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Matt Warren

The Homer Doctrine - 0 views

  • For 20 years The Simpsons has satirized the banalities and foibles of American life. From Lisa's precocious insights to Bart's antics, the show emerged as Generation X's reply to Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Brunch.
  • Homer Simpson
  • embodies Americans' naïveté, excess, and basic decency.
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  • As an academic who studies U.S. foreign policy, I often think about what I learned from 1980s sitcoms whenever I go to conferences or review a book.
  • In the hands of many foreign policy specialists, William McKinley might as well be Perfect Stranger's clueless and spineless Larry Appleton, and Lyndon Johnson is BJ's corrupt and scheming Sherriff Lobo.
  • they were human beings who, like Homer Simpson, possessed a full range of foibles and noble characteristics.
  • The same is true of American foreign policy writ large. The range of American international relations over time should reflect the crass, naïve, ambitious, and good motivations behind policy crafted by people.
  • Inspired by The Simpsons, the Doctrine simply explains that even regrettable and downright bad episodes in American history are not products of a scheming Montgomery Burns-like imperialist, but are usually a result of Homer-esque laziness, naïveté, and bumbling good intentions.
  • Similar to individual Simpsons' episodes, the Homer Doctrine allows for very bad endings but also some happier conclusions. Mostly, it reminds me that foreign policy is a reflection of real life, and that historical interpretations of human actions and decisions should bear more resemblance to Homer's befuddled attempts at parenting than J.R. Ewing's machinations on Dallas.
  • Sandwiched between the civil war and the 20th century's dawn, the Spanish-American War reflects the Homer Doctrine's necessity.
  • Aghast at the news from Cuba, middle-class Americans organized and sent foodstuffs, supplies, and the Red Cross's Clara Barton to the island. Even with supplies and the Red Cross, the civil war made Barton's humanitarian task all but impossible. By the mid-1890s, middle-class Americans of all political stripes called for a "humanitarian intervention."
  • McKinley eventually opted for war, but he is not the Montgomery Burns many historians imagine. Like the 20th episode of the Simpsons 16th season, "Home Away from Homer," in which Homer accidentally drives Ned Flanders from Springfield by betraying his own principles and their friendship, McKinley lost control of events once war commenced.
  • Indeed, the lure of empire, geopolitical realities, and the president's racism and blindness to Filipino and Cuban nationalism resulted in America's temporary acquisition of an overseas empire.
  • Whether it is Ned Flanders, Cuba, or Afghanistan, the "Homer Doctrine" remains instructive. American foreign policymakers, from presidents to national security staffers, are guided by a complex mixture of idealism, naiveté, selfishness, and sometimes a zeal for donuts and Duff beer.
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    "When it comes to American foreign policy, The Simpsons might just provide the lens we need to understand our own history."
Matt Warren

The history of the filibuster, in one graph - 0 views


  • (Graph: Todd Lindeman; Data: Senate.gov)

    What you’re seeing here are the number of “cloture” motions in every congressional session since 1919. Cloture is the procedure used to break a filibuster. Between 1919 and 1975, a successful cloture motion required two-thirds of the Senate. Today, it requires three-fifths, or, in cases where all 100 senators are present and voting, 60 votes. As you can see, the majority is having to try and break many, many, many more filibusters than ever before.

  • The issue today isn’t that we see 50, or 100, or 150 filibusters. It’s that the filibuster is a constant where it used to be a rarity. Indeed, it shouldn’t even be called “the filibuster”: It has nothing to do with talking, or holding the floor. It should be called the 60-vote requirement.
  • It applies to everything now even when the minority does not specifically choose to invoke it. There are no longer, to my knowledge, categories of bills that don’t get filibustered because such things are simply not done, though there are bills that the minority chooses not to invoke their 60-vote option on.
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  • That’s why Harry Reid says things like “60 votes are required for just about everything,” though there are a small number of bills where the majority uses the budget reconciliation process to short-circuit the 60-vote requirement.
  • An interesting implication of this graph: The filibuster has become more common even as it’s become easier to break.
  • Until 1917, the filibuster couldn’t be stopped. And until 1975, you needed two-thirds of the Senate, rather than three-fifths. So as it’s become less powerful, it’s become more common. What that means is that the rise of the filibuster is largely about “norms” in the Senate. It didn’t become more effective and thus more popular. It actually became less effective, but parties chose to use it more.
  • There’s an interesting question around exactly when this change in norms happened. If you look at the graph, you have three major moments of discontinuity. One, around 1972, that appears to provoke reform of the filibuster rules so cloture is easier to achieve. Another, in the early 1990s, that seems covers the latter half of George H.W. Bush’s administration and the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency. And then the practice absolutely skyrockets when Barack Obama takes office.
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    "I want to spend another moment on this great graph Todd Lindeman worked up for my column on the constitutionality of the filibuster."
Matt Warren

The Great Mulligan - Esquire - 0 views

  • However, the opening of the library roughly coincided with the bloody events surrounding the Boston Marathon, and that has prompted yet another revival of the brutally dishonest notion that the presidency of George W. Bush began on September 12, 2001, that he arose, full-grown, from the rubble of lower Manhattan.
  • The best example came from the inexplicably employed Jennifer Rubin, who took to her space in the inexplicably still publishing Washington Post op-ed pre-school to argue the following, as our old friend, Clio, Muse Of History, started guzzling Popov and huffing airplane glue:

    Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.
  • Thus do we confront what we can call The Great Mulligan
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  • Sorry we lied you into a war, but we kept you safe. Sorry we demolished American values, and just about every shred of American moral credibility in the world, but we kept you safe. Sorry we let New Orleans drown, but we kept you safe. Sorry we allowed the national economy to blow up, but we kept you safe. In fact, if you sent C-Plus Augustus into his own museum, and had him take that interactive quiz, and provided he didn't break a thumb trying to get a Diet Coke out of the exhibit, his answer to everything would be I kept you safe.
  • The historical record is quite clear. Upon taking office, the Bush administration de-emphasized the Clinton team's almost-obsessive search for Osama bin Laden. That's why Richard Clarke got shoved aside. That's why John Ashcroft changed the FBI's focus from the pursuit of international terrorists to the pursuit of Tommy Chong. That's why presidential daily press briefings didn't get read while the president was clearing brush the month before the attacks.
  • as the members of the administration tried to prevaricate their way out of their abject failure to keep anyone safe. It was nine months of misfeasance in office, and inexcusable neglect of duty, that ended in the deaths of more than 3000 Americans.
  • And I am sorry. But you don't get a free one on these.
  • You cannot argue that you kept us safe after your obvious negligence played a role in getting 3000 of us killed.
  • The very fact that anyone, even Jennifer Rubin, would make this argument publicly illustrates that we have not entirely integrated the facts of the 9/11 attacks into their proper place in our history and our memory.
    • Matt Warren
       
      This is MOST KEY.
  • Then, they responded by lying the country into a war of aggression that failed to keep thousands of American soldiers safe, that failed to keep hundreds of thousands of Iraqis safe, failed to keep the rule of law safe, and failed to keep the national economy, and the people who depend on it, which is pretty much all of us, safe.
  • All of the worst parts of that presidency flowed from that simple fact — that we did not really confront what happened on September 11, 2001 but, rather, allowed ourselves and our memory to be seduced by simpleton narratives of collective innocence, which necessarily included the simpleton narrative that our leaders were innocent victims of diabolical agencies the true nature of which — "Nobody could have conceived of using a airliner as a missile."
  • Thanks again, Condi. — they could not be expected to understand. Everything that came afterwards, everything that makes the new library a monument to everything libraries are not supposed to be about, proceeds from our granting to these people The Great Mulligan.
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    "There has been some low hilarity, and one high crime against history and memory, attending the sudden reappearence on the scene of C-Plus Augustus, the previous president of these United States."

    I will admit that I'm a sucker for well-crafted gut punches.
Matt Warren

Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals - 0 views

  • When US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty.
  • But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. “His calculation, only zeroing in on 10% of voters, is a risky proposition,” he says.
  • When Hall and his colleagues tested the rigidity of people’s political attitudes and voting intentions during Sweden’s 2010 general election, they discovered that loyalty was malleable: nearly half of all voters were open to changing their minds. The team's work is published today in PLoS ONE1.
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  • Hall’s group polled 162 voters
  • The person conducting the experiment secretly filled in an identical survey with the reverse of the voter's answers, and used sleight-of-hand to exchange the answer sheets, placing the voter in the opposite political camp (see video above).
  • No more than 22% of the manipulated answers were detected, and 92% of the study participants accepted the manipulated summary score as their own.
  • What is interesting about the latest study is that, on the basis of the manipulated score, 10% of the subjects switched their voting intentions, from right to left wing or vice versa. Another 19% changed from firm support of their preferred coalition to undecided. A further 18% had been undecided before the survey, indicating that as many as 47% of the electorate were open to changing their minds, in sharp contrast to the 10% of voters identified as undecided in Swedish polls at the time.
  • Eugene Borgida, a social and political psychologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is not surprised that some people changed their minds in the experiment. “We know that when you ask someone to explain their views, it tends to temporarily destabilize those views,” he says.
  • But Borgida wonders how durable the results would be. “I suspect if left alone these people would drift back to their baseline affiliation.” The team, he says, “may be overstating the proportion of people who are malleable”.
  • And after the trick was explained to them, many were pleased to find themselves not so hidebound by ideology as to be unable to even contemplate another point of view. But they still were often relieved that they were not supporting the wrong party
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    "'Choice blindness' can induce voters to reverse their party loyalty."
Matt Warren

What Your Culture Really Says - 0 views

  • The monied, celebrated, nuevo-social, 1% poster children of startup life spread the mythology of their cushy jobs, 20% time, and self-empowerment as a thinly-veiled recruiting tactic in the war for talent against internet giants. The materialistic, viral nature of these campaigns have redefined how we think about culture, replacing meaningful critique with symbols of privilege. The word “culture” has become a signifier of superficial company assets rather than an ongoing practice of examination and self-reflection.
  • Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation.
  • Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly.
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  • What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means - and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… We have a collective post-traumatic stress reaction to previous workplaces that had hostile, unnecessary, unproductive and authoritarian meetings. We tend to avoid projects and initiatives that require strict coordination across the company. We might have difficulty meeting the expectations of enterprise companies and do better selling to startups organized like us. We are heavily invested in being rebels against traditional corporate culture. Because we communicate largely asynchronously and through chat, it is easy to mentally dehumanize teammates and form silos around functional groups with different communications practices or business functions.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… Our employees must be treated as spoiled, coddled children that cannot perform their own administrative functions. We have a team of primarily women supporting the eating, drinking, management and social functions of a primarily male workforce whose output is considered more valuable. We struggle to hire women in non-administrative positions and most gender diversity in our company is centralized in social and admin work. Because our office has more amenities than home life, our employees work much longer hours and we are able to extract more value from them for the same paycheck. The environment reinforces the cultural belief that work is a pleasant dream and can help us distract or bribe from deeper issues in the organization.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… We have enough venture funding to pay people to work on non-core parts of the business. We are not under that much pressure to make money. The normal work of the business is not sufficiently rewarding so we bribe employees with pet projects. We’re not entirely sure what our business objectives and vision are, so we are trying to discover it by letting employee passions take root. We have a really hard time developing work that takes more than a few people to release. We have lots of unfinished but valuable projects that get left behind due to shifts in focus, lack of concentrated effort, and inability to organize sufficient resources to bring projects to completion.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… Management decisions are siloed at the very top layers of management, kept so close to the chest they appear not to exist at all. The lack of visibility into investor demands, financial affairs, HR issues, etc. provides an abstraction layer between employees and real management, which we pretend doesn’t exist. We don’t have an explicit power structure, which makes it easier for the unspoken power dynamics in the company to play out without investigation or criticism.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… We fool ourselves into thinking we have a better work/life balance when really people take even less vacation than they would when they had a vacation policy. Social pressure and addiction to work has replaced policy as a regulator of vacation time.
  • What your culture might actually be saying is… Features are the most important function of our business. We lack processes for surfacing and addressing technical debt. We have systemic infrastructure problems but they are not relevant because we are more focused on short-term adoption than long-term reliability. We prioritize fast visible progress, even if it is trivial, over longer and more meaningful projects. Productivity is measured more by lines of code than the value of that code. Pretty things are more important than useful things.
  • Talk to your company about culture. Talk to other companies about culture. Stop mistaking symbology and VC spoils for culture. Be honest with yourself, and with each other. Otherwise, your culture will kill you softly with its song, and you won’t even notice. But hey, you have a beer keg in the office.
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    "Toxic lies about culture are afoot in Silicon Valley. They spread too fast as we take our bubble money and designer Powerpoints to drinkups, conferences and meetups all over the world, flying premium economy, ad nauseam. Well-intentioned darlings south of Market wax poetic on distributed teams, office perks, work/life balance, passion, "shipping", "iteration," "freedom". A world of startup privilege hides blithely unexamined underneath an insipid, self-reinforcing banner of meritocracy and funding. An economic and class-based revolt of programmers against traditional power structures within organizations manifests itself as an (ostensively) radical re-imagining of work life. But really, you should meet the new boss. Hint: he's the same as the old boss."
Matt Warren

Gay-Marriage Support Hits New Record High - 0 views

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    "According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll on gay marriage, 58 percent of Americans now support gay marriage. This represents an all-time high not only in this poll, but in any national poll to date. But the record won't last long, because support for gay marriage is vastly higher among young Americans: A whopping 81 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe in marriage equality. And as you can see in the graph above, even a majority of Republicans (and Republican-leaning indies) under 50 now think gay marriage should be legal. The only thing holding the numbers down now are the Olds. Not for long, though."
Matt Warren

Repulsive progressive hypocrisy - Salon.com - 2 views

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    "During the Bush years, Guantanamo was the core symbol of right-wing radicalism and what was back then referred to as the "assault on American values and the shredding of our Constitution": so much so then when Barack Obama ran for President, he featured these issues not as a secondary but as a central plank in his campaign. But now that there is a Democrat in office presiding over Guantanamo and these other polices - rather than a big, bad, scary Republican - all of that has changed, as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll today demonstrates"

    Thanks to Erik Hanson for the pointer.
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    I don't know that this was me. My take on this whole thing is that liberals mostly feel that Obama has let them down by being too centrist, but that they'll still vote for him over Rom-tor-rich anyday.
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    I coulda sworn you did...sorry. And I share your sentiment. That's the kind of trap left-centrists and leftists have. I surely don't hate Obama. I think I understand that presidents make concessions. But when you made such a big, _big_ stink about it during the race, at the very least, don't... say... _increase_ drone strikes. The crux, though, doesn't have anything to do with this stuff. It's about rhetorical inconsistency.

    Someone yesterday remarked "This is why I think Obama is not the lesser of evils." Keeping Guantanamo open and increasing drone strikes is exactly the kind of thing that self-described Conservatives *supported* during G.W.'s administration. But, we're really not that different after all. Once 'our man' gets the office, we make retroactive justifications.

    Isn't it fun to be a human animal?
Matt Warren

Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy - 0 views

  • For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics.
  • The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century.
  • For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.
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  • The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy.
  • Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life.
  • the origin of the current financial crisis was the subprime mortgage meltdown in the United States.
  • To be more precise, it originated in a financial system generating paper assets whose value depended on the price of housing.
  • From the standpoint of economics, this was essentially a financial crisis: who made or lost money and how much.
  • From the standpoint of political economy it raised a different question: the legitimacy of the financial elite.
  • Think of a national system as a series of subsystems — political, economic, military and so on.
  • Then think of the economic system as being divisible into subsystems — various corporate verticals with their own elites, with one of the verticals being the financial system.
  • A sense emerged that the financial elite was either stupid or dishonest or both.
  • Fair or not, this perception created a massive political crisis.
  • There was a crisis of confidence in the financial system and a crisis of confidence in the political system. The U.S. government’s actions in September 2008 were designed first to deal with the failures of the financial system. Many expected this would be followed by dealing with the failures of the financial elite, but this is perceived not to have happened.
  • This generated the second crisis — the crisis of the political elite.
  • The Tea Party movement emerged in part as critics of the political elite, focusing on the measures taken to stabilize the system and arguing that it had created a new financial crisis, this time in excessive sovereign debt.
  • Its argument was that the political elite used the financial crisis to dramatically increase the power of the state (health care reform was the poster child for this) while mismanaging the financial system through excessive sovereign debt.
  • The sovereign debt question also created both a financial crisis and then a political crisis in Europe.
  • What had been a minority view was strengthened by the recession.
  • The European crisis paralleled the American crisis in that financial institutions were bailed out. But the deeper crisis was that Europe did not act as a single unit to deal with all European banks
  • There are two narratives to the story.
  • One is the German version, which has become the common explanation. It holds that Greece wound up in a sovereign debt crisis because of the irresponsibility of the Greek government
  • The Greek narrative, which is less noted, was that the Germans rigged the European Union in their favor. Germany is the world’s third-largest exporter, after China and the United States (and closing rapidly on the No. 2 spot). By forming a free trade zone, the Germans created captive markets for their goods.
  • Moreover, the regulations generated by Brussels so enhanced the German position that Greece was helpless.
  • Which narrative is true is not the point.
  • The point is that Europe is facing two political crises generated by economics. One crisis is similar to the American one, which is the belief that Europe’s political elite protected the financial elite. The other is a distinctly European one, a regional crisis in which parts of Europe have come to distrust each other rather vocally. This could become an existential crisis for the European Union.
  • The American and European crises struck hard at China, which, as the world’s largest export economy, is a hostage to external demand, particularly from the United States and Europe.
  • The Chinese government had two responses.
  • The first was to keep factories going by encouraging price reductions to the point where profit margins on exports evaporated.
  • The second was to provide unprecedented amounts of credit to enterprises facing default on debts in order to keep them in business.
  • This led to a second crisis, where workers faced the contraction of already small incomes.
  • The response was to increase incomes, which in turn increased the cost of goods exported once again, making China’s wage rates less competitive, for example, than Mexico’s.
  • China had previously encouraged entrepreneurs. This was easy when Europe and the United States were booming. Now, the rational move by entrepreneurs was to go offshore or lay off workers, or both.
  • In the United States, the first impulse was to regulate the financial sector, stimulate the economy and increase control over sectors of the economy.
  • In Europe, where there were already substantial controls over the economy, the political elite started to parse how those controls would work and who would benefit more.
  • In China, where the political elite always retained implicit power over the economy, that power was increased.
  • In all three cases, the first impulse was to use political controls.
  • In the United States, the Tea Party was simply the most active and effective manifestation of that resistance.
  • In Europe, the resistance came from anti-Europeanists
  • It also came from political elites of countries like Ireland who were confronting the political elites of other countries.
  • In China, the resistance has come from those being hurt by inflation
  • Russia went through this crisis years ago and had already tilted toward the political elite’s control over the economy.
  • Brazil and India have not experienced the extremes of China, but then they haven’t had the extreme growth rates of China.
  • But when the United States, Europe and China go into a crisis of this sort, it can reasonably be said that the center of gravity of the world’s economy and most of its military power is in crisis. It is not a trivial moment.
  • Crisis does not mean collapse. The United States has substantial political legitimacy to draw on.
  • Europe has less but its constituent nations are strong.
  • China’s Communist Party is a formidable entity but it is no longer dealing with a financial crisis.
  • It is vital to understand that this is not an ideological challenge.
  • Left-wingers opposing globalization and right-wingers opposing immigration are engaged in the same process — challenging the legitimacy of the elites.
    • Matt Warren
       
      This is why so much of American life seems like that proverbial puppet show. Politicians, at their basest, have a vested interest in portraying this as a problem between us-vs-them. It reflects heat.
  • The real problem is that, while the challenge to the elites goes on, the profound differences in the challengers make an alternative political elite difficult to imagine.
  • This, then, is the third crisis that can emerge: that the elites become delegitimized and all that there is to replace them is a deeply divided and hostile force, united in hostility to the elites but without any coherent ideology of its own.
  • In the United States this would lead to paralysis. In Europe it would lead to a devolution to the nation-state. In China it would lead to regional fragmentation and conflict.
  • These are all extreme outcomes and there are many arrestors.
  • But we cannot understand what is going on without understanding two things.
  • The first is that the political economic crisis, if not global, is at least widespread, and uprisings elsewhere have their own roots but are linked in some ways to this crisis.
  • The second is that the crisis is an economic problem that has triggered a political problem, which in turn is making the economic problem worse.
  • The followers of Adam Smith may believe in an autonomous economic sphere disengaged from politics, but Adam Smith was far more subtle. That’s why he called his greatest book the Wealth of Nations. It was about wealth, but it was also about nations. It was a work of political economy that teaches us a great deal about the moment we are in.
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    Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term "economy" by itself. They always used the term "political economy." For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked.
Matt Warren

A Crisis of Political Economy - 0 views

  • A more penetrating look at the very slow recovery of the world’s largest economy points to systemic failure by the financial and political elites.
  • Can you put the last three years in perspective?
  • It’s not that it’s not soluble, in many of these countries, but you see it in a destabilization going on beneath the surface. In fact, the riots in London are kind of symptomatic of this, of the fact that some elements of society have lost such respect for the elites that they’re prepared to take extreme action.
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  • Well you know, I think there’s a kind of model you could argue that people are deprived of things so they revolt. But it’s much deeper than that.
  • when criminality starts to look legitimate to large numbers of people, that’s when you have a social crisis.
  • I think it’s a mistake to look at what happened in London simply in terms of “well there were social cuts and so that’s why there was a rising.” That rising couldn’t have occurred if the elites themselves hadn’t appeared to be so corrupted, so compromised, and even one could say, so incompetent. That was the real issue that we faced there and I think if you simply say that if you do social cuts then people will riot, that’s not empirically true.
  • It’s when you wind up in a situation where you no longer know who’s in charge nor do you care, that opportunities are created for the criminal class.
  • You really have to distinguish between the constant comings and goings of the system and the silliness of Rupert Murdoch, who in the end turns out to be a very silly man in many ways.
  • People who were supposed to be experts in finance did inexcusably stupid things and also in the process, profited handsomely. People in the political system who were supposed to hold these people accountable and prevent them from doing these things, failed to do it.
  • But when the fundamental thing that legitimizes an elite, the financial elite’s ability to manage money prudently, is violated in two ways.
  • First, that they clearly can’t do it. And secondly that they profit from it anyway.
  • And the fact that they don’t seem to regard themselves as particularly having failed. I mean, this is what creates a crisis I think.
  • I’ll put it this way: this is a crisis in virtue — in the virtue of the political leadership, in the virtue of the financial leaders. There’s expected to be a certain degree of self-restraint and moral probity. You can’t substitute regulations for that, and you can’t worry about whether or not they’re going to be enforced in the future. The heart of the matter is that the integrity, the intelligence, the morality of these elites, have now been called into question.
  • The issue is: who are these people who are running things, what gives them the right to do so, and if that right does not somehow flow from competence, what does it flow from? So we have a crisis I think, not in corruption, but of sheer incompetence and indifference to incompetence, and that is something that is not necessarily unmanageable, but it’s certainly not a question of getting better regulations.
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    "STRATFOR CEO George Friedman says the current economic problems in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are the result of systemic failure in two major communities: the financial and political elite."
Matt Warren

The Debt Ceiling Deal: The Case for Caving (Part 3) - 0 views

  • The Tea Party, in this sense, has succeeded by adopting a rational frustration strategy.
  • You can find fault with the Tea Party’s prescription for balancing the budget—most economists do—but if they hadn’t come to Washington last year, Congress would have waited for a real bond crisis, five or 10 years from now, to create its super committee.
  • We will know, at the close of the next round of negotiations, which game the Tea Party has been playing: Balance the Budget or Kill the King.
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  • I appreciate pquincy’s thoughtful comments. With regard to the reference to divorce, it’s also worth noting that – regardless of whether or not there are children involved – almost all divorce cases (along with almost all other civil cases) are resolved through a bargained solution (i.e., a settlement) rather than a trial. But in the vast majority of cases the bargained solution is not achieved until the parties arrive at a critical deadline such as the eve of trial. This is because, prior to the deadline and as suggested by Brams, “each player has an incentive to dissemble” in pursuit of a better outcome for itself. Since each player intuitively understands this, neither views the other player’s assertions about their “bottom line” to be credible, and neither can convince the other of the genuineness of its own position prior to the deadline.
  • Pquincy ‘s suggestion that this problem should eventually become less acute in a repeated game appears to be correct. But in the game of politics, it seems that (as in litigation), a player can be expected to pretend – in the pursuit of self-interest and for as long as it can – that it is less interested in arriving at a bargained solution than it is in pursuing some sort of abstract principle (such as what it would characterize as “justice” or “the public good”).
  • In contrast to some of the other people that have posted comments in response to this article, I don’t think the outcome that was ultimately arrived at in the debt ceiling negotiations can be fairly attributed to Obama’s having played the game poorly. Rather, I think the outcome was attributable to the fact that it was obvious from the outset that Obama’s objective (regardless of whether one wishes to characterize that objective as “preserving the health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens" or “holding on for a few more years to the remnants of a bloated welfare state”) would unquestionably be placed further out of reach if he were to walk away from whatever deal the other side was ultimately willing to grant as of the deadline. He could not credibly pretend otherwise.
  • Although this article muddles a few basic concepts, it serves to illustrate that game theory offers a relatively straightforward explanation for much of the conflict that exists in the world, certainly a much better explanation than is routinely put forth by partisans and commentators. Brams is spot-on. And it's a cop-out to claim that game theory assumes that people are hyper-rational, or that it does not apply when someone is seeking an unreasonable goal. Even if your adversary's goal is, at least in your view, unreasonable or irrational, game theory allows you to understand how you and your adversary can be expected to behave in the pursuit of your respective objectives.
  •  
    Part 3 of the piece.
Matt Warren

The Debt Ceiling Deal: The Case for Caving (Part 2) - 0 views

  • Game theorists distinguish between “cooperative” and “noncooperative” games.
  • A cooperative game looks to divide a pie in a way that leaves both sides with trust in the process.
  • The object of the game, as each leader described it, was about how best to divide the pain of closing the deficit, in the same way a family sits down to a pile of bills on the kitchen table.
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  • The two parties in Washington pretended to be playing a cooperative game this summer.
  • The President’s bipartisan commission on deficit reduction, set up late last year and chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, also played a cooperative game.
  • A noncooperative game lacks a higher authority to impose agreements on both sides.
  • In Washington, no politician is bound to reach a compromise to solve any long-term problem. Everyone, however, is playing a game called “election,” and the only possible goal in that game is to win the next one.
  • If you hear someone in Congress say, “Senator X is just playing politics,” a perfectly legitimate response is, “She has to. Those are the rules of the Constitution.”
  • Anyone who promises to fix or change Washington is merely attempting to impose a cooperative game on a town that, by design, can’t play one.
  • A game theorist would say that the President is trying to play a cooperative game in a town that can’t play along with him. The trouble for the White House is that the Republicans aren’t playing a game called “fix the budget deficit.” They’re necessarily playing one called “defeat Barack Obama.” A reasonable offer seldom works in a divorce; there’s no reason to expect it would in Congress.
  • Obama and the House Republicans, says Steven Brams, were playing chicken this summer, a noncooperative, non-zero-sum game in which both players can lose.
  • Brams argues that there’s no value in trying to determine whether anger is real or feigned; it has the same effect either way.
  • frustration can actually turn a noncooperative game cooperative
  •  
    Part two of the article, because there isn't a 'single page' option. Booo.
Matt Warren

The Debt Ceiling Deal: The Case for Caving - 0 views

  • Failure to reach a deal threatened to bring on the economic equivalent of a nuclear winter. The leaders of the two parties, Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), appeared to grasp this, but a vocal band of “Tea Party hobbits,” as their fellow Republican, John McCain of Arizona, dubbed them, refused to go along.
  • Trapped in a classic game of “chicken”—a term game theorists use, too—in which both players entertain the option of killing everyone, the President did what game theory suggests a rational actor would do. He recognized his potential maximum losses were greater than his opponent’s. He caved.
  • for all the collective self-loathing that attended the debt ceiling talks, it’s important to remember that, like just about everything in human behavior, it was still reducible to a game. Looked at through the prism of game theory, it’s hard to see how the outcome could have turned out any other way.
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  • Crucially, game theory assumes that no one is crazy, and it’s true in life that almost no one ever is. There’s also a pragmatic reason to treat your opponents as sane: You can’t make predictions about their behavior unless you do.
  • People act crazy, but they’re at their craziest when they want something. All you can do in response is to make your most honest estimate of what the crazies actually want, and respond as if they are methodically pursuing it.
  • There is no advantage to be gained, for example, in pointing out that Kim Jong Il is a potbellied nut job in a bad suit. Everything he’s done during his reign as North Korea’s leader suggests he’s an amoral, but sophisticated, negotiator. Unpredictability, says Brams, can be a smart strategy.
    • Matt Warren
       
      When I was a kid, I remember hearing that Saddam Hussein was 'crazy'. I suspect that it's the only conclusion if you can't see connections.
  •  
    "Game theory does not concern itself with good and evil. It seeks to predict not which strategies are just, but which are most effective. John von Neumann, a Hungarian-born polymath with a sideline in predicting the blast radius of an atomic bomb, co-authored the discipline's seminal work, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, in 1944."
Matt Warren

Drew Westen's Nonsense - 0 views

  • Westen locates Obama's inexplicable failure to properly use his storytelling power in some deep-rooted aversion to conflict. He fails to explain why every president of the postwar era has compromised, reversed, or endured the total failure of his domestic agenda.
  • Yes, even George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan infuriated their supporters by routinely watering down their agenda or supporting legislation utterly betraying them, and making rhetorical concessions to the opposition.
  • First, Roosevelt did not take office "in similar circumstances." He took office three years into the Great Depression, after the economy had bottom out, and immediately presided over rapid economic growth (unemployment plunged from a high of 24.9% in 1933 to 14.3% in 1937.)
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  • As you can see, Roosevelt generally enjoyed broad public support despite having no success at persuading Americans to share his Keynesian view.
  • Roosevelt's fortunes are a testament to the degree to which political conditions are shaped by the state of the economy.
  • Obama took office at the cusp of a massive worldwide financial crisis that was bound to inflict severe damage on himself and his party. That he faced such difficult circumstances does not absolve him of blame for any failures. It sets the bar lower, but the bar still exists. How should we judge Obama against it?
  • I would argue that both the legislative record of 2009-2010 and Obama's personal popularity level exceed the expectation level -- facing worse economic conditions than the last two Democratic presidents at a similar juncture, Obama is far more popular than Jimmy Carter and nearly as popular as Bill Clinton, and vastly more accomplished than both put together.
  • He blames Obama for the insufficiently large stimulus without even mentioning the role of Senate moderate Republicans, whose votes were needed to pass it, in weakening the stimulus.
  • A foreign reader unfamiliar with our political system would come away from Westen's op-ed believing Obama writes laws by fiat.
  • In fact, the budget agreement does not include any entitlement cuts. It consists of cuts to domestic discretionary (i.e., non-entitlement spending.)
  • Likewise, he implies that Obama supported the undermining of the coverage expansion in his health care reform by cutting Medicaid
  • This is also totally false. The budget agreement contains no cuts to Medicaid or to state budgets. The automatic cuts that would go in effect should Congress fail to agree on a second round of deficit reduction exempt Medicaid.
  • Westen is apparently unaware, to take one example, that Obama repeatedly and passionately argued for universal coverage.
  • If even a professional follower of political rhetoric like Westen never realized basic, repeated themes of Obama's speeches and remarks, how could presidential rhetoric -- sorry, "storytelling" -- be anywhere near as important as he claims? The clear reality is that Americans pay hardly any attention to what presidents say, and what little they take in, they forget almost immediately. Even Drew Westen.
  •  
    "Westen's op-ed rests upon a model of American politics in which the president in the not only the most important figure, but his most powerful weapon is rhetoric. The argument appears calculated to infuriate anybody with a passing familiarity with the basics of political science."
Matt Warren

FAA Shutdown Costs Could Exceed $1.2 Billion - 0 views

  • After last night's vote on the debt ceiling compromise, the House adjourned for the summer but left nearly 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees, who have been furloughed because of a funding impasse, in limbo.
  •  
    "The political impasses is about Republican demands to cut $16.5 million from rural air service subsidies. But The Associated Press reports that during the 10-day shutdown, the government has lost more than $250 million and it stands to lose more than $1 billion in revenue from uncollected airfare taxes."
Matt Warren

Obama's Pyrrhic Defeat - 0 views

  • Zoom out a little. Think of this latest skirmish, that ended tonight, as part of an endgame to a thirty years' fiscal war in American politics. Reagan began it, by betting that slashing taxes would spur growth; he was right and wrong. Growth really did happen in the 1980s; but he bequeathed a debt that is with us today, and that he tried only fitfully to fix on his watch. The early 1990s saw the country draw down that deficit, by continuing Reagan's tax hikes under Bush I and then Clinton, and thanks to a peace dividend. Clinton's eventual surplus was, alas, more mirage than reality, for it hadn't solved the long-term entitlement problem or the healthcare cost problem, and was inflated by the tech bubble. Bush II comes in and wreaks havoc. He doubles down on Reagan on taxes and declares that deficits don't matter, while adding one major new entitlement, two massively expensive wars and throws in a financial collapse as a goodbye present. The result of all this was a recession that helped metastasize the debt even further. This was what Obama inherited.
    • Matt Warren
       
      This is actually a pretty excellent synopsis.
  • What then? I think the Grand Bargain is the final step
  • The Grand Bargain is a big entitlement-and-defense cut package balanced by higher taxes on those who have done so well during the last thirty years.
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  • What has just happened is, to my mind, therefore the following:
  • 1. The Republicans used the debt ceiling as blackmail for a big cut in discretionary spending.
  • 2. But the terms of surrender are to Obama's advantage. He has taken the nuclear weapon of the debt ceiling off the table till after the election
  • He has also made his preferred Grand Bargain more likely to happen with the terms for the super-committee.
  • He has won his own battle: he is perceived as more likely to compromise than the GOP in a country whose independent middle wants compromise.
  • If the battle of 2012 is between low taxes or high taxes, the GOP wins. But if it's fought on whether we should balance the budget solely by spending cuts, often for the elderly and needy, while asking nothing from the wealthy, then Obama wins. 
  • the drama of this deal is far greater than the actual substance
  •  
    "So where does that leave us? It leaves us with more time without a real solution to the deepest problems. That's a huge defect in the current stop-gap deal. But it really is just a stop-gap deal. It points pretty quickly to a Grand Bargain in the super-committee, and for the first time has attached real incentives for both sides for it to work." An interesting look at this budget ceiling stuff from Andrew Sullivan. 
Matt Warren

Democrats, Republicans Celebrate Pitiful Excuse For Common Ground - 0 views

  •  
    "It took months of phone calls, negotiations, and meetings, but finally we created a pretty sad version of a framework that, we're happy to say, none of us is really proud of, and that doesn't really do much to solve our country's fiscal problems at all," said House Speaker John Boehner - At The Onion, firing on all cylinders, as usual.
Matt Warren

100 years of statism, 100 years of neoliberalism - 0 views

  • 1.  For nearly 100 years statism was on the advance in the US, and indeed in almost every country.
  • 2.  In the US the period of growth of government started at least as far back as 1887 (the ICC) and continued until 1977, after which deregulation, free trade agreements, and MTR cuts kicked in.  In other countries one saw MTR cuts, deregulation and privatization.
  • 3.  During the statism megatrend, the term ‘reform’ implicitly meant bigger government.  That’s how governments reacted to crises.  During the current (neoliberalism) megatrend, the tern ‘reform’ implicitly means less government.
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  • 4.  In the US this pattern has recently been hidden by health care, which is one aspect of the welfare state that was never completed in the statist era (although it was completed in all other developed countries.)
  • 5.  During the megatrends, there are periods of consolidation, which are falsely viewed as countertrends.  They are not countertrends.  The trend is still intact.  In the US the 1920s and 1950s were falsely viewed as countertrends.  Don’t be fooled, we are only 1/3 of the way through the neoliberalism megatrend.
  •  
    "I'd like to argue that to understand what's going on in the world, one needs to understand the megatrends.  Yes, I know that 'megatrend' is a rather disreputable term, associated with crackpots.  But I'm going to use it anyway.  Here's my basic hypothesis:" Thanks to Adam Gurri for the interesting read.
Matt Warren

Florida Tea Party hates manatees, declares them 'dangerous' - 0 views

  • Although tea partier Mattos said she brings her grandchildren to see the manatees, she doesn’t see a point in the Save the Manatee Club. “If some of these environmental movements had been around in the days of the dinosaurs, we’d be living in Jurassic Park now,” she said.

    So, one is a fat, dull-witted, ponderous herd of creatures, and the other is the manatees. Got it.

    • Matt Warren
       
      This quote is the single reason I had to share this with the bookmark group. What ASTOUNDING idiocy.
  •  
    And who can blame them? Look at this fearsome beast, floating Zeppelin-like in this lagoon, ready to slowly swim toward you and possibly nuzzle your face. "Help!" you gasp, and you crawl back into the boat, terrified. "I think he licked me!"
Matt Warren

Forget Anonymous: Evidence Suggests GOP Hacked, Stole 2004 Election - 1 views

  • "A new filing in the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case includes a copy of the Ohio Secretary of State election production system configuration that was in use in Ohio's 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush," according to Bob Fitrakis, columnist at http://www.freepress.org and co-counsel in the litigation and investigation.
  • Ohio was the battleground state that provided George Bush with the electoral votes needed to win re-election. Had Senator John Kerry won Ohio's electoral votes, he would have been elected instead.
  • SmarTech, a private company, had the ability in the 2004 election to add or subtract votes without anyone knowing they did so.
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  • The filing today shows how, detailing the computer network system's design structure, including a map of how the data moved from one unit to the next. Right smack in the middle of that structure? Inexplicably, it was SmarTech.
  • A "man in the middle" is not just an accidental happenstance of computing. It is a deliberate computer hacking setup, one where the hacker sits, literally, in the middle of the communication stream, intercepting and (when desired, as in this case) altering the data.
  • Until now, the architectural maps and contracts from the Ohio 2004 election were never made public, which may indicate that the entire system was designed for fraud.
  • SmarTech was part of three computer companies brought in to manage the elections process for Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican. The other two were Triad and GovTech Solutions. All three companies have extensive ties to the Republican party and Republican causes.
  • Connell was outed as the one who stole the 2004 election by Spoonamore, who, despite being a conservative Republican himself, came forward to blow the whistle on the stolen election scandal. Connell gave a deposition on the matter, but stonewalled. After the deposition, and fearing perjury/obstruction charges for withholding information, Connell expressed an interest in testifying further as to the extent of the scandal.
  • Connell was so scared for his security that he asked for protection from the attorney general, then Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Connell told close friends that he was expecting to get thrown under the bus by the Rove team, because Connell had evidence linking the GOP operative to the scandal and the stolen election, including knowledge of where Rove's missing emails disappeared to.
  • Before he could testify, Connell died in a plane crash.
  • "The 2004 election was stolen. There is absolutely no doubt about it. A 6.7% shift in exit polls does not happen by chance. And, you know, so finally, we have irrefutable confirmation that what we were saying was true and that every piece of the puzzle in the Ohio 2004 election was flawed," Wasserman said.
  • There were three phases of chicanery.
  • First, there was a pre-election period, during which the Secretary of State in Ohio, Ken Blackwell, was also co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, which is in itself mind-boggling, engaged in all sorts of bureaucratic and legal tricks to cut down on the number of people who could register
  • On Election Day, there was clearly a systematic undersupply of working voting machines in Democratic areas, primarily inner city and student towns, you know, college towns. And the Conyers people found that in some of the most undersupplied places, there were scores of perfectly good voting machines held back and kept in warehouses, you know, and there are many similar stories to this.
  • After Election Day, there is explicit evidence that a company called Triad, which manufactures all of the tabulators, the vote-counting tabulators that were used in Ohio in the last election, was systematically going around from county to county in Ohio and subverting the recount, which was court ordered and which never did take place.
  •  
    "Three generations from now, when our great-grandchildren are sitting barefoot in their shanties and wondering how in the hell America turned from the high-point of civilization to a third-world banana republic, they will shake their fists and mutter one name: George Effin' Bush."

    If this is true, it's incredibly depressing...
Matt Warren

The new party of Reagan - 0 views

  • After he switched to the Republican Party in 1962, Ronald Reagan famously quipped: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”
  • At Tuesday morning’s meeting of the House Democrats, caucus chairman John Larson rallied his colleagues for the day’s debt-limit debate by playing an audio recording of the 40th president.

    “Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility,” Reagan says in the clip. “This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.”

  • Tea Party Republicans say they would sooner default on the national debt than raise taxes; Reagan agreed to raise taxes 11 times.
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  • Reagan in 1988 signed a major expansion of Medicare.
  • Republicans have continued their ritual praise of Reagan during the debt-limit fight. Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.) claimed that the budget caps would allow America to be “that great city on a hill that Ronald Reagan spoke of.”
  • Most recently, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (Calif.) called Reagan a “moderate former liberal . . . who would never be elected today in my opinion.”
  • This spring, Mike Huckabee judged that “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible time being nominated in this atmosphere,” pointing out that Reagan “raises taxes as governor, he made deals with Democrats, he compromised on things in order to move the ball down the field.”
    • Matt Warren
       
      Holy shit. You mean he *governed*?
  •  
    "Tea Party Republicans call a vote to raise the debt ceiling a threat to their very existence; Reagan presided over 18 increases in the debt ceiling during his presidency."

    Reagan was a much more complex thinker than most of us realize. I do not agree with all of his policies, but that hardly makes him an outlier president (personally). More importantly, though, he defies the assumptions that partisans have of him. It makes me want to revisit a few other Reagan bookmarks lodged in Diigo (which I scratched together over the past few years).
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