29 February, 2008

27 February, 2008

The Foreigns

Today Wonkette also attempts a semi-respite from Homeland electoral politics, and posts a humorous rundown of The Foreigns and the fact that they, too, have elections.

You might think of Spain as “Europe’s Mexico,” but it turns out Albania has that job wrapped up. No, Spain is actually Europe’s America, if the ongoing election season is any indication!

The left- and right-wing candidates went on the teevee for a debate! They argued bout the doomed economy, and all those illegal immigrants flowing in from the south, and accused each other of being Soft On Terror.

Then the local religious types weighed in, nudging everyone towards the right-wing types. There was even a YouTube debate, where a dude wearing pearls and a dress talked about gay marriage! It’s all so familiar, it’s like you’re at home in Dubuque!

So what’s the difference? Well, they’re going to manage to wrap the whole f***ing thing up in eight weeks. Eight weeks! Do you know how many Spanish elections you could fit into ours? 14! And they only had two debates, where we’re going to have, what, 40, 100? DO NUMBERS EVEN GO THAT HIGH.

Maybe this is why this is why foreign elections are so under-reported in the American media: they're too SHORT for the American attention-span!

26 February, 2008

Andrew Sullivan forces me, kicking and screaming, back to campaign blogging

And I'm wondering, why did I ever try to resist? Speaking of Obama's transformational appeal, Sullivan says

I've been watching more TV than usual. I'm struck at how many of my fellow pundits still haven't grasped what is going on out there. They keep using their old devices and tropes to describe something actually new. Last night, I watched Hannity say the word "black" pejoratively about half a dozen times in expressing his fear and loathing of the Obama phenomenon. It was like listening to Lou Dobbs talk about Hispanics. You could see he thinks this is going to work. When Kristol is reduced to actually saying "the politics of fear" rather than simply exploiting it, you realize that the Obama campaign has not just discombobulated Clinton. It has discombobulated the pundit class elsewhere. You even hear long-time defenders of the Bush Republicans talk darkly about big government - as if they didn't love it for the past seven years, as if they give a shit about the size of government outside election campaigns.

They didn't see it coming. They still have no clue what they're grappling with. By the time they do, it may well be over.

The whole expectations game, the whole conventional wisdom game, all the stale narratives of conservative versus liberal have clearly gotten a thorough ringing out by the Obama movement -- and it is nothing if not sheerly, gleefully entertaining to watch. But even though I support Obama -- indeed, find his campaign invigorating -- I cannot shake my skepticism that he is really something actually new. He may be successful in shifting the paradigm back towards progressive values, he may be able to build a lasting coalition, and he may encourage greater participation in the process. But is he really going to transform the very way politics works, the way Washington works? It seems more likely that he's just going to go about that politics in a way that is less disgusting and less cowardly. Let's call it "Obama Realism" -- and don't get me wrong, its plenty good enough for me. Or does that make me part of the fossilized vestige of cynics and doubters to be swept away by the new order?

Update: This is exactly why Obama is my candidate. When McCain goes straight to the tried and tested method of mocking Democrats on foreign policy, Obama doesn't pull any punches: "I've been paying attention, John McCain," he said. "John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he's done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that's cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars...I intend to bring [it] to an end so that we can actually start going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan like we should have been doing in the first place.That's the news, John McCain," Obama said.

24 February, 2008

Boston's new parks and Lifestyle Centers

This New York Times story is optimistic about the new parks that have recently replaced the formerly-above-ground stretch of I-93 that ran through Boston. The freeway is now in a tunnel instead of elevated (see the pre-picture). This is what it used to look like:

This is more or less what it looks like today:

The question is: Has anything improved? It's certainly nicer aesthetically. Space that was once covered by highway and exhaust is now covered by grass and (soon) trees. But much more needs to change before these extensive tracts will be used by people. Boston already has a lot of green space in Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Esplanade. These established parks benefit from a variety of mixed uses: swimming, ice skating, lunching and so forth. The former two connect the neighborhoods of Downtown and Back Bay and so there is foot traffic through the parks from one to the other.

This new "Greenway" has none of these advantages. It is abutted by high-rises with no floor-level attractions or shops. The actual green space is not terribly attractive. Why would anyone go there, especially when there are much more active options a few blocks away? The developers want the Greenway to rise to the stature of city areas like Las Ramblas in Barcelona. But what makes Las Ramblas great is that there are lots of things to do: tapas, clubs, hostels, restaurants, shops, etc. It's also a walking street with no cars in sight.

I guess the architects of the Big Dig didn't think through what would become of the space above the tunnels before they began. Apparently, buildings can't be built over them. So I'm not optimistic that much will become of this area. Right now, it's basically a glorified median. It's pretty disappointing that something more organic couldn't be allowed to happen in this area. Downtown Boston is already filled with artificially created dead space like the West End and Government Center.

On the same topic, here's an article by Chris Leinberger in the Atlantic arguing that there is pent-up demand for walkable urbanism and vast oversupply of suburban living options. I'd like to see more walkable urbanism, but must we call these new planned downtowns "lifestyle centers"? Yikes. The problem with planned downtowns is that, as the article points out, planners need a lot of businesses to sign on right away. These things can't be built up slowly. People want lots of things to do and businesses need lots of customers. And usually the only businesses willing to take such a risk are chains. So instead of malls with McDonald's, Cosi and the Gap you get downtowns with Panera, Cosi and the Gap. The latter is better, but I'd like to think there is some demand for uniqueness. Perhaps not.

23 February, 2008


I agree with Spencer that a) blogging has been dragging and b) I'm going to try to get away from so much election-only type blogging at least for a while. I too think it is clear that barring some catastrophe, Obama will be the Democratic candidate, and I think Clinton's restrained debate performance demonstrated (mercifully) that she is not prepared to wage a scorched earth campaign to win the nomination. My sentiment, and I think it may be widely shared, is: look, the Republicans have a nominee, and have already begun their general campaign. The only way that Clinton can win the nomination at this point is to take this to the convention, which would be horrible for Democrats, especially as Clinton has in effect teamed up with McCain to attack Obama from the experience argument. Let's recognize that our continued division has become a severe liability, and get behind our candidate as soon as possible. And while I'm a sometime resident of the Obamanation, I'm pretty sure I would be saying the same thing if their positions were reversed.

So, in that spirit, now for something completely different. Have any of you wondered what Elliot actually does during all that time locked away in the library working towards his obscure-sounding degree? Well, more or less apropos of my ongoing debate with Brad Delong (as soon as he responds, of course...) on the topic of Latin American political economy, I decided to post one of last semester's papers. It is too long to paste in, so I have linked to it here. Thats the best way to link to a .pdf file that I could find; feel free to let me know if there is a more direct way.

Anyway, the paper is just a critical review of what people are saying regarding the intersection of politics and neoliberalism, generally and with regards to Latin America. For those not acquainted with the subject, neoliberalism is most basically a constellation of philosophies that seek to radically alter state-market relations in favor of the market. It was applied in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s mostly by US-educated economists in the wake of the statist or socialist-inspired economies of the post-WWII era, and has been deeply controversial both for its debated economic performance and for its effects on the political organization of society. Its corollary in the developed world is the neoliberal "trickle-down" revolution of Reagan in the US and Thatcher in England. ("Liberalism" in this sense means the classical liberalism of the 19th century which sought completely unbridled markets, and which was largely deflated by the arrival of Keynesianism.)

Anyway, in the paper I consider critiques of neoliberalism from neomarxist to the neoliberals themselves (maybe...neoneoliberals?) and consider the cases of Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. It will probably be too general for the economists and too specific for the general public, but oh well.

22 February, 2008

Blogging has been pathetic lately...

However, I salute the Amigos de Obama. Now that Obama pretty much has this race wrapped up, in my view, I'm going to try to get back to non-political blogging. I'm sure there will be plenty of politics come this summer.

Check out this video of Sudhir Venkatesh talking about his experiences as a sociologist studying Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes, some of the most violent projects in our nation's unfortunate public housing experiment. You may remember him from Freakonomics as the hapless grad student assigned to ask project residents "How do you feel about being black and poor?" His work seems more like anthropology to me--but that is beside the point. He argues that the social experience of living in the projects was a much richer experience than you might expect.

In this vein, he says that the projects were "a magical place, for those that lived there." Really? Magical? I understand that the residents may have formed complex communities and social relations. I understand that for them, the projects were "home." But everything else he reports--protection and basic services provided by gangs because not even ambulances would go there, unresponsive and corrupt housing officials who paid residents very low wages to do their jobs, rampant squatting controlled by aforementioned gangs, general squalor--does not really say "magical". I'm happy to agree that the desperately poor residents of these buildings formed strong communal bonds--the poor usually do because they do not have the risk-spreading devices of the rich--but that doesn't mean that their situation wasn't seriously dysfunctional. Or that we shouldn't argue for alternative policies.

It would also be a shame if our buddy Fidel's political passing was not noted on this blog. He certainly has his boosters in the blogosphere, but I'm much closer to Brad Delong's opinion expressed here and here:

Bloix: Let's do a thought experiment: Imagine that the year is 1960 and that you are a soul about to be inspirited into a foetus about to be born. God gives you a choice: you may become the son or daughter of a poor rural woman in either Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, or the Dominican Republic. What would you choose?

Reply #1: That is the wrong comparison: Cuba in 1960 is like Costa Rica, northern Mexico, Puerto Rico, or Portugal. The fact that you today think of Cuba as to be plaed in the same basket as Guatemala, Haiti, or the Dominican Republic is Castro's doing, and is worth thinking about. The normal course of development should have given Cuba today the wealth, freedom, and health that Costa Rica, northern Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Portugal possess. It has only the health--and perhaps not even that. The only excuse for breaking eggs is if you manage to make a tasty omelette.

More from Amigos de Obama

A new video (thanks to Rodrik):

Quick translation:

I sing this song with all my soul
To the candidate Barack Obama
Who is of humble birth, lacking all pretension

He got his start on the Chicago streets
Working to make his vision a reality
Of protecting hard-working people
And uniting us all together
In this great nation

Viva Obama! Viva Obama!
Families that are healthy and safe
And even have a health care plan!
Viva Obama! Viva Obama!
A candidate fighting for our country

It doesn't matter if you're from San Antonio
No matter if you're from Corpus Christi
From Dallas or the Valley
From Houston or El Paso

It only matters that we vote Obama
Because his fight is our fight too
And today we have such urgent need for change
Lets all get together behind him, our great friend

Viva Obama! Viva Obama!
Families that are healthy and safe
And even have a health care plan!
Viva Obama! Viva Obama!
A candidate fighting for our country...

15 February, 2008

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Harold and Kumar have had their fill at White Castle...

“It’s the same old politics, of phony charges and false attacks.”

From NYTimes today, Black Leader, a Clinton Ally, Tilts to Obama

The article was only improved by having both ads running on every commercial break. On Wisconsin!

11 February, 2008

Keep her in it to win it

Is Rush Limbaugh's new slogan:

So, as you know, if you were here from yesterday, I have listened carefully to what the Republican Party's strategy is for defeating Mrs. Clinton, and it is this. They are going to rely on the hatred and the loathing for Mrs. Clinton, the fear of Mrs. Clinton, to rally Republicans and conservatives to vote against her. Rather than offer genuine leadership from our own party, they're going to rely on your hatred, your disgust, your loathing, and your fear for Mrs. Clinton to rally you to the Republican side and Senator McCain just to keep her out of the White House. So I thought, being loyal to the party here to show that there are no hard feelings over anything, I was going to help that prospect along. I was going to do a fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton. I even came up with a slogan: "Keep Her In It So We Can Win It."

The Audacity of Gloom

Hilariousity, from Daily Kos. Apparently done by a group of L.A. comics. Hopefully as we move to the general campaign, more of the "wow, he's crazy" side of McCain will continue to make primetime in order to counter the "reasonable straight-talker" delusion most people live under.

UPDATE: Yglesias comments: "My understanding is that it's supposed to be unfair to charge McCain with having proposed that we fight a 100 (or, at times, 10,000) Years War in Iraq because he stipulated that Americans would stop getting killed (via magic!) during this indefinite occupation. Maybe so, but viewed in that light the comment merely reflects McCain's utter lack of strategic and diplomatic understanding."

If not for 3000 dead, why capital punishment?

NYTimes discussed in an article today about what to do with 6 Guantanamo detainees charged with central roles in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Surely if anything, this warrants the death penalty.

The six include:

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former Qaeda operations chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people; who is said to have presented the idea of an airliner attack on the United States to Osama bin Laden in 1999 and then coordinated its planning.
The official identified the others to be charged as Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man officials have labeled the 20th hijacker; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, said to have been the main intermediary between the hijackers and leaders of Al Qaeda; Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Mr. Mohammed, who has been identified as Mr. Mohammed’s lieutenant for the 2001 operation; Mr. al-Baluchi’s assistant, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi; and Walid bin Attash, a detainee known as Khallad, who investigators say selected and trained some of the hijackers.

The last military execution was in 1961, when an Army private, John A. Bennett, was hanged after being convicted of rape and attempted murder.

There have been many differing views on whether this would just give a status of martyrdom to those that view it as a reward or if it would help refocus the public's attention on such a brutal act that has been largely forgotten.
if the death of 3,000 people isn’t sufficient for a death penalty in this country, then why do we even have the death penalty?

In my own opinion, I find no situation warranting our government's [and essentially our own] decision in taking life; it does not play out as a form of justice in my understanding.
I guess my opinion isn't necessary since the military commission system has only completed one case since the beginning in November 2001.
Some countries have been critical of the United States’ use of the death penalty in civilian cases, and a request for execution in the military commission system would import much of that criticism to the already heated debates about the legitimacy of Guantánamo and the Bush administration’s legal approach there, some lawyers said.
Where is our country headed?

10 February, 2008

Quickstepping towards authoritarianism

This week, it was openly admitted that the Bush Administration on various occasions used water-boarding on accused Al-Qaida operatives. Beyond the arguable merits of whether or not the practice works and whether or not it should be legal, what is clear is that it is not and has never been legal. With the Supreme Court having ruled in 2006 that all prisoners are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, the real significance of this news lies in what it reveals about this administration's utter disdain for the rule of law and the checks and balances at the heart of our constitution -- a disdain which only becomes more and more stunning.

Dahlia Lithwick, Slate's legal analyst, has a wonderfully scathing critique of how "in the course of a few short years, water-boarding has morphed from torture that unquestionably violates both federal and international law to an indispensable tool in the fight against terror."

Charting that progression is almost not worth doing anymore, so familiar are the various feints and steps. First, the administration breaks the law in secret. Then it denies breaking the law. Then it admits to the conduct but asserts that settled law is not in fact settled anymore because some lawyer was willing to unsettle it. Then the administration insists that the basis for unsettling the law is secret but that there are now two equally valid sides to the question. And then the administration gets Congress to rewrite the old law by insisting it prevents the president from thwarting terror attacks and warning that terrorists will strike tomorrow unless Congress ratifies the new law. Then it immunizes the law breakers from prosecution.

Deny, admit, codify, then immunize. The law as quickstep.

But the scary part of this episode is not that the administration is playing fast and loose with the law -- that has been part of the presidential landscape from the Alien and Sedition Acts, to Nixon's extra-curricular activities, to Reagan's Contras. The scariness is, rather, that this administration believes that the executive branch actually makes the law, and that, further, the law it makes is exempt from review by either of the other two branches.

The claim on which they were all perfectly clear is that the legality of future torture will be determined by the president and the attorney general as the occasion arises...

This vision of executive power is that the law not only emanates from the president but also ebbs and flows with his hunches, hopes, and speculations, on a moment-to-moment basis. What we are hearing now from senior Bush administration officials is that if the president thinks someone looks kinda like a terrorist and the information sought from him seems kinda worth getting, it will be legal to torture him. And it's legal no matter who justified it, regardless of the supporting legal doctrine, because, well, the president just had a feeling that the information would prove valuable.

That's not an imperial presidency. That's the kind of presidency Yahweh might establish.

In the past, I've felt that seriously using the word authoritarian to refer to the past seven years smacked of counter-productive partisan exaggeration. But with the Director of the CIA, the National Intelligence Director, and, most importantly, the Attorney General all giving the President the go-ahead to treat the other two branches as optional participants in the governing process, its hard to exaggerate the danger to our democracy any longer.

This has all been on my mind since I watched "Cheney's Law", the Frontline documentary on the behind the scenes campaign to establish a Unitary Executive. For "further reading", I recommend it:

09 February, 2008

The media HAS to stop this!

They keep showing exit poll numbers and saying

Looks like blacks voted for Obama and whites voted for Hillary. But, for some reason, most voters didn't think that race was an issue in how they voted. How could they possibly think that, when they so clearly voted along racial lines?

Classic confusion of correlation with causation.

They also have to stop naming the Tuesdays. First we had Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday, then Chesapeake Tuesday, now March 4th is "Junior Tuesday". Though, it turns out that this last term has been used since at least 1996.

Need to get some links out of my system

  • Jeff Frankel, economist and Swarthmore alumnus extraordinaire, has a blog. His first post, about how Glenn Beck ambushed him is entertaining, and his second post is about how you can go from a $25,000 job to a $35,000 job and lose money because our welfare state is irrationally constructed.

  • Bryan Caplan asks an interesting question.

  • See the "letter from America" by Angus Deaton in this British economics newsletter. Deaton asks, when you are weighing the costs of climate change, how much you discount future costs? British economists think that future costs should count just as much as current costs. American economists think that you should the discount factor that people actually use in their personal calculations. It turns out that if you use that latter in your calculation, global warming is not the biggest problem facing us.

07 February, 2008

Obama's Multiple Equilibria

Something I noticed while browsing the exit polls on Tuesday is that in more liberal states, like Massachusetts and California, Obama tends to win voters who never attend church but he loses those who attend regularly. On the other hand, in more conservative states, like Alabama, he tends to lose voters who never attend church and does very well among those who attend church regularly.

He has a weird dual attraction--the most (socially) liberal of the liberal love him, but so do the most (socially) conservative of the conservative. That's a pretty hard combination to pull off--could it be driven simply by the fact that African-Americans like him for other reasons and there are lots of African-Americans in conservative states that attend church regularly?

An Andrew Sullivan reader notes a similar pattern for race:

In states where the black population is less than 5%, Obama has a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and 1 undecided (NM). In states where the black population is 20% or higher, he is undefeated at 4-0. However, in states that are between 5-20% black, his record is a fairly dismal 4-10 (with one of those victories being Illinois).

The theory here is that Obama does well where the black population is so low that identity politics isn’t an issue. And, he does well where the black share of Democratic primary voters is so high that he needs few white voters to carry the day.

This pattern--winning the extremes, losing the middle--reminds me a whole lot of models in economics in which increasing returns to scale leads to multiple equilibria.

06 February, 2008

Who won Super Tuesday?

After Clinton took California last night, it seemed the major debate on the Democratic side would be between what was more important: winning the most states (as Obama did) or winning the most delegates (as Clinton supposedly would).

But now, as the campaigns and the media are sorting through the actual allotment of delegates (remember that Democratic primaries are proportional, not winner-take-all) it appears that Obama may have actually won the most delegates last night! Clinton is not yet conceding the point by any means. However, if Obama did win more delegates, its hard to see how the Clinton campaign can claim any sort of victory despite crushing him in New York, Massachusetts and California. The Politico has the story.

And on the Republican side, while Huckabee had a good night, it seems that McCain is slowly but surely pulling ahead, now with twice as many delegates as anyone else. Romney badly needed either an exceptionally good showing himself or a poor showing on Huckabee's part -- neither of which happened. Poor Mittens.

05 February, 2008

Romney Gets Weird

When your campaign suffers, things like this happen:

“What did they say in ‘Star Wars?’ ” he asked. “What’s that line? ‘There’s nothing happening here. These droids aren’t the droids you’re looking for.’ ”

Eric Fehrnstrom, his traveling press secretary, said it had actually been rendered: “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

“These are not the droids you’re looking for,” Mr. Romney said. “Sorry.”

04 February, 2008

¿Cómo se dice? ¿Cómo se llama? Obama! Obama!

Amigos de Obama, with reggaeton and all. Tu voto tiene swing!

¡SUPER Obama Girl!

Get pumped for Super Tuesday!

03 February, 2008

Good Stuff

Not sure who did this...but there it is.

Obanomics or Obamanomics?

A good summary of Obama's economic policies. I particularly like this bit:

“We have to disaggregate tax policy between the wealthy and the working class or middle class,” he said. “We have to be able to say that we are going to at once raise taxes on some people and lower taxes on others.”

He added: “This has been one of the greatest rhetorical sleights of hand of the Republican Party, and it has been a great weakness of the Democratic Party.”

Also, Obama's father was an economist!

02 February, 2008

Endorsements, endorsements

With Spencer pointing out that Obama has narrowed the gap in California, Big Barry has garnered some more big endorsements. The rundown:

  • Obama pulls in the endorsement of the LA Times (along with McCain), while Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, is continues to be vocal as Hillary's campaign co-chair
  • Toni Morrison (who famously called Bill Clinton our first black president) gets on the Barry bandwagon in a literary letter
  • The Service Employees International Union, the largest union in California with 650,ooo members endorses Obama
  • The New York-based Transport Workers Union, with 140,000 members, has become the first Edwards union to endorse another candidate: Obama!
  • A tense household, that: Alma Rangel, wife of Clinton-supporting Senator Charlie Rangel, endorses the Barackster
  • Obama inspires The Hulk to go out on a limb
  • MoveOn, which was originally created to defend Bill Clinton, votes overwhelmingly to back Obama
Anyone else? Anyone? There are three big endorsements still out there, by my count: Edwards, Richardson, and Gore. Gore has shown no sign that he is interested in endorsing. Richardson's keeping mum, as is Edwards. Are both hoping for a VP spot? If so, they may simply be playing it safe. On the other hand, their endorsements could put Obama or Clinton over the top.

01 February, 2008

As long as Spencer is linking to 02138

I will too. More on The Root -- some skepticism regarding its true purpose.

My Life

The plight of the research assistants.

It's Coming

I don't want to raise expectations, but check out these polls. The Gallup national daily tracking poll has Obama within 3 points of Clinton NATIONALLY, and this gap is closing every day.

Clinton is ahead in most of the RealClearPolitics averages, but if you look at the latest poll for each state, there's a slightly different story. This story has Obama ahead in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois. Clinton is still ahead in Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee. (No polls in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah.)

Wow. Just wow.

Ann Coulter endorses Hillary Clinton: