centrist solutions to big problems. Sounds good in theory, but how does it work in practice? The Brookings institute had a discussion about it.

My view: put down the crack pipe. How much did George W Bush get done in 2007 and 2008? Not a whole lot. People point to the Clinton presidency, but his big budget was in '93, and welfare reform is a quintessentially conservative idea. "Get those welfare queens off their asses and back to work!" Do you think the GOP can back down from its rhetoric and actually try to work with the president, even if they hold the levers of power after this November? They've made it impossible to compromise.

Going by what I can tell of GOP policy positions, any attempt by the Obama administration to tackle immigration would have no amnesty and would probably include more walls and fences on the border, any attempt to tackle climate change would be rebranded as energy independence and mostly consist of drilling for more oil and natural gas, and any attempt at deficit reduction wouldn't actually do anything to the deficit. Seriously, you can't tackle the deficit without tackling health reform and defense spending.

Anything to the left of these positions has been roundly demonized by the Republican party. The Democratic party has been proposing solutions that would be center-right in any other industrialized nation, and has been called socialist. I don't see how compromise is going to happen. The GOP position for compromise has been "take our ideas and throw yours out." That's not how it works.

At the end of the day, if the GOP takes back the House and/or the Senate in 2010, my money is on them doubling down on a strategy of obstruction. It worked, right? Obama will get very little done in the second half of his presidency. Most legislation that is passed will be small and compromised to the point of uselessness, like this joke of a "jobs bill." At a time when our country has big problems, we're only going to get small solutions.

(Hat Tip to attackerman's guest blogger for the Brookings link)

Friday, March 26, 2010

I retract any and all support for the Obamas

How can I continue to support someone who is so willing to blatantly lie and pander?

The Grimaldi's waiter who served the family, Rafal Harajda, told City Room that after they finished their meal of four pies—a plain, a pepperoni, a sausage and one with mushrooms, peppers and onions—the First Lady of the United States of America declared, "It was better than Chicago pizza." [emphasis in original]

If she wasn't pandering, it is an even more egregious statement. I hereby disown the Obamas. I wash my hands of them.

START II or The Prague Treaty

Via ArmsControlWonk, the White House released a fact sheet on the treaty that President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin Dmitry Medvedev verbally agreed to today. The top-line numbers are a reduction to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 800 delivery vehicles over ten years. This is still enough for each country to blow up the world. For perspective, though, at the height of the Cold War, in 1966, the US had over 32,000 warheads, and currently has in the neighborhood of 5,000. This is a significant improvement, to say the least.

There is a clause that is politically necessary for the US, but disappointing:

The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I oppose almost any type of missile defense programs. But the president needs 67 votes in the Senate to ratify this treaty. That's going to be hard enough, so picking a fight over missile defense just isn't worth it.

This is a positive step, but I'm slightly pessimistic about Obama's ability to get this treaty ratified.

The mother of all non-stories

MPR reports that a New Hampshire mayor says that Tim Pawlenty is testing the waters for a run for the presidency.

"Pawlenty makes no secrets about it, he's testing the presidential waters," [Manchester Mayor Ted] Gatsas said.

Uh... No shit?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The fierce urgency of incrementalism

Robert Gates announced today that he was directing the military to limit the enforcement of "Don't ask, don't tell." Effective immediately, it becomes much harder to discharge a soldier under DADT unless they actually out themselves. It's certainly a step in the right direction.

It is disappointing that over a year into the Obama administration, we've got the DoD looking into how to end DADT and a decision to lessen the enforcement. It is easy, as someone who is not personally invested in gay rights issues, to say "hey, health care was important, DADT had to wait." I can understand, however, that Dan Choi does not feel that way.

Unfortunately, it is going to take an act of congress to overturn DADT completely. That means 60 votes in the senate, before this November. I am very doubtful that this will happen.I guess that bridge will be crossed when we get there, but for now this is the most that can reasonably be done. I wonder if the GOP will be as concerned with public opinion as they were with health care if/when Joe Lieberman's bill to repeal DADT hits the floor? Somehow I think it will have as much effect as the opinion of top flag officers.

Lines I wish I had written

Yglesias looks at consumption taxes:

[O]ne of the very best kinds of tax increases we could pursue would be higher taxes on alcohol. Personally my low-carbon, high-booze lifestyle makes me wish that the policy case weren’t so clear. But it really is clear.

Yglesias and I very much agree on this. Consumption taxes on things that are bad for the public well-being are an excellent way to raise revenue and drive changes in public behavior. At some point we need to look at changing the perverse and back-asswards incentives currently in our government policy.

Chutzpah

It turns out it's the Democrats who are fanning the flames of hate and violence:
"It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain," [House Minority Whip Eric Cantor] said. He called out DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chair Tim Kaine by name as those who are "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."

"To use such threats against members of congress is not a partisan issue," he said. "By ratcheting up the rhetoric some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels."

I'm confused

It's not over yet, folks. The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled a couple small provisions out of order in the reconciliation bill. So it will have to go back to the House once the Senate passes it. From all reports, the changes are minor, and won't affect the legislation in any meaningful way. So with any luck, once the Senate passes it, the House will have the same 220 votes to pass the reconciliation bill again.

Here's my question: why the hell did this happen at all? If I were the Democrats, before I finished the reconciliation package and got it to the floor for a vote, I would have sat down with the parliamentarian and made sure there was nothing at all in the package that could get successfully challenged. There's no reason they should have left themselves open for this sort of chicanery. Perhaps tomorrow, as more analysis and reporting is done, I'll have a better answer. But right now, this looks like a classic case of #demfail.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Credit where credit is due

House Minority Leader John Boehner spoke out against the acts of violence that have become depressingly common during the health-care debate and now, after its passage. (Including against Official Congressman of Bullied Pulpit, Tom Perriello.) Putting aside the "maybe if you didn't use such inflammatory rhetoric, people would be less pissed off and nutty" argument, I think he hit pretty much the right tone:


“Well, there are a lot of angry Americans and they are angry over this health care bill.  They’re angry about the fact that the Democrats here in Washington aren’t listening to them.  But I’ve got to tell you that violence and threats are unacceptable.  It is not the American way.  Yes, I know there is anger, but let’s take that anger, and go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, and let’s do it the right way.  I’m concerned about the amount of violence and anger that’s out there … it’s unacceptable."

I'm going to regret this

But I want to take a few minutes to respond to Ross Douthat's post about Bart Stupak and pro-life Democrats.

And yes, the health care bill, as passed, effectively tilts public policy in a more pro-choice direction: The fact that women are required to write a separate check for abortion coverage means that public money isn’t literally paying for abortion, but it doesn’t change the fact that federal dollars are being spent in ways that make it much easier to obtain abortion-covering insurance.
[...]
Yet who, in the political arena, really seemed to be on his side? Not the pro-choice left, obviously, which was willing to sacrifice the entire health care bill to the principle that nobody should have to pay for an abortion out of pocket.

Let's be clear. The Hyde Amendment will still be in effect. So no public dollars will be spent on abortions. Put aside my "radical" view that the Hyde Amendment is an infringement on a woman's right to a legitimate medical procedure, and let's look at what exactly Douthat is complaining about. Under the rules in the Affordable Care for America Act (no longer a bill!), in order for a woman to get insurance that covers abortion while also getting subsidies to help pay for coverage, she must buy a separate add-on to her insurance, paid for separately, with her own money. (The Stupak Amendment in the now-dead House bill actually prohibited women getting coverage from exchanges or with subsidies from getting any abortion coverage at all.)

So this "tilt" that Douthat speaks of is a woman's right to pay for abortion coverage with her own money while simultaneously getting insurance through a government program or with government help. I wouldn't say this law makes it "much easier to obtain abortion-covering insurance." I would say that the law makes it "much easier to obtain insurance." Hell, I could argue that getting abortion coverage is now comparatively harder, since getting overall insurance is easier.

Finally, Douthat takes a shot at "the pro-choice left" which was erroneously standing up for the principle that "nobody should have to pay for an abortion out of pocket."

I admire the pro-life right for their insistence that they stand up for the principle that women should have to jump through as many hoops as possible to get a basic medical procedure, if it cannot be banned outright.

Small government, my ass.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I thought I lived in Minnesota

But I seem to have taken a wrong turn and ended up in Texas:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter today to Attorney General Lori Swanson asking her to review “legal issues” raised by the just-passed federal health-care-reform package.

Are you fucking serious?

Thankfully, Lori Swanson is a DFLer, so I'm pretty confident that this is going to do nothing other than endear Pawlenty to Tea Partiers in preparation for his presidential bid in 2012.

State Budgets and Recessions

Living in Minnesota and being from Illinois, it is impossible for me to ignore the awful effect that "The Great Recession" has had on state budget balance. Minnesota is looking at deficit of over a billion dollars, and Illinois' budget is in the worst shape of any state not governed by an Austrian movie star. Why did state budgets take such a hard hit, and why is this a problem? Here's the background:

  • State and local governments cannot run budget deficits. Many states have balanced budget language in their constitutions, and even those that don't are unable to borrow or print money like the federal government.
  • Most states have income taxes, but they, along with county and municipal governments, also get a large portion of their revenue from sales and property taxes. In a recession, people lose their jobs (driving down income tax reciepts), buy less (driving down sales tax receipts) and especially in this recession, property values plummet (driving down property tax receipts). 
  • State-run programs like Medicaid, unemployment insurance and assistance, and other state-run health care programs for the poor are most in need during recessions, right when available funds plummet.

These factors are structural. They are also quite predictable. So when the Great Recession hit, how did the country deal with the problem? An ad-hoc combination of federal stimulus dollars and state-level tax hikes and spending cuts.

Why are the tax hikes and especially spending cuts so bad? They actually exacerbate the effect of the recession. When states start laying off employees and cutting back on assistance to the unemployed and working poor, those people stop spending money, worsening the economy and further lowering state tax revenue. It's a vicious cycle. That's the economic argument. The more moralistic argument is that cutting health care for the poor, laying off teachers, and letting our already crumbling infrastructure deteriorate further is just wrong.

The best weapon against this is federal deficit spending. I know it's hard to talk about deficit spending when so many are screaming that the sky is falling due to the national debt. But in a recession, basic economics says that the federal government must step in to replace the falling demand from consumers. Ideally, the government would have built up cash reserves during the good times, instead of racking up big deficits, allowing the spending to be less painful. Unfortunately, eight years of a fiscally irresponsible Bush administration put the kibosh on that. However, that's still no excuse to hang states out to dry. Accordingly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a large infusion of cash to state and local governments. It hasn't been enough, and it had to go through the political gauntlet of passing a polarized and politicized congress.

Therefore, it would make sense for there to be automatic stabilizers that kick in when a recession hits. The ad-hoc way we currently deal with recessions is not working. Are there any? I asked Nick Johnson, who heads up the State Fiscal Project for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The simple answer is no, there are no automatic stabilizers for state revenue that kick in during a recession.  The more complicated answer is there are some potential such mechanisms, but they don’t work well

Well, that's disappointing. The potential mechanisms he refers to are the "rainy-day funds" that some states have but are too small to deal even with small recessions, and the automatically increasing federal Medicaid funds as more members enroll that must be matched by increasing state funds. So clearly, there's room for growth. As it turns out, Mr. Johnson already wrote an article for the American Prospect on the same topic, to which he pointed me.

When I was thinking about and researching this post, I realized that I had basically no idea what an automatic stabilizer would look like. I had only a vague idea of emergency funds being sent to states when the economy hits some benchmark that marks a recession. Thankfully, Mr. Johnson's article lays out some more specific ideas. For example, pegging the federal funds for Medicaid to the unemployment rate and working in recession boosts to the formulas that dictate the grants states get for education and human services. He also puts the onus on the states to do a better job of building up better rainy-day funds, and not falling into the trap of pro-cyclical policies.

That last piece of advice applies to the federal government. We need to do a better job of getting our fiscal house in order when the economy is flying high, so that we can better respond when it comes crashing down.

But overall, it's important that Washington take some steps to ensure that in future recessions there is a way to support state budgets without having to go through the time-consuming and policy-wrecking gauntlet that is the US Congress. Our current policy falls way too hard on the people who least deserve it.

(Published at MinnPost)

Quick note on process

I know, I know, I rail against process stories all the time. But I'll make it quick, I promise. Just a little hypocrisy, not a lot.

After the Senate bill passed in the House, Republicans introduced a motion to recommit. Put simply, they wanted pro-life Dems to have to take an embarrassing vote on abortion rights in order to pass the bill. The motion would send the bill back to committee and add Bart Stupak's abortion language back into the bill, which would then mean it needed to be voted on again. I had no doubt that Dems weren't dumb enough to fall for this little gambit and pass the motion, but they went one better.

After a GOP Rep got up and railed against the abortion provisions in the bill, and how it would include federal funding for abortions for the first time in decades (blatantly untrue), who got up to give the Democratic rebuttal and make the case for voting down the motion? Bart Stupak. He proceeded to give an impassioned case for the bill. He explained that the health care bill already had protection against abortion in it, but also that it did so much more to protect the lives of mothers and children, born and unborn, and that any truly pro-life person would support the bill. It was masterfully done.

Perhaps Dems are learning more about optics. Finally.

A lot to be proud of

Jonathan Bernstein points out that it wasn't just Obama, Pelosi, and Reid that got Obamacare passed:

But individuals, and especially small groups of people, really can make a difference.  This battle over health care reform is one time when it wasn't just the lobbyists, or the interest groups, or the politicians...whole bunches of small groups of people, in states and Congressional districts across the nation, turned a handful of Senate races and a dozen or two House races around and, sixteen or so months later, their work is, today, most likely going to change the country.  If you're one of them, it's a day to be proud of what you've done. 

I contributed, canvassed, made phone calls, and wrote letters to the editor, but there were many who did much more. Grassroots groups across the country, from USPIRG to Organizing for America to MoveOn.org, made phone calls, wrote letters, knocked on doors, signed petitions, and raised money to get this done. It was a group effort. Many many people can feel good about this.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Reform is Law

It's been a long, hard fight, but it's over. 32 million people will eventually gain insurance through the efforts of the Obama administration and a Democratic congress. Many will say that this is the greatest piece of social legislation since the Great Society. Whatever it is, it's an incredible achievement, made even more impressive by the environment in which it was done. A devastating recession, an opposition party committed to demonize, obstruct, and rabble-rouse at every opportunity, and a huge amount of money being spent by health industries to lobby against reform. In the end, through herculean efforts by the President, Speaker, and Senate Majority leader, this historic bill was passed.

This is a victory for compassion, for humanity, and for America.

Waterloo

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum thinks the passage of health care will be the Waterloo that Jim DeMint spoke of. Unfortunately, he says, it will be the GOP suffering the defeat.

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

Here's the question: when the GOP wins a bunch of seats in 2010, (which they will do no matter what happens on health care, majorities this large aren't sustainable) will they take it as vindication for their strategy? Frum sees it as a failure, but the GOP may see it as success.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why I don't read Politico

I know Politico is supposed to be the be-all, end-all of political reporting inside the Beltway. That said, I don't have it bookmarked. I occasionally read Laura Rozen, and she has an on-and-off spot on my RSS aggregator. That's it. Why? Well, this is why:

But this article comes from an insider mindset so corroded by cynicism that it cannot fathom a world where any political actor does anything for any reason other than naked self-promotion. Is it really so naive of me to believe that Dick Cheney keeps arguing for an all-powerful executive unencumbered by the Constitution, the courts, or congress because he misguidedly believes that would keep us safe, and not simply because he wants to be on TV? It's a repulsive mindset, and one that shouldn't be treated as sensible and mainstream by the press, but I think it's heartfelt!

The article is a fantastic takedown on the cynical, process-oriented, horserace bullshit that Politico shovels out day after day. The last thing Washington needs is a news outlet that is dedicated to process, since most other mainstream media outlets are already 90% there. Politico just decides to ditch that last pesky 10% of actual policy discussion in favor of even more "who's up, who's down" crap.

Even worse, this is the stuff that Washington insiders read all day long. Chris Matthews and his guests (usually at least one Politico reporter each show) talk all the time about how essential Politico is for pols in DC. The people in DC read so much of this inside baseball crap that they start believing it. The cynic in me says that many of them were hopeless before they got to DC, but when our representatives are reading such utter crap all day long, it must have an effect. And they're no longer governing, they're locked in an eternal horserace.

(HT: Sullivan)

Health Care Weekend

Here's my weekend playlist:

Europe - The Final Countdown
Robert Tepper - No Easy Way Out
Survivor - Eye of the Tiger
Survivor - Burning Heart
Bill Conti - Gonna Fly Now

Isn't that just the tracklist from the Rocky Balboa soundtrack, you ask? Who cares, it's the final countdown!

While we're on it, might as well add another:

James Brown - Living in America

I'll be keeping an eye on TPM... things look good so far!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Times

DiA wants to know what makes Congress such a great place to be:

...I just don't get why House members wouldn't vote their policy preferences and let the chips fall, maybe lose an election and then go on to make real money. I just don't see why anyone else would try to desperately to get elected to Congress if they didn't want to, I don't know, influence public policy towards their genuine preferences. But maybe it really is great fun; in our water-cooler chat over this, my fellow New York blogger disagreed with my premise here, and thinks it must really be pretty delightful for these guys, so much so that they'll do anything to keep the good times going. I can't say I understand it, but he must be right; there's no other way to explain most House members' behaviour most of the time: "forget policy—don't you know I have to keep my seat?"

Ego from the title, maybe? Power trip? I don't know. I don't get it either.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Progressives and Leverage

Glenn Greenwald has a great post up on Salon about the lack of bargaining power that Progressives (liberals) have in Congress. Essentially, nobody believes that Progressives have the will to kill a bill for not being liberal enough. Rahm predicted that they would fall in line and could basically be ignored, and he was right. As a result, progressive priorities like the public option never had a chance.

Interesting stuff, but I'm not sure how I stand. I've been on the side of "ditch the public option, take what you can get, and pass the bill" for quite some time. But I can understand the argument that at some point, liberals lose their ability to shape legislation if they cave on every issue. I can't imagine that a bill as massive as this that ultimately accomplishes a major progressive goal (32 million more Americans will be covered) is the place to take that stand. But where is the appropriate place to flex your muscle? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Hardest Working Guys and Gals in Washington

Let's have a hearty round of applause for Doug Elmendorf and the men and women working at the Congressional Budget Office. These people have been worked into the ground by the constantly changing health-care bills. Through it all, they have done nothing to try to get in the limelight, just worked their tails off in order to ensure that Congress and the public know what they're passing. They deserve a good long vacation after this bill passes (fingers crossed) on Sunday. Or at least a bonus.

Get It Done

Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, whose name has become synonymous with losing a congressional seat after a tough vote, has some strong words for wavering Democrats:

[The moral of my story is] that there are times in all our careers when we must ask ourselves why we're here. I decided that my desire for public service at that moment was greater than my desire to guarantee continued service. Yes, there are few jobs as rewarding (mostly) as being a member of Congress, and I was let down after I lost. But I believed then and now that being able to point to something tangible that changed our country for the better was a more powerful motivator than the possible electoral repercussions.

Let's hope they listen.

Bipartisanship

I agree with the GOP. Graduation rates matter. And don't be assholes, Dems, volleyball teams need lovin', too.

(This post brought to you by "Doesn't Congress have better things to do?")

Quote of the day

"I can assure you, contra Glenn Beck's darkest fantasies, that there is no Secret Liberal Cabal at which Andy Stern is doing tequila shots off Michael Moore's jiggling belly while Markos and Dennis Kucinich eat vegan hors d'oeuvres and share notes on messaging strategy. (Or if there is, I haven't been invited.)" -- Nate Silver

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Electoral Reform (II)

A couple Minnesota Republicans write to MinnPost to explain how Instant Runoff Voting will help all the political parties in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Ranked-choice voting is a tested and successful system used in cities across America and in democracies around the world, including Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia. It had a successful rollout last year in Minneapolis and is on track for implementation in St. Paul. It's time to take this idea to the state level for consideration and — we hope — adoption.  Such a development would be good for all parties and citizens regardless of their political leanings.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Missing the point

NPR's Frank James wants to know why Obama is claiming ignorance of the politics of health care reform on the stump.

The president clearly wants to be perceived as taking the high road with that statement and leave the impression he's so super focused on the what's best for the American people that he has no time for the nitty gritty of the politics swirling around the issue.

But lawmakers tend to expect presidents of their own party to be hypersensitive to the politics of hot button issues, especially when control of Congress is at stake. Members of Congress certainly are. 

But he's not speaking to Congress. He's talking to the American people. And his message is "this is right for you, so I'm gonna fight for it, no matter what those idiots in Congress think." He has an approval rating hovering around 50%, Congress' is in the 20s. People care about outcomes, not process, no matter what you hear on cable news. He wins this argument.

Unallotments and seperation of powers

Governor Tim Pawlenty's lawyers are at at the Minnesota Supreme Court today, arguing a case regarding his use of unallotments in last year's state budget. In short, he took the budget passed by the (Democratically controlled) state legislature, and used the obscure gubernatorial power of unallotment to make unilateral cuts in spending, citing the dire straights of the state budget deficits. The victims of one of those cuts took them to court, alleging that his use of unallotments was unconstitutional. MinnPost reports:

In doing so, said Justice Helen Meyer, the governor “by definition, [is] not giving full effect to a law passed by the Legislature.” Instead, the governor is “deciding which laws to give full effect to.”

Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide how much power the Governor has, and how deep a budgetary hole the state is really in.

One Year

So the first post on this blog was one year ago today. (Down to the minute, actually, thanks to the wonders of scheduled posting.) It certainly has grown a bit. I averaged a little under ten posts per month over the first nine months of the blog, and somewhere upwards of 40 for the past three. I've been doing a bit more straight linking and excerpting, which accounts for some of that increase in volume.

I think my focus has evolved a bit from foreign policy to domestic policy. That's because, at least in my mind, right now domestic policy is more interesting/entertaining/divisive recently than foreign policy. Afghanistan and Iraq are both complete clusterfucks, but the decisions have been made. I'm more pessimistic by the day about Iraq, but I don't see us staying there, no matter what Ricks says. The fun decisions on Afghanistan will be in about 18 months, when the country still doesn't have a functioning government and we're supposed to be leaving.Yemen will be done behind the scenes. Pakistan is still behind the scenes, and seems to be paying dividends, with the capture of what seems like half of Taliban's leadership.

Ok, I'll be totally honest. I'm as guilty as the next guy of focusing on conflict. But hey, it's interesting! And I feel like it would be criminal not to talk about the dysfunction in Washington.

Any suggestions on where to go from here?

Worth a shot?

Lexington:

Democrats believe some odd things, too: a recent Pew poll found that they were roughly twice as likely as Republicans to believe in reincarnation, spiritual energy and astrology. But such beliefs have few political consequences. Democrats have not yet tried to spread the idea that voting Republican will ensure that you come back as a cockroach.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

True Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

Mike Meyers--no, not that Mike Meyers--has a good editorial in today's Star Tribune about agricultural subsidies. They distort the markets, help already-rich large farmers, and contribute to the decline in numbers of small farms. Unfortunately, too many congresspeople are beholden to the farm conglomerates in their states and districts. And no presidential hopeful wants to anger Iowa's corn farmers if they want a nomination.

The way we subsidize food and farms is completely insane from a public health perspective, as well. We should be working on making healthy food cheaper, instead of spending lots and lots of money ensuring that everyone has access to unhealthy and unsustainable food like fatty beef grown on subsidized feed corn (also known as a Big Mac). There's an obesity problem in this country, if you hadn't noticed. (Though we may have hit the upper bound of just how obese a nation can get. Not much consolation.) This an odd place where liberals want smaller government. These subsidies have got to go.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When the going gets tough... (II)

Ezra Klein has a great interview with Sen. Bayh. I find myself agreeing with almost everything said. Except for one big thing, I guess. His decision to quit instead of fight for changes that might fix the problems he lays out.

On a lighter note, this is Evan Bayh on Death Panels:

My take on that was, I'm reasonably confident that there are no death panels in this bill, but if there are, that's an appointment I want. That's power. Forget Finance. Forget Appropriations. I want the death panel.

Seriously, though, read the interview. This is the sort of introspection and analysis we hope for from our elected leaders. Ezra asks him why he quit instead of fighting for reform from within, and Bayh sounds like he's got a case of burnout. I still disagree with his decision to quit, but I've got a lot more respect for where he's coming from.

On Boxing (Random Tangent)

When will boxing promoters realize that they are part of the reason their sport is mostly dead? I have a passing interest in watching Pacquiao/Clottey tomorrow night. I wouldn't mind spending an hour watching the fight. But I'm not going to pay $50 for it.

The only boxing on cable or network TV are fights between people nobody cares about. At least once per year, there should be a prize fight on network TV or basic cable. How many people could they get to tune in and get hooked? As is, boxing promoters are doing nothing to market their sport outside the dedicated cadre of fans that they already have. I freely admit that I don't know how advertising revenue would stack up to the revenue from PPV buys. But I have to believe that the number of PPV buys on the next prize fight would get a decent bump from a heavily promoted prize fight on ESPN or NBC. (And god knows NBC could use a sporting event worth mentioning.) Isn't the expansion of your sport worth more than the immediate payout from putting fights on PPV?

(If nothing else, put a damn fight on HBO, without it being PPV. I get free HBO--thanks, Comcast--and I would like to see the fight for the $17/mo that I'm not paying.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The periphery

Good signs on earmark reform, but let's not get carried away. This will not even make a dent in deficits. Earmarks are a minuscule percentage of the federal budget. They're annoying and an avenue for corruption, but when pols hail this as a step toward fiscal responsibility, the proper response is a chuckle.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Echo chambers

Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias comment on this report by the Colombia Journalism Review about Fox News and cable news in general. Yglesias puts it pretty well:

If you live in Washington and work in politics, it’s always almost shocking to read the truth about how low the ratings are for cable news. Especially when you’re talking about daytime cable news in a non-election year...

But the reason it’s hard for political pros in DC to grasp this is that people in Washington are constantly watching cable news. It’s really weird.

It's a giant echo chamber, to steal a phrase from Drum. Politicos watch cable news, and they drive cable news. It's a vicious circle. And it has very little bearing on what the public knows/thinks/cares about. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Electoral Reform

DiA notes that the Oscars used a form of voting known as "instant runoff", "ranked choice", or "single transferable vote" to decide best picture.

Now imagine congressional elections with STV, and no primaries. The candidate who appeals to many but not all Republicans, and also appeals to some Democrats, has an advantage over his fire-breathing opponent. And he should, since STV aggregates everyone's preferences, not just that of the plurality.

I've slowly grown to like the idea of using instant runoff (the term with which I was introduced to the concept way back in 11th grade) more and more. I should note that the local elections in November here in Minneapolis used IRV, and in the same elections, St Paul approved a referendum to hold future elections with the same method. First past the post voting like we have for national elections in the US basically locks third-party candidates out for fear of "wasting your vote". With IRV, you can vote for that third party candidate, but ensure that your vote counts for the mainstream candidate as well. Hell, if nothing else, Gore likely would have won in 2000. It certainly isn't the be-all, end-all of electoral reform, but hey, it would be a nice little start. Then work on campaign finance. Or just get to work on campaign finance now.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Liberals and President Obama

I'm getting very sick of the "Obama needs to move to the center" meme heard from "Washington insiders" and other mindless hacks in both the parties and the media. Let's take a look at just how far to the left Obama has been. I'll go issue by issue. Feel free to suggest issues I forgot in the comments. To determine the "liberal view", I'm drawing on my time canvassing for the Fund, as well as my read of DailyKos, FireDogLake, and other progressive (liberal) publications and actors.

Gay Rights
Liberal Position: Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, immediately end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, support full marriage rights for gay couples, pass the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill, end the ban on HIV positive immigrants to the US.
Obama's record: He's actually been fairly good on this issue. The Matthew Shepherd bill passed, tacked onto a Defense Appropriations bill. Obama quietly ended the HIV ban. A year into his administration, he's started the process of repealing DADT. His movement has been far too slow on DADT for many gay rights advocates, but he's making progress. It looks like this won't happen for about another year, though. While saying he supports the repeal of DOMA, he hasn't put much/any political capital on the line to get it done. And he said repeatedly throughout the campaign that he didn't support full marriage for gay couples. He took the position of giving gay couples most of the same rights, but didn't seem to be able to support gay marriage.

Global Warming
Liberal Position: Either a straight carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade plan with full auction of carbon permits. No subsidies for "clean coal" or nuclear power. Raise gas taxes, emphasis on public transit. Drastically increase gas mileage standards.
Obama's Record: He has supported the ACES act in the House (also known as Waxman-Markey). It has passed the House and is stalled in the Senate (surprise, surprise). The bill has a cap-and-trade program with 15% auction. It has subsidies for clean coal and corn ethanol. It sets a renewable energy standard at 20% by 2020, which is about the bare minimum that needs to be done in order to have an effect on global warming pollution emission. The same comprehensive bill is dead in the Senate.

Right now the two options being discussed are Cap and Dividend, Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) proposal to cap, auction, and give the money back to consumers, or more likely, a scaled back bill with no cap, no tax, no auctioning of permits, just subsidies for renewable energy, explicitly including nuclear power and clean coal. Even ACES was pretty similar to what Senators McCain and Graham wanted to pass before McCain started denying global warming. It has been criticized as more of a giveaway than a meaningful measure to slow the emission of global warming pollution.

Iraq and Afghanistan
Liberal Position: This one is easy. Get out of both. Now.
Obama's Position: Same drawdown in Iraq that W was working on, 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

Labor
Liberal Position: Pass the Employee Free Choice Act, ditch the excise tax on "Cadillac plans" in the HCR bill.
Obama's Position: He's done nothing to facilitate the passage of EFCA and has been THE staunchest defender of the excise tax, from all reports.

Health Care
Liberal Position: Single-payer. Medicare for all. Strong public option, if nothing else.
Obama's Position: System of mandates, subsidies, and regulations, no public option, preserving the private insurance system.

Economy
Liberal Position: Much larger stimulus (~$1.4tr) consisting almost entirely of aid to states, unemployment extension, and infrastructure projects. Temporary nationalization, and eventual breakup of the "too big to fail" banks. Extensive regulatory reform, including a consumer protection agency, and tighter regulation on financial instruments like derivatives and mortgage-backed securities. Perhaps a tax on transactions to raise revenue to pay for TARP and possibly slow down the manic pace of trading.
Obama's Position: A smallish stimulus (~$800bn) consisting of nearly half tax cuts. No meaningful financial regulation has been able to pass yet. Obama is fighting hard for the consumer protection agency, though its prospects don't look good. The big banks are still racking up big profits, with an implicit guarantee from the taxpayers. The only "second stimulus" of note has been a very small tax credit for small businesses that hire ne employees.

Civil Liberties (I somehow forgot this the first time around. Even though it's what sparked the post.)
Liberal Position: Close Guantanamo immediately, try all detainees in federal courts, no military tribunals, absolutely no torture, no indefinite detention of detainees.
Obama's Position: Closing Guantanamo is way behind schedule, though not entirely his fault. Indefinite detention is still in play, and he seems to be caving on trying detainees in military tribunals. Torture has been completely outlawed.

This is actually a position where I'm personally disappointed. We're a million times better off than under Bush, but indefinite detention without trial should NOT be an option. We should be trying every detainee in federal courts. Demonstrating our commitment to our ideals of justice makes us MORE safe, not less.

Conclusion
The only issue that he's even come close to the liberal ideal is gay rights, and considering the anger generated by gay rights groups about his lack of leadership on their issues, it's hard even to argue that. The problem is not that Obama is governing from the far left, it's that the right is completely uninterested in compromise. "Governing from the center" would mean completely capitulating to the GOP. Most of his proposals are reasnable compromises. The other side isn't interested in compromising. Any further effort to move to the center would merely be watering down quality legislation for no reason at all. He's not going to attract Republican votes. The "move to the center" refrain comes from people who've bought the right-wing talking point that Obama isn't already there.

Charts

I would like you to consider this chart:

 

Then consider this one:

I rest my case.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Health Care Reform and Costs (II)

Ezra Klein and Paul Ryan squared off in a phone conversation, which Klein posted on his blog. Interesting debate, wonky and worth reading. It ends on a rather depressing note, however:


EK: Last question. On the question of whether we can trust Congress to implement modest cuts. If you don't think government can abide by even the modest spending cuts in this bill, then where are we left? We're going to need to do much more than this bill. Your bill does much more than this bill. But if Congress can't do what it says it's going to do, what's the point in talking about any of this at all? If none of the policies can be implemented, then we're going bankrupt.
PR: I can't disagree with what you just said. 
 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rahmbo? (II)

There's a front page article in today's WaPo on Rahm's influence in the administration. It builds on this Dana Milibank column from a few days ago.

Basically, the thrust is that Obama should be paying more attention to Rahm. Sources say Rahm has been pushing for a pared down health care bill, which I wrote about previously. He also has been pushing the "pivot to jobs earlier" meme that's been getting a lot of play in the press. Ezra Klein has a good post on why Rahm is wrong on both accounts. Basically, health care is inches from the goal line, and taking a risk on major overhaul is a much better route to go than pushing incremental reforms that won't actually fix the problem.

On jobs, it's pretty clear that congress isn't going to pass another big stimulus, so pivoting to jobs would basically have been symbolic. Obama saying "jobs, jobs, jobs" isn't going to make the unemployment rate go down. The "bipartisan" jobs bill was a bunch of tax cuts for the rich, which wouldn't do much to create jobs, and the bill that passed is a small, targeted payroll tax break for small businesses when they hire new workers. Most think this will only work on the margins. Pivoting earlier would not have changed the fact that congress isn't all that interested in more stimulus spending.

Klein doesn't delve much into the third point, which is that Rahm wanted Obama to keep open the use of military tribunals for detainees from Gitmo. Basically, Obama, Holder, and Axelrod were arguing that the principle of upholding America's laws and values meant they should try KSM and others in civilian courts. Rahm was arguing that in order to get Lindsey Graham on board, KSM needed to be tried in a military court. Since Graham isn't the ranking member on any relevant committees, I've no idea why Emanuel thought he was so important. Obama and Holder wanted to stand on principle, Axelrod understands what legacy Obama wants to have as president, and he backed them. Rahm's position seems like the wrong one again.

At the end of the day, had Obama listened to Rahm on these issues, he would be on track to be a president with a 50% approval rating, for a party that's going to lose a bunch of seats in the midterms, and has very few legislative accomplishments. As is, he's in basically the same situation, but is reasserting America's position as a country of laws and ideals, and is very close to passing the most wide-reaching piece of social legislation since LBJ.

I'm not sure why Rahm gets this love, but listening to him on every issue wouldn't have changed the fact that unemployment is at 10%, so Americans are angry at their government. If health care reform passes, he will have been completely wrong. Klein has a follow-up on how policy is trumping politics in the White House. I'm with him in calling that a Good Thing.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Health Care Reform and Costs

The highlight for the GOP at last weeks televised torture health care summit was probably Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) presentation on the budgetary gimmickry in the bill used to make it look cheaper and more fiscally responsible than it really is. Paul Ryan is a smart guy, so I was interested to see how accurate his presentation was. Enough readers badgered Ezra Klein into taking a close look, and he came up with a colossal post on the accuracy of Ryan's claims. His conclusion:

To sum up, then, Ryan makes some good points about the true cost of the bill and realities of the federal budget. But he purposefully omits any mention of the bill's expected savings, disingenuously attaches the price tag of a broken Republican policy onto the health-care reform bill, and selectively stops extrapolating trends when they don't fit his points. It's a presentation designed to make the bill look less fiscally responsible than it really is.

 The whole post is really wonky, but worth reading.