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Jeff Maurer's Politics Blog
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
From the Onion: "Democrats: 'If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made'"
Topic: News

The Onion gets it right probably more than any news outlet outside of the Washington Post or the New York Times (and even then it's debatable), but man...they really hit this one right on the screws: 

Democrats: 'If We're Gonna Lose, Let's Go Down Running Away From Every Legislative Accomplishment We've Made'


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:22 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Do You Have Even the VAGUEST Idea What You're Talking About?
Topic: News

From Glen Beck, quoted in the Washington Post today:

 "To many have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's ideas..."

 So said the man who wants to repeal the 14th Amendment. 

 He also implied that Lincoln was a founding father. 

 And he said "...far too many have either just gotten lazy...". I wonder who he was talking about.

All of this was accomplished in two sentences. He is a can of concentrated stupid.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:36 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 17 August 2010 1:40 PM EDT
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Monday, 9 August 2010
Another Big FAIL for the Anti-Gay Marriage Argument
Topic: Political theory

In today's New York Times, Ross Douthat writes an editorial that could be called "An Anti-Gay Marriage Argument for the 21st Century." In it, he first disposes of three tired, discredited, arguments against gay marriage. Good for him. Then he takes a stab at a new, more erudite argument against gay marriage. Here's the money shot: 

If [the idea of marriage as a soluble institution] completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit. 

I have to say: this is pathetic. Here we have a leading conservative thinker attempting to provide a new intellectual foundation for the anti-gay marriage movement, and this convoluted, crappy argument is the best he could do. So let me spend three minutes shooting this down and then I'll get back to more important things, like Brickbreaker level 37.

1. The first paragraph I cited starts with an "if": if the institution of marriage has changed, then gay marriage "will become not only acceptable but morally necessary." And Douthat spent the preceding paragraphs argument that the institution of marriage has, indeed, changed. So, I guess gay marriage is morally necessary. Good point, Ross - I agree!

2. But, bucking against the trend that he himself identified earlier in the article, Douthat feels that "lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate" is still possible and desirable. And, he argues, gay marriage threatens that institution because it is "different".

How? How is it different? Well, it's not heterosexual, I'll grant you that, but why is that an important distinction? What does sexual orientation have to do with anything? Isn't every marriage different? Aren't marriages performed under different religious traditions different? Why is the presumed difference between heterosexual and homosexual marriages so important? Douthat doesn't explain.

And even there was an important difference between the two, how does one threaten the other? In this country's history, expanding rights to others has never diluted the rights of those who had them to begin with. By allowing gay marriage, we're not giving up on the institution of straight marriage. In fact, we're giving rise to an equally venerable institution. You'd think that would be something the family values crowd could get behind.

So, Ross Douthat has swung and missed. William F. Buckley is dead. David Brooks, you want to take a stab at this? I guess he could try. Or, conservative intellectuals could just stop barking at the moon and get on the right side of history.

 

 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 9:04 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 9 August 2010 9:09 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 7 May 2008
How Big was the Limbaugh Affect?
Topic: 2008 election

Rush Limbaugh, being the enormous taint that he is, encouraged Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton last night in Indiana in order to "create chaos". Did it work? Here are the numbers, according to MSNBC's exit polls.

In  Indiana, 10 percent of voters in the Democratic primary were Republicans. Of those, 54 percent went for Clinton and 46 percent went for Obama. But it would be assuming too much to conclude that the "Limbaugh effect" is therefore eight percent; we need to compare these numbers to numbers from similar states.

So, first we need to determine what counts as a "similar state." I'll use the following criteria:

- The state must have an open primary (both Republicans and Democrats are allowed to vote);

- The state must have voted AFTER it became a two-person race (i.e., February 5 and after); 

- No home states (New York, Illinois, Arkansas, and Hawaii are thrown out);

- Data must be available. 

Using these criteria, we narrow it down to seven states: Alabama, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, and Mississippi (data was not available for many states). At first glance, this sample may appear to be more pro-Obama than the nation as a whole; he wins these seven states by an average of 54.1 to 44.4, whereas his lead nationally (not counting Michigan and Florida) is 49.6 to 47.4. However, six of these seven states have substantial black populations, which Obama won by about 90-10 in each case. This distorts the picture a little, because the Republican vote in these states was almost surely overwhelmingly white (only 6.2 percent of black voters are registered as Republicans). So, if we look only at the non-black vote in these seven states, we get a number that is much more favorable to Clinton: 59.3 for Clinton to 38.4 for Obama.

The point of the previoius paragraph is simply this: this sample is fairly representative of the nation, and if anything it skews pro-Clinton. It is, I think, a decent proxy for Indiana. And here's how the Republican vote broke down in these seven states:

Alabama:    5% Republican, Clinton 72%, Obama 25%

Mississippi: 12% Republican, Clinton 75%, Obama 75%

Missouri:    6% Republican, Clinton 21%, Obama 75%

Ohio:         10% Republican, Clinton 49%, Obama 49%

Texas:        9% Republican, Clinton 46%, Obama 53%

Virginia:      7% Republican, Clinton 23%, Obama 72%

Wisconsin:    9% Republican, Clinton 28%, Obama 72%

Average:    8% Republican, Clinton 42%, Obama 56%

So, Clinton went from averaging a 14 point loss among Republicans to a sudden 8 point win. Could the Limbaugh effect be responsible for this 22 point swing among Republicans? Actually, that sounds about right when you consider this: the Republican turnout was 2 percent higher in Indiana than in our sample. 2 percent of the total vote in Indiana is about 25,300 votes. And 22 percent of the Republican vote is an almost identical number: 27,830. So, by comparing the numbers in Indiana to the numbers in the national sample, I would estimate that somewhere around 26,000 of Clinton's votes in Indiana last night were Limbaugh supporters trying to prolong the Democratic primary.

Amazingly, those votes change the outcome. If we subtract 26,000 votes from Clinton's total, Indiana switches from a narrow win for Clinton to a narrow win for Obama (about 623,000 votes for Obama and about 616,000 for Clinton - 50.3 to 49.7).

I hate to give Rush Limbaugh credit for anything, but he may have actually affected the outcome in Indiana. Not that he'll affect the outcome of the primary as a whole; Obama has been pretty much a statistical lock for more than a month now. And if he wants the Republicans to keep the White House in November, he'll have to come up with a scheme to elect a man whom supports an unpopular war, untenable fiscal policies, and an irresponsible energy policy. It will take a lot more than 26,000 votes to do that.

 

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 4:17 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 April 2008
What Happened to Paul Krugman?
Topic: 2008 election

  Paul Krugman used to be a respected economist. Used to be. That was in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, when he applied the same basic economic principles that he had been teaching at Princeton to Bush’s economic policies. He showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Bush’s numbers didn’t add up; the proposed (and eventually passed) tax cuts would blow a hole in the budget, and the extremely wealthy would be the primary beneficiaries.

 

  Of course, history proved him right. The Bush tax cuts were, in fact, terrible fiscal policy, intentionally misrepresented to the American public, and wrapped in layers of deceptive accounting. Many economists knew this, but Krugman was one of the few with a platform to pull back the curtain on this boneheaded giveaway to the rich. And he did. Good for him.

 

  I think that Krugman probably became personally angry at Bush. The tax cuts of ’02 and ’03 were such a phenomenal mistake – and passed after one of the most dishonest, pandering debates in my memory – that he must have been monumentally pissed. Which is understandable – hell, I was pissed, too. And that anger is probably what eventually drove him so far off the rails.

 

  When Iraq superseded tax cuts as the topic dominating American political discourse, that would have been the appropriate time for Krugman to find something else to write about. After all, he’s an economist, not a foreign policy expert. Not that columnists need to stay neatly within their assigned boxes, but, generally speaking, they should stick to what they know. For example, I’m not going to be happy if William Safire starts writing snarky, rhyming columns that relate the struggles of being a modern woman to current political trends. The Times already has a columnist who does that.*

 

  But in ’03 and ’04, it became clear that Krugman’s passion isn’t economics; his passion is bashing President Bush. Krugman fired off column after column denouncing the march to war. Now, there were dozens of legitimate reasons to oppose the Iraq war, most of which were articulated extremely well by columnists such as Nicholas Kristof and Michael Kinsley (both of whom regularly write about foreign policy). But Krugman’s columns were, in my opinion, scattershot and poorly argued. His arguments were usually shrill and overly politicized. He ignored evidence that didn’t support his argument (there was a lot of that going around at the time) and focused singularly on bashing Bush. A lot of his columns from that era read as if they were cut and pasted from Talking Points Memo.

 

  Of course, his columns from that era were also extremely popular. And thus, he transformed from an economics columnist to a political columnist. What a shame.

 

  Paul Krugman the economics columnist was biting and direct, but his opinions were always backed by sound economic theory. Paul Krugman the political columnist is still biting and direct – though I would argue that “shrill” and “unbalanced” are better adjectives – but the purpose of his late-period columns tends to be scoring political points with no apparent higher goal. He would be well suited for the blogosphere.

 

  His columns about the 2008 primaries are his worst to date. Krugman backs Clinton, which is understandable; his views on economics are very much in line with the Clinton Administration’s views (of course, I haven’t been able to find any distance whatsoever between Hillary Clinton and Obama’s economic policies), and many were surprised that he was passed over for a post in the first Clinton administration. But the way he stumps for Hillary is absolutely shameless.

 

  Krugman’s recent columns read like press releases from the Clinton campaign. Three of the last five criticize Obama – not tangentially, but as the main purpose of the column. Zero of those three columns are about economics. On his blog (not his infinitely more visible column, mind you), he admitted that the gas tax holiday that Clinton supports is a bad idea (as George Stephanopoulos forced Hillary to admit, no credible economist in the world thinks this is a good idea), but then spun it to end up being a criticism of Obama and McCain. Nor has he written a column criticizing her for disparaging NATO, a treaty that he – and again, just about every economist in the world – generally supported.

 

  It not only pathetic, it’s sad. Krugman has a gift for explaining economics in a way that laypeople can understand. But, with his transformation into a politicized attack dog, nobody is currently filling that role. The Times and the Washington Post currently only have only one columnist between them devoted full-time to economics – Robert Samuelson, and my complaints about him could fill another column.

 

  There aren’t a lot of people in the world who understand economics as well as Krugman. There are even fewer who have the gift he possesses for expressing economic concepts in plain language. There are, on the other hand, already way too many people making selective, dishonest arguments in support of one political view or another. Why Krugman chose to leave his former career for his present one, I’ll never really know.

 

* David Brooks, of course.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:47 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 May 2008 9:18 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Smartass Firefighters
Topic: Political trends

  The most obnoxious ad on TV nowadays has to be the Nextel ad where firefighters run Congress. The script goes like this:

 

Head Firefighter: “How ‘bout the budget?”

Group: “Balance it.”

HF: “And taxes.”

G: “Let’s pay less.”

HF: “Anyone want better roads?”

G: “We do.”

HF: “All in favor.”

G: “Aye.”

HF: “You need clean water guys?”

G: “Aye.”

HF: “This is the easiest job I’ve ever had. We’re out of here.”

 

  I know that it’s supposed to be satire, but this ad is still obnoxious. One of the most pernicious points of view in politics nowadays is the idea that all of our problems would be solved if the politicians would only try. This ad reflects that point of view.

 

  You really have to be a hardcore moron to think that problems are that easy to solve. But from what I’ve observed, it seems that some people really are that stupid. Just look at this ad: obviously, there are some people watching this ad and thinking “Yeah, why can’t we just pay lower taxes and still fix the roads? Why don’t they do that?” It reminds me of this Onion article.

 

  Some people in this country don’t seem to realize: in order to make progress, you have to make tradeoffs. You want lower taxes? Fine – tell me which programs you’d like to cut (and don’t say “close tax loopholes” or “reduce earmarks” – that’s a spit in the ocean). You want a strong military and universal health care? Fine – tell me whom you think should be taxed to pay for those things. And low-energy lightbulbs are great, but doing something serious about global warming will take significant sacrifices in the short and long term, starting will allowing the price of gas to stay high.

 

  Politicians don’t want to talk about tradeoffs and sacrifices. It’s bad politics. It’s much easier to tell everyone that they can have it all. That’s why each of the three candidates for president are touting economic plans that – if passed – would take us further into debt. Of course, each claims that his or her plan is revenue neutral. Bullshit.

 

  Some people obviously want to believe that easy solutions are out there. They want to believe that, if only we could get rid of the lobbyists, or the corporations, or the bureaucrats, or the fat cats in Washington, then we could solve all these problems in a hurry. If only we had people in Washington who care about ordinary people. Then everything would be better.

 

  Anyone who thinks that has got it exactly backwards. There are a lot of members of Congress who care about their constituents way too much. Senators from farm states care about their constituents so much that they make it impossible to pass anything except ludicrously out-of-date, inefficient, and counter-productive farm bills. Members of Congress from auto states care about the car industry so much that they kill or weaken the automobile emissions standards that would reduce our dependence on oil. Members of Congress from rustbelt states are so beholden to the myth of the American manufacturing sector that they endlessly rail against NAFTA, which is about the closest thing to a win-win policy that we’ll ever see in this country.

 

  Bashing Congress is easy. And often extremely fair. But it should be acknowledged that stalemates are usually the result of legitimate disagreements, and not simply negligence.

 

  Let me end with a joke – not one of mine…a good one. This is from the Simpsons episode 1F15, Bart Gets and Elephant, and I the part about Congress pretty much captures the mentality of this Nextel ad:

 

At the KBBL studios, Bill and Marty's boss gives them a dressing-down.
 
   Boss: Look, our ratings are down, and the station is being swamped
         with angry calls and letter-bombs.
          [A few letter-bombs explode in a pile]
         And it's all your fault!
   Bill: Yes it is, ma'am.
   Boss: This is the DJ 3000.  It plays CDs automatically, and it has
         three distinct varieties of inane chatter.
          [presses a button]
DJ 3000: [stilted] Hey, hey.  How about that weather out there?
         Woah!  _That_ was the caller from hell.
         Well, hot dog!  We have a weiner.
   Bill: Man, that thing's great!
  Marty: _Don't_ praise the machine!
   Boss: If you don't get that kid an elephant by tomorrow, the DJ 3000
         gets your job.
          [Marty punches it]
DJ 3000: Those clowns in congress did it again.  What a bunch of clowns.
   Bill: [laughs] How does it keep up with the news like that?

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 May 2008 9:19 AM EDT
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Monday, 7 January 2008
McCain
Topic: 2008 election

  The New Hampshire primary is tomorrow, and I will be extremely surprised if Obama and McCain don't win. I agree with those who say that Clinton is in serious trouble if she loses tomorrow; Obama WILL win South Carolina, so even if Clinton wins Nevada, Obama will have won three of the first four and have all the momentum heading into February 5. Obama's surge and Clinton's subsequent fall doesn't surprise me too much. After all, Hillary wasn't a Clinton, she'd be an  unremarkable second term junior senator who, let's face it, seems to be just a bit of a calculating asshole. Look past the name: she's NOT a remarkable candidate (and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd probably wanted to stab their brains with a screwdriver every time she touted herself as the "experience" candidate). Obama, on the otherhand - superficial or not - is overflowing with charisma.

  More interesting right now, in my opinion, are the Republicans. I stand by my prediction that Huckabee will win (see my previous blog), but it's really up in the air. What I can't believe is that, recently, I've started re-asking myself a question to which I thought I knew the answer: can McCain win the nomination?


  For a long, long, time, I though the answer was a resounding "no." Here's my logic: if there's one thing I know about the Republican party, it's that moderates don't run it. And John McCain is unquestionably a moderate (he calls himself a "conservative Republican," but his record says otherwise). And his record SINCE his last Presidental run is more moderate than his record before it. He's dissented with Republicans on seminal conservative issues including taxes, immigration, and lobbying reform. Republicans feel about him the way Democrats feel about Joe Lieberman. Many conservatives view him as a traitor, and maybe a bit disingenuous (a "RINO" - Republican In Name Only). So, for a long time, I've menally ruled him out. But his resurgence in New Hampshire has reminded me: Northeast Republicans do exist.


  The Northeast Republican - identified by their aversions to taxation and foreign entanglements - used to be quite common. George HW Bush was a Northeast Republican, as was - to a lesser extent - Bob Dole (in ideology, if not in geography). But the Dole candidacy was probably the last sighting of the Northeast Republican on the national stage; since then, the most prominent Republicans at the national level have been George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich (he was speaker for two more years after '96), Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and Tom Delay. The Republican Party has developed a definite southern accent. Social issues - such as abortion, gay marriage, and immigration - are much more important. Foreign policy has been simplified to "with us or against us" (actually, "again' us"). Bush won exactly zero Northeastern states in his two elections, and there are only five senators from Northeastern states out of a possible 22 (Collins, Snowe, Spector, Sununu, & Gregg, who are all liberal by Republican standards). At the national level, it's easy to forget that Northeast Republicans exist.


  And I had. BUT, in the Republican primaries, they're suddenly a factor again. And that's what I had forgotten: John McCain could conceivably win the Republican nomination by focusing almost exclusively on states that Bush lost in both elections. The fact that the Republican field is more fractured makes this even more possible; he doens't need a majority, but only a plurality. It remains true: hardcore conservatives hat McCain and always will. But he may be able to win the nomination by winning over the long-forgotten MODERATE conservatives.


  There's one more factor working in his favor: the country, as a whole, is moving to the left at the moment. Bush is polling in the low-30s (which is about where Nixon was post-Watergate), and people seem ready for a change after 7 years of a conservative presidency (which was accompanied by 5 and 1/2 years of a conservative congress). Moreover, people are looking for "change" candidates (such as Obama), and that plays to McCain's strengths. I'm sure that many Republicans are questioning whether another social conservative (such as Huckabee) or a seriously flawed candidate (such as Romney or Guliani) can win. And as the Democrats get closer to a nominee, the Republicans - who will then start to seriously contemplate a world in which the Democratic candidate is president - are likely to become more pragmatic.


  So, do I now think McCain will win? No. He is still vulnerable to being painted as soft on what seems to be THE only issue on the Republican side: immigration. He can also be painted as an insufficiently agressive tax-cutter (another cardinal sin for a Republican). Also, he doesn't seem to enjoy torture for some reason, which will cost him.


  There's also this to consider: Guliani and Romney might pick up enough Northern and Western states to screw McCain in the end. Thompson is dead in the water, which leaves Huckabee as the clear choice for evangelicals. Huckabee still faces a lot of challenges - mostly, the fact that he doens't have any money - but a strategy of focusing on the Southern and plains states might work well for him. Of course, a strategy like that requires a lot of money. So, basically, anything could happen.


  But McCain is in the mix, which is more than I would have granted him a month ago. I won't read too much into his win in New Hampshire; he won there in 2000, and independents can vote in New Hampshire, which isn't the case in most other primaries. And I won't make the mistake that I made in 2000; that year, part of me wanted Bush to win the nomination because I thought McCain would be tougher to beat in the general election. And, of course, we ended up with eight years of Bush, which have been terrible, instead of eight years of McCain, which probably would have been okay. So, I'm going to root for McCain to win the nomination this time around.


  Even though he won't.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EST
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Friday, 23 March 2007
Handicapping the Field
Topic: 2008 election

  I'll admit - I haven't been following the 2008 that closely yet. It's always hard for me to get interested in late 2008 in early 2007, when we still don't know who are the serious candidates and what are the most important issues. Also, I find the polls that come out this time of year close to useless - the candidate with the most recognition always does the best, probably because voters don't know anything about anybody and just pick the name that they recognize so that they don't sound stupid. Around this time in 2003 Joe Lieberman was doing really well. So we don't know much yet and won't for several more months.


  Still, I think this is going to be the most interesting primary season in a long time. It's the first time that there hasn't been an incumbant or a sitting Vice President running since 1952 (Eisenhower v. Adlai Stevenson). The top Republican candidates are all unusual for one reason or another, and there are several Democrats that would be the first something to ever occupy the White House. Each party also lacks a clear front-runner, and there are several fringe candidates that could act as spoilers. With that, here is my take on the feild, along with my premature, poorly thought out, uninformed hadicapping of the candidates' odds of winning their party's nomination.


  Two things of note:


1) Had I done this in 2003, the results would have been decidedly mixed. I was spot-on about George W. Bush getting the Republican nomination, so there's a feather in my cap. The Democrats, however, would have been a different story. I would have correctly predicted that Kerry would win the nomination, but I was both completely right and completely wrong at the same time about Howard Dean. After doing a bit of reading on him and seeing him a couple of times on TV early in his candidacy - most notably a Meet the Press appearance where he set the anti-death penalty movement back about five years with his inability to explain his position - I concluded that he was a bland dipshit who would not appeal to anybody. Over the next several months, I was proved very wrong, as Dean surged ahead in the polls. However, once people actually began to look at Howard Dean, it turned out that he was a crazy dipshit who did not appeal to anybody. So I was also kind of right. I also thought Lieberman would do better and thought Wesley Clark would do way better; I still can't believe what a poor candidate Clark turned out to be.


2) I am trying to leave my politics out of these evaluations and look at this from an objective point of view. Everyone who knows me knows where I stand politically; I'm a moderate Democrat. And, obviously, my politics will color my perceptions of each candidate. But I'm trying to do the handicapping part purely with an eye towards whom I think will win, not whom I want to win.

Okay, Democrats first:

Mike Gravel - Joke candidate. Odds: 0/1. That's right, there does not exist in this universe - or in any theoretical parallel universe - any permutation of events that would lead to this man getting the nomination. Next.

Dennis Kucinich - Elf (OH). Odds: 1/10,000,000,000^40. Those odds are the odds that a gamma ray burst destroys everyone on earth except for Dennis Kucinich. Not only was he stupid, stereotypical, and annoying the first time around, he was one of the joke candidates who complained loudly about being ignored by the media while he was polling at 1 percent. Can there be any doubt that many people on the far left are blatant self-aggrandizers?

Chris Dodd - Senator from Connecticut. Odds: 1/200. Nice guy, good Senator, way too round - physically - to be President. Has had a long but not particularly distinguished career, and it's hard for me to picture him taking an angle that gains him a large constituency. Also doesn't have the interesting bio that so many of this year's Democratic candidates have.

Joe Biden - Senator from Delaware. Odds: 1:50. Joe Biden is, in my opinion, far and away the best foreign policy mind in Congress. He's been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee forever, and he has a deep knowledge base on every region in the world. He is thoughtful, forward-looking, and balanced. He also, believe it or not, has a decent sense of humor. But he will not win for this reason: his big fucking mouth. The only time his mouth is not catching flies is when his foot is lodged inside. He torpedoed his slim chance at the nomination on the very day he declared his candidacy when he tried to pay Barak Obama a compliment and ended up making it sound as if he was shocked that Obama had positive traits while being black at the same time. He also shot himself in the foot when he ran for President in 1988 when he plagarized a speech from a British Member of Parliament. He's the dumbest genius on the planet, and I probably won't vote for him simply because he has no chance of winning.

Bill Richardson - Governor of New Mexico. Odds: 1/10. It's a shame that he gets introduced simply as "Governor of New Mexico," because he is also an excellent foreign policy mind and has held several important foreign policy-related positions. He's Hispanic, but it's a big handicap that he has to say that he's Hispanic before people know. He also used to have a large mole on his face that it appears he has had removed - this is the type of thing that Tim Russert is too much of a pansy to ask about. I like to think about what the electoral map would look like if the Democrats nominate a Hispanic guy from the Southwest. Do the Democrats win Texas and Arizona in that case? Do the Democrats lose any strongholds because he's Hispanic (I say "no" to this second question)? You could make a case that Richardson gives the Democrats the best chance to win.

John Edwards - former VP candidate. Odds: 1/5. Do not underestimate this guy: he is a very good candidate. He has a very earnest, open, salt-of-the-Earth personality that is very appealing to people. He is a lot like Bill Clinton in that sense. During the primaries, he will talk about his ability to win in the South, but I don't buy it - the Republicans have a stranglehold on the South. He, like several of the Democratic candidates, will be hobbled in the primaries by his support of the war.

Hillary Clinton - Senator from New York. Odds: 1/3. Don't be fooled by people calling her the "frontrunner" - frontrunner status means nothing at this point. I like Hillary more as a legislator that I do as a candidate - she has been, in my opinion, a very thoughtful and responsible Senator. As a candidate, however, she seems to fall very easily into people's perception of the Clintons as manipulative, selfish, career politicians. I'll leave it to you to judge the fairness of that perception. I think her personality will turn people off as the campaign goes along. The problem won't be that she's too masculine, or too strident, or too wonkish; the problem will be that she's too phony. Republicans are excellent at creating a personality characture for candidates - Al Gore was a nerd, John Kerry was a flip-flopper (interesting, Peggy Noonan has already decided that "faggot" is the label John Edwards will wear should he win the nomination). Hillary will get the "phony" label thrown at her pretty hard, and I think it will start in the primaries. Also, remembering just how intensely most Republicans hate Hillary, I happen to think that she will not win the Presidency under almost any circumstances.

Barak Obama - Senator from Illinois. Odds: 8/25 (to make the odds add up to 100). I was living in Illinois when he got elected to the Senate (and yes, I voted for him, in both the general election and the primary). Here's the thing: the more people see this guy, the more they like him. He is very, very likable. That, I think people will see, is beyond question. What's not beyond question is where he stands on every single issue. This isn't his fault; he just hadn't been in office at the national level long enough to compile a long record. For this reason, his boast of never having supported the war are a little disingenuious - it's easy to oppose a big foreign policy move when you're not responsible for the consequences. But, on the other hand, Americans love blank slates. George W. Bush was a blank slate, as was Clinton. I think that the lack of a record that can be distored, combined with the desire to believe that a candidate agrees with you on everything, is why governors tend to do so well in Presidental elections. My prediction at this point is that Obama will win the nomination.


Now the Republicans:

Let's just get the joke candidates out of the way: Fred Thompson, Tommy Thompson, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter - who the fuck are these people? Seriously, Fred Thompson - who the fuck are you? Didn't you used to play for the White Sox? I follow this shit and I don't know.*


Tom Tancredo - Representative from Colorado. Odds 1/200. You remember him: he's the guy who hates immigrants. Not the guy who favors a restrictive immigration policy, which I can respect, but just the guy who hates immigrants. He will be a walking, fire-breathing freak show for the entire primary process. Fortunately, in America, back-bench MOCs don't win Presidential nominations.

George Pataki - former Governor of New York. 1/60. Nice timing, asshole: you decide to run the exact same year as the more popular guy who shares your one claim to the nomination.

Chuck Hagel - Senator from Nebraska. Odds: 1/50. See Christopher Dodd. He's this cycle's Orin Hatch.

Sam Brownback - Senator from Kansas. Odds: 1/50. Actually, maybe Sam Brownback is this cycle's Orin Hatch, in that his last name sounds vaguely inappropriate. Though I strongly disagree with Brownback on many things (most things, actually), he should get credit for being a strong proponent of action in Darfur - though he won't.

Jim Gilmore - former Governor of Virginia. Odds: 1/40. Using my "blank slate" theory that I outlined while describing Obama, I'm ranking him above the two veteran Senators. Also, as a Virginian, I'd like to point out that he was an extremely shitty governor. His entire platform was eliminating the "car tax." While anyone with a brain would at least follow up by asking "Then how will you make the budget fit?", not enough people did, and he won in a landslide (that's not a slam on red states - people in California did the exact same thing when they elected Arnold). Of course, serious budget problems began soon after he took office. While I think there are a number of candidates who would do more damage to the country (namely Gingrich), his theoretical election has the highest probability of driving me completely insane, as I simply can't stand four more years of people who don't understand that taxes and spending must correlate.

Newt Gingrich - former Speaker of the House. Odds: 1/25. Does anyone look back at the mid '90s and miss ska? Wasn't it a bad idea that never should have taken root in the first place, and people now widely recognize that to be true? Well, I'm hoping that same sort of realization will keep Republicans from falling back in love with Gingrich. I think that even most Republicans nowdays consider Gingrich's tenure disastrous, but I don't think we can completely ignore just how charming this evil little troll can be. Republicans - just as much as Democrats - love someone who can speak in grand terms, and he certainly does that very well.


Mitt Romney - former Governor of Massachusetts. Odds: 1/6. Based on what he presently claims to believe, he has the best ideological claim to the Republican nomination. It would also be very interesting to see how the electoral map might change if he were nominated. But I just don't think that enough Republican voters will be able to get over the fact that he's Mormon. Just as a solid third of Democratic primary voters are pot-addled ex-hippies whose beliefs are a dogmatically-accepted antithesis of their parents' beliefs, one-third of Republican primary voters are tiny, hateful, fearful bible-thumping nut-jobs who will not - can not - vote for anything that doesn't walk, talk, look, and smell like a white Christian. Romney also will not be granted a reprieve on the "Mormons are Christian" technicality. I think that that problem, plus the flip-flopper issue that is sure to arise, will keep him from winning.

Rudy Guliani - former Governor of New York. Odds: 1/5. I would feel a lot more comfortable with his candidacy if someone would please answer this question: just what exactly did he do in response to 9/11 that makes him such a hero? Yes, he was a symbol of the city's strength. And yes, when asked how many lives we had lost, he answered "More than we can bear," which summed up what we were all feeling. But - honestly - a symbol and a sound bite? That's it? That's what counts for leadership nowdays? I think that his early surge in the polls is purely due to his association with 9/11, and Republicans will be turned off when they find out about his divorces, his previous positions, and his New York accent. Plus, 10 percent of Republican primary voters won't vote for him because he's Jewish (though he's not). If he does win the nomination, the electoral map would be thrown up in the air. Guliani vs. Richardson would be a really interesting situation.

John McCain - Senator from Arizona. Odds: 1/4. This, in my opinion, is the most interesting candidate in the field. I think McCain is, without a doubt, the Republican candidate most likely to win the general election. I happen to think that he probably would win. And part of me thinks that President McCain with a Democratic Congress is the ideal situation. But, as the saying goes, you can't steal first base. I think that the Republican hatred of McCain - a lot of Republicans view him as a traitor - is just intense enough to deny him the nomination.


  Here's something else to think about. A lot of Democrats - like myself - like John McCain. We see him as moderate and thoughtful. My message to Democrats is this: get ready to dislike John McCain. Elections always bring out the worst in people, and the primaries will move McCain significantly to the right. He's already began to fudge his position on abortion. Also, though he is generally a man of character, remember that when he was struggling in South Carolina in 2000 he changed his position on the Confederate flag in a moment that he now readily admits was a betrayal of his actual beliefs (if you've ever seen the video of him reading that statement, it's heartbreaking - you can actually see his soul leaving his body). Combine that knowledge with the realization that he has to prove to Republicans that he truly is one of them, and I think we'll see him move significantly to the right during the primaries.


  One more thing about McCain: though the war is incredibly unpopular right now, he is honest about his continued support for it. I really respect that kind of honesty.

Mike Huckabee - Governor of Arkansas. Odds: 13/50. Yes, I am predicting that Mike Huckabee will win the Republican nomination. Now, I recognize that this is sort of the equivalent of picking Niagra to go to the Final Four in that I'm mostly doing it just in the odd possibility that I might be able to point to it later and prove that I'm a genius. But I really think he'll do well. He's got a good bio: Governor of a small, southern state, ordained minister, interesting personal struggle with his weight (now there's something Americans can relate to). He's a likable guy - seriously, watch him in an intervew; he's very personable. He's a Republican but doesn't appear to be too far right, and he's got that blank slate quality that I keep mentioning. And then there's this: Guliani an McCain will split the moderate vote. Conservatives won't be able to come to terms with Romney being from Massachusetts and being Mormon. So I think that medium to far-right conservatives will go to Huckabee. It could happen.

So, that's my prediction: Obama vs. Huckabee. Fortunately, nobody read this, so I won't have defend this prediction when it's proved comically wrong.

 

*Looking at this blog a year later, it’s funny that I didn't know who Fred Thompson was. Of course, I don't watch Law and Order. And if you don't know that Fred Thompson was on Law and Order, then there's really no reason to think he should be President. Of course, if I had seen him on Law and Order, I'm sure that him being President would make perfect sense. 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:36 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Pipe Dreams
Topic: Policy

            Today is election day. The Democrats will possibly take both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. I should be really excited about this, but I'm not. I haven't been particularly impressed with Congressional Democrats in recent years, and there don't seem to be a whole lot of smart, forward-thinking candidates this time around (though I admit that I haven't been following the races in other states very closely). So many of the candidates seem to have simplistic views on the Iraq War (I'm not happy about it either, but to just say "it was a mistake" isn't helpful), and it's becoming increasingly hard to find an openly pro-trade Democrat. Jim Webb, in my opinion, is a pretty crappy candidate, but George Allen is such an eight-cylinder douchebag that I have to vote for Webb anyway.

 

            Still, if the Democrats take Congress, things should get marginally better (in my opinion). But there are a lot of things that I'd like to see happen that probably never will (at least not in the near future). Here is a list of those things, in no particular order:

 

  1. Get rid of the electoral college. It's undemocratic and puts fewer people in touch with the candidates.
  2. Publicly finance Presidential, Senate, and House campaigns. Not only is money a corrupting influence, but candidates have to spend inordinate amounts of time raising money. No, this won't do anything about 527s, but there's probably not anything that can be done about 527s.
  3. Tradable patent years for life-saving drugs. Patents last for 20 years, and they are extremely important to the pharmaceutical industry, because new drugs cost a lot of money to develop and virtually nothing to manufacture. This creates a problem when it comes to life-saving drugs, most notably AIDS drugs; we want them to be cheap, but companies won't rush to manufacture them if they can't make a profit. We've got tons of allergy, anit-impotence, and hair-growth drugs because there are a ton of rich people who will pay big money for those drugs. We need to make AIDS drugs (and other life-saving medicines) into moneymakers, both in the US and abroad. I'd like to see this: if you create a drug that is determined to be a life-saving drug (you'd have to decide on some body to make that determination, probably the World Health Organization), you can have your 20 patent years on SOME OTHER DRUG. So, if you invent an AIDS drug, there is no patent protection on that, but you can extend the patent on, say, Viagra (which is a cash cow) for 20 more years. This would work because there are a small number of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture a wide variety of drugs.
  4. Dedicate 0.7 percent of our GDP to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It's an investment worth making in the short run for ethical reasons, and it's an investment worth making in the long-run for practical reasons (it's in our interest to help promote stability and economic growth). Let me add that I have no problem at all with withholding money from countries with bad governance; just give that much more to countries with good governance.
  5. Start sending signals to China that we would acquiesce to a Japanese bomb if China doesn't get serious about North Korea. It's time that everybody involved start thinking about what the consequences will be if we let North Korea's nuclear program go completely unmonitored.
  6. Begin nudging Israel towards military self-sufficiency. They have the technology and capacity to maintain a military vastly superior to every other one in the Middle East, so tell them to make their own planes instead of buying ours.
  7. Expand the NATO concept beyond Europe. There is no reason that geography should dictate the limits of this alliance now that the Cold War is over. The prospect of NATO membership encourages good governance and peaceful behavior; it seems to have had a stabilizing effect on much of Eastern Europe in the last ten years.
  8. Have the tax burden be shouldered more by income taxes and less by taxes on business. This sounds counterintuitive, but it would actually create an incentive for wages to be more widely distributed. Furthermore, it would reward people for work and make our businesses more competitive internationally.
  9. Create a federal fund that low-income communities can use to attract business investment. Currently, these communities use tax breaks to do this, but these tax breaks are usually woefully inefficient and are often something that the community can't afford. We should also expand programs that do things similar to this, such as HUD zones.
  10. More free trade agreements, especially with the developing world.
  11. Encourage the development of genetically modified crops. Fuck you, hippies; it's revolutionary technology.
  12. While I'm on the topic of things hippies hate: encourage nuclear power. Advances in technology have made it significantly safer, and it's presently the greenest power source that we have.
  13. A federal gasoline tax that keeps the price around $3.00 a gallon. I'm with you, Tom Friedman and Danny Rouhier: increased energy independence is both and environmental and a national security issue, and people won't get serious about it until they know that gas prices are going to go high and stay high. Provide subsidies for low-income people who are dependent on their cars to get to work.
  14. Shift more funding of public schools to the federal level; decision-making can remain at the local level. Though some people debate the effectiveness of increased spending on the quality of schools, the debate is really only about the strength of the correlation; there is no doubt that more money usually means better schools. There is a significant disparity in the per-capita GDP of the 50 states, and it shouldn't be surprising that the schools in Mississippi aren't as good as schools in Connecticut. The gap between good schools and bad schools is especially problematic because graduates of those schools usually end up competing in the same college and job markets. Shifting more funding to the federal level would promote more equal spending levels, and also likely increase overall funding levels in poorer states (because richer states wouldn't be willing to see their funding levels drop).
  15. Get rid of farm subsidies. They're a waste of money, they're frequently abused, they go to the wrong people, and they hurt farmers from developing countries. It's not 1933 anymore.
  16. Reform the Presidential caucus system (this is for the parties, not the government). Have them go in four groups, smallest states first, largest states last. This means that one state won't have an inordinate amount of influence in choosing the nominee (as Iowa and New Hampshire currently do), you won't have states competing to see who can go the earliest, you'll have a decent amount of diversity in each round (you could wedge at least one state from each region into each round), and far more people will get to vote when the race is still competitive.
  17. Reform affirmative action so that it grants preference based on economic status, not race.
  18. Abolish the death penalty. If I thought it was a deterrent, this would be a tricky issue to me, but the fact that statistics suggest that it has no deterrent effect at all makes it pretty simple.
  19. Means-test Social Security (actually, this might happen). Also, if we were ever to get into the kind of fiscal shape that would allow us to create private investment accounts without taking out a huge loan (and we probably never will), go ahead and create private accounts with limited investment options. One option must be to keep your Social Security just as it would have been without private accounts.
  20. Re-instate the estate tax at progressively increasing rates, starting at, say, $700,000, reaching 100 percent taxation at around 2 million dollars.
  21. More subsidies (or tax breaks – same thing) for mixed-income housing.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:37 PM EST
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Friday, 8 September 2006
Wayne Rooney: Vanguard of Racial Understanding
Topic: News

  Even people who love sports also love to complain about how spoiled and bratty many professional atheletes are. We complain that they're selfish, egomaniacal, that they're only interested in money, and sometimes that they're just generally piece-of-shit human beings. And, often, they are.


  At times, this complaining carries racial undertones, even if those undertones are only presumed or unintentional. For example, it's hard to complain about the U.S. Men's Basketball team's lack of work ethic without wandering into an area where it can be perceived that you're actually complaining about African-Americans' work ethic. And, of course, sometimes this criticism will be born of genuine racism. Legitimate criticism of individuals and bigoted criticism of an individual because of his race are often difficult to separate.


  The racism issue here stems from two parallel facts: 1) We frequently witness atheletes exhibiting selfishness, greed, and criminal behavior, and it certainly seems that they exhibit these traits more than the general population, and 2) Atheletes are disproportionately African-American. When people witness these two things at the same time, they sometimes assume that one caused the other.


  That erroneous leap of logic is the problem; in fact, correlation does not prove causation. This is, I believe, the source of most modern racism: we witness a behavior correlating with a race, and we assume that the race caused the behavior (I'll leave the fallacy of "races" for another blog). In this case, we see that atheletes are greedy, spoiled and egoistic, we see that most of them are black, and some of us assume that they are greedy, spoiled and egoistic because they are black. Wrong.


  Supporting my case is this article: Rooney and Grey in Restaraunt Scuffle. It's about two English soccer players getting in a fight in a restaraunt. This isn't an isolated incident; this is pretty typical of the type of thing that English soccer players (especially Wayne Rooney) do all the time. Since I've been following the English Premiere League, I've learned that the traits we see in the big American sports leagues - selfishness, whining, money-grubbing, and general thuggishness - are present in the EPL as well. And this is a league in which the majority of the players are white.


  So, in this instance, we see a behavior that correlates with race, but it also seems clear that race isn't the cause. What is the cause? No one knows for sure, but I feel pretty confident in guessing that atheletes (like everyone else) are shaped by the world around them. Specifically, my thesis is this: People surrounded by fame, money, and adulation at an early age stand an excellent chance of becoming complete assholes.


  Of course, the point I'm trying to make isn't about what turns atheletes into assholes, it's about what causes racism and why it's a bad way of viewing the world. I'm trying to make this more than an anti-racism blog (it doesn't take much to come out and say "hey, racism is bad"); I'm trying to point out that racism is sometimes (usually, I would argue) the outcome of making casual, often subconscious, links between observed phenomena. Drawing these connections is a natural (though flawed) process, and it happens to all of us.


  I think that this is an important distinction. Often, the argument against stereotyping is that the stereotype isn't true. Sometimes that's correct, but sometimes it's not. African-American men do, for example, commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men. That's hard to hear, and it's a fact that most of us don't like, but it's simply a fact; there's no getting around it. To try to deny that that fact exists would be ridiculous, but it's often where people go when arguing against the "black men are criminals" stereotype. The correct argument against the "black men are criminals" stereotype is this: Though it is true that African-American men commit more violent crimes per capita than white American men, they don't commit those crimes because they are African-American. The cause of the action lies somewhere else. Specifically, a person is more likely to commit a violent crime if they are from a broken home, if they are poor, or if they live in an area with a high crime rate, and African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances than white Americans (this is also a verifiable fact). And African-Americans are more likely to live in those circumstances because of this counrty's history of slavery and discrimination, especially discrimination in education and housing (that's not a fact, but it's a point that I doubt most people would argue).


  I think that this understanding helps us get away from the idea of race as an explanatory variable; I personally believe that race can never be an explanatory variable. It also helps us understand where racism comes from and how we can best go about getting rid of it. I often feel that many of the anti-racism sentiments you encounter are well-meaning, but also simplistic and incorrect. In this instance, it does matter what logic you use to reach the correct conclusion.

On another topic: I am the worst comedian-blogger ever. Roughly 80 percent of my blogs are not funny at all, and at least 50 percent (including this one) are dense and sober. I am essentially trying to publish lightweight academic papers on MySpace. I'm sorry.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:38 PM EDT
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