The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

David Sirota on the Democratic Schism

David Sirota rightly points out that it is no longer clear (I think it hasn't been clear for a very long time) why The New Republic is considered a Democatic-oriented rag. Their stance for smaller government, for aggressive globalization, and for a strongly assertive foreign policy is clearly out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party, but it points out another problem with the Democratic Party. This comes out in Sirota's discussion of TNR's review of Matt Taibbi's book Spanking the Donkey. Sirotablog: Lies, Damn Lies, & the New Republic's War on the Left

The magazine tries to substantiate its claim that Taibbi is out of the mainstream by criticizing his anti-war positions, and making fun of him for saying Democrats could win by "renouncing the WTO and NAFTA, creating a universal-health-care system, and slashing the defense budget." The neoconservative magazine – which still laughably claims to represent the left – also is angry that Taibbi "lambastes the Dems for supporting the Patriot Act [and] the No Child Left Behind Act."

Sirota's post is really very good and I urge you to check it out. What it underscores is that one remnant of the Clinton years is the emergence of a populist Democratic wing and (for wont of a better term) an elitist Democratic wing. The elitists are in favor of a strong American role in world affairs that rests on a principled defense of American political values and enlightened self-interest. They favor globalization and free trade. They believe the era of big government is over, which complicates the rhetoric on fixing the health care problem in this country. Most importantly, they are represented now among the educated, the experts of the Party who will go on to fill leadership roles in any administration. Within the Party they populate the DLC, the New Democratic Network, but also are exemplified in the person of folks like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Rubin. In particular, they are also represented among that much loathed section of the "liberal media" in the form of publications like The New York Times, the Washington Post, The LA Times, TNR, and to a lesser extent Newsweek and Time and the networks. This is crucial, for it ends up shaping how the elitist views are presented and how the populist argument gets portrayed. You only have to recall Howard Dean's treatment by the media after he reached front runner status to understand why taking anything other than the elitist position on issues is so dangerous to a Democrat.

The problem though is that the populist wing of the Party is where the passion lies and it's not completely clear which is more in the mainstream. At the moment, as Sirota points out, the populists have the upper hand and seem more in tune with the country. The populist view is represented in the unions, in the environmental movement, in the social progressives lobbying for health care reform and more money for education. It is also represented in the Nader-like reaction on the far left which opposes institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. The populist views are also the more natural views of traditional Democratic voters who are likley to be suspicious of foreign entanglements, protective of their jobs and dubious of free trade's personal benefits, and in desperate need for some assistance in the labor market, in public education, in environmental protection, and in health care costs and coverage.

The problem for Democrats is not that they could win if only they parroted one line or the other consistently. The problem is that neither argument is likely to be a formula for success if trumpeted alone, but adopting both is a weak political strategy because it undermines one's position and commitment to either. Mention for a moment that free trade is often unfair, and The Times jumps all over you for being protectionist and pandering to special interests. Mention for a moment that America has legitimate interests overseas that may require military intervention and the Nader side calls you a corporate shill. Mention that school unions may interfere with education reform and the unions attack you for engaging in union-busting rhetoric. The list goes on. Health care reform is big government liberalism. Energy independence is pie-in-the-sky environmentalism. Reform and efficiency efforts are anti-labor.

No Democrat can break in one direction or another. And no Democrat since Bill Clinton has found a way to navigate a middle ground. And one should recall that Democrats lost control of Congress under Clinton's watch. I think a Democrat could get tremendous mileage among the people with a Taibbi like line of attack. It would be specific and substantive. But it would draw fire not just from conservative, but from the elites within the Party who shun the old school progressive line. And therein lies the rub.

A Law Unto Itself

My understanding is that courts have typically deferred to doctor patient privilege witha few exceptions in the case of psycho-therapists who may have knowledge of a crime or potential crime. But this news out of Texas is a doozy. "Legal experts say the arrest warrant issued by a Texas military judge last week for a civilian Colorado Springs therapist who refused to turn over treatment records of a former Air Force cadet is an unprecedented move by a military court. "


Randolph Air Force Base Judge David Brash issued a warrant Thursday commanding federal marshals "to apprehend Jennifer Bier wherever she may be found in the United States" and confiscate records of her sessions with former cadet Jessica Brakey for use in court-martial proceedings.

The warrant accompanied a sealed court order rejecting Bier's argument that she has an ethical and legal obligation to protect the privacy rights of Brakey, who has accused 2nd Lt. Joseph Harding, also a former cadet, of raping her.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Introducing Gary Becker and Richard Posner - Post Modernists

A while back I wrote a post entitled "When Professors Steal", mentioning the cases of famous Harvard plagiarists Laurence Tribe, Charles Ogletree, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now comes Richard Posner, conservative/libertarian jurist extraordinaire to opine -- "well plagiarism is kind of a fuzzy concept." Hmmmm. They never taught that to me in college. Or grad school.

The Becker-Posner Blog: Plagiarism--Posner Post: "When unauthorized copying is not disapproved, it isn't called plagiarism. Which means that the word, rather than denoting a definite, well-recognized category of conduct, is a label attached to instances of unauthorized copying of which the society, or some influential group within it, disapproves."

Then it gets really interesting. Catch this interesting line of jurisprudence:

In general, disapproval of such copying, and therefore of “plagiarism,” is reserved for cases of fraud. The clearest example is a student’s buying an essay that he then submits for course credit. By doing this he commits a fraud that harms competing students and prospective employers. Another clear example is the professor, or other professional writer, who steals ideas or expression from another professor or writer, and by doing so obtains royalties or tenure or some other benefit that he would not have gotten were the truth known—again, a case of fraud. It is less serious than the student fraud, however, because it is more likely to be caught.

Ahah! So if I murder someone in broad daylight in Times Square, that's less serious than say, lifting a pack of gum surreptitiously at the grocers since I am more likely to get caught. Hmmmmmm.

It gets even more interesting:

Moreover, whereas a student plagiarism has absolutely no social value, plagiarism in a published work may have such value. If what is plagiarized is a good idea, the plagiarism creates value by disseminating it further than the original author may have done. Moreover, the plagiarist may add his own input to the plagiarized idea and as a result produce a superior work.

Posner's is nothing if not an interesting mind, perhaps (no scratch that) one of the most interesting minds of our times. His line of reasoning in many instances is superb and even in this case, he makes some compelling arguments why student and professorial plagiarism might be treated differently -- arguments of the sort you would expect from a law & economics pioneer. We can judge whether copying the work of a professional writer or popular historian is more or less grievous than copying the work of an academic by looking at the harm done to the person whose work is copied -- harm measured in economic terms.

In the end, Posnoer comes down against the managed book -- the book of a famous person that is written by many unacknowledge co-authors, research assistants, writers, students, etc... In the instances of Goodwin, Ambrose, Tribe and Ogletree these texts were most certainly managed books. Ambrose was far too prodigious an author, even by Posner's standards, to have done all that work by himself. And Ogletree has admitted that this is how he got in trouble, by incorporating the plagiarism of a research assistant. But the point is not that these authors wrote managed books and didn't admit it to the world. The point is that these authors wrote managed books that had large sections in them that were plagiarized from another's work. So I guess that makes their work doubly disingenuous.

But the bottom line in all of this comes down to recalling the social context. Recall that the student learns from the professor. But you cannot expect the student to learn about plagiarism if, at the same time, he or she is told that there are different rules for professors, for professional writers, and for students, and students are the ones who have to abide by the strictest code. Plagiarism is unlikely to be taught well if students are told, "this only counts here. There are other rules out in the real world." There is after all something about leading by example, about teaching by one's actions which is important here. There is also something about having a universal standard or an equal standard for all people. Crime may get judged by incorporating mitigating circumstances, but it ought not be judged (even if it is) by different standards for different classes of defendants.

Schools such as Harvard rightly do not make (much) distinction between intentional and unintentional cheating/plagiarism for students. Because it is the principle that is at stake -- the idea that careful scholarship requires checking your facts, checking your ideas, not just to see if you are copying someone, but to make sure you give fair credit to those who have come before you and developed important ideas in your field and that you are in honest communion with your reader, whoever that reader is. If we cannot expect academics to abide by this principle, how can we expect students, who will go out into the broader world to take what we teach them about honesty with them?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Put a Cork in It

NDN Blog - Important Speech by Senator Reid:

"Yesterday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid gave an important speech contrasting the Democratic and Republican agendas. He said:

Time and again, the American people have seen George Bush and the Republican leadership choose between their partisan interests and the people's interest. And every time, they have chosen an ideological agenda over an American agenda...

We Democrats have something better to offer. A reform agenda that will cleanse Washington give power to the people -- not special interests and make sure that everyday Americans and their concerns get back on the Congressional calendar.

Strengthening our national defense. Rebuilding our economy. Providing families with affordable health care. Making America energy independent. Securing our retirement. That's our agenda. That's America's agenda. But the Republican Congress has put all this and more on hold. I hope that now we can finally turn to the people's business.

Six months have passed since this Republican Congress began and here's their record:

They spent precious days trying to overturn constitutional principles.

They tried to overturn the decisions of courts and duly elected legislatures in order to insert themselves into one family's tragedy in Florida.

They all-but disbanded the House Ethics Committee in order to protect the Republican leader from scrutiny -- but then were forced to reverse themselves under public pressure.

But perhaps the greatest abuse of power is to have the ability to help but choose to do nothing.

While gas prices have shot past $2 a gallon, this Republican Congress did nothing to lower prices and give families some relief.

At a time that parents are having to tell their children that the family can't afford to send them to college, this Republican Congress rejected a proposal to make college more affordable.

And even though we have gone eight years without an increase in the minimum wage -- the second longest period ever -- this Republican Congress rejected an increase that would give the hardest working Americans the chance to provide for their families.

Whether it is rejecting Democratic initiatives to provide medical care to veterans or to return to fiscal responsibility, this Republican Congress's record is clear: when it comes to answering the call of the far right, it's "I'll do it ASAP." When it comes to doing the people's business, it's "take a message."

yada yada yada.... yawn.

Look for the policy in there. Do you see it? You have to look closely. There it is, right at the end - "let's raise the minimum wage." Great. I'm all for it. But let's face it folks, that's been our mantra for 60 years. Don't we have anything new in the tank? Do we really have to lead with, "let's raise the minimum wage!" Of course we do. Because it's the only tried and true poll tested policy the Dems have.

I suppose it says more about politics than it does about anything else that this is what constitutes an important speech in Washington these days. A lot of bashing of Republicans for doing this and that. A nice sound bite hoping some journalist will put it in an article and the staff can feel good about themselves for having written something that ended up in the paper. And just about zero substance. And we wonder why people don't trust the Democratic Party to lead them, don't believe they have an agenda to implement from day one if they were to assume power. (Well gee, what do you expect, everything else is so, you know, controversial) It's really quite sad. Yes the Democrats are the Party of the Opposition so criticism is important. And yes, Republicans control every branch of the Federal Government so we can't do anything anyway. But it seems to me that an important speech ought to say something important. Like perhaps, here is what we have in mind....

I think one of the 'Eureka' moments for me recently was watching TV last fall and coming across an ad by Republican Tom Tancredo, one of the most Neanderthal troglodytes you are ever gonna see on the Hill. He sometimes makes James Trafficant look downright 20th Century. Tancredo's ad says something like, "Tom Tancredo is working for lower taxes, better schools, more jobs, health care for our seniors, immigration and keeping our promises to our veterans."

As the Church Lady says, "gee, isn't that lovely." Tom Tancredo is for the same thing you are. In fact, all politicians are for the same thing you are. Everyone agrees. So why are things in Washington so screwed up? Why do our schools stink and why does the health care system remain both a national disgrace and a threat to our economic security? Politicians have learned that you don't actually have to do anything, you just have to say you are for something. Nevermind that the details are what policy and politics are all about and what really matter.

Kos talks about this: Frank Luntz is credited with having taught the Republicans that they were losing the environmental issue because they cast it as clean everything versus business. Now they say they are for the environment but they just want to do it responsibly and the issue is neutralized because to say anything more is to have to talk specifics, to bore journalists and voters, and to open yourself to attack from whatever side for either not doing enough or for wanting to impose costs on people.

Reid does mention a few things towards the end of his speech: "We'll end the tax breaks that encourage companies to take jobs overseas. Restore fiscal responsibility. Spur innovation. Open the doors to college. And make work pay more than welfare.

I count two specific policy initiatives that tell me what Dems would do and each of them impose potential costs, but make no mention of who is gonna pay. There's a good reason why people are cynical about politics and an even better reason why people don't have much faith in Democrats and it's staring us right in the face there in Reid's important speech.

The Lexus, The Olive Tree, and The Cat O'Nine Tails


Friedman opines that perhaps, after all, the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Gitmo, and Abu Ghraib might be actually, er, making things worse for us in the war on terror? Daily Kos' Hunter pretty much has the final say on this so I will let him take it from here:

Daily Kos :: Columnist Stumbles On Guantanamo; Several Blindingly Obvious Conclusions Found Dead: "I see Kos has already linked to this Friedman column, so I'll keep this short and sweet. Well, not really.

One of the things that pushes every button I have is to have the hawks itching for this war, celebrating this war, practically dancing in the streets at this war suddenly discover -- like it's a freakin' revelation from The Lord God On High -- that this-or-that incredibly offensive or illegal aspect of it that they previously bear-hugged in the name of freedom is, oopsie, causing a whole hell of a lot of damage to the United States by leaving us in worse danger, in a larger global war, and generally with far more enemies than ever before. Ya think?

Yes indeed, maybe running a prison camp explicitly exempted from all inconvenient aspects of both U.S. and international law, then kidnapping 'suspects' from around the globe to be either shipped there or dumped into prisons under the flags of the worst torturers and despots in the world, then subjecting them to conditions in which they die by the dozens, then maybe dumping a few of the ones who turn out to be innocent off at the borders of their own country with nothing more than the clothes they're wearing and whatever permanent or nonpermanent physical damage was done to them during their stay at Camp President Bush Is A Big Man -- just maybe that might have negative consequences for the United States among the people we are trying to convince of our Godly compassion and world-inspiring democracy.

Congratu-freakin-lations. You now know what anyone with an I.Q. above week-old pizza was raising their voice about from the moment the camp opened. You now know why some of us have been marking the connections between military figures who shuffled between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan in apparent order to make damn sure we were beating, maiming, and killing as many prisoners as possible in all three locations. You now know why the notion of making Alberto Gonzales (the man responsible for tweaking the rules to allow the Bush administration to laughably pretend that any of this was anything resembling something other than a war crime) freakin' Attorney General was treated by much of the reality-based community as something between a sick joke and the world's most asinine reality show.

And now -- just now -- we still have pillars of international expertise figuring out that maybe, maybe this fine-tuned, no-trial, no-Geneva, torture-who-you-want policy wasn't so bright an idea after all.

Friedman notes that over 100 detainees have died at Guantanamo, which is "deeply immoral". Tell me, at what point did it become deeply immoral? When the first fifty died, was it moral then? What about eighty, how was that? I'm apparently living in a world stuffed to bursting with experts on international diplomacy, so give me the damn number. The camp currently holds five hundred people; what percentage of them can die in custody in a period of only a few years before the odometer turns over from freedom fries -burp-! to deeply immoral?"

He goes on from there and I recommend the whole thing: Click here to find it.

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

NBC clashes with Tom DeLay on Law & Order: "LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representative Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused NBC on Thursday of slurring his name by including an unflattering reference to him on the NBC police drama 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent.' "

DeLay's name surfaced on Wednesday night on the show's season finale, which centered on the fictional slayings of two judges by suspected right-wing extremists.

In the episode, police are frustrated by a lack of clues, leading one officer to quip, "Maybe we should put out an APB (all-points-bulletin) for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

In a letter to NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, DeLay wrote: "This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse."

The Texas Republican went on to suggest the "slur" against him was intended as a jab at comments he had made about "the need for Congress to closely monitor the federal judiciary."

I believe the exact words were: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Gee that sure sounds like bureaocratic oversight rather than veiled threat of violence to me...

Froth You Shouldn't Drink

Brad DeLong, Mark Thoma and others have already commented on these comments by Greenspan.

Greenspan doesn't see a national housing bubble - May. 20, 2005: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday the booming U.S. housing sector shows signs of some 'froth' but that the central bank does not see a national housing bubble. "

Greenspan knows that if he says bubble then, pfffssssssssssssssssssssst, the air goes out. So he says froth. But just as lots of little housing market bubbles do not a bubble make, so too lots of little stock bubbles did not a bubble make in the stock market. And we know how that turned out.

The markets unfailing confidence in this guy, who is nothing but a confidence man, ins unbelieveable. He mismanaged the stock market bubble. He drove the economy into recession in 2001 with his fiscal policies in 2000. He convinced Clinton and Reagan to raise taxes to balance the budget and to build up a Social Security surplus and then advocated for the Bush tax cuts that eliminated the budget surplus and made more problematic the government's obligations to the Social Security surplus. Then, he pulled the old bait and switch and said what is needed are benefit cuts.

I think that SanityPrompt contributor SEPTIMIUS says it best:

1) Out of fear Greenspan said today that prices nationally are unsustainable and there are several local bubbles
2) CNBC has a special on using your 401k to purchase houses
3) 25%!!!!!!!!!! of all houses bought in 2004 were for investment purposes. (This is an enormous amount of phantom DEMAND)
4) Tuesday night the McNeill Lehrer show had a special on newly rich twenty something house flippers.
5) A few weeks ago motivational speaker Anthony Robbins and Donald Trump are selling out auditoriums discussing how to make riches flipping houses…..
6) several hedge funds just covered their shorts on the housing stocks




Thursday, May 26, 2005

Failing to See the Forest for the Trees

The conservative American Enterprise Institute released two studies through Harvard University which have drawn publicity for failing to find a left wing bias in principal education programs at schools of education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Daily news: 05/26/2005: "Frederick M. Hess, director of education-policy studies at the institute, and Andrew P. Kelly, a researcher there, conducted the studies on which the reports are based. The reports' chief finding is that such programs do a poor job of preparing principals to manage their teachers and to hold them accountable.

But given the polarized political climate on many college campuses, the finding on ideological bias, or lack thereof, was one of the reports' more interesting conclusions. It's particularly interesting because the institute is a bastion of conservative thinking on public-policy issues. "

I think this about sums up what's wrong with the obsession with whether or not universities and colleges are infected with a Left Wing bias. The question should be, are universities and colleges doing a good job educating students and producing the outputs society expect? The study says no, not in this case, but the attention of journalists is on the political bias question.

By the way, do you know what constitute's a Left Wing bias in the study?

In their other report, "Textbook Leadership," Mr. Hess and Mr. Kelly found that left-leaning bias in the textbooks assigned was largely absent. The word "diversity" appeared just 4.3 times per 100 pages of text, and "multicultural" appeared less than once per 100 pages.

So mentioning the word diversity in a country as diverse as our, mentioning multicultural when many school districts are exactly that constitutes a liberal bias? And to think the Right accuses the Left of acting like thought police and word monitors.

Some People Are So Freakin' Stupid

Chicago Tribune Op Ed Columnist Steve Chapman: "On Tuesday, President Bush went before cameras holding in his arms a month-old baby named Trey Jones. The picture raised a question that supporters of embryonic stem-cell research would rather not answer: Would the world be better off if Trey had been killed as an embryo to advance medical research?

That is what would happen to thousands of embryos under the bill passed this week by the House of Representatives, at least if the supporters' hopes are realized. And it would happen with the approval and help of the federal government. The measure would scrap the policy adopted by Bush in August 2001, when he agreed to government financing of such research only if it relied on stem-cell lines that had already been created."

No moron, the question is whether the world would have been better off had fertilized eggs like Trey been flushed down the toilet as embryos or if they had been used to enhance medical research.

Chapman goes on:

Never mind that frozen embryos not needed by their parents don't have to be destroyed. They can be implanted in the wombs of willing mothers, as Trey Jones was.

Yes, but the Bush ban on embryonic research does not also ban the destruction of embryos. It does not mandate that all embryos be implanted in the wombs of willing mothers. This bill will not change the number of embryos destroyed each year one iota. What it will change is whether that destruction is used for good or for nothing.

Chapman himself actually gets the facts straight when he writes: The House bill would allow federally funded research on embryos created in fertilization clinics that would otherwise be discarded and that are donated by the parents. But never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.

As someone who has gone through IVF, as someone with a relative who has Parkinsons, with relatives who had Alzheimers, as a decent human being who wants the best for those who are alive, the willingness of opponents on this issue to twist the truth, to oppose something that makes good from the situation, to fail to admit that they haven't done anything at all about embryo destruction is worse than offensive, it is immoral.

Rubin urges Democrats not to reveal their hand

Why don't we just run this guy for President?

From The Hill: "Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the steward of President Clinton's economic policy, told the House Democratic Caucus yesterday that it needs to continue to hold firm in its opposition to President Bush's effort to reform Social Security and advised the Democrats not to introduce their own plan, according to aides and lawmakers in the meeting."

Rubin went on to add:

In a sweeping review of the fiscal health of the country, the strength of the dollar and international trade, Rubin said that Social Security ranks third behind deficit reduction and Medicare reform as the most important economic policy issue facing the country. He also warned his fellow Democrats that they would need to work in a bipartisan manner with Republicans to address Medicare’s deep problems.

Now, will they listen? Damn the man gets it.


There it is. Life. So the destruction of 3 million of those is the moral equivalent of murder? Posted by Hello

Arlen Specter Confirms He Is Schizophrenic

Or maybe that is multiple personality disorder. This from the AP: - Stem cell debate moves to the Senate

"Meanwhile, the Republican chief sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who is being treated for cancer, made a personal appeal for quick action on behalf of the nation's critically ill, 'some of them, myself. "


He went on to say:

"I look in the mirror very day, barely recognize myself," said Specter, whose hair has been lost to chemotherapy treatment. "And not to have the availability of the best of medical care is simply atrocious."

It's not simply that, but the Bush position isn't even about life or his so called culture of life. Because the embryonic stem cells that are at issue are coming from fertility clinics that will otherwise dispose of them. Given the millions of parents/couples who go through fertility treatment each year, I am skeptical (to say the least) of Bush's claim that the legislation gives incentives to people to create embryo's only for the sake of the research.

IVF treatments involve stimulating a woman's ovaries so that they produce tens of egg-filled sacks over their surface and then puncturing each sack with a needle to extract the egg before they are released. The gathered eggs are then fertilized creating anywhere between 4-20 embryos for a fertility cycle. The couple decides how many embryos to place in the uterus and wait to see if any take. Twins and triplets are highly likely from this procedure so doctors usually counsel placing no more than 4-5 eggs in at a time. So what happens with the other 15 eggs? The couple can freeze the eggs and if the IVF cycle fails, try to implant another 5. But frozen eggs are less effective than fresh ones so doctors often counsel the family to start an IVF cycle with hormone treatments afresh. When the couple gets pregnant and/or decides they no longer want to pursue IVF, the eggs are discarded or used for clinical studies (but of course, not anymore) Fertility clinics give couples whose beliefs make them uncomfortable with this the option to inject the embryos into the uterus after pregnancy is confirmed where they are flushed from the system, the uterine lining being unable to accept any additional embryos once one is already implanted. So down the toilet, through the clinics medical waste or in the uterus, the end result is the same -- 'wanton destruction of human life.'

If Bush were to step forward and say he wants a law that would ban fertility treatments, or require that all eggs be used for the legitimate efforts to create children (i.e. none of the above activity) then I might give him some credit for consistency even if I would oppose him with every breath I have. But to take the position he has, given the 'wanton' destruction of millions of embryos each year, his position can only be described as the rankest hypocrisy. Gee, there's a surprise.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Keep Your Stinkin' Hands Off My Social Security

Social Security is next for Gang of Fourteen - The Hill:

"Some of the senators who banded together to forestall the �nuclear option� are eyeing a new goal: reforming Social Security.

After the group of 14 senators struck the high-profile deal on judicial nominees Monday evening, some political observers immediately speculated that the centrists could become a driving force in the 109th Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wasted little time in touting the group�s clout. In an interview with Chris Matthews on �Hardball� on Monday night, Graham said, �Watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security.�"

Some folks just don't get it. The opponent is on the ropes and here they are trying to help walk him to the corner.

This is the problem when you reside in the beltway bubble and drink the cool-aid. You accept that the major crisis facing the country is Social Security and agree to throw out all principle (even when its scoring big political points) to forestall a program related $100 billion dollar deficit that is 40 years away when you have a $400 billion deficit that is far more dangerous and destabilizing and staring you in the face. Centrists Dems are convinced they need to play the game or voters will punish them for being obstructionist. Oh yeah, remember how voters punished Republicans in 1994 for opposing the Clinton health plan with nothing? Give me some of that kind of punishment!

Daily Kos has an interesting take on the issue and posts this from Liberal Oasis:

"In one fell swoop, Democrats should declare the following:

"The Social Security debate has ended, as the public has rejected partial privatization and is not demanding any hasty changes to the system.

"In turn, Democrats will no longer participate in congressional hearings on Social Security, and will not debate Social Security with Republicans in the media, at least until Republicans drop privatization.

"Instead, Democrats will begin addressing the real crisis of Medicare and skyrocketing health care costs, by putting on the table a few comprehensive reform plans, leading their own hearings to foster public debate and discussion about them, and culminating with a single plan for the party to run on in the 2006 congressional elections.

"Why would this strategy work? Because it flows from what Democrats have already been saying."

For those demanding a Democratic "plan" for a "crisis", give them a plan to help solve a real crisis.

LIe Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas

I am shocked, just shocked to hear of gambling in this establishment.

State Police, Senate Democrats forge alliance - The Boston Globe :

"The State Police Association of Massachusetts, the only union to endorse Mitt Romney in the 2002 governor's race, has parted ways with the governor after 18 months of stalled contract talks with his administration and has forged an alliance with Senate Democrats, in a bid to force the matter into binding arbitration.

The 2,000-member union, which also backed George W. Bush and his father instead of Massachusetts Democrats in the presidential contests of 2004 and 1988, is accusing Romney of trying to ''bust' the union by attempting to revoke decades-old rights to seniority, grievance procedures, and holiday and shift choices.

''We're very shocked,' State Police union president John Coflesky said yesterday."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Errant Pilot Transcends Space Time Continuum

Senate Briefly Recesses After Plane Scare - Yahoo! News:

At the same time that another plane wandered into the Washington no fly zone, the FAA announced it was suspending the pilot's license of Jim Sheaffer -- the pilot who last week ventured too close to the Capitol, triggering a massed stampede of pennyloafers and sensible shoes. The FAA wrote:

"He didn't take the most basic steps required of pilots before flying a plane, the FAA said. He failed to check the weather report before leaving Smoketown, Pa., and he didn't check the FAA's 'Notices to Airmen,' which informs pilots of airspace restrictions and how to respond to a military aircraft.

When he got lost, he didn't call air traffic control or a flight service station to establish his location, which was 40 to 45 miles south of where he actually was, the FAA said."


The best of their generation...

DC Media Girl pointed this out to me. Watch it. Then remember the words:

"These laid the world away: poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene
That men call age, and those who would have been
Their sons, they gave their immortality.
- Rupert Brooke, The Dead "

Source: Youth Quotes & Quotations compiled by GIGA:

For me the video evokes laughter and sadness. Here they are, the best of us, the best of their generation. Funny, brave, generous and more. And there they are and we still don't know why.

'Nuff Said

From Kos @ Daily Kos

Daily Kos :: Political Analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation.

Armando has rightly taken NARAL to task for their endorsement of Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee. NARAL was one of the groups that fully opposed anti-abortion Democrat Jim Langevin's short bid for the Senate seat.

Nevermind that Langevin would've crushed Chafee and gotten us one seat closer to a Democratic-led Senate. And a Democratic-led Senate wouldn't ever let any abortion legislation see the light of day. But NARAL, myopic fools that they are, think Chafee is a better bet, despite his vote for Trent Lott, Bill Frist, and their allegiance to the James Dobson, American Taliban agenda.

NARAL, and many people here, whined and cried about Langevin, the way they whined and cried about Harry Reid, because of those Democrats' personal opposition to abortion. Didn't we know, they demanded, that choice was a core principle of the Democratic Party?

To which I have a simple answer: The hell it is.

One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spottend owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc., et-frickin'-cetera. We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

So while Republicans focus on building an ideological foundation for their cause, we focus on checking off those boxes on the list. Check enough boxes, and you're a Democrat in good standing.

Problem is, abortion and choice aren't core principles of the Democratic Party. Rather, things like a Right to Privacy are. And from a Right to Privacy certain things flow -- abortion rights, access to contraceptives, opposition to the Patriot Act, and freedom to worship the gods of our own choosing, or none at all.

Another example of a core Democratic principle -- equality under the law. And from that principle stem civil rights, gender equity, and gay rights. It's not that those individual issues aren't important, of course they are. It's just that they are just that -- individual issues. A party has to stand for something bigger than the sum of its parts.

We have confused groups that are natural allies of the Democratic Party for the party itself. And the party has ceded way too much power, way too much control, to those single issue groups.

NARAL's endorsement of Chafee may be supremely idiotic and counterproductive to their own cause, but it illustrates my point beautifully. NARAL's interests may coincide with the Democratic Party's more often than not, but they are not one and the same.

So if nothing else, this should add urgency to party efforts to find that elusive core philosophy that will help brand our party independent of those single-issue causes. A brand isn't built on the basis of a checklist. And we, as a party, need to stop thinking that way.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Our Marvelous Media

Grades are in and my wife and I are watching the TV news last night. It's before 10 so we watch the local Fox affiliate. I haven't seen as much bias in their coverage as the cable news version but the bias is reflected in what they don't say.

A 1 hour news broadcast. When it comes time for news around the world (a 2 minute segment about 35 minutes into the program, after the weather) we hear about a hot air balloon crash, a fire outside LA that burned - get this - 4 acres of grassland. And a burst watermain that flooded an intersection -- in another state. No mention of Iraq. No mention that the latest assessment from military planners is more dire than we have previously been told. No mention that more Americans died today. In fact, no mention of any news outside of the USA. No mention of cloning in Korea. No mention of the vote on the European constitution. If it bleeds it ledes.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How Anti Plagiarists Plagiarize

Google Search: "you plagiarize, you are cheating yourself"

Woe the grading blues. The general rule regarding plagiarism is called the 6 word rule -- don't borrow more than 6 words without attribution and proper quotation. So how do you explain...?

...that when you enter the search phrase "if you plagiarize, you are cheating yourself" (7 words) you get 20 entries from different academic (*.edu) web sites.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Walter Cronkite Calls for the Mid Term Convention!

The Huffington Post | The Blog "05.09.2005 Walter Cronkite :

Democrats: What Do They Stand For?

Arianna Huffington has exercised her renowned wisdom to give journalism another boost along the ever busier Internet. Her blog site promises to be an interesting challenge for those of us lucky enough to be invited to participate with our occasional contributions. Hopefully the product will be at least as interesting.

I'll launch my first contribution right here: Arianna, I offer this first editorial opinion that you settle for 'interesting' and recognize that it is not a synonym for 'entertaining.'

I've got some other exceedingly interesting pieces up my sleeve, like a proposal that the Democratic Party organize a convention this year to debate and resolve a platform that would provide the confused electorate some idea of what the party stands for a regretfully missing ingredient in the politics of the moment.

Pat Buchanan Still Doesn't Believe in Extermination Camps?

Sorry, I can't resist.

Here's the latest piece of journalistic genius from Pat Buchanan. WorldNetDaily: Was World War II worth it?:

"When one considers the losses suffered by Britain and France - hundreds of thousands dead, destitution, bankruptcy, the end of the empires - was World War II worth it, considering that Poland and all the other nations east of the Elbe were lost anyway?

If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a 'smashing' success. But why destroy Hitler? If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler in.
(Sorry Pat, but about 33% of Germans voted for Hitler and then the Conservative Christian Democrats agreed to form a coalition with him rather than the Socialists and Communists. Hitler then seized power through force via a putsch -- that's German for a coup of sorts but essentially involved him consolidating power forcefully rather than democratically.)

If it was to keep Hitler out of Western Europe, why declare war on him (oh, so the British and the French started WW II. I was confused about that) and draw him into Western Europe? If it was to keep Hitler out of Central and Eastern Europe, then, inevitably, Stalin would inherit Central and Eastern Europe.

Was that worth fighting a world war with 50 million dead?

The war Britain and France declared
My emphasis) to defend Polish freedom ended up making Poland and all of Eastern and Central Europe safe for Stalinism. And at the festivities in Moscow, Americans and Russians were front and center, smiling not British and French. Understandably. Yes, Bush has opened up quite a can of worms."

Gee, what about those 6 million Jews and 6 million other victims of Nazi extermination? What about the fact that when Britain and France initially declared war on Germany they would hardly have thought that the deal would entail ceding the East to Russia since the Soviets were closer to Hitler at this point than to the West.

There's no use parsing dictators here but Pat implies that WWII was a waste since it resulted in Slavic European countries coming under the domination of Stalin rather than Hitler (or subsequent to Hitler). 6 million Jews (interesting that Pat writes on the day before Israel's birthday) and their descendants might argue otherwise. Atrios has the best response:

Now, if somebody wrote that the United States' actions before 9/11/01 may have been a catalyst for those dastardly acts, they are supposed to be shamed and humiliated to the end of their days.

But such will not be the fate of Pat. Hell, he's probably on Scarborough tonight and McLaughlin Group this weekend.

UPDATE: I am embarrassed to say I missed this the first time: "When one considers the losses suffered by Britain and France - hundreds of thousands dead, destitution, bankruptcy, the end of the empires - was World War II worth it"

Hmmmm. The loss of empires. There's something we should all be ruing these days. The lost empires of Britain and France when good wise white people ruled over silly brown and yellow folks. I guess this is part of the deeper and more subtle conservative thread that nations such as those in Africa were better off under white rule than they are today. I think David Horowitz (or D Ho as Michael Berube calls him) runs this line of argument 'Reparations? Heck you should thank us for getting you out of Africa.'

Piteous. Just piteous.

Grading Holiday

Well, one week until grades are due. So, with several other outstanding deadlines hanging over my head, The Sanity Prompt is suspending operations for one week. I'll be back On May 19th with all the pent up inspiration I will suppress for the next week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Suppose It's Asking too Much of the Press

To hope that sports journalists might bring a tad more discernment to their coverage of baseball than they do to everything elese.The AP (& Ronald Blum) via Yahoo News treats us to this gem: MLB Sees Fewer HRs Amid Steroid Crackdown:

Perhaps he could take a lesson in statistical analysis from
Florida Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell. 'I can't say it's steroids or the pitching. It might be a combination. If it was down 30 percent, I would say, `Whoa, we've got to look at something.' Nine percent is a minimal variation.'"

How minimal? It's the kind of question I ask my students. What is the probablity of observing 1.97 home runs a game or less if the number of home runs a game is purely random? Given an average of about 2.14 pergame, about 25%. Mike Lowell is right on the nose.

Monday, May 09, 2005

How the Rich Get Richer

The Chronicle of Higher Education: 4/22/2005: Faculty Salaries Rose 2.8%, but Failed to Keep Pace With Inflation for the First Time in 8 Years:

Two important developments in Academe worth noting: 1st, faculty salaries did not keep pace with inflation last year. 2nd, and more importantly, administrative pay outpaced faculty wage growth.

Why should administrative pay outpace faculty pay? Are universities and colleges being manifestly better managed today than in the past? Are so many university managers likely to leave for the private sector? I can't imagine the private sector queue to hire outgoing academic heads Sheila Kaplan and Betsy Hoffman stretches for very long.

"The AAUP report notes that salaries for university presidents are a regular topic of debate, but the association argues that faculty salaries are rarely considered in such discussions. Pairing data from its own faculty salary surveys with information from reports by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the AAUP created a ratio of presidential to professorial salaries.

"The report notes that between 1973-74 and 1981-82, presidential salaries increased more than the average professor's salary for most types of institutions. But the change was slight, and the ratio remained relatively constant. For instance, in 1973-74, at private doctoral institutions, the ratio of average presidential salary to average professor salary was 1.54 to 1. By 1981-82, that ratio had increased to 1.73 to 1.

"But by 1993-94, the ratio at doctoral institutions was 2.17 to 1. Over the next 10 years, it jumped to 2.68 to 1. The AAUP report contends that the change 'is one further indication that a more corporate organizational hierarchy is emerging in colleges and universities, in potential conflict with the mission of institutions of higher education to operate for the benefit of society.'"

I think this is less an example of the corporatization of higher education than symptomatic of a broader social moment. For whatever reason, organizational managers are more and more comfortable demanding extraordinary salaries and perks without feeling the necessity of demonstrating that this meets either a market test or some demonstration of objective performance. And for whatever reason, our society shows fewer and fewer qualms about granting this.

I call this a social moment because I believe this is more a phenomenon of sociology than economics. If it has to do with economics, it is that shady realm of information asymmetries and principal agent problems in which those who know what they are worth control the process by which decisions about their pay are made.

A recent report in the Rocky Mountain News captures this nicely:

"Perks poured into the corporate suite have risen along with total pay. Critics say a desire to keep pace with competitors forces compensation higher, even if performance hasn't improved.

"It's "the Lake Wobegon effect, where everyone is above average," said Alan Beller, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission's corporation finance division, according to a transcript of a speech he made in October.

"'Too many boards have apparently operated on the principle that compensation must be in the top half or even the top quartile of some benchmark group for the company to be competitive in attracting executive talent," he said. "Boards of directors ought to be able to do better than this.'"

If boards feel that the best benchmark for CEO compensation is whether or not it is in the upper half, then the most obvious result will be a spiral in executive compensation and perks and a divorce from any corresponding organizational realities such as performance. Outgoing Colorodao President Elizabeth Hoffman earned almost a half million dollars for her marvelous demonstration of how not to manage a public relations crisis. A lot of this has to do with the lousy state of US corporate governance. But as the spread of this phenomenon to higher education shows, it has as much to do with the expectations of a managerial class about the profits to which they are entitled, and a society which feels powerless or is powerless to intervene and demand some degree of accountability. The composition of boardrooms, boards of trustees, and executive ranks across the society ensures that there wil be few voices to express objection and the pervasiveness of the phenomenon provides that there will be little or no market test that would punish or reward companies that behave otherwise.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Great Moments in Kansas History

Kansas Begins Hearings on Diluting Teaching of Evolution - New York Times:

"'Can you tell us, sir, how old you believe the Earth is?' the lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, asked William S. Harris, a chemist, who helped write the proposed changes to the state standards.

'I don't know,' Dr. Harris replied. 'I think it's probably really old.'"

....For Kansas, the debate is déjà vu: the last time the state standards were under review, in 1999, conservatives on the school board ignored their expert panel and deleted virtually any reference to evolution. But they were ousted in the next election and their changes were undone.

...Now, though the eight proponents of intelligent design were outnumbered on the 26-member committee writing the new standards, the state board's 6-to-4 conservative majority set up this week's showcase hearings to highlight their own suggestions for the way to teach science.

(aside) I love it when elected citizens decide to tell teachers how to teach subjects they know nothing about.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Bomb, PBS, and Left Wing Bias

Funnily enough, on the same day that the New York Times publishes a story about conservative concern over Left Wing bias on PBS, The American Experience airs Victory in the Pacific on PBS, a documentary that essentially defends the American use of the atomic bomb on Japan. It has become popular in Left Wing circles to argue that the use of this bomb was immoral, unnecessary, used only as a tool for the coming Cold War, and used only because Japanese were brown people despised by the mostly white US. So the argument goes, the Americans would never have used the bomb on Germany. (This argument ignores what English and American bombers did to the city of Dresden)

There is a scene towards the end of the English patient when the nurse's Indian sapper lover hears about the use of the bomb on Japan and he runs around moaning and tearing his hair out. The author's intimation is that the Indian knows that the Americans have only used the bomb because they felt they were dropping it on little brown people. My hunch is that if the bomb were ready, the Americans would have easily as dropped it on Germany.

The show makes a pretty convincing case that the use of the bomb was justified under the circumstances of that war. The producers and historians show how Japan had increased the number of divisions in the south (the invasion route from 3 in June to 13 in August). The Americans had only planned on using 9 divisions to invade the island of Kyushu. The leader of the Imperial Army was arguing that Japan (and the Emperor) should be defended until the very last person. Witnesses recount how as children they were being trained to participate in the fighting by blowing up tanks. Japan was still looking for a mediated settlement through the Soviet Union when American terms of unconditional surrender were clear. Even after the Russians had invaded Manchuria and opened a second front in the war, even after two atomic bombs had been detonated over Japan, there was still a fierce arguement in the war cabinet over surrender. When the Emperor intervened to side with the peace faction led by Togo, a Coup by the army erupted and only failed when it became evident that the leadership of the army was bowing to the Emperors will. Overall the case is pretty strong and seems historically rigorous. Rather convincing evidence to me that PBS's problem isn't its Left Wing bias but its historical rigor and attention to detail.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Please Get Your Story Straight

One more time:

George Bush is either lying when he says that the Social Security Trust Fund is an accounting fiction which means he is being patently dishonest.


If the Social Security Trust Fund is merely a drawerful of worthless IOUs, George Bush is complicit in theft of a particularly deceitful larcenous kind. For he is overtaxing workers and spending their money (and has been for four years) with the promise that the over-taxing is necessary to build up the long term surplus to pay retirees benefits between 2018 and 2041 (or 2054 if you believe the CBO). But he is admiting that he doesn't believe there is any reason for the government to honor this IOU. Meanwhile, the true deficit has swelled to over $700 billion annually under his watch because he can't stop giving money away to rich people through tax cuts and giving program money away to people through the passage of new spending legislation without any payment mechanisms - see the prescription drug benefit. If he were an accountant in the private sector he would be in jail awaiting Bernie Ebbers, David Skilling and Ken Lay.

Culture of Chastity

Ezra Klein rightly points out that Bush's phrase the culture of life is merely window dressing for the Right's crusade against sex. This story recounts the Right's opposition to a vaccine against HPV infection, or genital warts. The infection itself is less a concern than its proclivity to induce cervical cancer in women. Given that perhaps 50% of today's young people have genital warts already, denying the vaccine is essentially to deny women the chance to protect themselves against HPV regardless of the kind of sexual lifestyle they lead. Even an abstinent born again young woman can marry a man who has had one previous sexual partner and contract this disease -- and there is no way to prevent infection other than to not have sex. Condoms do not protect against this. As Klein points out, the Right's opposition is that the vaccine will be seen as a social 'alrighty-then.'

That's what should be taken away from these comments. Bush likes to conceal his stance on abortion through the inegnious "culture of life" formulation. But these people don't really want a culture of life. Their overriding objective is not protecting women from AIDS and HPV and cervical cancer and potentially deadly childbirth (as in partial-birth abortions) and other potential killers, it's stopping them for having premarital sex. And if a few -- hell, if a lot! -- have to die to make that future manifest, then so be it. So next time you hear someone spout off about the "culture of life", don't be fooled -- this is a culture of puritanism and subjugation, nothing more, nothing less. A culture of life, you can tell them, doesn't kill.