“Politics” Category

The Party That History Forgot

Robert Draper has an excellent look at how the GOP has failed so badly since 2004. He looks at both how behind the Republican party is technologically and the policy and brand issues that have turned the party into something of a joke. The whole piece is excellent and there are many parts worth discussing, but I wanted to highlight one in particular. This is from a focus group conducted by a GOP pollster:

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

I admit there’s a bit of schadenfreude here because I’ve been saying much of this since well before 2008, but people—especially younger people—have abandoned or written off the GOP because they don’t seem tied to the time period we’re in. They don’t appear to have any real ideas for solving the problems we have, like health care or concerns that the middle class is declining or that children will be worse off than their parents, let alone even seem to take these problems seriously. And that says nothing about waving off global warming as some kind of collective delusion and/or conspiracy of the left, evolution denial, utter stupidity on abortion and women’s health, and veiled race-baiting. The left derides the GOP as the party of wealthy white men, and the GOP does its best effort to provide evidence to support that.

There’s a clear path the party can take. First, take science (reality) seriously. Acknowledge global warming, acknowledge that evolution is real (and not phony trying-to-please-everyone stupidity like Marco Rubio’s answer to how old he thinks the earth is). Second, acknowledge that social conservatives lost the cultural battle on gay marriage (thank God), and that abortion is a contested issue in the country and while you can work to limit it, it must be rooted in truth (that science thing again), and it must be done with not just a focus on the unborn, but also toward maximizing the interests of all women, and with an actual understanding of what it’s like to face deciding whether to have an abortion and why. Third, take the deep (and real) fear people have that the middle class is on a downward path while the wealthy are ever-climbing seriously, because it is serious, and work toward actually improving the country’s situation rather than propose tax cuts as the solution to all ills like some snake oil cure-all. Fourth, mold this new party—socially moderate, fiscally-conservative—into one focused on allowing every person in this country to pursue and realize their dreams, free from government fiat and excess regulatory burden.

That fourth part is what the Republican party should be; not a party that’s dogmatically wedded to “small government” and tax cuts, but one that believes that while government has a role in our lives, it should lean toward solutions that don’t involve it at all or that when necessary, as much as possible, empower individuals and groups to accomplish a goal rather than centralized control.

That’s a potentially very strong philosophical driver for the Republican party, but getting there starts with parts one through three. And those will be difficult; those are entrenched beliefs within the Republican base and in leadership. So it will take—among many other things—all of us within the party standing up and pointing out when our leaders are wrong on these issues and when people in the party are wrong on them. As long as we allow xenophobia, homophobia and anti-science to fester within the party, the party will not have a future.

February 15th, 2013

Max Levchin has plans for you

Nicholas Carr:

No need to think of analog resources in the aggregate anymore; networked sensors allow us to monitor and rationalize the utilization of each individual resource, each person in isolation. But you can go even deeper. You can begin to rationalize each individual’s internal resources. Imagine, as Levchin does, that everyone is hooked up to physical sensors that minutely monitor their health and behavior and send the data to a centralized processing system. An insurance company “looking at someone’s heart rate monitor data could make their cardiovascular healthcare cost-free.” Of course, if you engage in risky behavior (do you really want that third slice of pizza, or that third beer?) or have some suboptimal health reading (did your heart just skip a beat?), an alert from your insurer, or maybe your employer, or maybe the government, would immediately come through your smartphone notifying you that your health care premium has just been increased. Or maybe your policy has been cancelled. Or maybe you’ve been scheduled for a brief reeducation session down at the local office of the Bureau for Internal Resource Optimization.

This is the nightmare world of Big Data, where the moment-by-moment behavior of human beings — analog resources — is tracked by sensors and engineered by central authorities to create optimal statistical outcomes.

It’s not difficult to imagine terrible outcomes for a future with computers, sensors and the Internet in everything and everyone. But it’s coming. Which is why we have to actively design technology so it works to make us better as humans, rather than control us.

February 11th, 2013

‘Imminent’ Means Whatever the President Wants It to Mean

A Justice Department memo providing the legal justification for drone strikes on American citizens has leaked. The key determinant is whether they provide an imminent threat to the U.S. “Imminent,” though, doesn’t mean “imminent”:

But the confidential Justice Department “white paper” introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described  by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches.  It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland.    

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.

Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American  has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.” 

Let’s restate that to be a little more taut: American citizens are killed when the president decides they need killed, and we call that “due process.”

February 4th, 2013

Nate Silver Looks At What Is Driving Growth in Government Spending

Nate Silver:

It’s one of the most fundamental political questions of our time: What’s driving the growth in government spending? And it has a relatively straightforward answer: first and foremost, spending on health care through Medicare and Medicaid, and other major social insurance and entitlement programs.

Good look at the composition of government spending over the last century.

January 17th, 2013

Jack Lew

Peter Suderman on Jack Lew, the man President Obama has nominated for Treasury Secretary:

“Make no mistake,” he wrote, “this will not be easy.” In order to illustrate how hard it would be, Lew singled out cuts the administration had made to community service block grants, a separate community development fund, and the oh-so-critical Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The total value of those cuts? Just $775 million. These are only some of the $20 billion in annual cuts Lew says the administration has proposed, but his point is to highlight the grave difficulty of even minor cutbacks. It’s a view that seems to see any reduction in federal spending, no matter how small, as an act of savagery.

At a time of record deficits, unsustainable debt, and sky-high federal spending, this is who the president has chosen for a position that The Washington Post describes as the administration’s “leading spokesperson for the economy,” as well as its senior advocate in the budget negotiation process: Someone who is determined to avoid cuts to the entitlements that are the chief drivers of the long-term debt and deeply resistant to cutting even the tiniest bit of spending in the short term. It’s a decision that says plenty about the administration’s intentions on budget policy.

It’s almost like the president doesn’t think we have a spending problem.

Oh, yeah.

January 10th, 2013

Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

In 2010, Conor McBride shot his girlfriend of three years, Ann Grosmaire, during an argument. She was 19. Almost immediately, he drove himself to a police station and turned himself in.

McBride and Grosmaire were incredibly close, and Grosmaire’s parents were very close with McBride as well. He stayed at their home often due to issues with his own family, and they fully expected the two would marry and give them grandchildren. They loved him.

When McBride was booked into jail, he put Grosmaire’s mother, Kate, on the permitted visitors list. Kate felt compelled to visit him:

At first she didn’t want to see him at all, but that feeling turned to willingness and then to a need. “Before this happened, I loved Conor,” she says. “I knew that if I defined Conor by that one moment — as a murderer — I was defining my daughter as a murder victim. And I could not allow that to happen.”

She asked her husband if he had a message for Conor. “Tell him I love him, and I forgive him,” he answered. Kate told me: “I wanted to be able to give him the same message. Conor owed us a debt he could never repay. And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy us.”

Visitors to Leon County Jail sit in a row of chairs before a reinforced-glass partition, facing the inmates on the other side — like the familiar setup seen in movies. Kate took the seat opposite Conor, and he immediately told her how sorry he was. They both sobbed, and Kate told him what she had come to say. All during that emotional quarter of an hour, another woman in the visiting area had been loudly berating an inmate, her significant other, through the glass. After Conor and Kate “had had our moment,” as Kate puts it, they both found the woman’s screaming impossible to ignore. Maybe it was catharsis after the tears or the need to release an unbearable tension, but the endless stream of invective somehow struck the two of them as funny. Kate and Conor both started to laugh. Then Kate went back to the hospital to remove her daughter from life support.

The Grosmaires continued to visit McBride in jail, and pushed for what is called “restorative justice.” This is a system outside adversarial trials where the offender, victims and law enforcement meet in a forum where each participant speaks—without interruption—and the parties come to a consensus on how to move forward and repair what had been done. Where it’s allowed, this approach is typically used for less serious crimes like property damage. The Grosmaires wanted to pursue it for the murder of their daughter. Their desire was granted,1 and after the process, they recommended 10-15 years in prison for McBride. McBride decided he should not have a say. Ultimately, because the decision was not for the Grosmaire’s to make, McBride was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 10 years of probation, but it was undoubtedly much less than what he would have received if he had went through the normal justice system.

This is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful story, because of just how incredible the Grosmaires are for being willing to forgive McBride for something so utterly horrifying and life-shattering, and for advocating for him.

It is difficult to say that someone who murdered the person they loved in a flight of anger should be given leniency. That idea deeply bothers me, because such terrible crimes should be met with severe punishment. A woman just at the beginning of her life as an adult lost all of her future, and her family lost such a large part of theirs, because of his actions. But this case is different, too; McBride did not have a criminal history, nor a history of serious problems at school. The murder was not premeditated, but the result of a prolonged fight between the two, and McBride’s admitted deeply-engrained problem with anger. He turned himself in almost immediately after the crime. McBride did something unconscionably horrifying, and yet it is difficult to put him in the box we are so comfortable placing most murderers: the box labeled “evil.”

This is a unique case, one that most murder cases do not resemble. But there is something incredibly powerful about law enforcement, the victims (both the Grosmaires and McBride’s parents), and McBride, going through, one-by-one, what happened. Unfortunately, doing so did not—and could not—bring any greater sense of reason to what happened for the Grosmaires, because there is none. But it allowed them to hear directly from McBride what happened, and to be involved in his punishment and future. That may have provided a much greater sense of closure than a trial ever would, because the criminal justice system’s hearings, rules and procedures were stripped away from the event, and the people involved were able to discuss it directly, and everything that went into it.

The Grosmaires believe that forgiving McBride was necessary to allow themselves to move on and avoid the emotional black hole that something so devastating can become. They could have focused all of their emotions into anger and hatred at McBride for what h did to their daughter and their family, and while it may have been deserved, it can also destroy. But being forgiven—and the forum that resulted from the restorative process—also did something to McBride. Since her parents did not hate him, did not channel their anger against him and alienate him, he could not wallow in self-pity. By forgiving him, they forced him to grapple entirely with the weight of his actions, with the murder of the woman he loved. I doubt it is the time in prison that is important as a punishment in this case so much as it is the time in prison dealing with the total guilt of what he has done, and working to make himself a better person. McBride is truly lucky he has the chance to do all of that, because he certainly did not deserve the Grosmaire’s forgivance.

The Grosmaires want McBride to improve himself in prison, and to do good with his life when his term finishes. Kate told him he will have to “do the good works of two people because Ann is not here to do hers.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard more beautiful words than that. Rather than condemn McBride to prison for the rest of his life, the Grosmaires chose to save his life.

  1. To be more correct, their desire was granted, but the process was not binding. Because this took place in Florida, where the restorative justice system is not practiced, the forum took place during the pre-plea conference, and the prosecutor took the results as guidance. []
January 7th, 2013

Obama Gets the Eavesdropping Bill He Wants

Glenn Greenwald:

In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That’s the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: “I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.”

This comes after then Senator Obama vowed in 2008 to filibuster any bill which provided immunity to the telecom industry for participating in the Bush administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program; of course, Obama then not only voted against a filibuster of just such a bill, but then voted for the bill.

The 2008 FISA bill was set to expire this year, so President Obama pushed for the power to be renewed. He also pushed for it to be renewed without modest oversight amendments proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, and Rand Paul.

Change, indeed.

January 2nd, 2013

Cuba’s Market Reform Show There’s No Silver Bullet

Cuba has allowed farmers to grow and sell crops privately in an attempt to boost production, but the changes haven’t been a success:

Mistrust is widespread. To get the growth Mr. Castro wants in agriculture and the economy, people need to trust the government, analysts say. But after half a century of strict control, many Cubans doubt proclamations from officials, who insist that this time, despite previous crackdowns, private enterprise will be supported.

Some farmers still wonder when the government is going to swoop in and take what they have built.

“What concerns me is that in a place like this, after five or six years the state might need the land to complete some kind of project,” said Reinaldo Berdecia, who is raising cows outside Havana.

This shows is just how important the rule of law is in allowing a market system. Without trust that the land and output will remain theirs, few farmers will take the necessary steps to make use of it.

Another problem farmers run into is that while they now can effectively own land, they don’t have the resources to effectively farm it due to other restrictions still in place, like tractors (the government maintains a monopoly on selling almost all new equipment, so farmers use decades-old, unreliable equipment) and fertilizer.

Without the rule of law and relatively unfettered access to other goods, too, it’s difficult for a market to emerge.

December 12th, 2012

RSC Fires Copyright Memo Author

Remember the insightful Republican Study Committee memo on copyright? The Republican Study Committee fired the author:

The staffer who wrote the memo, an ambitious 24-year-old named Derek Khanna, was fired — even before the RSC had decided on other staffing changes for the upcoming Congress. The copyright memo was a main reason.

Absolutely despicable and disgusting.

Here’s a memo to the GOP: firing people for writing intelligently on topics that’s inconvenient to political interest groups isn’t going to help you. Get your shit in order.

December 6th, 2012

What’s Wrong With the Republican Fiscal Cliff Counteroffer

Josh Barro criticizes the Republican fiscal cliff counteroffer:

The letter says Republicans want to cut $900 billion from mandatory spending and $300 billion from discretionary spending, but they don’t say what or how they want to cut. The letter nods toward a proposal sketched out by Erskine Bowles, the cornerstone of which is a gradual increase in the Medicare age, but it lacks specifics.

On the tax side, they agree to $800 billion in new revenue from “pro-growth tax reform that closes special-interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.” But they don’t endorse specific loophole closures or propose a new rate structure.

Nonsense, and not going to cut it. Republicans need to make a serious proposal and go from there. This isn’t it. Obama’s proposal may have been a slap in the face, but at least it has specifics.

My preference would be for Republicans to agree to some combination of rate increases and a reduction in deductions, somewhere around $1 trillion, along with specific entitlement spending reductions.

December 3rd, 2012

It’s But a Coincidence That These Rules Break Our Competition

U.S. city taxi regulators are doing their best to work with Uber while protecting customers:

Taxi regulators from 15 cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, were on the committee that drafted the guidelines on new rules. One rule would forbid luxury car services from using a GPS device as a meter for calculating fares based on time and distance, which is the method that Uber uses.

Another rule would forbid any driver from accepting an electronic hail through a smartphone while driving. And one says limousines may not accept a request for a ride that is made less than 30 minutes in advance, which would impede Uber’s primary business model of connecting luxury car drivers with passengers immediately.

And by “doing their best to work with Uber,” I mean doing their best to make inane rules that make it almost impossible for companies like Uber to do business. Because, customer safety.

December 3rd, 2012

Keith Hennessey On President Obama’s Fiscal Cliff Proposal

Keith Hennessey on President Obama’s fiscal cliff proposal:

The Super Committee failed, so the spending sequester is scheduled to begin one month from now.

The President, most Democrats and many Republicans in Congress want to reduce or delay the sequester.

The President proposes a one-year delay, which would increase the deficit by $109 B in 2013. He wants to enact (in December) mandatory savings of an equal amount, but he proposes no specifics.

In this offer he promises Republicans that the tax reform and entitlement reform that they so desire will be backed up by the threat of, wait for it, the sequester that will begin in early 2014.

See anything wrong with this logic?

Taxes now, spending cut negotiations later.

December 3rd, 2012

Marcia Angell’s Mistaken View of Pharmaceutical Innovation

Alex Tabarrok responds to Marcia Angell’s claim on Econtalk that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t drive much innovation:

Notice that Angell first claims the pharmaceutical companies do almost no innovation then, when presented with a figure of $70 billion spent on R&D, she switches to an entirely different and irrelevant claim, namely that spending on marketing is even larger. Apple spends more on marketing than on R&D but this doesn’t make Apple any less innovative. Angell’s idea of splitting up company spending into a “budget” is also deeply confused. The budget metaphor suggests firms choose among R&D, marketing, profits and manufacturing costs just like a household chooses between fine dining or cable TV. In fact, if the marketing budget were cut, revenues would fall. Marketing drives sales and (expected) sales drives R&D. Angell is like the financial expert who recommends that a family save money by selling its car forgetting that without a car it makes it much harder to get to work.

And by the way, if you have any interest in the economy or economics, or public policy, I would highly recommend listening to Econtalk. It’s consistently interesting and, in many cases, insightful. You could do a lot worse for things to listen to while commuting.

December 3rd, 2012

The President’s Offer: We Get Everything We Want, and You’ll Like it

While the president campaigns, the White House made their “offer” to Republicans to avert the fiscal cliff:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal on Thursday to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

Also part of the offer: cuts in farmer subsidies.

The White House’s offer is $1.6 trillion of tax increases, $50 billion more in spending, and a promise to negotiate entitlement spending cuts next year. Oh, and they want to give the executive branch the power to raise the debt ceiling without any Congressional involvement, too; Congress can only override it with a two-thirds majority. No wonder McConnell laughed off Geithner’s “offer.”

In other words, the president’s offer to Republicans is for Democrats to get everything they want and Republicans to get absolutely nothing, the nation’s fiscal mess be damned. Because apparently in Obama’s mind, getting everything he wants is “balanced.”

This isn’t an offer. If he wanted to start negotiating from a strong position and come to some middle ground on entitlement reform—if he wanted to fulfill his role as president and be a leader—he would have offered some (too small) amount of actual entitlement spending cuts to start from. That isn’t what he did.

The Republicans started negotiations by acknowledging that tax revenue must go up, and that they would support doing so by limiting deductions. That’s a more-than-fair place to start in good-faith negotiations, because from there they could agree to some mix of limiting deductions and raising rates in exchange for entitlement spending cuts.

Obama took that olive branch, snapped it in two and tossed it in their face.

November 30th, 2012

“Republicans Still Dodge Reality on Taxes”

The New York Times editors accuse Republicans of ignoring fiscal reality, but only manage ignore the reality themselves:

Congressional Republicans seem to think they are being flexible on taxes simply because a few of them have grudgingly admitted that some new revenues can be part of the current fiscal negotiations. We’re unimpressed.

No credit is due to a party that has suddenly accepted the obvious when it has no choice, particularly after two years of irresponsibly reducing the deficit only from the spending side. True flexibility means acknowledging that tax rates for the rich have to go up, and then negotiating how much and which ones. But, so far, Republicans have been just as closed to that reality as they have been for years, ignoring both the election results and the plain arithmetic of deficit reduction.

The Republicans have offered to raise taxes on people with higher incomes by capping deductions, a $727 billion tax increase over ten years, in return for serious entitlement reforms, which are the long-term drivers of our fiscal disaster.

To which the Times editors go on to say that, “fortunately,” President Obama is refusing to make any serious changes to entitlements.

Allowing the top marginal tax rate to return to return to 39.6 percent will not solve our fiscal problems. Let me repeat that: raising the top marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent will not raise enough revenue to solve our fiscal problem.

Here’s the problem: if we keep current tax and spending policies in place—that is, if we extend the Bush tax cuts, continue indexing the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation, and hold Medicare payment rates constant, deficits and debt will shoot up into dangerous territory by 2020. Here’s how the CBO describes it (PDF):

…deficits would be much larger during the 2013–2022 period than in CBO’s baseline, averaging 4.9 percent of GDP rather than 1.1 percent. With deficits totaling nearly $10 trillion during that decade, debt held by the public would climb to 90 percent of GDP in 2022, the highest percentage since just after World War II. Thus, under that scenario, the United States would quickly head into fiscal territory unfamiliar to it and most other developed nations. Moreover, federal debt would continue to grow over the longer term, more than doubling relative to GDP between 2022 and 2037.

For comparison, the CBO says that between 1957 and 2008, debt ranged between 20-50 percent of GDP. So when debt shoots up to 90 percent of GDP, that’s kind of bad.

So what’s the reason for this? The reason is quite simple: tax revenues would stay near their historical average at 18.5 percent of GDP, but total spending would rise to 23.3 percent of GDP, well above the 21 percent average between 1972 and 2011. But here’s the really scary part: entitlement spending will account for 14 percent of GDP, or more than 75 percent of tax revenues.

So there’s no question, then, that we will need to bring our spending and revenues more in line. The CBO suggests that in 2020, if we reduce (but not eliminate—that would take $1 trillion of savings) our projected deficit by $750 billion, we could keep our deficit at a relatively small and healthy percentage of GDP and put our debt on a gentle, downward-sloping trajectory. In other words, doing so would go a long way toward fixing our fiscal troubles.

But how can we get those $750 billion of savings in 2020? If we extend Bush’s tax cuts for all but the wealthy (which is what Democrats propose), we would only get $110 billion, or 14.7 percent, of the necessary amount of deficit reduction.

So here’s the choice we have, and the choice that Democrats refuse to publicly acknowledge: we can maintain our entitlement programs as-is and not make significant changes, but not only will this mean locking in government spending as a percentage of GDP, and allowing it to rise in the decades ahead, well above historical levels, but it will also mean a dramatic increase in taxes on not only the wealthy, but the middle class, to pay for it.

Republicans themselves like to ignore this as well (what else is Romney’s claim that Obama slashed Medicare as a part of ACA?), but at least they are offering to increase tax revenues while also demanding (vague, ill-defined) reform to entitlements, the serious drivers of our fiscal troubles.

That’s the reality. The Times editors—and Democrats—are choosing to pretend that raising taxes on the wealthy is in and of itself fiscal responsibility. Senator Dick Durbin says that entitlement programs should not even be on the negotiation table for the fiscal cliff, and that they’ll get to entitlement reform next year. (“Trust me.”) President Obama is seeking $1.6 trillion of new revenue and offering just $340 billion of savings from entitlement spending. (Somehow, the President believes that 4.7 times as much revenue as reduction in spending is balanced.)

In reality, tax rates will likely need to rise on the wealthy to fix our collective fiscal disaster. And luckily, the GOP’s insistence that rates stay where they are seems to be softening. But what is truly dodging reality is the idea that we can escape altering our entitlement programs without dramatic changes to the size and scope of our federal government and taxes on the American people.

November 28th, 2012