Archive | June, 2007

Addicted to Academia

30 Jun

I often listen to different podcasts of the rather dry, boring policy variety in my car.  Who can get enough of the Council on Foreign Relations or the Harvard Business Review?  Am I right?  Eh?


Alright.  I’ll just note that The Economist‘s weekly preview has a very pleasant musical intro and leave it at that.  But for the academic junkies out there iTunes has just introduced iTunes U, with podcasts, videos, and other assorted media from universities like Stanford, Duke, MIT, and Penn State.  MIT already has an open courseware site, so at this point you really shouldn’t consider going there unless your Everquest online girlfriend¹ has already enrolled.

Penn State grads can finally get their up to the minute Happy Valley nonsense on their iPods, like a video podcast of Joe Paterno’s colonoscopy and Graham Spanier’s speech announcing the opening of a new branch campus: Penn State Youngstown².

¹Just kidding.  What girlfriend?

² Again, I’m kidding, but admit you had to check to be sure.

Everyone’s a (Bad) Political Strategist

30 Jun

I watched The Tavis Smiley Show last night which had Frank Luntz and a focus group that had watched the Democratic debate at Howard University on Thursday.  Their observations were interesting, as far as gauging potential Democratic primary voters (especially African-Americans), but revealed the limitations of amateur political analysis*.  Luntz revealed up front that most group members felt that Hillary Clinton won the debate–and that most had gone in as solid Obama supporters.  After the debate, Hillary held a slight lead over Obama.

I have no problem with people switching their allegiances or being moved by one candidate or the other.  That’s the way it goes in a democracy, and the voters determine what’s important to the voters (despite my Hamiltonian inclination to write them off).  The problem arises when you ask voters to explain why they feel the way they do.  It often comes out as a mix of political pundit cliches (e.g. “He spoke to the issues”) or say things that are contradictory or unsupportable (one focus group member said that the candidates hadn’t addressed any important domestic issues, but much of the debate was nothing but domestic issues).  They’re simultaneously trying to tell you what they believe while acting as novice political strategist…who happens to feel (surprise!) the best strategy is identical to their own political beliefs.  Voters just aren’t that good at analyzing themselves.  Continue reading

What to Make of Minimalism?

29 Jun

I often rely on Cass Sunstein as my legal guide as he co-writes those huge constitutional law textbooks and is one of the leading lights of liberal jurisprudence.  Also, I’m not a lawyer.  And I’m not in law school.  So, you know.  Expertise.

Anyway, Sunstein is a fan of judicial minimalism (as well as libertarian paternalism in economic and political matters) which makes him something of a “soft-liberal” whose positions are generally amenable to right-of-center and libertarian types.  I mention all of this in light of the Supreme Court’s latest ruling in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, which he briefly reviews in an essay discussing the court’s conservative divide for the The New Republic:

Roberts and Alito are conservative minimalists. They prefer to preserve previous decisions and work within the law’s existing categories. Their opinions avoid theoretical ambition and tend to be narrowly focused on the particular problem at hand. By contrast, Scalia and Thomas are conservative visionaries, parallel, in many respects, to such liberal predecessors as Hugo Black and William O. Douglas. They favor fundamental change, immediately, and their opinions are sweeping and broad, often calling for overruling longstanding precedents.

My question (for those with more legal training) is this: should I be excited about minimalism (as a principle for sound jurisprudence, not necessarily a utopian legal order)?  Conservatives and liberals both want their “visionaries” on the bench to make a compelling argument for a Law that embodies all that is Good and True in their political weltanschauung.  Would we be better off stacking the court with visionaries from both sides, battling it out for the most compelling vision?  Or is minimalism just a form of sly ideological craftsmanship that, as Prof. Geoffrey Stone argues, has “cynically pretended to honor precedent while actually jettisoning those precedents one after another.”?

Cracks in the Coalition

26 Jun

Andrew Sullivan observes that the current GOP coalition is showing signs of serious wear, with special stress due to the current push for immigration reform.  Laura Ingraham thinks that if the legislation is passed that it’ll be “time to rebuild and restart.”  This after Trent Lott recently said that “talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem. ” 

Um, okay. One question: Who do conservative talk radio personalities propose to build a coalition around?  What sort of lasting majority is going to be built around anti-immigration and conservative cultural values?  Current twenty-somethings trend liberal–making all the talk radio sweet spots electoral losers in the future.  Isn’t a pro-market, culturally moderate (or agnostic) Republican party more of a natural coalition?  

Ingraham, Malkin, Coulter, Hannity, Beck, et al. would all have to abandon any hope of cultural victories and join up with the Lou Dobbs, too much change gives me the willies crowd if they had any hope of building support.  And if you have to give up half of your political motivation in the process (i.e. ditching gay marriage and stem cells to appeal to independents), what sort of principled movement would that be?

 In short: good luck with that.

UPDATE: This New York Times article confirms the liberal leaning demographic trend.

Never Send a Writer to Do an Economist’s Job

26 Jun

This New Yorker review of Amity Shlaes’s new book on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man tries to substitute a writer’s sentiment and assertion for informed economic analysis.  Brad DeLong reads it and shakes his head, noting that there are some claims on Shlaes’s part that could be refuted with a greater understanding of economics or history:

That Updike thinks that Roosevelt spent the 1930s clinging to the gold standard to control “a nonexistent inflation” is the first sign that he has lost the game of intellectual three-card monte Amity Shlaes is playing with her readers. If Milton Friedman were here, he would blow the whistle at that point.

 Updike also tries to place business against government in a “abstract greed” vs. “human striving” equation as his concluding rejoinder:

Business, of which Shlaes is so solicitous, is basically merciless, geared to maximize profit. Government is ultimately a human transaction, and Roosevelt put a cheerful, defiant, caring face on government at a time when faith in democracy was ebbing throughout the Western world. For this inspirational feat he is the twentieth century’s greatest President, to rank with Lincoln and Washington as symbolic figures for a nation to live by.

Continue reading

Is Cheney Leaving?

26 Jun

I don’t think so.  Sally Quinn in an op-ed for the Washington Post, however, thinks there might be a GOP plan afoot to remove the number two man of the executive branch people who hang out at the White House.  She bases this, in part, on the fact that Barry Goldwater hung out at her house while he agonized over telling Richrad Nixon to beat it for the good of the country and Republican party.  I don’t doubt that there is a certain portion of Republicans who think that removing Cheney would be beneficial, whether it be for ideological or strategic reasons.  But I also don’t think this is a realistic option, nor do, I suspect, any Republican members of Congress or party elders.  But that’s not the best part of the article.  The real fun comes when Quinn speculates who should replace the VP:

Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a good sense of humor.

I’ll grant that Fred Thomson has charisma, but “the healing qualities of Gerald Ford”?  Ford was in the House of Representatives for twenty-four years before he became president, giving him a lot of time to form relationships with members of both parties.  Thompson was in the Senate for eight years. 

The best reason for Thompson to become VP would be because he isn’t really ready to be president.  He doesn’t have the expereience or the support for a key conservative issue (like Tancreado and immigration) in which to cement a campaign.  Right now his biggest assests are rhetoric, lack of familiarity, and image (the “true conservative heir”)–all of which are fairly cheap and equally short-lived.  He would get to play the “presidential” role and guide his party’s politics without having to make a bid that might flame out under greater scrunity.  Maybe it’s not so crazy afterall….

Awesome American Might Makes Me Wet My Pants

26 Jun

Uh oh…Uh oh…

So everything was fine the other day until I read this assessment of US/China nuclear Uh oh…stockpiles over at the Economist’s Democracy in America blog which reasoned that a Uh oh…Uh oh…piddling Chinese arsenal might not be such a good thing:

America, meanwhile, has not sat on its peace dividend since the cold war; it has developed better warheads and, perhaps more crucially, more accurate missiles for carrying them. The scary bit is that an American general might just advise the president that a pre-emptive nuclear strike on China could work—and he could be right.

Well, great.  I know that this isn’t quite as bad for US citizens, but it does definitely make it twice as likely that I’ll wet the bed.