Friday, March 23, 2012

Complaints and Compliments

Dave Weigel reports from Alabama and Mississippi's March primary, asking some of the Republican primary voters "why did Obama ever win in the first place?" The answers are for the most part conservative boilerplate; voter fraud, white guilt, naïveté of young voters, etc. I wanted to highlight one respondent's statements, because I think it revels some of the idiosyncrasies of the conservative mindset.

Kerry Anderson of Biloxi, Mississippi* laments that:
“[Obama] fooled the young people, mostly. He fooled the people looking for an easier way of life, and he made them belief life would be easier, the government would take care of things if he won. It bothers me that young people aren’t better-informed. We older people, we stay informed. I should say: I’m on Medicare, but I still work. I was on the election commission in the county this year.” (emphasis mine - JMG)

The criticism Ms. Anderson is trying to make here is quite clear, and is a part of the longstanding, implicit conservative allergy to government solutions to social problems - especially at the federal level. But the literal complaint; that if elected life wold be easier and that the government should step in to solve social problems, well, I have to agree that that was part of the logic of Obama's candidacy.

Take healthcare: Barack Obama campaigned on, and signed legislation enshrining, the idea that it should be easier to purchase health insurance, and that government would solve the issues of adverse selection and pre-existing conditions that has plagued the United States' heath insurance market since (arguably) the Truman administration. I understand Mrs. Anderson is articulating a complaint, but really it sounds like a compliment.

*For disclosure, I am a native of, and still have roots in, Biloxi and Gulfport, MS.

Good Lord! (Updated)

Can we all agree that Geraldo Rivera is awful, and we hate him?

“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,”
For those of you unfamiliar with the details of Trayvon Martin's death, you can start here, and read on here.

Update: Mr. Rivera seems to ignore is own advice.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Reach

I'm not sure what Mitt Romney is trying to say here, but he sounds very confused:
“I keep hearing the president say that he’s responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression,” Romney told a crowd at a town hall meeting in Maryland Wednesday. “No, no no. That was President George W. Bush and Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening.”
So, George W. Bush rescued America from the Great Depression he caused?

At any rate, I thought the internal conservative logic was that Bush/Paulson's TARP program was not "conservative" in the sense that conter-cyclical fiscal policy is the anathema of freedom.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Context Matters

Just a quick point made by Matthew Yglesias that I wanted to co-sign; context matters:
The big picture that emerges, I think, is simply of a China that's still exceptionally poor by American standards. (emphasis mine - JMG)
There has been a lot excellent (and not so excellent) of coverage over the working conditions at Foxconn's factories. I am not going to add commentary to the conditions themselves, but rather how we talk about working conditions in general.

Standards of living and working conditions are relative ideas. Just like the adjectives "hot" or "cold", "quality working conditions" or "low standards of living" implies there's some baseline for comparison; usually our own. This is not to say that there is ever an excuse for barbaric working conditions, or standards of living that traumatizes a basic regard for human beings. But we need to be aware of (and appreciate) the quality of life that middle-class American citizens enjoy is the result of decades, if not centuries, of progressive social movement and advocacy for those on society's lowest rungs (e.g. child labor laws, protected classes, minimum wages, etc).

There is a bit of hubris in the expectation that the rest of the globe, especially the parts that are in the process of developing, to conform to the standards of an industrialized, western, middle-class lifestyle without a deeper commitment to understanding the context of the Foxconn employee, or the Malaysian Clipsal worker, or the Moroccan OCP miner.

If you'd like to learn more about supplier standards that created your iPhone, Apple's CSR reports are available here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Honest Mistake

At Business Insiders, Michael Brendan Dougherty reads Paul Ryan's new budget plan so you don't have to.

Can you spot what is missing from Rep. Ryan's colorful chart? Hint: In FY 2011, it comprised of 58% of the Federal Discretionary Budget.

We Will Take Your Word For It

Karen Santourm assures us that, if elected, women have "nothing to fear" from her husband's espoused views on contraception.

I supposed we will just have to take her word for it? Or perhaps his?

“The Blunt amendment was broader than that,” Santorum told Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday. “It was a conscience clause exception that existed prior to when President Obama decided that he could impose his values on people of faith, when people of faith believe that this [contraception] is a grievous moral wrong.” (emphasis mine - JMG)

No One Has a Monopoly on Liberty

The The New York Times has a wonderful piece on gender gap on health insurance costs. They key lesson of the article:
In a report to be issued this week, the National Women’s Law Center, a research and advocacy group, says that in states that have not banned gender rating, more than 90 percent of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men.(emphasis mine - JMG)
Buttressing this, The Atlantic Wire has great compilation of similar articles all pointing out the same thing: there is a inherent gender disparity in healthcare costs and services, that the current contracetion "debate" only serves to highlight.

I bring this up because I have seen and read a handful of conservative opinions concerning the mandate that all health insurance plans provide for contraception without co-pay. I am not going to take time to delve into the policy specifics right now. Instead I want to make a broader point about conceptions of liberty.

The conservative/libertarian point against a contraception mandate is couched in terms of contractual "liberty". Namely that:
[...] there is no need to be your sister’s keeper when she can keep herself.
What these opinions ignore, or cannot seem to comprehend, is that one class or group of people do not have a monopoly on "liberty".

Some people want the liberty to set the terms of their contract between their health insurer, free of regulatory mandates. I think women should have the liberty to choose the timing, spacing, and numbers of their child births. A freedom they do not have if there are barriers to contraception. I also think a people should be free from economic and medical discrimination based on their gender. A freedom women do not have, as illustrated by the above New York Times and Atlantic Wire articles.

"Liberty" is not some empirically, objectively established concept that one side gets to hold as a cudgel in political debate. It is a concept and a value that requires us to make normative judgments about what is, and is not, important to us as a society and polity.

Just because you want to be "free" from some onerous regulatory mandate does not make you a brave crusader for individual liberty. It just makes you a advocate for your own opinion of what liberty should mean in a regulatory context.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Inmates Run The Asylum cont.

I am not sure what Rick Santroum thinks he's doing, but this is the 2012 election cycle, not 1912.

Lobbying as a Legislative Subsidy

Ezra Klein has written a great piece for the New York Review of Books; diagnosing some of the ways money does, and does not, corrode our political system.

In many of the conversations I've privately had with liberal friends and acquaintances, money and politics is often reduced to a kind of arithmetic: Money + Politics = Corruption. I do not completely disagree with the assertion, but I certainly think there is more to it that that (as I've touched on here). Why I like Klein's piece so much is that he really plumbs the depths of causation mechanisms between well financed lobby interests and favorable legislative results. The problem with the "lobbying as a form of bribery" hypothesis is that it doesn't really stand up to scrutiny in the real world:
[...] lobbying, at least in its bluntest form, doesn’t seem to work. For many Americans, lobbying is a form of bribery. A rich lobbyist goes to a corrupt congressman, money changes hands, and the lobbyist gets his vote while the congressman gets money for his campaign. Many researchers have tried to find systematic evidence of vote buying. Very few have succeeded. Lessig quotes research by Dan Clawson, Mark Weller, and Alan Neustadtl, which concluded, “Many critics of big money campaign finance seem to assume that a corporate donor summons a senator and says, ‘Senator, I want you to vote against raising the minimum wage. Here’s $5,000 to do so.’ This view, in its crude form, is simply wrong.”
Klein explains that lobbying, instead, is more a form a legislative subsidy:
In addition to providing campaign contributions and employment prospects to outgoing elected officials and their staffs, [lobbyists] provides legislative expertise. Political scientists call this “the legislative subsidy” model of lobbying, and it poses a serious challenge to the view that lobbyists are little more than parasites.

The theory was first proposed by Richard Hall and Alan Deardorff in a 2006 paper entitled “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy.” The paper was an attempt to solve a problem that, at first glance, should not have needed to be solved, because it should not have existed in the first place: Why is the behavior of lobbyists so hard to predict?

For instance: you would think that lobbyists would concentrate their financial power and well-honed connections on the politicians they need to persuade. But they don’t. They concentrate it on the politicians who are already most convinced of their positions.
In a lot of ways, the money spent on lobbying is not so much a direct attempt at vote buying or bribery, as it is an indirect attempt at agenda setting and coalition building. Certainly there's going to be "ol' boys club" type glad handing, which favors those who already are familiar and participants in networks of privilege. But that does not necessarily mean that levels of financing is the only factor.

One last thing that I think is very important, and is not mentioned nearly enough, is the fact that the "expenditure effect"; that is, the amount of influence lobbyist spending has on an issue, recedes in relation to the issue's prominence. Klein explains:
Take any issue that you’ve actually heard a lot about. The headline clashes. The big-ticket bills. They’ve all got money on both sides. They’ve all got platoons of lobbyists swarming onto Capitol Hill. They’ve all got activists and interest groups and even ordinary Americans pestering their congressmen. And they all go the same way: the Democrats vote with the Democrats, and the Republicans vote with the Republicans.

That’s true even when the big money lines up in favor of another outcome. In 2011, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO joined together to call for a major reinvestment in American infrastructure. None passed. In 2010, most of the health care industry was either supportive or neutral on the Affordable Care Act, and if any one of them could have swung the votes of even a few Republican senators or congressmen, the desperate Democrats would have let them write almost anything they wanted into the bill. But not one Republican budged. In 2009, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the stimulus bill as a necessary boost to the economy. Not one House Republican voted for it. Almost every major business group has been calling for tax reform and a big, Simpson-Bowles-like deficit reduction package for years now. But Congress remains deadlocked.
I do not want to imply that I do not think money is an issue in American politics; it is. But I think we need to look at the effect money has on our political system in less ideological way, and in a more scientific way.

Bonus: Ta-Nehisi Coates' own thoughts on Klein's work.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Sinks to New Lows/Reaches New Heights

If Rick Santourm is calling you absurd, well, that's absurd.


TPM has a new headline that I just can't resist:

Romney Urged Obama To Embrace Individual Mandate In 2009.

Mitt has been trying parse his signature achievement by making a state/federal distinction. Apprently, his 2009 op-ed failed to do so.

These are the kind of problems you have when you're a presidential candidate, and you decide you don't really care, as long as people vote for you.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Don't Even...

I would like to submit Exhibit A in the case against the fallacy that the rich "just work harder" A sample:
Executive-search veterans who work with hedge funds and banks make about $500,000 in good years, said Arbeeny, managing principal at New York-based CMF Partners LLC, declining to discuss specifics about his own income. He said he no longer goes on annual ski trips to Whistler (WB), Tahoe or Aspen.

He reads other supermarket circulars to find good prices for his favorite cereal, Wheat Chex.

“Wow, did I waste a lot of money,” Arbeeny said.
Yes, "wow".

Bonus: Matt Taibbi tearing into David Brooks for his wealth worshiping foolishness.

h/t Gin and Tacos