Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Tale Of Government Dysfunction

Long time readers should know that this post marks my one thousandth post here at blogger. To celebrate, I figured I'd finally get around to posting a story I've had kicking around since the summer. It's a story that I experienced firsthand, involving the utter incompetence of the regulatory structure. As many of you may know, I work for a laboratory primarily in the customer service and regulatory end of things, focusing mostly on drinking water regulation. We have over 100 public water system clients throughout the state of Connecticut, with these systems ranging to large municipal systems to small churches and gas stations.

Over the summer, on a routine sampling, one of our customers had a water sample test positive for e.coli bacteria. Now while this was not the same strand of e.coli (0157h7) involved in the ground beef outbreaks, it certainly was a health concern. To make matters complicated, this customer was a restaurant which relied on their water supply. Now here was a situation where even myself as a libertarian could understand the value of the concept of public health. There's something to be said for keeping the unwitting public from consuming water that may not be safe. And you would think a problem like this would be a simple one to solve, the exact sort of problem our regulatory system was designed to address. But if you thought that, you'd be wrong.

The problem lies in regulation that are more focussed on compliance than solutions and in a system that necessarily delegates authority to different areas. With the positive e.coli result, we were required by law to notify the state department of public health. We were also required to take a set of follow up samples, several of which also indicated the presence of e.coli. Per our procedure, we notified our client immediately. We did not notify the local health department because we had not been authorized to do so by our client and were not required to do so by law.

Our client began to take steps to remedy the situation, but did not notify the local health department. The local health department was notified several days later, after the information had been processed by the state department of public health. The state health department merely passed this information along because they literally have no power to do anything about it. The state can require monitoring and they can require public notification of bad results, but they have no power to shut a water system down, nor do they have any power to remedy this sort of situation. The local health department doesn't have the authority to shut a water system down either, but they do have the authority to close down the restaurants in their jurisdiction, which is precisely what happened in this situation.

The restaurant stayed closed for several days as our client attempted to figure out what had caused the contamination. The state was no help whatsoever and no one in the local health department was very familiar with water systems. Eventually, the problem was solved, mostly with help in advice from our laboratory. After a set of test results was negative for e.coli, the restaurant was allowed to reopen. But at no time did regulation help to solve the problem, nor did regulation work very effectively to protect public health. Sure, there are some fixes that could be made, namely in the form of better notification requirements, but this doesn't change the fact that the basic structure of our drinking water monitoring system doesn't provide a mechanism to actually fix problems, nor does it change the fact that the local health departments who ultimately may have authority over these sorts of drinking water issues probably do not have much drinking water expertise. Perhaps there are more answers, but it seems to me that those answers involve more public sector employees in the field and great deal more money in tax dollars.

This wasn't a complete disaster, but I bring it up to point out that all the laws and all the planning in the world can't fix all of our problems and can't make the world safe. This was a relatively simple problem, but our existing structure really wasn't geared to handle it. I don't find this to be a failure of imagination, but a literal example of how government works- or doesn't work. If it proves difficult to regulate safe water, how is the government supposed to regulate our economy out of a recession?

The SWAT Debate

I meant to link to this the other day, but the incredible Radley Balko has a bit of a back in forth going with the conservative blog Mansized Target over the use of force in the service of drug warrants. Balko's post follows up the excellent work he's continued to do on these sorts of raids and responds to Chris Roach of Mansized Target's accusations that the supposed following of prefered libertarian procedures led to the death of an FBI agent in a recent Pittsburgh raid. Roach's post is here.

Radley makes the point that in reality, there is very little difference between a knock and announce raid and a no knock raid and that the Pittsburgh case seems to be another example of police tactics that escalate violence. I think the real point that the law and order side of this debate tends to miss is that in the end, this isn't about the individual circumstances where these raids go right or wrong, it's about the circumstances under which such tactics should be used in the first place. Libertarians like Balko and those like me who agree with him take the view that the use of overwhelming military style force should be rare and should be reserved for those offenders who have a documented violent history. The law and order crowd offers no plan for when such force should be used, only offering complete deference to the discretion of the police.

It's one thing for police to have discretion, but it's another for them to be given no guidance whatsoever. That police should have complete discretion over the use of force is an inherently undemocratic argument to make, one that erodes the notion that the police exist to protect and serve the community. Citizens should have a voice in the sort of policing that's done in their communities and to suggest otherwise reeks of fascism.

As I said above, is it too much to ask that police make a documented showing that an individual or a situation may prove violent before sending in the SWAT team?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Different Perspective

This story made the news late last week: The Canadian High Court has declined to review the decision of Canadian Transportation Agency that the obese are functionally disabled and are therefore entitled to two airline seats for one fare. It spawned predictable jokes and predictable outrage and I just figured I'd offer a different perspective.

First, let me just say that I don't think it's any of the government's business how airlines price their seating- if they want to charge extra money for people who take up more space or people who require more attention, they should be free to do so. I don't just mean the obese but the handicapped as well. But given that we're dealing with government policy to begin with, I don't think this sort of ruling is as ridiculous as it sounds. After all, obesity may well be a medical condition of sorts, beyond the control of the individual. Certainly, it can't be argued that some obese individuals may be less responsible for their conditions than some handicapped individuals. So why should an individual who became handicapped through some stupid choice they made be granted more privileges than someone who's obese through no fault of their own. And just as we don't demand proof that someone's handicapped wasn't their own fault, why should the obese be put on the same medical notice.

My point is, it is discriminatory to assume that obesity is a personal issue over which every obese person has control while assuming that every handicapped person has no responsibility for their handicap. Do I think fat people should get an extra seat for free? Of course not- I just think everyone should pay equally for the services they use without having to get into people's personal business.

More on the Big Scary Economy

Here's a question to think about. Does consumer spending most accurately reflect current economic conditions or does consumer spending actually reflect perceived economic conditions?

The dour economic news coming from the media has continued to focus on the predicted downturn in consumer spending this holiday season and it just has me wondering how this all works. After all, fuel prices are way down and consumer prices have begun to drop in response to declining consumer demand. But why exactly is consumer demand declining? Yes, unemployment is up slightly, but the across the board decline in consumer spending isn't about the few are out of work, it's about the vast numbers of people electing not to spend their disposable income.

I guess the question I'm asking is, does fear perpetuate a poor economy? And doesn't consumer spending drive a successful economy?

Thrift is touted as a virtue by some, while others decry the consumerism that seems to define American culture. But aren't our spending habits what have made us wealthy in the first place? Demand for consumer goods creates jobs and wealth. Money spent helps drives the economy- pure saving does not. It just all has me wondering if Americans fear about the economy is only going to make things worse.

The Scary Economy

Reason's Nick Gillespie nails the real problem with our economy.

What worries me the most about these seemingly endless string of actions is that they replicate the absolute worst part of the FDR's response to the Depression: an undending string of generally misinformed attempts to fix things.

As Amity Shlaes documented in her excellent history of the New Deal, The Forgotten Man, it was precisely Roosevelt's ethos of "bold, persistent experimentation" that kept everyone guessing about what intervention might come next and how it might completely undermine the previous reform. The net result is to freeze people's actions rather than get back to anything like business as usual or adapt to a new normal (however bad that new normal might be). Within pretty broad limits, certainty—even a very ugly, harsh certainty—is much better than continuing uncertainty and drift when it comes to restarting economic activity, investment, and the like. Between the Bush administration's stutter-start actions and what is almost certain to be a whole start-over once Obama takes office, all manner of problems are being strung out longer and longer.

I've blogged very little on the economy mostly because I have little to say. The general proposals have tended from bad (bailing out functional financial firms that made bad investments) to worse (bailing out manufacturers with completely unworkable business models.) It'd be silly of me to say that I know for certain that the government should just sit back and do nothing, but I do wish that just letting the markets fix themselves could actually be on the table.

The real problem here is history, or rather the traditional narrative people are familiar with. The traditional narrative tells us that way back in the Great Depression, Hebert Hoover was a do-nothing President and FDR was a hero who came in and solved the Great Depression with government action. It doesn't matter that any honest historian of any political stripe knows that such a narrative is a vast oversimplification because "the New Deal saved us" is the five second Wikipedia sound bite.

The time has never been more ripe for libertarians and free-market conservatives to offer a new path. One that rejects massive the influx of capital into business in an impossible attempt to have government "fix" the market in favor of a far more limited attempt to help those Americans who suffer because of economic dislocations and turmoil. Sure, it may be a bit excessive for traditional libertarians, but it's a hell of a lot better than the proposed alternatives we've been seeing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bye, Bye Pushing Daisies

I heard the expected sad news last week that pushing daisies had been canceled. Abigail Nussbaum, who maintains a tremendous science fiction blog, pens her farewell to Daisies here.

As so many others have said, the fact that this smart, unusual, gorgeous show has been cancelled while shows like Knight Rider (which I've never watched because every reaction I've seen has been wholly negative) and the new Life on Mars (whose unsubtle hectoring drove me away after two episodes) survive is a travesty, and something that ABC, and the television industry in general, should be ashamed of.

I know that caring too much about television is asking to be hurt. It's a medium designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible, and anything that's too different or too quirky to have more than a niche appeal is going to get cut down. Still, this smarts. In an increasingly barren television landscape, Pushing Daisies was a breath of fresh air. It could always be counted on to surprise and delight me. It never cut corners on any of its characters and never looked down on the emotions they were feeling. It brightened my day, and I looked forward to it every week.

Pushing Daisies was the show that proved that cute and charming isn't the same thing as brainless or emotionally inauthentic, an attitude that's far too uncommon in television nowadays.

I couldn't put it any better, but allow me to add this. Daisies is a show that's perhaps too good for television, the sort of show that requires much more effort than practically everything else on tv. I say this from personal experience, as my wife and I have accumulated several weeks worth of Daisies episodes on the DVR on several different occasions. It's not that the show is so densely plotted it requires 100% of your attention, it's that the show is so beautifully and creatively filmed and the dialog is so witty and creative that watching Daisies is more like watching a feature film than a television show.

For what it's worth, I think Daisies has suffered in viewership because it's the rare show that mixes a week-by-week procedural with a continual character tapestry that is the true heart of the show. And unlike the Lost's or Heroes's of the world, Daisies isn't an epic and is just ultimately about it's characters. Perhaps in the future more people will be able to enjoy a show like Daisies, but for now, I suppose I should be happy we're going to get twenty some odd episodes of it.


Originally intended to be called 24:Exile, perhaps the producers of 24 realized that it was redemption they were searching for in the relaunch of 24. I say relaunch because it has been a year and a half since Jack Bauer last graced the small screen after the writers strike led to the scrapping of season 7. The 24:Redemption two-hour tv movie was meant to serve as a bridge to the new season which starts in January, setting back story and introducing characters. But while it was more than enjoyable to see Jack Bauer back in action, I still can't say I'm confident about the show's return for the new season.

The show followed two slightly connected plot lines, one being Jack's attempt to save a bunch of children from an African warlord and the other being the inauguration of Allison Taylor, the first ever female president of the 24 world. The Jack plot in Africa is great, albeit a bit lacking in substance. It's not as though there were too many loose ends, only that there was a lot more story there- particularly with all of the African characters- that it's a shame we won't get to see. That being said, what we saw was great- the look of the show was amazing, having been filmed on location in South Africa and it was just plain fantastic to see Jack in action again. As a Lost fan, I couldn't help but think of Mr. Eko, who's life basically mirrored those of the young boys seen at the start of the episode. But it's not as though the use of children by militants is at all cliche at this point, so I don't say this to take anything away from 24.

However, one of the complaints of season six was that there was not enough Jack and I almost feel like last night suffered from the same problem. To quote Homer Simpson,

Whenever Poochie's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Poochie"?

It's a joke, but as always, there's some truth there. Characters have never been 24's strong suit, and they killed off the one other guy in David Palmer who was capable of carrying the show. (I'd say President Logan was close to that level, which was why season 5 worked so well.) But until the writers can come up up with another worthwhile character, then the show is about Jack and when he's not onscreen I know I'm asking, "Where's Jack?"

To get back to last night, once again, it was awesome to see Jack in action yet again- conflicted, forced into the role of the hero, and absolutely deadly to his enemies. As I've been saying, the popularity of the show is about the man, the myth and the legend that is Jack Bauer and it's too bad the writers don't realize this.

The Africa story should have been more than enough for a two-hour tv event on it's own, but rather than spend the time on what was enjoyable, the producers decided to avail us with the new characters, new conspiracies, and new intrigue that awaits us this new season. I was uninterested last night in the President, her son, and whatever Jon Voight's character was doing and can only hope the new season does something to get me more interested. In the age of Obama, the novelty of a woman president seemed less intriguing than it might have been, and in the age of Obama, a canned speech from a fake president was less than inspirational.

At this point, the inclusion of the President seems almost forced, as if the show can't survive without the ever present inclusion of our government overlords. The truth is, it's not needed, and shouldn't just be slapped on because someone thinks it's part and parcel of 24. Season one worked well enough without a President. And season three struggled in parts because of the forced inclusion of an unrelated plot concerning David and Sherry Palmer and a presidential scandal. It has me more than a bit worried that in addition to the fact that Tony is supposedly returning from the dead as a villain, the new season of 24 is also going to be about all this garbage we were forced to watch last night. Hopefully at some point the writers will realize that all viewers want is Jack.

Cassel Fever

This from my good buddy McBlog! about a month ago:

Seriously, Matt Cassel sucks. I’m tired of this back and forth Pats fans are having, where one week he’s good enough and the next he’s a train wreck. He’s not good and if he was on any other team, he’d get killed. He is an absolute moron in the pocket and I don’t understand why he thinks he can run all the time.

Fast forward to yesterday, as Matt Cassel picked apart a Dolphins team team that had dominated the Patriots a few short months ago. Adding on Cassel's performance a week and a half ago against the Jets and Cassel is 60 of 93 for 815 yards, 6 TD's and 1 Int. After last week's performance as the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 400 yards and rush for 60 more, Cassel can now join the ranks of one of only 5 quarterbacks to ever pass for 400 yards in consecutive weeks.

But it's not the numbers that matter as much as the fact that Matt Cassel looked awesome. Not just passable or decent, but awesome. He was poised in the face of a consistent Dolphin pass rush and consistently delivered the ball on target all over the field. Obviously, Moss had the huge day yesterday, but emblematic of Cassel's development would be the production of Jabar Gafney. Againast the Jets, Gafney caught 7 balls for 86 yards and a touchdown and againast the Dolphins yesterday, he caught 5 for 85. Wes Welker has been catching zillions of balls all year and any quarterback in capable of getting the ball to Randy Moss, but the ability to work a mediocre receiver like Gafney into the game on a consistent basis is a big sign that Cassel's two-game stretch here is not a flash in the pan.

But enough about Cassel for a minute while I try and articulate the level of excitement I feel about this Patriots team at this moment in time. Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady and could never be Tom Brady, but that doesn't change the fact that these last two weeks were the most exciting Patriots games I've watched since some time early in the Drew Bledsoe era. The NFC East gets all the credit as football's best division this season, but the AFC East is certainly close behind, and more importantly, may be playing more fantastically awesome football. Last week we saw the Pats and Jets going blow for blow, touchdown for touchdown, neither team backing down, and this AFC East style action continued in Miami this week.

Clearly, this Patriots team has flaws. But clearly, most of the teams in the league this year are flawed, as evidenced by the Jets walloping of the Titans in Tennessee yesterday. The Giants are clearly the class of the league, which sets up an intriguing proposition. How amazing would a Patriots-Giants Super Bowl rematch be? I can't ever think of a time where a Super Bowl rematch would involve the tables being turned in this way- the Giants as the dominating favorite with the veteran quarterback, the Patriots as the underdog with the untested quarterback. For the first time since Tom Brady hurt is knee, let me say publicly that I'm hoping for it. It's a long road, but crazier things have happened.

Matt Cassel's play the last few weeks has given Patriots fans something that none of us thought we'd have this year- Hope.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wondering What The Conservative Response Will Be

The big news this afternoon: Judge orders release of five terror suspects at Gitmo.

In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the government's evidence linking the five Algerians to al-Qaida was not credible as it came from a single, unidentified source. Therefore, he said, the five could not be held indefinitely as enemy combatants, and should be released immediately.

So to sum up, these five men were held prisoner at Gitmo for seven years because of a single, unidentified source. As someone who's spent a great deal of time defending President Bush over the last seven years, this is incredably disappointing, but not surprising given the news that's developed over the last several years. The left has taken all the moral authority on this issues because most conservatives have insisted on defending the President's authority to detain anyone. It's all too convincing when you're talking about terrorists, but the right turned a clear blind eye to the prospect that anyone detained may actually be innocent. I'm wondering what the conservative response will be to the news of the release of these men. Seven years isn't the case of the system just correcting itself, it's representative of a deeply flawed system.

Preemption, Drugs, Juries, and Tort Law

Didn't get around to it this weekend, but I had a few things to say in regards to this Reason post on this Richard Epstein column. The issue is the upcoming Supreme Court case Wyerth v. Levine, in which the court will rule on the issue of implied preemption via FDA approval. Interestingly enough, there are few substantive comments at Reason, but I'll return to that in a minute. Fist, a brief explanation of the case for those who care about such things.

At issue is the anti-nausea drug Phenergan, which was administered to Vermont musician Diana Levine. The drug was administered improperly, the end result of which was that Levine had to have her arm amputated. She's already recovered damages against the doctor and the hospital, so the issue here is solely the warnings on the drug. There are two methods of injection, the IM method, which is less risky, but less effective, and the IV method, which was used, which is more risky, but also potentially more effective. The drug had stated warnings against IV injections made directly into the artery, warning against precisely what wound up happening in the case of Ms. Levine. A Vermont court ruled that the drug's warning label should not have just warned about the risk of injection into the artery, it should have proscribed the practice of IV injection all together.

It's important to keep in mind that under federal law, all drug label warnings must be approved by the FDA. Federal drug laws (unlike laws governing medical devices) do not have an explicit preemption clause, by which federal law and FDA rules would override any state laws on the subject. So the question the Supreme Court will be answering is whether preemption is implicit in the nature of the FDA and federal drug laws or whether state tort law can require different warnings than those mandated by federal law.

It's a complicated issue, one that holds no easy answers for legal or political theorists of any stripe. Libertarians may oppose the FDA on philosophical grounds, but assuming there is going to be an FDA around for the foreseeable future, how much weight should the FDA's decisions hold? No one would disagree that there are numerous problems with the FDA, but if state court decisions are permitted to bypass the FDA's authority, then the agency's mission as a whole would be compromised. Why should we spend billions of tax dollars on an agency who's decisions can be overruled by a single jury verdict?

This is not a question of the jury correcting a mistake, but a jury substituting the judgment of the FDA about drug safety with their own. It's important to keep in mind that all drugs have risks and side effects and the job of the FDA is to weigh those risks with the benefits, not in regard to one individual, but in regards to society as a whole. And there's no one right answer.

Personally, despite the libertarian in me that hates to grant more authority to the FDA, I'm in favor of preemption. As unreliable as the FDA may be, they are more reliable and undeniably more consistent than jury verdicts. At least there are scientists and experts at the FDA. Juries made up of laypeople not trained in the sciences seem a poor choice to set drug policy. And just as importantly, the drug industry would have difficulty functioning if each state were able to determine their own liability rules in regards to drug safety.

I've been reading bits and pieces of late on libertarian theories of tort law, which surprisingly, there seems to be little of. Certainly there are property rights bases analysis and criticisms of specific instances in which the tort system has overextended itself. But I've had difficulty finding any libertarian who will come out and say precisely what our tort system should be and more importantly, where it should come from. Libertarians certainly do believe in the notion of restitution, but the problem that we see in these drug cases is precisely where the authority to decide the circumstances of restitution should actually come from. I've made the point in previous posts that certain forms of government regulation aren't such horrible things, namely those regulations that give regulatory effect to what already is or could easily be tort law, the sorts of regulations that say things like you can't sell contaminated milk.

Now, this isn't to say our various levels of government have adopted the best means of crafting regulations, only that at some level, having rules written down before the fact is a better means of determining law than after the fact tort law making by the courts. Certainly, when it comes to drugs and other complicated scientific matters, the benefit of experts versus laypeople on juries should be obvious. There's a lot more here, both in terms of this particular issue and in terms of how libertarians and the rest of the world should view tort law in an increasingly complex world, but for now, I'll leave you with this thought:

Those who argue againast preemption are by implication arguing that the Vermont verdict was correct- that Diana Levine should recover a large verdict and that the Phenergan label should be changed to warn againast all IV injections. So would those opposed to preemption be willing to take a new drug- one that hadn't been approved by the FDA- solely on the say so of that same Vermont jury?

The NFL's Biggest Draft Busts

Not exactly the best time of the year, but this is another post I've had kicking around for a couple of months. In no particular order, these are the NFL's top ten draft busts since 1994. I'm using 1994 as a starting (or ending) point so as to best rely on my own actual perspective and to make this most accessible to my regular readers. The only real criteria here is that these are all top 10 selections who not only failed to live up to expectations, but literally failed to cut it in the NFL. I've excluded some players, like Ki-Jana Carter (1st pick 1995) and Trev Alberts (5th pick 1994), whose careers were sidetracked by injuries before they even had a chance to get started. I'd be curious to here comments, particularly about those who may have been left out. But without further ado, here is the list.

2005: With the 10th pick the Detroit Lions select, Mike Williams, WR USC

As opposed to the usual workout wonder, Williams was a college stud who got fatter and slower the longer he was in the NFL. In two years on the Lions, Williams caught just 37 balls for 449 yards and 2 touchdowns. Other receivers have recovered from slower starts to their careers, but Williams was cut by the Lions and couldn't even hang on in receiverless Oakland and receiverless Tennessee.

2003: With the 2nd pick, the Detroit Lions select, Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State

Noticing a trend here? Roger's problem wasn't his weight, but a complete inability to stay healthy. In three years on the Lions he played in only 15 games, catching 36 passes for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns. As the injuries kept piling up for Rogers, there just wasn't a football player left over.

2003: With the 6th pick, the New Orleans Saints select, Jonathan Sullivan, DT, Georgia

Sullivan lasted only three years with the Saints, during which time he totaled 77 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was traded to New England before the 2006 season, but didn't make the team and was never heard from again.

2002: With the 4th pick, the Buffalo Bills select, Mike Williams, OT, Texas

Offensive linemen are supposed to be safe picks and Williams was supposed to be anchor the Bills offensive line for the next decade. He was huge at 360 plus pounds, but unfortunately for the Bills, couldn't pass protect at a pro level. They tried moving him to guard, but four years later, the experiment was over, and Williams was out of the league in 2006.

1999 : With the first pick, the Cleveland Browns select, Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky

Couch wasn't as terrible as some other first round quarterbacks, but quarterback selections are weighted extra heavily, as a bad quarterback selection tends to set a team back for years. In 5 years on the Browns, Couch did throw 64 touchdowns, but he also threw 67 picks and never really developed into a consistent starting quarterback. He failed to catch on anywhere after leaving the Browns.

1999: With the 3rd pick the Cincinnati Bengals select, Akili Smith, QB, Oregon

17 starts in 4 years, only 5 touchdown passes. One of the worst quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.

1998: With the 2nd pick the San Diego Chargers select, Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State

In 4 years Leaf started 21 games, managing just 14 touchdown passes compared with 36 interceptions. Even today, he can't cut it as a small time assistant college coach.

1998: With the 5th pick, the Chicago Bears select, Curtis Enis, RB, Penn State

One of the biggest running back busts in recent history, Enis totaled only 1497 yards and 4 touchdowns in three seasons in Chicago. He was cut by the Bears and didn't even rate a tryout elsewhere in the league.

1996: With the 6th pick, the St. Louis Rams select, Lawrence Phillips, RB, Nebraska

The undeniably talented Phillips failed in the NFL because of numerous off the field problems and not because of a lack of ability. The Rams cut Phillips after he missed a number of practices and meetings and made then coach Dick Vermeil cry. Phillips tried to give it a go with Miami and San Francisco, but faced more arrests and more off the field drama.

1994: With the 3rd pick the Washington Redskins select, Heath Shuler, QB, Tennessee

In 5 years with the Redskins, Saints, and Raiders, Shuler tossed just 15 touchdowns to go with 33 interceptions. But for all his lack of skill as an NFL quarterback, he made up for it with his political acumen, winning a North Carolina Congressional seat as a conservative Democrat in 2006.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The NFL's Dopes of the Week

I was going to blog a bit about the NFL Sunday that was in general, but instead I'm going to focus on the NFL's biggest dopes. Dope number one, is Donovan McNabb, who apparently doesn't know some of the league's simpler rules. Culled from several sources, this is what McNabb said in his post game remarks.

“I’ve never been a part of a tie. I never even knew that was in the rule book. It’s part of the rules and we have to go with it. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to get out there and try to drive to win the game. But, unfortunately, with the rules, we settled with a tie.”

“In college, there are multiple overtimes, and in high school and Pop Warner. I never knew in the professional ranks it would end that way. I hate to see what would happen in the Super Bowl and the playoffs.”

It's bad enough he didn't know that when the Eagles punted on 4th and 1 from their own 22 with 1:30 left in overtime that they were basically playing for a tie, but it's probably worse that after he found out that regular season games could end in ties, he apparently figured that post season games could end in ties too. Not to get all political, but is Donovan McNabb the Sarah Palin of quarterbacks or what? Just like you'd expect a candidate for high office to be familiar with Supreme Court decisions, you'd expect an NFL quarterback to be familiar with the rules.

Dope number two is former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Mike Ditka, who while on Mike and Mike this morning proceeded to defend Donovan McNabb while trashing the league's overtime system. I don't feel the need to comment any further on the genius that is Mike Ditka, but I would like to point out to both Ditka and McNabb that the Eagles got exactly what they deserved. How many years do you think you should get to score a point on the Bengals?

Dope number three is Chiefs coach Herman Edwards, who continues to defy all known logic with his in-game decisions. Case-in-point yesterday, the Chiefs down 27-13, facing 4th and 3 from the Saints 38 with exactly one quarter to play. Herm goes into "play to win the game" mode and elects to go for it. Tyler Thigpen scrambles for a 32 yard gain and two plays later, hits Dwayne Bowe for a touchdown to bring the Chiefs within 7. Following the next kickoff, the Saints proceed to go three and out, handing the ball back to Herm and his Chiefs. After a couple of first downs, the drive stalls at the Saints 40 and the Chiefs are faced with a 4th and 2, now with 10:06 left to play. This time, rather than go for it and hope to maintain moment, Herm sends on the punt team. Six and a half minutes later, the Saints are tacking on a field goal and the Chiefs are left wondering what would have happened if they hadn't punted.

I don't want to fault Edwards for the punt call per se, just because I don't want to get all TMQish on the business of punting versus going for it. But the thing is, a coach should have reasons for what he's doing and for the life of me, I can't figure out what makes 15:00 to go, down by 14 a good situation to go for it, while 10:00 to go, down by 7, really isn't so good. The only thing I can possibly think was that the first call was pure desperation and the second was an actual attempt at coaching. Whatever it was, it's not what the Chiefs need and it's not what any team needs.

The One Where I Self Righteously Proclaim The Role Of Libertarian As Skeptic

Interesting debate making the blog rounds this morning, which I discovered via Megan McArdle. Conor Friedersdorf argues that libertarians and conservatives face disadvantages in policy disputes like the proposed auto bailout because indirect effects and unintended consequences are so much less personal than liberal narratives. Freddie of L'Hôte responds, arguing that both the human and economic harm of not bailing out the automakers could be catastrophic and that free markets arguments are nothing more than pure ideology with no relation to the real world. Or something like that.

Freddie's is a line of argument I've seen increasingly rehashed of late, where free marketers are cast in the role of ivory tower elites whose intellectual meanderings bear no relation to the "real world."

But first, allow me to briefly to respond to Conor, who perhaps overplays his hand. It's not exactly true that libertarians can't point to the specific faces of human suffering- this is precisely what many libertarians have tried to do in arguing against the drug war. But despite the Cory Maye's of the world, the real problem isn't about the human face of the issues, the real problem is the built in idealogical bias that government lending a helping hand is morally superior to a government that removes barriers. To return to Freddie, I'd argue that it's not the free marketers, but everyone else who's acting on faith. How else could you describe the belief that this auto bailout would be more than a temporary measure?

Once again, allow me to return to the notion of the libertarian as skeptic. The truth is, markets and government work very, very differently. And the truth is that most people- even American liberals- realize that markets are, as a general proposition, more efficient than governments. That would be why none but the most ardent Marxists advocate for the destruction of profit making enterprises. And even amongst libertarians, all but the most ardent anarchists recognize that government has a role to play. This isn't about correcting for failures in the market, but accounting for what the market can not do, such as build public roads and highways through the seizure of privately owned lands and use tax dollars to ensure that the poorest of the poor are not left to starve on the street.

In other words, if markets are more efficient than government, than those who advocate for one form or another of government intervention in the markets need to bear the burden of proof. Once again, this is my libertarian as skeptic argument, where the role of the libertarian is not to be forced to articulate the what-ifs, but to simply demand specific evidence of those who would take action that their proposed action is the simplest, most efficient way of obtaining the desired results.

And this is precisely the problem with the "human element" argument for the auto bailout. If the human costs are the largest concern, a massive, temporary unemployment policy to assist the potentially displaced workers would be far less expensive and far less of an intrusion into the market. Yet that's not what's being called for.

I could add that Freddie's comments are indicative of someone who's never dealt with the side effects of bad lawmaking. As someone who has, I'd ensure him that those stuck with the side effects of bad laws are in fact real people, just as real as the autoworkers who could lose their jobs and they shouldn't be any less important because they may not be so obvious. I make this point solely to raise the human issue, not to make any points about specific policies. The truth is, even the best of us can't foresee all the potential future effects of every law. But in making law, there should be some recognition that "future victims" are every bit as real the here and now victims and that is precisely why that all laws, all regulations, and all massive bailouts of failing companies need to be approached carefully and with a degree of skepticism.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Bailout Blues

Will Wilkinson is right on the money pointing out the self-righteousness of the proposed bailout of the Big Three American auto companies.

If employees of the Big Three deserve to have taxpayers pay part of their relatively lavish salaries, then employees at thousands of failing business deserved the same. They had no chance of getting it, though, simply because they don’t have the right history with Washington. There is no other reason.

The argument in favor of the bank bailout was to prevent the whole economy from collapsing. While I personally find that argument less and less convincing, I suppose it can be made with a straight face. At the very least, without banks and finance, we have no economy and I suppose we go back to trading goats and chickens on the street. But manufacturing comes and goes and this is precisely how a working free economy functions. If the choice were between propping up a failing company and giving government help to those who may lose their jobs, I'd vote for against supporting failure every time.

In Defense of libertarians

I've been sick with a nagging cold this week, which is why the blogging has been so light. I had read this Matthew Yglesias piece, calling out libertarians for being corporate shills, earlier in the week, but I figure better late than not make the party at all. Here's the particularly insufferable part.

That said, the larger problem is that libertarianism, even at its very best, tends to suffer from an impoverished set of ideas about how corporate domination of the public policy space might be prevented. The political left has, by contrast, the tradition of community organizing, a set of public interest advocacy organizations, allies in the trade union movement, efforts to improve the quality and independence of the civil service, and various notions about changing the methods by which campaigns are financed in the United States. This is hardly a perfect toolkit, and it can be enhanced in some ways by drawing on libertarian insights, but it’s something. And libertarians tend to be either indifferent or hostile to it, campaigning against public financing, strong labor unions, and the civil service.

It's the corporate domination of the public policy space line that gets me. Not because it's wrong or not important, but because corporate power and influence is a notion that gets lobbed around like a nerf ball but never gets seriously discussed. Corporations are simply trashed or lauded, which is kind of funny, given that corporations are no different than people- some good, some bad, all of them trying to do the best that they can. My point is that there's no reason to consider corporate domination of the political process as any different than domination of the political process by any other group or individual. The issue should be democracy, not corporate bogeymen.

Anyone who's ever studied regulation or been involved in a regulated industry can tell you about regulatory capture, the notion that the regulatory process ends up being dominated by those who are supposed to be regulated. This happens precisely because a regulatory structure exists in the first place. The more highly regulated an industry is the more likely it is that some form of regulatory capture will be going on. The libertarian argument is that limiting regulation in the first place will not only make regulatory capture less likely, it will make the regulatory process more transparent. It's relatively easy for corporation A to skew laws and regulations to their favor when the laws and regulations are so complex that few non-experts can understand them, but when regulations are simple or non-existent, it is much more obvious when company A goes to the government for a favor.

Now, I know Yglesias isn't specifically talking about regulatory capture and is probably speaking more generally in terms of generally applicable laws and campaign contributions. The problem here is I'm not sure the evidence of corporate domination of the public sphere exists in this regard. As flawed as it may be, American democracy is still far too robust to allow such blatant manipulation by special interests. Such abuse occurs at the margins for sure, as the influence of both corporations and supposed public interest groups occurs with regularity. But this is a symptom of large government, where special interests dominate because the public at large doesn't have the time to understand the details of every government policy.

When it comes to the big issues, I'd challenge anyone to point out the obvious examples domination by corporate or any other special interests. Just look at the big bailout bill of a month ago. Most of the extremely conservative Republicans voted againast it on idealogical grounds. Most of the extremely liberal Democrats ended up voting for it because they judged it to be in the best interests of the American people. The moderate Republicans that ended up changing their minds and voting for the bill didn't all do so because of some corporate quid pro quo. Nor were the liberal Democrats who voted for the bill simply doing the bidding of some secret corporate backers.

To sum up here, my answer would be that democracy actually tends to work on the big issues. Democrats won big in Congress in 2006 because of a backlash to the big ticket items of the Bush administration- the War in Iraq and the way in which the war on terror was being conducted. Special interests, be it business or other special interests, do tend to dominate their own relative spheres, but again, this is a literal symptom of big and complex government. Yglesias seems to think that corporate interests and so-called public interest groups fighting it out is a better than nothing solution, ignoring just why the problem exists in the first place.

Libertarians lobby for less regulation, the effect of which would be to remove a large number of special interests of all sort from government. I suppose the argument againast libertarians goes something like, "well, given that government is the way it is, and it's not likely to change, why don't you do something practical to make things better." It's a bit like asking an abolitionist seeking to change the Constitution to specifically ban slavery why they haven't been doing anything practical to help the slaves. Maybe you're right that there are other things the ideologically minded could be doing, but that doesn't mean that working to change the system is a bad idea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anti-Obama Punk

I grew up listening to Rage Against the Machine's calls for "revolution" and "social justice." At 18, their raw, powerful music inspired me to think politically and to question the status quo. Within several years I had outgrown my self-righteous leftism, mostly because I had bothered to think for myself. But in a hopefully not-too-sentimental sort of way, I haven't forgotten where I came from.

The political rhetoric of Rage Against the Machine and the far left was particularly resonant during the Clinton 90's. It was easy for artists to call America the "Evil Empire" during the Bush years, but it was a bit more ballsy with a Democrat in the White House, a relatively peaceful world, and a fairly prosperous economy. "Evil Empire," the name of Rage's second album, was in no small part a reaction to Clinton policy, NAFTA in particular.

In 2000, at the height of their popularity, Rage released their third album, "The Battle of Los Angeles." With the election approaching, the first single, "Guerrilla Radio" contained the lines "more for Gore or the son of a drug lord [Bush], none of the above, fuck it, cut the cord." More famously, their video for "Testify" (directed by none other than Michael Moore) had a graphic of Al Gore and George Bush's face melding into one. The message couldn't be more clear. Both political parties were bought and paid by corporate interests- the problem was a system that existed for the benefit of the powerful and that ultimately ignored the people.

Back in 2000, the far left supported Ralph Nader, not Al Gore, and we were all encouraged to recognize that the differences between the major parties were superficial. It was all very punk, very anti-establishment, and it was the sort of grassroots movement that was bound to come to an end and come to an end it did with George Bush. Suddenly, the left had discovered that George Bush and the Republicans were so bad that the nation couldn't afford the Ralph Nader's of the world. And poor Nader, who's message, agree with it or not, never wavered. He went from grassroots hero to the man responsible for Bush-Hitler in some circles. I've mentioned it before, but things got worse in 2004 when the punk bands of America urged the youth to vote for John Kerry, as if voting for the douchebag from Massachusetts were a remotely punk thing to do.

And now we've been blessed with President-elect Barack Obama, a man whom those on the right are still desperate to label a socialist and whom those on the left are eager to pin all their hopes and dreams. And the punks and the anti-establishment types of the world have grown silent. To get back to Rage Against the Machine, the band was not long for this world after the 2000 election, breaking up less than a year later primarily because of infighting amongst band members. And it was probably a good thing, seeing as the Bush years had no shortage of artists ready and willing to speak truth to power.

Rage gets credit for attempting to speak truth to power back in the 90's, before it was uber-easy. What's been eating at me the past week is whether any on the left will attempt to speak truth to the power of the Obama administration. If the narrative is that the system itself is broken, the system itself corrupts, then how can a man who came to power through that system be an apostle of change and not a harbinger politics past? Where are the anti-Obama punks?

I've been listening to my old Rage CD's the past week because they seem relevant for the first time in years. "A bullet in your head" seems a more than apt way to describe the pro-Obama "change" zombies. I don't say any of this to be partisan, only to ask once again where are those artists who question the very nature of our political system. I certainly hope that the only remaining skeptics of the two-party system aren't just smug libertarians and Ron Paul nut bags. I can picture anti-Obama punk in my head, as the material is laid out oh-so-neatly before us. The question is, who's got the balls to go out and do it? Can anyone on the far left stand on principle and reject demagoguery? Like Rage Against the Machine, it could be something mighty special.

Friday, November 07, 2008

So Long Sarah Palin

I have no desire to get into the gossip and name-calling that seems to have developed between the McCain and Palin camps, but I did want to say one thing about Governor Palin as the election recedes into the background. I sincerely hope that she does not represent the future of the Republican party. I don't say this to be nasty or mean to impinge her intelligence. I say this because if the Republican party is going to be a political force again it needs a leader to articulate a coherent idealogical message and that's not the sort of politician Sarah Palin is. She's probably a good governor and she certainly has a future in the political world, but she's not the leader of a movement. McCain wasn't either and neither was George W. Bush.

When I say Sarah Palin isn't intellectual I don't mean to say she's stupid, just that, like plenty of other politicians, she doesn't have a clear philosophy off governance. You could point to Iraq as the reason George Bush became so incredably unpopular, but I think uncontrolled spending, cronyism, and unchecked executive branch power were even more important in the demise of the Republican majority. Like McCain, Palin attempted to portray herself as a reformer, but the truth is, that's not enough. If Republicans are to re-emerge as a political force they need principles, not promises.

I don’t know any dude named Dow Jones.

If the New York Times is any sort of an indicator, political comedy will probably take a hit during the initial phase of the Obama experiment. Apparently the writers on the Daily Show and Conan can't think of a single funny Obama related joke. The only levity in the horrible article was provided by former SNL performer and current 30 Rock actor Tracy Morgan.

Q. Will all black comedians be expected to joke about President Obama now?

A. Oh, man. If you don’t have Obama material, then you’re out of the loop. I mean, the world’s about to change. Race is out there now, and it’s going to be confronted. Everybody wants to sweep it under the rug, put it back and close the door. But we can’t now. The president is black, so obviously we’re going to make fun of every situation you could ever imagine about a black president. But they had to let Obama win. You finally got O. J. Give us Obama.

Q. Can white comedians safely make fun of him, too?

A. I don’t know. White comedians have got to roll the dice, Baby. And if you get into a fight, then you get into a fight, because you know how black people are going to feel about Obama. If you go down that road, you better be funny.

Q. If an Obama presidency is unsuccessful, will black comedians feel a greater need to stick up for him?

A. Dude, do you think we really care about stuff like that? The black community, we’re just trying to get something to eat tonight, man. More brothers are worrying about where their next meal is coming from. They ain’t worrying about the Dow Jones. I don’t know any dude named Dow Jones.

Q. You predicted an Obama victory during a guest appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” Do you think you’ve got a future in political punditry?

A. Who, me? Nah, that’s not my thing, man. Politics was never talked about in my house, growing up as a kid. The last time I voted was for Dave Dinkins, man. Long time ago, Bro’.

Q. Did you vote this year?

A. Yeah, I got into a fight with three other black dudes ’cause they saw me vote for McCain. Nah, I’m just joking. They’d run me out of my community. A black Republican? Shoot. That ain’t happenin’, Captain.

The interesting thing is, Morgan seems to be suggesting the comics just stay true to themselves- If you're someone who does racial humor than you shouldn't shy away from Obama. Maybe the problem is that some of those on the left can't find the humor in their ideas or themselves.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

South Park Makes It All Better

Leave it to South Park to set everyone straight. Last night's episode took special care to poke fun at both the starry-eyed Obama hopeaphiles and the dreary McCain supporters terrified of the end of America as we know it. Last night's episode also marked the seemingly first occasion in which a newly elected president made a fictional appearance as president less than 24 hours after his actual election. As usual, no one gets down to business quite like Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Last night's plot involved a secret joint plot by Obama and McCain to take the presidency as part of an Oceans 11-style jewel heist. Utterly brilliant stuff, a bit more subtle than South park's 2004 election battle between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but really quite clever. The notion of politicians as characters acting out a role is quite poignant in an election cycle where folks seemed to be making the mistake of taking politicians at face value. Particularly funny was Sarah Palin, also part of the Obama-McCain hesit team, abandoning her folksy accent for a British one after leaving the podium and getting down to the real business of stealing the Hope diamond (another clever joke).

Lost in the Oceans 11 plot is the fact that Obama and McCain are working together- that this is how politics works. These guys don't hate each other and deep down are working for the same thing. (You can take that as cynically as you'd like.) While America parties and sulks, the political machinery of America whirs along, relying on partisan politics to distract people from what really goes on. To Trey and Matt I say, bravo.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Taking two steps forward and four steps back?

While race relations may have taken a step into the 21st century with yesterday's election, gay rights took a big step backwards. Gay marriage was on the ballot in three states, and all three states, California most surprisingly of all, voted againast the right of same sex couples to marry. Besides California, Arizona and Florida voted by rather large margins againast same sex marriage, but California, where same sex marriage was just legalized by the state Supreme Court in May, is certainly a bit of a surprise.

As Radley Balko notes on Reason, a major factor in all of these same sex marriage ballot initiatives was the overwhelming opposition of blacks to same sex marriage. In California, the no's wouldn't have had enough votes if not for the 70% support from black voters.

Sure it says something about us that the nation is ready to accept a black president. But what does it say about us when we're unwilling to accept equal treatment for different sorts of loving couples?

(On a side note- this is exactly why I disagree with the judicial imposition of gay marriage. What happened in California is exactly what I said would happen and what could well happen here in Connecticut. Imposition of gay marriage by judicial fiat arouses the ire of even those who may have mixed feelings on the subject and what you get is this sort of broad grassroots opposition. Pass it democratically, through the legislature, and people don't get as worked up- remember how people tend not to vote out their representatives?)

Most Disappointing

The most disappointing part of the evening was the Comedy Central live coverage with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It's not that I expect Comedy Central to be a model of neutrality, but the Obama love-fest was a little much. Stewart at this point in his career has sacrificed humor for politics, and Colbert's shtick seems to be getting old already.

I wish Red Eye had been on the air, but can understand why a news channel wouldn't want to air such an off-the-wall show on election night. If I had a show on Comedy Central running live on election night, I'd use the show to just fuck with everyone- Give fake reports on the wrong candidates winning the wrong states and just confuse the hell out of people who may have been caught changing the channel. Seriously, it'd be great. And ballsy. Too bad that with all those channels on the air, no one wanted to do anything crazy.

And The Untold Story of the Evening

Lost amidst the presidential chatter was the fact that Democratic gains in the House and Senate were not as big as they were expected to be, certainly good news for fans of divides government. But at least this story was newsworthy. Not so newsworthy was the fact that- according to my preliminary calculations- of the 400 House seats where an incumbent was up for re-election, only 17 of the 400 were defeated. That's less than 5%. I had guessed yesterday that 80 to 90% of House Reps would keep their seats. I guess I was a bit shy of the actual 96.75% retention rate.

I've heard statistics that 75% of the American people opposed the economic bailout. I don't think there was a bigger vote before our elected representatives over the past two years. Yet virtually no one chose to throw out the representatives who had voted for the bill. This is called getting what you ask for, or alternatively, getting what you deserve. Some talk about the big money in politics, others talk about partisanship, but the entrenched status of incumbents is for my money one of the biggest problems with our Democratic system. It's one thing to really like your guy, but it's another to abandon notions of democratic accountability, particularly when it comes to these sorts of big issues.

And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

Three cheers for our latest and greatest fearless leader elect. Perhaps more than anything, I eagerly await what South Park will have to say tonight about soon-to-be President Barack Obama. Just some random thoughts on the election and our new overlord ...

# The electoral disparity makes the race look a bit different than the close race it actually was. The battleground states were key and Obama took them all- Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. Those 7 states and their 107 electoral votes were the difference and they were all taken by Obama. Bush had won all of those states in 2004 with the exception of Pennsylvania. For the most part, blue states voted blue and red states voted red. Overall, 41 of the 50 states voted the same way they did in 2004. In fact 32 states (18 blue, 14 red) have voted the same way now for five consecutive presidential elections, dating back to 1992.

This shouldn't be taken as a portrait of a nation divided, because that's not what it's meant to be. The truth is, rural voters tend to go Republican and urban voters tend to go Democrat. This is true in blue states and true in red states. Red states tend to be red because more of the population tends to be rural and blue states tend to be blue because more of the population tends to be urban.

# My personal feelings are fairly muted, mostly because what I thought would happen actually happened, surprise, surprise. Obama could be the worst president ever, but one good thing will come of this and that is that never again will it be said that a black American can not be president of the United States. Hopefully, this will mark a change in the racial discourse of the country and we can move beyond our past.

# I think McCain would have stood a better chance if the economic crisis hadn't reared it's ugly head. Suddenly, foreign policy terrorism, McCain's strong suits, were off the table, and things got ugly rather quickly. Obama appeared comfortable on the economic stuff and McCain seemed more like a chicken with his head cut off. Plus, as a Republican, he faced the automatic connection with George Bush. It was just too much for him to overcome.

# I was touched last night, both by McCain's gracious concession speech and by Obama's victory speech. I've been highly critical of McCain, but to hear him talk last night, it was as honest as I remember seeing him since his dressing down of the radical anti-immigration types during the Republican primary. His compliment to Sarah Palin- that she was the best campaigner he'd ever seen- almost seems like a veiled insult. That comment, along with the palatable look of disgust on his face when he heard the crowd boo at his mention of Obama and his friend Joe Biden, makes me wonder if he was really cut out for all this. (Witness also, the campaign's use of Bill Ayers, but McCain's unwillingness to ever bring up Ayers himself, as if that sort of politicking did really disturb him.) There's plenty I don't agree with McCain on, but his disgust with partisanship is something to be admired.

# Obama's speech was powerful, simply from the perspective of this being the first black man to be president of the United States. It is truly meaningful and it's something I'm not sure white people can ever truly appreciate. And then there's hope and platitudes and the future and all the other nice-sounding vagaries about what we can do. Yes we can indeed. Since Obama-mania first swept the nation during the primaries, I've been waiting for the day to come when those with stars in their eyes comes to realize that Obama is just another politician. An eloquent and inspirational one of course, but still a politician. Obviously we haven't seen that day yet, but it's coming. And that's where my hope lies. Elections are won with the sorts of speeches Obama gave last night. Presidents are made through their policies and through their actions. God, some of what he says is scary, but Obama didn't get where he is today by being an ideologue. If he cares about his place in history- and he certainly will- his administration should prove to be moderate. But we'll see. I guess hope is the key word for everyone.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Blogging

Cast my ballot today, the very first presidential election where I was not able to vote Libertarian. Why not? Well because not only did Bob Barr fail to appear on the ballot (which was really the fault of the state of Connecticut), but his campaign also failed to register as a write-in candidate (most likely the campaign's fault). This means that a write-in vote for Barr would go into the same none-vote category as people who vote for Mickey Mouse or people who don't mark anything.

So I bit my my tongue, stood by my promise not to vote for McCain or Obama and cast a ballot for Ralph Nader as a protest to the two-party system. Use my vote wisely Mr. Nader.

In the 5th district House race I voted againast incumbent Chris Murphy solely for his vote on the bailout bill. If only other Americans would do the same. I heard a stat yesterday that 75% of Americans opposed the bailout, but I'd be willing to wager that at 80-90% of House incumbents keep their seats. People love to complain about Congress, but despite record low approval numbers, most people will vote to keep "their guy" in Washington.

Just a few other election day thoughts:

# I caught the news this morning discussing how Starbucks and Krispy Kreme were technically barred by election laws from offering free cups of coffee and free donuts to customers who voted. I understand the logic that you basically can't bribe people to go and cast a ballot. But come on, a donut? It's a little perk for people who voted already, maybe a bit of encouragement to get up and vote early. No one who was not planning in voting is having their mind changed with the promise of a free $0.79 donut. Just ridiculous.

# In reading through campaign information last night (mostly Chris Murphy's and his challengers), it was interesting to see how many candidates websites discussed energy independence and the issue of high gas prices. Most of them had solutions for those high gas prices. It's nice to know they were all so concerned, but with gas in my area falling under $2.30 a gallon (below it's pre-Katrina price), gas prices have become a non-issue. Just an interesting little example of not only how quickly markets can change, but of how utterly meaningless some supposed political issues really are.

Monday, November 03, 2008

It Must Be Sexism

The New York Times urges insurance companies to stop gouging women on health insurance.

The insurance industry justifies charging higher premiums on actuarial grounds — that women between the ages of 19 and 55 make greater use of health care services than do men. Women are more likely to take prescription medications on a regular basis, more likely to have chronic conditions requiring ongoing treatment, and their reproductive health needs require them to get regular checkups whether or not they have children. That doesn’t explain why one Missouri company charges 40-year-old women 140 percent more than men; another only 15 percent more.

Insurance companies long ago stopped charging premiums based on race, even though they offered similar actuarial arguments. There are laws against using gender to set rates in employer-based health insurance. Surely it is time to eliminate gender-based premiums in the individual health insurance market as well. Otherwise women, who typically earn less than men, may find themselves priced out of adequate health coverage.

No word yet on whether the Times will urge insurance companies to stop gouging young men with high auto insurance premiums.

"So you see, science tells us that liberals are good and conservatives are bad. And you can't argue with it. It's science."

Reason's Ron Bailey takes note of this report in Science Daily on the research of New Hampshire University psychologist John Mayer on the personality traits that influence our political preferences. According to Mayer,


* View social inequities and preferred groups as unjust and requiring reform.
* Prefer atheists, tattoos, foreign films and poetry.
* Endorse gay unions, welfare, universal health care, feminism and environmentalism.
* Exhibit creativity, which entails the capacity to see solutions to problems, and empathy toward others.
* Tolerate complexity and ambiguity.
* Are influenced by their work as judges, social workers, professors and other careers for which an appreciation of opposing points of view is required.


* Willing to defend current social inequities and preferred groups as justifiable or necessary.
* Prefer prayer, religious people and SUVs.
* Endorse the U.S. government, the military, the state they live in, big corporations and most Americans.
* Are more likely to be a first-born, who identify more with their parents, predisposing them to a greater investment in authority and a preference for conservatism.
* Have a fear of death, reflecting an enhanced need for security.
* Are conscientious – the ability to exert personal self-control to the effect of meeting one’s own and others’ demands, and maintaining personal coherence.
* Need simplicity, clarity and certainty.

It's utter BS of course, but as Ron Bailey notes, it's funny how psychologists are guilty of utilizing the same simplicity, clarity, and certainty in their research. Or maybe not so funny, given how this is supposed to be scientific research. This is perhaps the problem- liberal biases aside- from bringing science to something as unscientific as politics. Party politics may be bi-polar, but individual's political philosophies certainly aren't.

Besides the obvious stereotypes (God, atheists, poetry, ect.), the overarching point seems to be that conservatives are authoritarian in nature while liberals are tolerant and open-minded, which seems to be more stereotype than science. Such simplicity hardly reflects the liberal zest for government regulation and nanny state laws, nor does it reflect the limited government wing of government-off-my-back conservatism.

Monday Morning Patriots Blogging

The bad news was that Tom Brady could have won the game for the patriots last night. The good news was that Matt Cassel could have won it too.

Sunday night's 18-15 loss to the Colts was one of those kinds of losses that had become a rarity in the Brady-Belichick era; the close game that you just give away. Besides the obvious Dave Thomas unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that turned a 4th and 1 into a 4th and 16, there was Bill Belichick's mishandling of the team's timeouts and Jabar Gafney's drop of what would have been a beautiful lead changing touchdown pass.

Going back, I could think of five occasions like last night, where the Patriots let a close game slip away. The Super Bowl last year and the AFC championship game the year before obviously fit the bill. But besides those two losses, you've got to look to 2004, when the Patriots lost that horrible Monday night game to the Dolphins, to 2003, where Brady through four interceptions in a 20-17 loss to the Redskins, and way back to 2001, when Brady through four interceptions in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Broncos. I bring this up because we Patriots fans are spoiled. Over the past eight years, we've probably had more wins in games we should have lost than losses in games that could have gone either way. Again, spoiled.

So what's to be learned from last night's game? Well, for one thing, it was probably the worst game Belichick coached as a Patriot. Perhaps the biggest mistake he made was one that winded up going unnoticed given the game's ultimate outcome. But with the Patriots scoring a touchdown to take a 12-7 lead midway through the 3rd quarter, Belichick made the same mistake as the Panthers back in Super Bowl XXXVIII and elected to go for 2 with far too much time remaining on the clock. If the Patriots hadn't gone for two, neither would the Colts- the Colts would have taken the lead back on their next touchdown at 14-13 instead of 15-12. The Patriots fourth quarter field goal would have put them up 16-14, and Vinateri's 52-yarder would have put the Colts up 17-16. In the end it didn't matter, but the Pats could have been going for a win and not a tie. Belichick's other mistakes were quite obvious- the ill-advised 12 man on the field challenge and the time out taken as the Pats gained what would have likely been a first down. The good news is, we won't see Belichick look as Pete Carroll-like ever again.

And what else can be gleamed from such a depressing loss? Well, there's still a lot to be said for how the Pats played in a game in which the Colts had their backs to the wall and didn't really make any mistakes. Peyton Manning was 21 of 29 for 254 yards and yet the Pats were still in the game. The Colts running game was completely shut down, with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combing for 21 carries for only 47 yards. For the first time all season, the Patriots offensive line looked solid from start to finish, as Cassel wasn't sacked and huge openings were found for the running game.

And then there's Matt Cassel, who continues to develop into a thoroughly decent NFL quarterback. That pass to Gafney was a beauty and more importantly, Cassel continues to develop more of a pocket presence. For the third week in a row, he progressed with his reads, kept his eyes downfield, and didn't allow a collapsing pocket to be his demise. Does Cassel have an advantage with Randy Moss? Of course he does. But Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger have Terrell Owens and it hasn't seemed to do them any good. Every team has some inherent advantages and disadvantages for their young quarterbacks (JeMarcus Russell for example has the tremendous disadvantage of being a Raider.)

Going forward, I'm happy that at 5-3, Cassel has yet to cost the Patriots a game. I'm happy that we're right in the middle of a tight division race. (Which, by the way, who would have thought that besides the NFC East, who would have thought that at this point in the season the best divisions in football would include the AFC East and the NFC South?) Back in September I was hopeful. Now, I'm a little more confident.

Who Takes The Blame?

The sentiment I feel like I've been getting from McCain supporters is "you deserve what you get with Obama." Which is fair enough, but if the libertarians and small government conservatives who don't support McCain need to own up to whatever Obama does, will McCain supporters need to own up to the increases in government that would occur under a McCain administration? I don't believe it because I don't see anyone taking responsibility for the massive budgets of George W. Bush.

This is in part the problem of a strictly two-party system, but it's also the problem of a lesser of two evils approach to voting. What you get over time is that lesser evil getting worse and worse and worse. What you get is a Republican candidate who can't even acknowledge the idea that the federal government's power is limited. If Obama is supposed to be my fault because I can't stand to throw my support McCain's way, who's fault is it that the Republican party has rejected libertarianism for liberalism lite?

Updated 11/3/08 @ 9:25 AM
: McCain scares me because of what he means in terms of the limited government future of the Republican party. With Obama, either we'll get a Bill Clinton, which wouldn't be a terrible thing, or we'll get the most leftist president in our nation's history, which would be horrible, but at least would give the Republicans an opportunity to return to their roots and mount a 1994-style opposition.