The conservative Internets have been all aflutter the last couple days with smoking-gun proof that the New York Times has a liberal bias. On January 28 the NYT had an editorial called “Filibustering Nominees Must End,” arguing against the Republican tactic of filibustering nominees. Of course a few years ago they were publishing editorials encouraging Democrats to filibuster under Bush. Boom! Gotcha!
Elizabeth Warren has been getting a lot of attention on the Internet lately, inspiring progressives and infuriating libertarians with things she said in her appearance on Jon Stewart last week. I watched these three videos to try to get a sense of what was going on before realizing that the first one was from a Daily Show appearance in January 2010, not January 2012. But it doesn’t matter; it was all pretty much the same thing.
First let me say that Warren is a very smart and articulate person (she is a professor, after all), and I can see why liberals are falling in love with her (just listen to the cheers from the audience). She is very good at presenting her understanding of the problems with today’s system and her vision for fixing it, which is much different from, say, simply demagoguing your political opponents as corrupt. And since she is elevating the discourse to a level of political philosophy, and there seems a good possibility that she will continue to increase her attention at the national level (she is running for Senator of Massachusetts), I think it is worthwhile to express my severe disagreements with her philosophy.
With all but a handful of precincts reporting, South Carolina’s GOP primary last Saturday (January 21, 2012) looked like this:
Newt Gingrich 243153 (40.45%)
Mitt Romney 167280 (27.83%)
Rick Santorum 102057 (16.98%)
Ron Paul 77993 (12.97%)
How does this compare to the primary four years ago? (January 19, 2008)
John McCain 147733 (33.15%)
Mike Huckabee 132990 (29.84%)
Fred Thompson 69681 (15.63%)
Mitt Romney 68177 (15.3%)
Ron Paul 16155 (3.62%)
Rudy Giuliani 9575 (2.15%)
1. The pundits don’t know anything. After Romney won New Hampshire with 40% two weeks ago, the commentariat was pontificating about how Romney was cementing his inevitable path to the nomination. Now that Gingrich surged in the final days of South Carolina and won it with 40%, the commentariat is pontificating about how Romney is so not inevitable now. Which reminds me: I don’t like the commentariat, and I try really hard not to be part of it.
There’s been an interesting topic showing up in the Google News headlines for the last couple of days. The “experts” at the American Psychiatric Association are considering changing the definition of autism, which probably means that many people “would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services.” Naturally a lot of people are concerned about losing access to these services. I haven’t been able to figure out yet exactly what kinds of services these articles are talking about, whether it’s private (like insurance) or public (like government programs) or some of both (probably), but it’s interesting how definitions are becoming so important these days, especially as they seem to endlessly and arbitrarily change.
Last month our government decided that X-Men are not humans. For reasons unbeknownst to me, our tariff laws dictate that “the import tax on dolls is twice what it is for toys.” Well, the makers of X-Men action figures wanted to pay the lower rate, so their lawyers fought the customs office to argue that X-Men weren’t humans so they could be charged the toy rate instead of the doll rate, and “the court found that mutants are not human.” (Of course, this caused a fun and ironic storm in the comic world since a key part of the X-Men story is that the mutants are trying to convince the government that they are human, or at least that they deserve the same rights.) None of this would have mattered at all if we didn’t have laws that allowed a bunch of money to be hinged on the definitions of “doll” and “toy.” If there was no import tax, or even if it was just the same for dolls and toys, we would never have had to force a court to waste time making a decision on the humanness of X-Men.
Buddy Roemer, outcast candidate for the Republican nomination, rails against the way money buys power in politics on a daily basis. It’s easy to make such claims, but I’ve always wondered how much stock to put in them. I’ve heard people say the data doesn’t show such a strong correlation between money and election winners. And there were some wide disparities in the “money per vote” average of the results of the Iowa caucus.
Sometimes, however, things happen that just seem, well, pretty convenient. A couple weeks ago I read about millionaires pouring money into a pro-Gingrich PAC. Now Newt is surging in South Carolina polls (the primary is tomorrow). Could these events be related?
I’ve published some updates to my 2012 GOP Candidate guide to demote some candidates who are gone, insert a candidate who had been neglected, and update a lot of text to reflect more recent developments in the race. (I also added some interesting data I came across regarding the estimated value of each candidate’s home.)
In regular news, there have been some developments against SOPA and PIPA in recent days. Ars Technica does a good job summing the backpedaling that has emerged thanks to the clamoring calls of opposition from the tech community over the last few weeks. We also have more people joining the SOPA fight, a strange response from a Senator’s staffer (but proof that the opposition calls are working), and an interesting response from the White House. (Thanks to the misnamed “Hacker News” for the hat tip on all four of these links.)
In meta news, I’ve been chatting with Simon over on Classical Values about the possibility of doing a guest post responding to his position that closing our military bases around the world would create a dangerous power vacuum. We both have things that we like and dislike about Ron Paul’s policies, but Paul’s desire to bring our troops home from around the world has always been something that made sense to me, while admittedly not being very familiar with the “power vacuum” position. So I’m doing a little research and will hopefully find some time to express why I’m not afraid that the world would become a more dangerous place if we brought all our troops home, or at least offer the best reasons I can give that I don’t think I need to be afraid – and give Simon, who seems to have more experience and knowledge on this issue, a chance to shoot them all down Hopefully by putting this on a public blog post I will solidify my commitment to get such a post written in the near future. (And assuming I do so, I will either link to it from here, or if the guest post thing doesn’t work out, just post it here.)
Mitt Romney 95669 (39.4%)
Ron Paul 55455 (22.8%)
Jon Huntsman 40903 (16.8%)
Newt Gingrich 22921 (9.4%)
Rick Santorum 22708 (9.3%)
Rick Perry 1709 (0.7%)
Buddy Roemer 919 (0.4%)
1. The polls mostly got this one right. They suggested that Romney would win with between 33-42% of the vote. They suggested that Paul and Huntsman would fight for 2nd with about 20% of the vote; the thing the polls were most wrong about was that it was never very close. The polls suggested Gingrich and Santorum would struggle for 4th around 9-11%; Gingrich was mostly ahead by 200 votes or less as the results came in, although Santorum briefly caught him for a little while, and it’s still feasible that the last 5% could push him ahead again. Finally, the polls suggested Perry and Roemer would battle for 6th place with about 1%; they were mostly right again, except that neither of him hit the 1% threshold and Perry was healthily ahead of Roemer all night.
I got a kind card in the mail yesterday from my House Representative Todd Akin, summarizing what he and Congress accomplished last year and asking me to fill out a brief questionnaire to record my opinions on a few political topics. I think it’s great that Akin wants to solicit the opinions of his constituents, even if he is in a reliably conservative district (Missouri #2) that votes him in with like 80% support every two years.
Of course, the questions are loaded to the point of hilarity. I felt like I was taking a Republican quiz. When asking “what steps should Congress take to improve and reduce unemployment,” the available answers were:
A. Spend more taxpayer money in another “stimulus” bill….. [ ] YES [ ] NO
B. Empower the private sector by cutting taxes & reducing government spending….. [ ] YES [ ] NO
The word “stimulus” is in quotes, suggesting that it’s not really stimulus, so obviously the correct answer to A is NO! And line B contains nice buzzphrases like “Empower the private sector”… obviously the answer is YES. I’m not really opposed to these opinions, but couldn’t he have just asked two simple questions like “Should Congress increase spending?” and “Should Congress cut taxes?” I guess that might make it harder to guess the, ahem, right answer.
Early results looked like a three-way tie, and then Romney and Santorum began to pull slightly away from Paul. They remained neck-and-neck for the remainder of the evening, with Romney ahead by 13, then down by 79, and so on. When I went to bed 96% of precincts were in and Santorum was up by just over 100 votes. I woke up to learn that Santorum was up by four little votes before the report of the very last precinct, which put Romney over the edge by a mere eight votes out of over 120,000 cast.
From a nerdy statistics standpoint, this was the type of astonishingly close nail-biter that makes for good Hollywood. The irony of it all is that the closeness of this race was inversely proportional to its importance – in my opinion – even though it’s going to be used as evidence of the “importance of every vote” for quite awhile. The media is full of the sort of vacuous commentary which annoys me by presenting silly speculations about who has momentum and who’s going to do what next instead of giving us useful information about the things that have been happening. All I need to know is that Huccabee won Iowa in 2008 and that meant basically nothing about a month later. So instead of pretending I can predict what last night’s results mean, I’m just going to write about the things that happened which I thought were the most interesting…
On December 13, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended “a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving.” The recommendation comes after a high-profile incident in my own state of Missouri where texting led to a crash that involved a tractor trailer and two buses. Now it’s not unusual for the government to want to increase regulation when something big and terrible happens; people generally expect their government to prevent big and terrible things from happening. But does this justify a nationwide cell phone ban? Let’s consider.
First, there is a valid case for such regulation. Some libertarians might bash the NTSB’s call for a ban as regular old government power-grabbing, but there is a legitimate negative externality here. You could be driving down the road, minding your own business and following all traffic laws, and a distracted cell-phone-wielding driver could plow right into you. Few people seem to have issues with drunk driving laws; why wouldn’t you want to be protected from the negative externality of someone crashing into you?
Well, when we discuss whether or not the government should get involved in trying to prevent a negative externality, there are two things we should consider. Is the negative externality big enough to worry about, and is the government likely to make it better? I believe the answer to both questions is NO with about a 90% certainty.