Sunday, November 28, 2004

But they let go of him. And as soon as they did, Ender kicked out high and hard, caching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise -- he hadn't thought to put Stilson on the ground with one kick. It didn't occur to him that Stilson didn't take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn't prepared for a truly desperate blow.

For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, and for all time, or I'll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.

Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, even though he was only six. It was forbidden to strike the opponent who lay helpless on the ground, only an animal would do that.

So Ender walked to Stilson's supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again, in the crotch. Stilson could not make a sound; he only doubled up and tears streamed out of his eyes.

Then Ender looked at the others coldly. "You might be having some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you'd be wondering when I'd get you, and how bad it would be." He kicked Stilson in the face. Blood from his nose spattered the ground.
-- From Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A poster from Bangalore, where threats prevent theaters from showing non-Kannada-language films.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Is it just me or is the right wing response to the election crisis in Ukraine mildly amusing? I can understand the impulse to support a pro-American candidate, but given that the charges of fraud are primarily based on exit polls, I am puzzled at the sudden burst of faith in exit polling, so soon after Kerry-leaning polls on election day were dismissed by our conservative friends as being in error.

Is it just me or is the right wing response to the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire simply sick? There seems to be an obsession with allegations of French misconduct, a gloating recitations of charges that French forces fired into a crowd, followed by a bemoaning of the international double standard applied to U.S. troops in Iraq. Of course, such incidents have happened countless numbers of times in Iraq (U.S. forces attacked, fire back, unintentionally kill civilians in response). Its treated more leniently in this case because French troops are in the Cote d'Ivoire on a UN sactioned peacekeeping mission, at the invitation of both the government and the rebels (see here), so the comparison to Iraq doesn't hold water. There is something deeply wrong with this grotesque anti-French frenzy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

From Herman Kahn's On Thermonuclear War:
Now just imagine yourself in the postwar situation. Everybody will have been subjected to extremes of anxiety, unfamiliar environment, strange foods, minimum toilet facilities, inadequate shelters and the like. Under these conditions, some high percentage of the population is going to become nauseated, and neausea is very contagious. If one man vomits, everybody vomits. It would not be surprising if almost everybody vomits. Almost everyone is likely to think he has received too much radiation. Morale may be so affected that many survivors may refuse to participate in constructive activities, but would content themselves with sitting down and waiting to die - some may even become violent and destructive.

However, the situation would be quite different if radiation meters were distributed. Assume now that a man gets sick from a cause other than radiation. Not believing this, his morale begins to drop. You look at his meter and say, "You have received only ten roentgens, why are you vomiting? Pull yourself together and get back to work.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Department of Obscure Economic Indicators: a report from Mogadishu,
The cost of an AK-47 is the equivalent of a survey of business confidence in more stable countries.

Following the election of a new president in October, the price fell, as people anticipated that militias may soon no longer be able to operate with impunity.

But a month on, with a government still not named, nor a clear plan for how or when President Abdullahi Yusuf and his team will even go to Mogadishu, let alone get anything done, the price of a weapon has been creeping higher.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein links an opinion piece by another frequent Volokh contributor in the Boston Globe purporting to debunk "conservatives are stupid" myths.

What appalls me about these pieces is the sloppiness, inaccuracy, and general ignorance that goes into writing them. A proper response would have been to point out that, statistically, on most metrics (average education, average income, etc) Republicans slightly outperform Democrats. Instead, we get a rant the highlights of which I address below.

Some on the left have humbly taken to calling themselves "the reality-based community."

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda.
We call ourselves "the reality-based community" as a contrast to the Bush administration which we perceive as being out of touch with the real world, not in contrast with Bush supporters.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives? George Mason University law professor David Bernstein...speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

I'm willing to bet that if you asked people whether it's true or false that President Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a ad), a lot more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook..

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually underway would have given a victory to Bush (though Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).
So let me get this straight: your "debunking" of the myths is based on speculations and suspicions that you've got? Hell of a debunking.

1. The fact of the matter is that if you ask Democrats & Republicans about their candidate's foreign policy positions, Republicans get it wrong a vastly larger percentage of the time.

2. Bernstein speculates that the reason for this is that Bush's position sound bad (oppose the test ban treaty, oppose the Kyoto treaty - all the treaties sound good to someone who knows nothing about them) whereas Kerry's sound good (for all the same treaties). That sounds about right to me. But this speculation about the causes of the results is not a debunking: it does not dispute that Republicans are ill informed, but only argues that they are ill informed for largely accidental reasons (e.g. the good-sounding names of the treaties, the particular positions taken on them by Bush & Kerry).

3. Nobody "debunked" that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water. It is a fact that Bush tried to rescind a Clinton-era executive order that allowed the implementation of more stringent arsenic restrictions to begin. Easterbrook's point was that it is more appropriate for newspaper editors to describe Bush's actions as avoiding to implement Clinton's cuts. The fact remains, however, that Bush wanted to raise arsenic levels relative to the standards in effect when he came into office (and he was right to do this - but thats beside the point).

4. The suggestions for question on which the Democrats are likely to get it wrong are simply inept. One crucially depends on the difference between a full recount and a recount of just the undervotes (how many people understand the difference?); the other depends on a crucial distinction between "increase" and "undo decreases."

Moving on to perhaps the most egregious pair of sentences in the article,
As for collaboration between Hussein's regime and terrorist groups, it clearly did exist; the only question is how substantial it was.
No, no, damn it, no! There was no collaboration at all. There is a possibility of contacts at the lowest level of the two organizations, but there is absolutely no evidence at all there was any collaboration.
A particularly amusing instance of the "Americans voted for Bush because they're so dumb" trope occurred in a post-election discussion at the online magazine Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that "The United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending."

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries -- Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Norway -- spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States.
The stupidity behind this paragraph is immense. Education spending per capita is not the same as primary and secondary education spending per pupil! Note the disingenuity here: the United States can still be one of the last in education spending, but perform well in one particular subarea of education spending.
We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.
Uh, no. This is just plain wrong. See here for a chart.

Is mildly intelligent commentary from the conservative side on these issues too much to ask for?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

from a sydney intersection.

By now, you've probably heard about the NBC video showing a marine shooting an unarmed, wounded Iraqi in a mosque.

What is appalling is that Instapundit (and others) have been referring to this incident as "Fallujah Marine pulls a Kerry."


This goes back to one of the lesser publicized (and more ridiculous) charges against Kerry made back in the day: that Kerry committed war crimes by killing a vietcong sniper.

It is a fact that while driving his swift boat up the river sometime in 1969, Kerry killed an enemy sniper, who possessed a grenade launcher, and who was about to fire on Kerry's ship; but the Swift Boat Vets found one of Kerry's crewmates who said he fired at the sniper first, wounding him, so that the man was already wounded when Kerry chased him down and killed him. Voila, "war crimes."

If you can't differentiate between, on the one hand, chasing down a possibly wounded sniper with a grenade launcher; and on the other, shooting a clearly unarmed, helpless Iraqi left for dead then you've got major problems.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The nice thing about Arafat's death and the upcoming Palestinian elections is that they should provide us with an interesting test of the democratic peace theory.

Of course, if it doesn't work out the proponents will argue that the conflict does not meet the definition of war.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren quotes at length from a column purporting to debunk election conspiracy myths:
CLAIM: There was a suspicious difference between the exit polls and the final results.

My goodness! All of a sudden the art of polling, which my Democratic friends were insisting was unreliable right up until the election, is now is to be taken as gospel. Exit polls are "never wrong."

The exaggerations continue to grow. Kerry's lead in the exit polls keeps getting bigger. The polls' margin of error keeps getting smaller.

The Florida exit polls from Election Day are lined up on my desk. The biggest lead Kerry had was 51-49. The last update showed 50-50. The actual result was 52-47. Within the margin of error. Sorry.
First, lets note that the accusation of hypocrisy is rather ridiculous: before the election, many democrats alleged that telephone polling did not reach the young,hip crowd with only cell phones; further they argued that polls will underestimate Kerry's support at the polling booth since undecideds will split for the challenger, as they historically have done. Whether these objections were true or not, its fairly obvious that they are not applicable to exit polls - so its difficult to see where the contradiction lies in voicing these objections before the election and trusting exit polls now.

As for the "debunking" offered - it rather misses the point. Out of the sixteen states for which exit poll estimates are available, Kerry underperformed his numbers 15 out of 16 times. Almost every time, the result was within the margin of error (and in NH, Kerry's drop was actually outside the MoE). Now if exit polls were an unbiased estimate of the election outcome, we'd expect each candidate to outperform his numbers roughly half the time. Toss 16 coins and see how many times you get at least 15 heads (the answer is 2.6 in 10,000, in case you're curious).

In short, Bush's overperfomance of the exit polls was an extremely unlikely event that is difficult for me to explain.

So does this mean Bush stole the election? Not quite.

For one thing, its possible that something went wrong with the exit polls. There has been speculation that Republicans refused to participate more often than Democrats. While there is no actual evidence for this, its certainly a possibility, and generally there is no shortage of things that could go wrong in a poll.

Further, a problem is that we have no idea about the quality of the data we are relying on. The released data has been weighed to match the election returns. What about the raw data, not weighed to give the counted Bush/Kerry percentages? Only the consortium of TV Networks & newspapers which commissioned the exit poll has access to it. How about releasing the raw data to the public? While we toss around numbers - given to us by Slate on election day and various other media-friendly bloggers - but we have no idea how reliable these numbers are and we don't know what stage of the weighing process they are from - are they unweighed to match election returns, partially weighted, weighed at the precint level, weighted at the state level, etc. Until the raw data is released, its difficult to analyze the differences between the exit polls and the outcome.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

I'm going to have to do some soul searching about the future of this blog. Should I really write a post every time a White House official says something stupid? Even ignoring the huge number of posts this would inevitably entail, I'm not sure it is the sort of online presence I want to keep.

Meanwhile, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, says to CNN:
President Bush strongly opposes any treaty or policy that would cause the loss of a single American job, let alone the nearly 5 million jobs Kyoto would have cost.
Of course any treaty on the environment results in some loss of jobs: any time the government imposes an environmental standard that private industry would not have otherwise followed, private companies are hurt to some extent. Environmental regulation has a task of preserving the environment while imposing laws that do not harm the industry too much.

To say that President Bush is opposed to treaties that create the loss of even one job is to either i. say President Bush opposes doing anything at all for the environment or ii. reveal that you are completely ignorant of even the basics as far as environmental policy goes, despite being the top White House aide on the matter.

Take your pick.

(link via uggabuga).

I think a new seal for the Department of Justice is a terrific idea.

(link via Lawyers, Guns, and Money)

Friday, November 12, 2004

A comical, if unsurprising, episode at CBS:
CBS News has fired the producer responsible for interrupting the last five minutes of a hit crime drama with a special report on the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a network source said on Friday.

Word of the dismissal came a day after CBS apologized to viewers for breaking into "CSI: NY," one of its top-rated shows, on Wednesday night.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dear Conservative Bloggers,

Please use the following story as a springboard to write about the liberal condescension towards middle America.


A [Texas] State Board of Education member stalled a vote to approve middle school health textbooks Thursday by saying the books should condemn homosexuality and make clear that marriage exists only between men and women.

Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, called for about 30 changes to teachers' and students' editions of proposed health books in grades six through eight...

Leo said that three of the 10 middle school books up for approval would not conform to a state law banning the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages. She said they endorse same-sex marriage by referring to the heads of families as couples or adults instead of husbands and wives or fathers and mothers.

"We're considered a state agency, and we need public acts and records recognizing that marriage is between a man and a woman," she said.

Some of her suggestions, however, go beyond the marriage issue.

One passage in a teachers' edition says that "surveys indicate that 3 to 10 percent of the population is gay. No one knows for sure why some people are straight, some are bisexual and others are gay."

Leo wanted to replace those sentences with: "Opinions vary on why homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals as a group are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use and suicide."

Leo, a former teacher who has been active in Republican politics for at least 20 years, won her Houston-area board seat in 2002. She said she does not expect the publishers to follow her suggestions word for word.

"As long as the content of the books shows that marriage is between a man and a woman, I'm OK with it," she said.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Dear Bloggers,

Here are some suggestions for future posts, depending on what side of the spectrum you are on:

Left: pick an issue, articulate a position in precise moral terms, without any supporting arguments, and act as if everyone who disagrees you is morally deficient.

Right: find an instance of some anonymous schmo on the far-left saying something offensive, quote it extensively, and drone on about liberal lunacy. Claim this represents the mainstream of the liberal movement. Repeat ad nauseum. Make sure to ignore instances of outrageous comments from the far right. Alternatively, briefly mention them and dismiss as unrepresentative of the mainstream conservatism.

We have an important international crisis on our hands: Estonia has accused Russia of disrespecting the letter "n." This is due to Russia's insistence of writing the Estonian capitol as "Tallin" instead of "Tallinn."

Since Estonia is a NATO member, this conflict just might degenerate into a U.S.-Russia nuclear war. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Hey, names are important.

Taiwanese lawmakers hurl books at each other during a particularly intense debate over the arms budget.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

My contribution to the monkeying around with data on the moral values question:

Exit polls allowed voters to choose the most important issue to them from four domestic issues (economy/jobs, health care, education, and taxes), two foreign policy issues (iraq, terrorism), and "moral values." Combining issues in this way blurs several important distictions - see the tail of my other post on this. Anyway, breaking down how people voted:

Most Important IssuePercentage of the Electorate BushKerry
Moral Values22%80%18%

Bush clearly won among votes who thought foreign policy was important, but by a smaller margin than Kerry won among voters who thought domestic policy was important - not to mention that there were fewer voteres interested in foreign policy. Which issue allowed Bush to close the gap?

Many on the non-socially-conservative-right seem to be bothered by by the role anti-gay marriage initiatives and the moral values issue played in orchestrating Bush's re-election. At least, over the past few days I've been repeatedly running into posts and columns downplaying their effect.

The problem, though, is that there is a simple statistic that is difficult to argue around: asked what is the most important issue to them, more voters said "moral values" than any other issue.

1. Eugene Volokh was among the first to give this a try:
According to the exit polls — and take them with a grain of salt — moral values was given as the most important issue by 22% of voters. But 20% and 19% said economy/jobs and terrorism, respectively; and though theoretically these numbers are likely outside the mathematical margin of error... given all the nonmathematical imprecision inherent in this sort of survey, I'd say that it's a tie.
Fair enough. So while moral values was the #1 issue chosen, its also true that terrorism and the economy gathered almost as many votes.

A good point, but for some reason many on the right seem to think that this somehow means moral values was not important? The fact remains: the moral values issue was one of the most important in this election - and the democrats largely ignored it, preferring to concentrate on the economy and the war in Iraq.

Socially libertarian Republicans should not to lie to themselves and admit that socially conservative positions were one of the major reasons Bush got re-elected. Democrats, who spent much time developing their positions on Iraq (war good, execution bad) and the economy (repeal the Bush tax cut, raise minimum wage) need to develop a coherent rhetoric on this set of issues as well.

2. David Brooks, after bashing the left for a need to come up with a vindicating narrative, comes to the crux of his argument:
...that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.
Uhh, no. Voters who selected "moral values" as the most important issue to them selected it over terrorism, iraq, the economy, health care, education, and taxes. To say that moral values is more important than any of the above is to make an important political statement.

Broadly speaking, to evaluate whether we are faced with an "inept question" we should look at not whether the result is one we like, but at whether the answer to that question tells us something about the respondents. And it clearly does - namely, they tend to vote for Bush by a large margin.

"Who doesn't vote for moral values?" Brooks asks. Kerry voters don't, it seems. Thats the interesting outcome of this poll, which, by asking this question, Brooks appears not to understand, despite making it the ostensible subject of his column.

By the way: I've seen some conservatives argue that, really, one should combine Iraq and Terrorism issues, as both are part of the war on terror: that would give one a higher percentage than moral values - 33%.

I am tempted to reply by saying that if I combine "economy," "health care," "education," and "taxes," using some ideological argument about how they are all the same, I get an even higher 37% (see my other post for this).

Actually, combining specifically "Iraq" and "Terrorism" makes particularly little sense: a casual glance at the data is enough to reveal these two categories of voters are diametrical opposites - "Iraq" voters tended to go for Kerry at a roughly 7-3 margin; "terrorism" voters tended to go for Bush at a roughly 9-1 margin.

Final thought: look, you can monkey around with data as much as you want. The fact remains, the moral value issue proved to be tremendously important - perhaps not the most important issue, but, surprisingly, as important as any other.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Juan Cole publishes an essay entitled "We Are All Israelis Now" by Mark Levine, from the history department at UC-Irvine.

There was a time when I wanted to be a historian - what could be more interesting than studying the intellectual traditions of humanity? Then I discovered that historians have a tendency to say the most asinine things, the above essay being a good example.

The thesis of the piece is that America has become, like Israel, "a criminal state." In support of this position, the author tries to find every bit of similarity between the two countries:
...the willingness of a plurality of the electorate to support parties and policies which are manifestly against their economic and social interests (as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic insecurity across the board in Israel and the US produced by the last two decades of neoliberalism) sadly characterize both societies today.
To which I say: Israeli economic neoliberalism? Dude, what kind of crack are you on? Israel's huge tariffs result in non-luxury cars costing close to ~$100,000, to give one concrete example that is keenly felt by a majority of the population. This is a country that was founded on a socialist vision and governed with a heavy government hand - to the extent that even today to get an academic job one must rely on a -government-sponsored subsidy. Accuse Israel of being a "criminal state" if you must, but, please, don't accuse it of being economically neoliberal.

And I won't even bother to point out the obvious fact that living standards have seriously improved over the last two decades, both in Israel and the U.S.

Levine also writes,
As for the country’s “liberal” opposition, it’s in a shambles, politically and morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing participant in creating and preserving the system that is now eating away at the heart of Israeli society.
Uhh, no. The labour party is in shambles because its policies have led to the largest increases in terrorism in Israeli history, and, by contrast, Ariel Sharon's policies have led to the largest decrease of terrorism in recent memory. The liberal opposition has consistently argued over the past decade or so that the key to peace in the middle east are concessions to the Palestinians and a negotiated sovereignty of the PA. In this way, it was argued, terrorism would decrease. In fact, events have unfolded in the reverse manner, with vastly increased terrorism during Ehud Barak's term and vastly decreased terrorism during Sharon's.

Levine writes,
To put it bluntly, Americans have chosen to return a man to the White House who has supervised the killing of more civilians than Slobodan Milosevic...
This is simply morally idiotic. Milosevic slaughtered and uprooted huge numbers of Kosovars, while any harm to civilians caused by Bush's policies came as an unintended side effect of military action. Comparing Bush's actions with deliberate ethnic cleansing is simply repugnant.

Tangential rant: By the way - ignoring for the moment the appalling conflation of Milosovic' intentional murders with the effects of casualty-minimizing military operations by U.S. troops - Levine's basic facts are also wrong. To argue that Bush has killed more people than Milosevic, he cites the Lancet study giving ~100,000 people estimate for the increased number of deaths in Iraq.

Levine misunderstands the conclusions of the study. The 100,000 number is a best estimate of the increased mortality rate in post-Saddam Iraq. So, it doesn't measure the number of deaths U.S. troops caused directly - rather it measures the increased deaths in today's Iraq regardless of what caused them, whether it is U.S. troops or heart attacks or overeating.

Milosevic started four wars. If one were to measure the increased mortality due to these wars and extrapolate the casualty figure, the number would most likely be in the millions. But we only have numbers for the direct number of deaths and uprootings caused by Milosevic. Comparing these to the ~100,000 deaths indirectly caused by the war is comparing apples and oranges.

Also: citing the 100,000 number is misleading. The confidence interval is pretty wide: 8,000 - 200,000. [The main significance of the study is not the ~100,000 estimate per se - its that zero is not in the confidence interval - which completely destroys the humanitarian case for war - one would have thought that if Saddam remained in power more people would have ended up dying than are dying today - and the study rules that out (well, loosely speaking, it says that the probability of that is at most 2.5%)]. If you are going to cite the results of the study, its more honest to give an account of the margin of error, rather than only citing the best available estimate of 100,000 as if we know its an accurate number. All we know is, loosely, that with 95% probability the extra deaths caused by the U.S. invasion, over Saddam's rule, lie between 8,000 and 200,000.

Today's Slate features an article arguing that terrorism, not moral values, is the real reason for the Democrats' loss.

I may be missing something, but I just don't understand the argument:

Much has been made of the fact that "moral values" topped the list of voters' concerns, mentioned by more than a fifth (22 percent) of all exit-poll respondents as the "most important issue" of the election...Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent)...

Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry...

These differences hold up at the state level even when each state's past Bush vote is taken into account. When you control for that variable, a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect.
I don't understand: voters who cite "terrorism" and "moral values" go for Bush at roughly similar margins. How exactly does an increase in "terrorism" voters translate into a Bush gain while the same increase in "moral values" voters does not? What variable is he controlling for?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

By the way, now that I've joined the chorus that argues that the Democrats need to talk more about moral values, lets not forget a crucial fact: John Kerry did that in this election.

Remember this from Kerry's DNC speech?
For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words. They're what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.

You don't value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break.

We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and play.

And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families by denying real prescription drug coverage to seniors, so big drug companies can get another windfall.

We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother." As President, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can't afford life-saving medicine.

And that is the choice in this election.

You don't value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.

We believe in the value of doing what's right for everyone in the American family.

And that is the choice in this election.

We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America. Not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us. Family and faith. Hard work and responsibility. Opportunity for all – so that every child, every parent, every worker has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential.

What does it mean in America today when Dave McCune, a steel worker I met in Canton, Ohio, saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up, and shipped thousands of miles away along with that job? What does it mean when workers I've met had to train their foreign replacements?

America can do better. So tonight we say: help is on the way.

What does it mean when Mary Ann Knowles, a woman with breast cancer I met in New Hampshire, had to keep working day after day right through her chemotherapy, no matter how sick she felt, because she was terrified of losing her family's health insurance.

America can do better. And help is on the way.

What does it mean when Deborah Kromins from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania works and saves all her life only to find out that her pension has disappeared into thin air – and the executive who looted it has bailed out on a golden parachute?

America can do better. And help is on the way.

What does it mean when twenty five percent of the children in Harlem have asthma because of air pollution?

America can do better. And help is on the way.

What does it mean when people are huddled in blankets in the cold, sleeping in Lafayette Park on the doorstep of the White House itself – and the number of families living in poverty has risen by three million in the last four years?

America can do better. And help is on the way.

And so we come here tonight to ask: Where is the conscience of our country?

I'll tell you where it is: it's in rural and small town America; it's in urban neighborhoods and suburban main streets; it's alive in the people I've met in every part of this land. It's bursting in the hearts of Americans who are determined to give our country back its values and its truth.

We value jobs that pay you more not less than you earned before. We value jobs where, when you put in a week's work, you can actually pay your bills, provide for your children, and lift up the quality of your life. We value an America where the middle class is not being squeezed, but doing better.
Makes me teary-eyed just to read it.

Many around the blogosphere are tossing around ideas for Democrats to adopt. Here is my contribution.

1. Most people don't realize the extent to which biblical language permeates Bush's speech. While Bush rarely cites chapter and verse, he regularly co-opts often quoted verses to make points. A couple of examples...

i. Arguing that his policies have been good for the environment, Bush said in the second debate "I guess you could say I've been a good steward of the land." Did that strike you at the time as a bit of an awkward formulation? Its a biblical term: the parable of the good steward is Luke 12:41-48 and the parable of the unjust steward is Luke 16:1-13. Paul also bandied the term around in his epistles. Its extremely widely used among evangelicals.

ii. Arguing for lack of American involvement overseas in the 2000 Presidential debates, Bush argued that "the United States cannot be all things to all people." This, of course, is straight from Paul's rant in 1 Cor 19:20-22.

My point is that commonly used evangelical language pervades Bush's speech, and the church-going crowd recognizes this.

I am not, however, saying that Bush is good at this. He is not. His feel-good wishy-washy adaptation of Christianity is something that is routinely mocked and denigrated among evangelical audiences( see here for example).

Democrats should use this language. It would take very little effort and it would make the party's appeal to the church going crowd - that economic justice and fairness is something they should vote for - so much more natural.

2. Message consistency.

George W. Bush said very little about what his second term would look like. He put forth no new plans. He made no policy proposals. But every day, he said, over and over again, that John Kerry is a flip flopper.

I don't want to second guess Kerry here, but I would have ran the campaign differently. Every challenger needs to present plans & proposals to show how his administration would be different, but I would never have invested as much time and energy in it as Kerry did.

Rather, I would have based the campaign around a single theme: Bush lied. Every day, I would have had Kerry say something that revolved around Bush lying. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where is the connection to Al Qaeda? Where is the balanced budget Bush promised? Where is the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem? Where are the carbon controls Bush promised in 2000? And so on.

In Kissingers words, this charge "has the added advantage of being true." There are lots of Bush lies out there that would have made for great material. And given the WMD flap, this is a very believable charge. It would have been a good strategy - no?

In the future, Democrats should try to organize their campaign around a single, simple well-understood point this way.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

And the very first event of the second Bush administration is...

...Hungary's announcement on Wednesday that it would pull its troops out of Iraq.

The practical effect of this is small: Hungary only had 300 troops in Iraq. Nevertheless, as far as beginnings go, this one strikes me as particularly emblematic of the last four years.

Its never too early to start thinking about the next election.

We need a democrat with

i. lots of foreign policy experience
ii. moderate views and electoral appeal
iii. preferably no terms in congress

About the last point - congressmen are very easily attacked for their votes; when one votes against a bill with thousands of provisions based on a few particularly egregious ones, your opponents will mischaracterize your vote as being against the nice-sounding parts of the bill. Case in point: John Kerry voted against an $87 billion measure to fund the war because it had a $20 billion no-bid contract for Halliburton, and voted for an alternative $87 billion bill without said contract. I don't need to bring up how "I actually voted for it before I voted against it" played in the press.

Hillary is too liberal, too polarizing. Edwards does not have as much foreign policy experience as one would like, not to mention he served in the Senate. Perhaps Bill Richardson? Almost perfect, except he served in Congress for 15 years.

Any ideas?

Michael Berube has an important suggestion for the future of the Democratic party.

Question: why is American politics so radically different from the politics of other major English speaking countries, e.g. Canada and the UK? Can you even conceive of a man with W's positions and personal qualities being elected in either of the two?

(Of course, when you include Australia and Ireland the contrast doesn't seem so stark. Aren't there many parallels between W. and John Howard? Both campaigned on the premise that their opponents were weak on national security, but both drew much of their appeal from unrelated domestic issues: W. from the "moral values" coalition, Howard from the MV Tampa affair and the resulting anti-immigration feelings.)

So Bush won.

1. It goes without saying that I think this was a disastrous vote in favor of incompetence. Daniel Davies posed a challenge a while back on his old blog that I can't be bothered to find the link to:

Can you name a Bush policy that,

a. Was a major foreign or domestic policy initiative of the Bush administration.
b. Is something I heard of.
c. Was not fucked up in execution?

As far as I know, he did not recieve a good answer.

Expect to see more of that over the next four years.

2. On the other hand, there are some reasons to be optimistic in the short term. I really don't think very much can go wrong in a second Bush term, regardless of how competent the President is.

- The economy seems to be recovering on its own.

- The Iraqi elections in January should provide the U.S. with a pretext for withdrawal. As long as they are conducted in a relatively orderly fashion, I expect Bush will use this pretext. What we are likely to end up with is an Afghanistan-style farce: a nominally democratic central government without much power over most of Iraq, where militias loyal to local factions will rule.

3. It goes without saying that the U.S. is in for huge economic problems over the long term due to the retirement of baby boomers(see here and here for example). This was always the case; but Clinton's efforts to spend responsibly and use the resulting surplus to pay down the national debt at least put us in a position to start considering ways to save social security. Bush destroyed that.

4. Particularly devastating, to me, is the role the anti-gay-marriage initiatives played in increasing evangelical turnout in swing states.

5. If the Democratic party is to survive and remain competative, it must resist the calls, already pouring in, to get more liberal. The American electorate is considerably more conservative than the socially liberal core of the Democratic party; ignoring this will turn Democrats into an American version of the NDP in Canada or the Liberal Democrats in the UK.

6. So - I was so depressed after the results last night that I forgot to go to class this morning and turn in my homework. This is particularly unfortunate because I need an A in this class to become a doctoral candidate (damn you, W. ) I'm about to email a .pdf version of the files to my TA. Should I say I overslept or mention that I was depressed from a Bush victory and hope to play on the likely liberal views of the TA? Comment!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

So much satisfaction from punching a simple ballot.

Jim Lindgren has got to be the most annoying partisan hack ever to blog on the Volokh Conspiracy. His latest piece of hackery consists of trying to make a private joking comment by John Kerry to Tom Brokaw ("I must have been drinking the night before..." about an exam he did not do too well on) into a serious admission of alcoholism. Disgusting.

And can you even imagine the outcry on the part of conservatives against the mainstream media if Tom Brokaw, on election morning, revealed a similar private, off-camera, potentially-embarassing-if-misconstrued comment by President Bush?

...but do they have a good sense of style?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Megan McArdle, writing at Instapundit, takes on the following argument made by Osama in his latest tape: spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost - according to the lowest estimate - more than $500 billion.

Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.

As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.

And even more dangerous and bitter for America is that the mujahidin recently forced Bush to resort to emergency funds to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan - with Allah's permission.
McArdle comments,
Iraq and Afghanistan together have cost us less than $300 billion, including the money Bush is going to ask for next year. In the same period, the US economy will have grossed about 36 trillion dollars, meaning that the war will have cost us less than 1% of our income.

If Osama really wants to gut the US budget, he's going to need to try something more drastic, like opening up a chain of Medicare clinics.

However, Osama Bin Laden is not the only one making the connection between war and deficits. A certain "George W. Bush" explaining why he reneged on a campaign pledge to balance the budget cited the costs of the war as a major rationale,
I remember when I was campaigning, I said, would you ever deficit spend? And I said, yes, only if there were a time of war, or recession, or a national emergency.Never thought we'd get -- And so we have a temporary deficit in our budget, because we are at war, we're recovering, our economy is recovering, and we've had a national emergency.

Al Jazeera has now released the transcript of the full 18 minute Bin Laden tape, rather than the 5-minute edited version we have seen before.

In this expanded version, Bin Laden makes the following claim:
As for the size of the [U.S] economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.
The conclusion is clear: budget hawks are traitors. Criticism of the Bush administration for increasing government spending plays straight into the hands of our enemies. Those who continue to make this criticism are aiding Bin Laden and do not deserve to be called Americans.