Monday, June 30, 2008

Ways in which McCain is better than Obama

This post is more intellectually challenging and shorter than one on ways that Obama is better than McCain. I also feel like doing it now before it gets too close to the election to matter. And, Obama has been disappointing lately with the FISA bill and supporting execution of rapists. Also some Democrats are going after McCain for temporarily breaking under severe torture while a POW, an inexcusable tactic that makes me feel contrary.


Anything else? This battery thing of McCain's isn't important enough. While I'm not anti-nuclear power, I don't think massive subsidies are a good idea either. I think more free trade is marginally better than protectionism, but that doesn't quite fit the non-partisan criteria I'd like to use here.

Other suggestions are welcome, especially ones that aren't along the lines of "McCain is more conservative than Obama on issue X, and I believe the conservative position is better, so McCain's better."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Matt Yglesias joins the ANWR-climate change bandwagon

He also supports the idea of allowing drilling in ANWR as a concession to get Obama's climate change plan through Congress. He even supports it for the right reason - to get two Alaskan senator votes to break a filibuster. I think it's possible it could pick up other votes too - maybe not for passage, but for getting Democratic senators to support cloture to end a filibuster.

In other Yglesias-related stuff, he views Obama's dropping out of public financing as hypocritical while McCain's acts are significantly worse lawbreaking. Agreed on McCain, but I wouldn't call Obama's action as hypocritical. I would call it promise-breaking though. Obama has some reason to break this promise, but he should be clear about it, and it's a bad precedent for his other promises, like that he would filibuster the bad FISA bill in Congress.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

McCain was asked the C-word question and refused to answer it

There was a minor splash several months ago when Cliff Schecter's book, The Real McCain, reported that McCain blew up in front of three reporters in 1992 when his wife Cindy was teasing him, and called her the C-word. McCain's campaign denies it happened, but McCain himself refused to answer whether he'd done it when asked at one of his town hall meetings (to listen to him, go to On The Media, start the June 13th show, and advance to minute 11:30).

So where does that leave us? In some cases a refusal to answer is an admission, but in this case it's a harder call. The US News link above states ambiguously that it tried to track down the sources: "An effort to arrange to speak with Schecter's sources was unsuccessful, though the author described in some detail the positions held by the sources at the time of the alleged incidents and their whereabouts today." My guess is that US News thought they had enough info to figure out who the reporters were, but the reporters wouldn't talk.

So I think the ball's in Schecter's court, with the exception that I agree with Mark Kleiman that there's enough legitimacy for the mainstream media to force McCain himself to answer the question. Schecter, meanwhile, needs to go to his sources and say that the campaign has denied it's happened therefore they should do the right thing. Schecter also needs to ask his sources what prominent newsperson they'd trust to preserve anonymity, and get that person to interview them. I've also scrolled through Schecter's prolific blog postings - he mentions the issue once, but hasn't been able to move the ball any further.

One sidenote is how Wikipedia should handle this. It's been discussed and shot down repeatedly at wiki, apparently. I brought it up in the talk section for one article. At this point I wouldn't include it in wiki, but I'm less sensitive to feelings here at the blog.

Finally- if the prominent "newsperson" was Oprah Winfrey and she got it confirmed, that would pretty much be the end of McCain's campaign.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A McCain Court could allow recriminalization of homosexuality

Conservatives think that the potential for making appointments to the Supreme Court will work to McCain's advantage. While I agree that on some issues the public is to the right to the Court's present position, the public is also to the left of where McCain's appointments could take it.

Overturning Roe v. Wade so that abortion is banned outright in some states is one real possibility. Recriminalizing homosexuality is another that's received no attention, and whatever the general public thinks about gay marriage, I don't think they want homosexuals arrested in their homes.

Lawrence v. Texas ended that practice five years ago on a 6-3 vote. Current Justices Alito and Roberts each replaced one vote from the majority and minority of that decision. Had they been on the Court in 2003, it would have been a 5-4 vote for gay rights, leaving Kennedy (whose age will be 75 in the year 2012), Stevens (will be 92), Souter (72), Ginsburg (79), and Breyer (73) in the majority. A single McCain appointment theoretically could flip a future decision and overrule Lawrence.

Two loose ends - first, would they return to and overrule this precedent? Justices don't like to do this, although they might also consider it okay to do so here, considering that Lawrence itself overruled Supreme Court precedent that was 'only' 17 years old. I've no doubt that on the present Court, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia would overrrule. As for Roberts I'm less sure about his willingness to overturn, but it's very possible. My guess is that one appointment by McCain replacing the majority justices makes overruling possible, three appointments makes it virtually certain, and two appointments is a coin-toss.

Second loose end - would they get the opportunity? In law school I learned that it's not clear what happens to laws that are overruled by courts - do they become nullified and no longer exist, or are they existing but are unenforceable? Apparently that hasn't been decided. The Texas law prohibiting homosexual conduct is still on the books, so Texas hasn't done a cleanup and removed the law. I could see a conservative Texas sheriff and conservative Texas DA trying to revive the law during a McCain Administration. A good factual situation for them would be a homosexual rape case where the evidence makes it hard to prove there was no consent - the DA could just bring a homosexual conduct case against the defendant but not the victim. After losing all the way through the Texas Supreme Court, the DA then appeals to the US Supreme Court and we see what happens.

It could be a strange country - gay marriage legal in some states, while gay sex is illegal in others. I don't think criminalizing homosexuality is a winner for the Republicans.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Beaten to the Easterbrook Idiot party

The party's here (via Deltoid). Easterbrook calls for more action to prevent asteroid strikes on Earth, based on a cherry-picked expert's ten-percent worst case scenario. Apply the same standard to the climate crisis and I can tell a pretty scary story too.

I actually don't want to pick on Easterbrook too much. However unfortunate it is that major publications think he has something to say about science, he did eventually give in to reality about climate change - in 2006. The people I really want to pick on are the right wingers, because they eat this stuff up about space risk, but don't want to do squat about climate risk. They need to get their risk assessments in order.

Finally, don't throw the baby out even though Easterbrook blinds us. There is a risk from asteroid impact, although that risk is reducing as NASA continues to search and eliminate near-future risks from larger asteroids. Just because Easterbrook says we should do more, that doesn't mean in this case that we should do the opposite. Doing what we're doing is fine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Maybe I'm taking Indiana Jones and Kung Fu Panda too seriously

It's too bad that an otherwise-okay movie (Jones) and otherwise-really good movie (Panda) were marred by irrationality. I'm not referring to the woo in Jones and the magic in Panda - that stuff just comes down to whether the films have persuaded you to suspend your disbelief.

The problem is that Indiana Jones teaches that too strong a desire for knowledge is part of what motivates some people to be evil, and the desire can be a killer. Panda says that you can do anything if you really really believe it. The motivator in Jones is just trite. Panda too much resembles the neocon Green Lantern theory that all you need to triumph is to will it to be so. I've had enough of that stuff over the last few years.

Still, if you can set that part aside, Kung Fu Panda was really good - just be sure to tell kids and conservatives not to draw any lessons from it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Swapping ANWR for climate change legislation

Kevin Drum has the good idea of giving up a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling in return for Republican support for real climate change legislation.

I've indicated my partial heresy over ANWR in the past - a friend of mine and occasional commenter here has worked the Alaskan North Slope for years and hasn't seen much environmental damage, and ANWR could be even better protected. Granted, the North Slope isn't a major caribou calving ground like ANWR is, and various measures have been used to underestimate the environmental impact from drilling. Still the likelihood of substantial damage from drilling is small, while the benefit to the Arctic and ANWR from action on climate change is huge.

So would the Republicans bite? Three would, at least - two Alaskan senators and one Alaskan representative. I don't know if any others would, but even two senators is a great catch given the need to get a 60-vote supermajority against the inevitable filibuster. Or if we already have 60 votes, the legislation could be made stronger over the objections of two Democratic senators who would otherwise be indispensable.

A final note regarding climate legislation - here's Ron Brownstein looking very pessimistically at the recently failed legislation, contrary to my Pollyannish view. Ten of the 54 Senate "supporters" wanted major changes that would weaken the bill that was already too weak. We'll need a real political earthquake to change things around.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Would you betray your beliefs after being slapped a few times?

I've been listening to more Intelligence Squared debates via podcast, including "Tough interrogation of terror suspects is necessary."

I think the anti-torture folks could have added a few more arguments. One of them is that I believe "minor torture" must become "torture" because minor pain isn't going to break a committed terrorist.

John McCain wrote
that everyone has a breaking point, and after severe torture he reached his own point. I don't personally claim to be a tough guy, but it would take more than minor physical inconvenience, what Rumsfeld referred to as similar to standing at a desk, to get me to betray my beliefs. I expect that these hard, evil terrorists that the pro-"harsh interrogations" folks are talking about as meriting these interrogations are going to be tougher than me, and more like John McCain. The way to break them is torture, so pretending you're only going to barely intrude on comfort is a lie.

The alternative approach is better. Anything else is better.

UPDATE: Testimony from Colin Powell's former chief of staff (page 11):

Likewise, no one seems to have considered what I call the basic soldier test (how could they?—none of them were soldiers and they had removed the real soldiers from their deliberations).

What I mean by this is, for example, if you tell a soldier under pressure to produce
actionable intelligence that he can use a muzzled dog, he will do it faithfully. And when that doesn't work—and it isn’t likely to—the soldier will remove the muzzle. And when that doesn't work, he will let the dog take a bite.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Maybe a two-vote shift will get us climate legislation next year

So the Lieberman-Warner bill failed to pass the Senate, with 48 votes in favor and 36 against. The bill needed 60 votes because Republicans were filibustering, and at first glance, the idea that climate legislation will pick up twelve votes next year seems depressingly unlikely.

Maybe not. From the link, the Dems are saying that six absent senators favored the bill. Elsewhere I've read that four of bill opponents were Democrats. If in 2009, a Democratic President and the full weight of the Democratic Party were brought to bear on those four, telling them to vote however they want on the final bill but that they must vote for cloture to end the filibuster, I think they could come around. That leaves two other votes that need to switch, either from Republicans who come in from the cold or get replaced. Could happen.

Of course, this vote-counting is for the inadequate L-W bill, and Obama's far better proposal might encounter more foot-dragging. We'll see.

One good thing about the L-W bill is the trade provision that I'm sure we'll see in future legislation, requiring emission controls from importers of countries that don't control emissions on national levels. First, if the US doesn't get its act together, this helps legitimize other countries requiring this from our exporters. Second, it supports the idea I've prattled on endlessly about trade agreements being the best enforcement mechanism on the international level for climate regulation. Getting to 60 votes in the Senate to beat a filibuster is hard enough, and a treaty needs 67 votes. Trade agreements, by contrast, need 60 votes for fast-track authority before they're negotiated, then the President negotiates them and submits them to Congress for up-or-down vote with no filibuster.

I think the best result would be a treaty with targets but no enforcement mechanisms - that might get through the Senate - and then enforcement comes through a trade agreement.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Campaign debts and a nifty money-laundering trick

Bloomberg has a good article on the state of play for Clinton's campaign debts that also helps define the problem of candidates loaning money to their own campaigns. Her campaign owes $20 million, $11 million to herself and $5 million to the unliked Mark Penn.

Reforms initiated by John McCain (credit where due) address some of the problems of candidates loaning money. Other campaigns can help fundraise but can't simply pay off the debts. Debts can be repaid in full before the election, but "only" $250,000 can be repaid to candidates after the election.

The candidate loan problem remains, however, in the period between when the election is actually decided, like it is now for the Democratic nomination to be held in late August, and when the election actually occurs. Winning candidates will get deluged with money from contributors trying to curry favor by putting money in the candidates' pocket through paying off the loans candidates made to their campaigns. Losing candidates who are still powerful, like the Senator from New York, will be even more grateful to people who pay them off.

And while other candidates can no longer bribe a competitor to drop out by paying the loan the candidate made to herself, the fundraising help is significant. Finally, there remains the $250,000 contribution that can happen anytime. Candidate loans to themselves should be abolished.

I also wanted point out a neat trick in money-shifting from Bloomberg:

Unlike the rules for her personal loan, Clinton can tap her Senate campaign account to pay off the vendor debts. While the account had $277,480 as of March 31, she could ask the donors who gave her $23 million for the general election if they would be willing to re-designate that money for her 2012 Senate re-election campaign. That would give her more than enough cash to repay everyone but herself.

People gave to the general election fund because they maxed out the $2,300 allowed for the nomination. Redesignating the money for her Senate campaign and then using that money to pay vendor debts means contributors can exceed the $2,300 cap for the nomination. I didn't know about this, and I wonder how many other loopholes are out there.

UPDATE: NY Times sez it's unclear whether the money-shifting trick is legal.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Climate bet offer to Charles Krauthammer

(After Krauthammer wrote this Op-Ed, I sent the email below.)

Dear Mr. Krauthammer,

Personally, and like many environmentalists, I'm agnostic about nuclear power - its high cost, vulnerability to terrorism, and role in nuclear weapons proliferation balance against its low-carbon footprint in a way I find difficult to judge.

But seeing as you could single out no other way to reduce carbon output in your recent column, I would like to know if you would be willing to bet a substantial amount of money over whether global warming will accelerate in the near future. Specifically, I would like to bet you that warming in the next decade will be at least twice that of the per-decade rate in the 20th Century. That type of warming hardly fits well with the theory of negative feedbacks that you think might keep us all safe.

I expect you might say that I'm challenging you to a bet where you haven't taken a clear position. However, if you advocate doing little beyond expanding nuclear power (and no reasonable expansion of nuclear power alone will solve the carbon problem), then your policy bet is that the climate won't warm enough so that rapid action is required. This policy choice has consequences, so I suggest you and I make the consequences a little more financially direct.

I would note that if you decide against betting because you might lose, then you are applying the precautionary principle and choosing a policy for your wallet, right now, that acknowledges a serious threat from global warming and takes an action right now to avoid that financial threat to you individually. I suggest the same policy choice should apply more broadly.

Maybe I'm overreacting to your column - maybe you would have added support for a carbon tax, increased mileage standards, financial support for renewables and conservation, etc. but you just wanted to say something controversial. I suggest you add those policies in the future. Meanwhile, I will wait for your response to my bet offer.

Brian Schmidt

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A great Obama Campaign ideas aggregator - too bad about the name

The site is called, which reminds me of Chef Boyardee. You can propose and vote on ideas for the Obama campaign, and hopefully the campaign might pay some attention (who knows).

Favorite idea I've seen so far is to import a version of parliamentary Question Time. FWIW, I just posted my own idea, suggesting that Obama promise to reverse the soft-on-crime approaches of the Republican Party, especially related to corporate crimes.