Sunday, November 30, 2008

Malaysian Government Spending Its Time Wisely

The Malaysian National Fatwa Council has told Malaysians that yoga is the work of the devil, but now the Malaysian Prime Minister is saying it's dandy as long as there are no mantras.

Are there really heads of state wasting their time on ridiculous debates like this? Apparently yes, since their citizens insist on paying attention to under-medicated and morally bankrupt organizations, like for example the Malaysian National Fatwa Council which unfortunately seems to be running around loose. And while I'm insulting imams in power, please view that famous Mohammed cartoon one more time, just for good measure, here). The Council's last edict was to ban lesbianism (yes, really). Way to go guys! I'm sure with you protecting your people from lesbianism, per capita income will catch up with the rest of the world next year. Soon Malaysia will be the envy of everyone everywhere! Indeed, the mystery is why this isn't the case already.

It's no surprise that Malaysia is still playing economic catch-up t secular Singapore. Singapore has been a regional power for years at this point, and Malaysia has an inferiority complex, for obvious reasons. In point of fact, Singapore (per capita income $49,754) and Malaysia (per capita income $13,385) were both part of the same country until they split in 1965. Tempting to see what Singapore did differently, isn't it? A clearer political experiment could not be asked for (although in the case of the Koreas and the Germanys, we got one anyway).

But those imams on the Fatwa Council never rest in their relentless protection of Malaysians (apparently, from economic success, among other things), and their next act may be to protect Malaysians from the teaching of evolution in schools. After all, in Islam Online, in an article called "Call for Muslim Scientists - Join the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism", we are told "'[An] 'ism' of great danger to Islam... is Darwinism,' said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the leading Muslim thinkers of our time, in his book Islam and the Plight of Modern Man. He is certainly right." Does any of the hot air coming out of these yahoos sound familiar? Yes, it does - as does the feeling that it would be hilarious if there weren't millions of people who swallowed every word of it. The article is incredible; you really should read it. Here's a more in-depth discussion over at John Hawks' blog.

If you're still in doubt as to whether America made a smart decision in becoming a secular meritocracy blind to religion, you need look no earlier than to the founding of Georgia colony. Samuel Nunez, a Portuguese Jewish physician, arrived in Georgia and promptly saved the bulk of the population from dying of malaria. One of his descendants purchased Monticello when it was in shameful condition, restored it, and sold it to the National Park Service (photo of a monument on the property by yours truly). Needless to say, back in the 1730s this didn't stop some people from fretting that by allowing him in, Georgia had become a Jewish colony and would be ruined forever. I've been to Georgia. Several times. Great beaches, great hiking. Great people too, not least because they didn't go extinct from malaria.

Hey Malaysia! If you have no use for your independent-minded and college-educated, by all means send them to the U.S. We'll take all your smart and hard-working masses yearning to breathe free. And you can keep that powerhouse economy of yours safe from yoga and evolution. Somehow we'll get by.

Workers Riot at Chinese Toy Factory

A persistent concern of the Chinese Communist Party, addressed by many writers, is their ability to maintain order and perpetuate their rule, called most strongly into questionin 1989 by Tianenmen Square. A strong and growing China is not one ruled by a corrupt communist party. Ironically, nobody knows this better than the workers.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Zakaria's Post-American World

I finished this book (which I highly recommend) just days before the Mumbai attacks, and it seems like there's little better time to listen to what its market-centric Mumbai-raised ethnic Muslim author might have to say about things.

I'm also glad to see that our president-elect read it (I'm not sure if the people who circulated this email were trying to outrage Americans by out-and-out lying about the contents of the book, or just trying to reach a certain demographic disturbed by the idea that the next president might read voluntarily). If PAW's popularity at the San Francisco Public Library is any indication, everyone else likes it too (they have 16 copies and I had to wait for 2 months to get one after I put it on reserve). I was pleased to discover that my own priorities match those of a recognized international relations expert like Zakaria, namely: 1) China, 2) Climate change and resource issues and 3) religious fundamentalism and violence (a distant third). His conclusions:

1. The economic expansion of the world at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century is good for everyone because it eliminates poverty and decreases violence, and results from the increasing liberalization of economies around the world, especially including developing economies. (Note: he wrote the book before the depth of the 2008 Credit Crisis became apparent, but I think he would argue that this will still be seen in the future as a bump in the road.)

2. The US government as the head of the Western world order has largely been the guardian of liberal democracy and the economic liberalization process, despite its occasional mis-steps and hypocrisies. In the multipolar world that is emerging in the wake of global economic growth, the U.S. cannot expect to maintain this role, especially not if it continues failing to set priorities.

3. In prior eras, threats to world stability like German nationalism or Russian and Chinese communism were real threats only because they had real allies and their ideologies were seen as viable alternatives to liberal democracy and capitalism.

4. By extension, Zakaria sees the acts of Al Qaeda in the same light as does Francis Fukuyama, in Fukuyama's words "a desperate rearguard action" which will be a footnote to history. (I will assume he would have spent more time developing this argument if his book had come out in late 2008.) By further extension Zakaria states that that the U.S. has been distracted by Islamic terrorism from the real challenges it faces, which stem directly from the emergence of economic multipolarity. Today there are two brands of neocons, the orthodox neocons who continue trying to make an industry out of scaremongering, as Zakaria puts it, and the reformed neocons like Fukuyama who, like Zakaria, view religious fundamentalist violence as something to be dealt with but as something not coming close to threatening the foundations of modern civilization.

5. Finally, global economic growth is only threatened by climate change and resource depletion. The book is not an environmental polemic but he does mention these problems, especially where China's growth is concerned.

The book ends with a warning not to focus on populist social issues as he bemoans of his native India, and he strongly emphasizes in an extensive analysis of British decline starting not with the First World War but the Boer War that economics drives history (not the first time we've seen a UK-US model for the US-China relationship in place of a USSR-US model). The US is in an economically stronger position than the British Empire ever was, and has been in it for far longer. My favorite statistic in the book is that in 1907 Britain produced more bicycles than the U.S. by a factor of 4 to 1; the U.S. outproduced Britain in automobiles 12 to 1. Possibly bicycle revenues in 1907 were a greater portion of both country's domestic product than automobiles, but of course the trend would have quickly made that fact obsolete, and I hope the point here is clear. We can't afford to become distracted and lose sight of the heart of our economic strength, our universities, which will continue to be the launching pads for innovation that drives the global economy, not just our own, and continues to tie other economies to us.

A Little Black PhotoShop Humor Courtesy Wired

Friday, November 28, 2008

India: Do Net Let This Attack Damage the Detente With Pakistan

Walid Phares at counterterrorismblog states the aim of the terrorists in Mumbai succinctly: "...the goal is to sink the Pakistani-Indian rapprochement."

India: do not give in to populism to score short-term points at the expense of long-term growth and regional stability. India's continuing economic success and the future of democracy in South Asia is in your hands. Do not hamstring your response to this act by a knee-jerk assumption that Pakistan's government must be involved, just like the Spanish stumbled in their immediate insistence that the Basques were involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings. Accepting the Pakistani government's offer of assistence will not only continue to diminish the influence of the militant anti-civilization extremists who benefit from India-Pakistan tensions, it will reinforce the conviction of the smarter elements in the new Pakistani government that they're doing the right thing by pursuing detente.

Mumbai native Fareed Zakaria points out in The Post-American World that beginning with the September 11th attacks, the financial markets recovered faster after each successive major attack. Tragic though the death of innocent people is, civilization must continue to brush aside these last-ditch rear-guard efforts by vanishing tribes of fundamentalists.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Regression Analysis: Demographics and 2008 Election Results

This article began as a little game I was playing to see if I could derive election results from a regression analysis of basic demographic variables. Plugging back in the relation derived in my strongest one-variable regression (see below for what that variable was), and retrodicting election results at the state level, I underestimated Obama's returns by 19 votes. Oddly, plugging back in the second strongest variable (state-level population density), I overestimated Obama's returns by only 1 vote.

I didn't expect any big demographic surprises: I think we all knew well before the election that Manhattan was more likely to vote for Obama than a Mormon county in rural Idaho. Furthermore, if what you're looking for is some algorithm for predicting presidential elections in general, then a) what Nate Silver does over at fivethirtyeight.com is more useful because he based his predictions on pre-election poll outcomes and b) no one knows what the landscape will look like in 2012. The GOP and Democratic parties are brands that get different spokespeople every four to eight years, and if circumstances give the GOP a better spokesperson and better conditions in '12 then all these trends could be out the window. (For some idea of how middle voters shifted, see Andrew Gelman's Democrat-to-Democrat scatter-plot comparisons between elections to see how the brand changes with conditions.

Because we don't know what the 2012 zeitgeist will mean in terms of Americans' political affinity, we can only base our predictions on demographics. Still, there are many Americans who are "ethnic" Republicans or Democrats and would probably physically die if they voted for the other party, regardless of their values or demographics. Therefore, I think the real value of my analysis is for Republicans who want to see the folks in the middle who voted for Obama, and whether there will be more of them or less of them four years from now.

This is my longest blog post ever, so if you're easily bored skip ahead to the end ("What This Means for the GOP"). But I think the analysis is interesting on its own merits. The variables are listed below in decreasing order of importance.



METHODS

I looked at returns in terms of percent vote for Obama at the state and county levels against six individual demographic factors: population density, racial make-up, religion (broken down by faith), income, education, and age. I did not look at individual voter poll data, only returns at the state and county level. Technical caveats for all results that you can skip if you want to get to the good stuff:

- I didn't have county-level data for every variable and the county-level correlations were often weaker anyway, so the multiple regression with all variables was performed at the state level. If you know where I can find county-level data for any variables where I don't already have it, please comment or email.

- Returns are expressed as percent of votes for Obama of all votes; I don't make the mistake that Obama + McCain = 100%, although I do assume in my discussions of left vs. right movement of voters that the percentage of votes for parties further left than Democrat are negligible.

- State-level: I pooled all Nebraska's returns; Nebraska reports as three separate districts

- County-level: I excluded Alaska from all county-level analyses. Alaska doesn't have counties and does not report returns by any sub-state level jurisdictions; Louisiana has parishes, but does report returns by them.

- County-level: I excluded Kalawao County, Hawaii; no returns reported



1. RELIGION

I had to rewrite the article partly because I was expecting population density, and not religion, to show the strongest correlation with voting. I was intrigued to find that I was wrong.

Most data for this part of the analysis came from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey 2008(1). The Pew paper provides data only at the state level, and not for Alaska and Hawaii. Consequently I only did the analysis at the state level, and for Alaska and Hawaii I estimated the figures from other sources(2).

I included any religion which has a share of at least 10% statewide in at least one state. This excluded all non-Christian religions. Religions which I did include were evangelicals, mainline Protestant denominations (reported as a single figure), black churches (reported as a single figure), Catholic, and Mormon. I also looked at the correlation between the total population of all these religions in a state and the percent voting for Obama in that state, as well as one combination between two religions (which I will discuss further).

Evangelicals had the strongest correlation of any individual religion (described by a second-order polynomial), but there was still a substantial outlier (low Obama returns, but also low evangelism). This was Utah. Indeed, although only 3 states have a Mormon population of greater than 10% of the overall population, they were all outliers on the evangelical curve (low evangelism, low Obama returns), and having only 3 states out of 50 with Mormons above 10% can't give a good signal on the Mormon-only curve. Because evanglism and Mormonism typically don't occur in the same state I created another group, "Evangelicals + Mormons", and found that it had the srongest correlation of all (R=0.831), described by a logarithmic function:

The logarithmic curve for Evangelical + Mormon was only slightly stronger than a linear relationship (0.828). This combined index is the strongest relationship of any variable I looked at, but in the end did not predict the electoral vote as well as population density.

What's immediately interesting is that some religions had strong negative correlations (evangelicals and Mormons, especially when taken together), some were flat or very weak (mainline Protestant denominations and black churches), while Catholic was actually positively correlated with voting for Obama (linear relationship with R=0.537). It's been known at least in the last two elections religion (defined by service attendance) was a good predictor for individuals voting Republican; here we have supporting data at the state level.

That said, there are no majority Catholic or black church states to test whether it's only religious dominance (and not the political aggressiveness of any specific religion) that affects voting patterns. I tried to create an index of religious dominance for each state by multiplying the standard deviation of religions in the state by the highest percentage of any one religion. This index had a negative correlation similar to or slightly weaker than Mormonism alone (which are only a majority in one state and only above 10% in 3). Therefore it appears to be specifically evangelicalism and Mormonism that are most strongly correlated with voting patterns.

It's worth pointing out in the discussion of religion and voting that there's an interesting article called "McCain's Atheist Problem" at fivethirtyeight.com stating that McCain trailed Obama in the atheist vote by 25% (and that's about 2.5% of the total electorate; a campaign strategist would tear his hair out if his candidate did something to lose 2.5% of the electorate). Anecdotal evidence: the day that Palin was announced, that number went up 0.00001% when I switched over myself.

2. POPULATION DENSITY

My first inspiration for this investigation was an observation on a network news website (which I can't now dig up) months prior to the election that population density is a major contributor to political leanings (same speculation here on FOXNews in 2004).

Of course, population density was only the second-best predictor at both the state and county level for percentage of Obama votes by county, although retrodicting using the regression equation did give a better electoral outcome than the evangelical+Mormon index. Data came from the 2007 Census estimates(3). Using an exponential model for both state and county levels showed a power function trend with R of 0.578 and 0.427 respectively.





Looking at fine-grained election maps, you can usually guess where the denser population is based on the blue vs. red returns:



However, sometimes the discontinuities have other causes. For example, notice the blue spots in the middle of South Dakota:



Every single one of those six mid-state blue counties is occupied mostly or totally by an Indian reservation, and the reservation counties all have densities lower than the state average and similar to surrounding counties, meaning that all other things being equal, they should be as red or redder. This is not surprising, since historically, Native Americans have voted Democrat. Similarly, you can compare the county-level voting results in Mississippi to the percentage of African-Americans in Mississippi counties:







Neither of these observations is surprising, but they have to be taken into a account in any model predicting American voting patterns based on demographics; this may also explain why the R for the county-level population density regression is lower than for the state-level, because states are much bigger, so race and other factors can differ much more within a county than within a state. Unfortunately, still in 2008 there's an income gap between whites and non-whites, so it's hard to disentangle race and income as influences on voting.

3. RACIAL MAKEUP - NON-WHITENESS

I thought the tendency of non-white Americans to vote Democrat would be more pronounced in this election given that the Democratic candidate was not white. Census technicality: my definition of non-whiteness at the state level includes Hispanic ethnicity/white race population. Data again comes from U.S. Census estimates for 2007 population(3). At the state level the trend is best described by a second-order polynomial with R=0.371.



Interestingly, at the county level but not including Hispanic whites as non-white, R=0.4 for a linear trend between non-whiteness and voting for Obama. (The reason I didn't include Hispanic as non-white at the county level is because of the annoying way the US Census tracks this data; if you know where I can get this data more easily, let me know; otherwise feel free to cut and paste for 3,115 counties yourself.) In any event, non-whiteness alone, at either level, did not predict outcome as well as population density.




4. Per Capita Income

The GOP used to be seen as the party of the rich, but following the Southern Strategy blue collar workers began voting Republican, becoming a force to be reckoned with in 1980s. County income data came from 2005 census estimates(4). I expected a polynomial trend with fewer voting for Obama on both ends, given that many upper-income people vote GOP along with rural lower- and middle-class whites (here's one source with links to more, disabusing us of the notion that these days it's only lower-class whites from rural areas voting GOP). Indeed the best fit for the county and state trends was a sixth-order polynomial with R of 0.290 and 0.552 respectively.






5. Average Years of Education

In the 2008 returns Albany County, Wyoming stands out blue against a background of red counties in the rest of Wyoming, and it's not a reservation. Perhaps not coincidentally it's where you'll find the University of Wyoming.

Average years of education is doubtless higher in rural counties with large post-secondary institutions than without (as in many land-grant state universities, like the University of Wyoming) but large American cities also differ considerably in their level of education based on the industries those towns depend on (the first two are Seattle and San Francisco - not surprisingly, since they're aerospace-tech-biotech central). The data for this regression come from the Manhattan Institute's 2001 education survey(5), which corrects some shortcomings from the Census data.

The correlation was weak; the best fit was with an exponential function with an R of only 0.067. One caveat for this variable: high school graduation rate is certainly not the best indicator of the average education of a state's adult population, given the mobility of modern American workers. If you work in DC or New York or Los Angeles, what percentage of your colleagues are actually from there? Percentage of state population with Bachelor's degrees would be much better, but I couldn't find this data. The disconnect between the two variables occurs because states with large influxes of highly educated workers may not have good native education systems. For example, Seattle and San Francisco may both have the most highly educated workforces, but Washington and California have graduation rates of 70% and 68% respectively, which in the bottom half of U.S. states.

6. Median Age

Referring to Guizot's (not Churchill's) famous quote about the proper age for liberals and conservatives, the college town effect could also be partly a result of age. There are also parts of the country whose median ages diverge considerably from the national average, for example the retirement haven Florida, and the large-family haven of Utah. Data is from the 2006 U.S. Census.(6)

Before I did the analysis I expected that if there were a strong relationship it would be polynomial, accounting for greater conservatism in late middle-age than in under-30 or post-retirement voters; one individual is more likely to vote Republican at 50 than 20, and the same person might be likely to vote Democrat at 70 than at 50 probably because of concerns about fixed income and healthcare. However, my initial guess turned out to be wrong (only a sixth order polynomial had a greater R but it was nonsensical in that it predicted a < 0% turnout for Obama for some median ages). The best R I obtained was 0.360 for a power function trendline, although excluding the outlier of D.C. gave an R of 0.452.




MULTIPLE REGRESSION: COMBINING VARIABLES

Once I had looked at each of these demographic variables in isolation I ran a multiple regression with all of them. I did not have all demographic variables by county, so the multiple regression is at the state level. I included separate variables as follows:

- Population density
- % non-white, including Hispanic white as non-white
- % Mormon + evangelical composite
- % Mainline Protestant churches
- % Black churches
- % Catholic
- Median household income
- Education (graduation rate)
- Median age

Multiple regression with these variables returned an R of 0.893 (compare to evangelism + Mormonism alone at 0.831 and population density alone at 0.578).

There are a number of factors that clearly influenced the outcome and that, while they could not have been predicted from demographic first principles, still were likely to have had an effect (BLACK SWANS). These include: home state voter loyalty, advertising, and campaign visits. On the second and third points, the campaign strategists do not believe demographics are electoral destiny or they wouldn't waste money sending the candidates around the country.

Another interesting question would be to try to detect a media effect for greater metropolitan areas that often lie across state borders. That is to say, is there a narrative created by local media afiliates which differs from that of the national media, and shows itself in vote returns? One way to quantify it would be to look at the difference in the number of positive vs negative stories run about a candidate in City X vs in the mainstream media and in local media of City Y, then compare the outcome in surrounding counties in X and Y to what to what your model otherwise predict. At fivethirtyeight.com they looked at a similar question, the effect of one state on surrounding states in the context of Virginia's effect on North Carolina.

Events earlier in the campaign also surely played a role. It seemed from the media buzz that social conservatives and evangelicals in particular were energized by the selection of Sarah Palin for Republican VP, and they were likely energized by Mike Huckabee's candidacy during the primary season as well. Of course, I could be wrong about the correlation, but take a look at this map, which shows the difference in voting from 2004 to 2008 (i.e., red means voted more GOP than last time).



In the general blue headwind blowing across the country from out of the imploding corridors of Lehman Bros (to name only one such low pressure system), it's hard to look at this map and not notice the this-time-even-redder stripe from West Virginia, through Kentucky and Tennessee and Arkansas to Oklahoma, bucking the trend. This is also the region with the highest rates of evangelism.

Finally, in my brief career analyzing elections, I've concluded there are just some counties that are liberal or conservative because they just always were and that's that. This observation doesn't help my model but my favorite is Sioux County, Iowa. I'm not the first person to notice this particular outlier and I've scratched my head over it since. They're not Mormons, there's no certain industry concentrated there, there's no televangelist based there, but they've consistently voted at least above 80% GOP for the last three elections, much higher than Iowa as a whole, and almost always more than 10% higher than the highest neighboring county. It would be one thing if they did it once or twice but it's been consistent.

While 2012 will be a different election, to some degree we non-professional- campaign-strategist-mortals who nonetheless care about the outcome of elections (we're called "citizens") might be able to adjust models like these to see for ourselves what's likely to happen, without waiting for the campaigns or the media to tell us.


Final Speculation About Population Density's Effect on Politics

The following is speculation, and I have no idea how to render it quantitatively or even how to get data supporting it; a demographer might. The question of how religion affects voting habits isn't that interesting because it appears straight ahead. The more curious one is the mechanism by which population density correlates with voting habits. It's a truism that if you rent, when you buy a home you should "be prepared to see your political ideology swing violently to the right" (courtesy The Onion). But I don't think that accounts for the entire phenomenon, since there are plenty of liberal homeowners on the coasts.

My theory is that members of the national racial majority (whites) who live in high density areas are more likely to come into social contact with non-whites. Non-whites, by virtue of being in the minority, are already required to critically analyze their own values where they differ from majority culture. Democrats traditionally have been the American labor party and as such appeals more to minorities (even easier to do in this election). This is probably one reason that they have been likely to vote Democrat, regardless of whether they live in densely populated Washington D.C., or on the open prairies of Shannon County, South Dakota.

Republicans have appealed to red-meat cultural conservative values associated with America's Christian, white cultural majority. At the same time, urban whites who frequently come into contact with non-whites similarly become more circumspect about their own (otherwise less-questioned) cultural assumptions and as a result urban whites are less likely to be motivated by those red-meat values. The density-leads-to-interethnic-contact-and-erodes-cultural-conservatism theory also explain why, although 38 of 82 counties in Mississippi are less white than all of the 58 counties in California, the Mississippi counties vote Democrat at substantially lower rates. The graph below is a stark illustion - in Mississippi, county non-whiteness very closely tracks voting, with an incredible linear relationship with R=0.973. In California it doesn't track as closely (linear relationship R=0.536, slightly better as third degree polynomial with R=0.561); and California counties clearly more often vote more Democratic. Why?



My theory is that this difference results from the higher degree of intermixture between ethnicities in California relative to Mississippi. With no history of segregation or slavery, the economic differences between whites and non-whites in California are less pronounced, and people mingle more; consequently, in California a white person is likely to be more circumspect about his or her own assumptions, just as non-white people elsewhere, whose social assumptions are challenged by having to adapt to mainstream American culture. Interracial marriage rates would be one indirect way to measure the level of inter-mingling. I would bet that most of the California counties have higher interracial marriage rate than the Mississippi counties (even though assuming independent assortment you would assume it to be higher in those first 38 Mississippi counties than in any county in California). Even though many of the Mississippi counties are more than 50% non-white, probably still today there probably aren't as many cases of whites living next door to non-whites, or working together, or spending leisure time together, as in a 25% non-white California county. I'm not a demographer or statistician, so I don't know if there's a better way to directly measure the degree of intermingling between whites and other ethnicities or if this data already exists, but it would also start to explain other demographic tendencies - for example, people are less religious in cities, especially multiethnic ones, and that port cities dependent on foreign trade and tourism tend to be more tolerant of different social norms.


What This Means For the GOP

In the US, evangelical and Mormon populations are not growing well in the fast-growing, ethnically mixed, well-educated, and economically strong cities on the coast. The number of atheists in the US is growing (6% of over-30, 12% of under-30 are atheists).(7) Population density, and the resultant admixture of people from different backgrounds, is increasing. The proportion of white voters in the US is dropping. Per capita income will (we hope) continue growing. Hopefully, Americans' average education will continue to increase as the economy increasingly depends on innovation in technical fields. The young voters who helped sweep in Obama will doubtless become more conservative as they age, but whether they will ever become as culturally conservative as their parents is in question. Note that I didn't deliberately set out to pick six demographic variables that are all changing in the Democrats' favor; I picked the six I thought were most clearly relevant to the election. This is not good news for the current incarnation of the GOP, either in California or anywhere else.

At a time when the global credit crisis is causing many inside and outside the US to doubt whether markets are the best mechanism to allocate wealth and promote growth, the GOP cannot afford to allow the Religious Right to continue steering. The market/strong-defense/evangelical alliance is broken, and one of the partners in that alliance has to go.

May I make the unsurprising suggestion to rank-and-file Republicans that you insist on throwing out the partner that, for the last eight years, has revealed itself as a kind of inept religious statist, that can sometimes win elections but has no real governing principles and in the end can't govern its way out of a wet paper bag. Until you do, I'm over here with the Libertarian Party, and a lot of other former Republicans don't know what to do, but they'll be damned if they'll continue voting on the basis of armband religion, as Kathleen Parker put it. The Southern Strategy is dead, it's 2008, and we need new ideas: we need somebody to speak up for the high tech economy that is America's strong suit in this new world, we need somebody to recognize the economic threat-cum-opportunity that is India and China, we need someone to take a principled stand on human rights abuses by our supposed allies and ourselves, and we need someone to show leadership on energy and market reforms and not just let lobbyists write legislation that benefits not just certain industries at the expense of taxpayers and troops, but certain companies. That our government should govern sounds radical, I know; but as an American, I demand the best government in the world. You want to hear it straight from the capitalist horse's mouth? In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith said "The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [the owners of businesses], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the publick, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the publick, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it." From Book I.

We don't need any more cheap grand-standing over time-wasting minor social issues - which is about all the GOP seems to know how to do in 2008 - issues that at best are distractions and affronts to privacy and human dignity (like Terri Schiavo) and at worst threaten American business competitiveness (like restricting stem cell research. Notice all those breakthroughs happening in Asia and not here? Surprise!) The strongest Republican governor in the country right now is the governor of California - a centrist who has denounced California's new gay marriage ban as ridiculous. Too bad he wasn't born in the US or I'd already be selling "Presidator 2012" buttons. Religious Right: you broke the GOP and the rationalists want it back - American demographic trends are your worst electoral nightmare, and they're getting worse for you every day. Go off and form the twenty-first century Republican equivalent of the Dixiecrats and win votes in rural Arkansas and Oklahoma if that's your thing. Frankly, after the last election, it seems to be your only thing.

Sun Tzu said the battle is won or lost before it begins; demography is destiny; and David Brooks says the Religious Right will be able to hold onto the GOP's steering wheel at least until 2012. If Brooks is right, fellow moderates and fiscal conservatives, then the battle is lost, and Obama is already a two-term president. For the sake of the country, I hope he's wrong, because I want at least two real American political parties back in action, competing on the merit of their ideas for the next 219 years of the Republic, just as has happened in the previous 219. The party of ideas, the GOP of Reagan and TR and Eisenhower has a golden opportunity here - but if the withered old hands of the Religious Right keep dragging it back, then it's time to consider defection to the Libertarian Party for 2012, or splitting off into the twenty-first century Bull Moose GOP like Teddy Roosevelt did (and kicked Taft's ass, too). And if that's the plan, then we may already have somebody in the wings.


REFERENCES

(1) Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey 2008
(2) For Hawaii and Alaska religion data I used the following links.
(2a) Adherents.com - for Hawaii and Alaska Mormon data
(2b)New York Times 12 April 2008 - For Hawaii and Alaska Catholic data
(2c) Hawaii and Alaska black church membership was estimated from a 2/3 membership rate for African-Americans in Arkansas and Alabama per the Pew Report, and US Census data for Arkansas, Alabama, Hawaii and Alaska.
(2d) Free Republic - For information on evangelicals and mainline Protestants in Hawaii and Alaska
(3) 2007 U.S. Census estimates.
(4) 2005 Census Estimates
(5) Manhattan Institute 2001 Education Survey
(6) 2006 US Census Median Age Estimate.
(7)The Pew Forum. Religion in American Life: The Political Landscape (2004)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chavez Loses Face in Elections

It's encouraging that Venezuelans are increasingly voicing their discontent in opposition parties without fear of retribution. Still, to my knowledge neither major party in the US has threatened to send tanks to a state where the opposition party was strong. Not surprising from perhaps the only leader of a non-direct-Chinese satellite state who supported the crackdown in Tibet.

It still bears mentioning that there are now Russian nuclear ships in the Caribbean at his invitation.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Small Business Owners: Enjoy the Sign

The following sign was hung in front of the Everett and Jones barbecue restaurant at Oakland's Jack London Square:



Humor aside, I've said before that we're really between a rock and a hard place now. If we can have a little smarter regulation going forward and a one-time intervention now to restore faith in markets (remember Sarkozy saying they were dead?) then libertarians should be all for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Automakers Tryst With The Devil Just Beginning

Lest we forget, they've been trying to get free money for a while. Either you survive as a private concern, or you go on the dole and when the State says Jump, you say How High.

So go ahead automakers; get in bed with the devil, and don't act surprised when the devil gets his way.

Unsurprising Bad News for the GOP Brand

Only 34% of Americans in this Gallup poll had a favorable opinion of the GOP, down from 40% before the election. Yes, there's a problem; if you didn't realize this by now, go back to sleep. Meanwhile, as the solution, 59% of registered GOP members say the party should become more conservative. The problem is What does "more conservative" mean to that 59%? More, or less government intrusion into private life? More, or less spending? More reliance on facts and figures, or more concerns over frankly not-very-important social issues like teen abstinence

In a few days I'll be posting my little regression analysis of the 2008 election results, and then inferring what they mean demographically for the GOP of the future. But the schism is here, and the GOP has to make a choice between fiscal and social conservatism, since trying to play both sides obviously didn't work in 2008. If it's social conservatism they want (meaning more intrusion, more spending, more concerns about social issues), then look at the last election, and look at the public reaction - and seemingly half of the GOP's reaction - to Palin, and ask yourself if that's the way to win going forward in a younger, more diverse, less religious country in 2012 and beyond.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Making A Problem Out of No Problem

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (the "Drug Czar") has claimed that my fair city of San Francisco has 98 medical marijuana dispensaries, and only 71 Starbucks.

As it turns out, the number "98" is grossly exaggerated. At best, this happened as a result of sloppy research. At worst it was deliberate distortion of the facts to suit the agency's agenda. Am I naive, or do I remember a time when US government agencies actually reported facts, and you didn't have to filter them for political bias? Even if I'm dreaming, any patriot should still demand and expect objectivity from United States government agencies.

For the sake of argument, let's say that the Feds (this subspecies of them) are right, and that medical marijuana dispensaries are really just a sham undertaken by sneering leftists, and for years they've been pumping weed into our streets. Even then, why would that be a problem?

The answer is that nothing has happened, so it's obviously not a problem. I can tell you that on several occasions, a "friend of mine" has in fact recreationally partaken of said medical supplies, and many friends of his have done the same. These are productive career- and family-people relaxing at the occasional party, not lice-bitten hippies squatting in communes. Indeed, medical marijuana IS on the streets in large amounts. And what happened? Has civilization collapsed? Crime sky-rocketed? Reefer-addled zombies roaming the city? No. Responsible adults use it recreationally just like alcohol. And it hasn't caused any problems that I'm aware of. On the list of Californians' complaints about human-created problems, I see things like "property values too high" and "immigration reform" and "state and school budget woes", not "availability of medical marijuana wrecking our economy". Why does the Federal Government feel the need to save citizens from problems that only the Feds can see? And what's more, how do you feel about them spending your tax dollars to do it?

The Drug Czar's office is just one more self-justifying Federal agency, and one more reason to legalize marijuana. Otherwise we keep playing these administrative games that cost us all money and strip adult citizens of the right to choose how to responsibly enjoy themselves on their own time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

China Bends on Financial News Censorship

This unexpected positive from the financial crisis has been in the works for a while but no doubt current conditions are making many senior CCP officials more eager to allow it. It's a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Effect of the Electoral College on Elections Since 1856

There's an ongoing legislative effort to abolish the Electoral College, and after every election the losers grumble about it, and then everyone forgets their complaints until four years later. This time out I became curious about whether the College has shown any consistent benefit to either party. I've been crunching other election numbers out of curiosity and thought I would continue with this question. (If you want to see the raw data just leave a comment in this article and I'll email it to you. I can save you from cutting and pasting as much as I did.)

By "benefit", I don't necessarily mean one party has to win the Electoral College without the popular vote, though that has happened (more below). Rather, I mean in each election, does a party benefit over multiple elections from this system by receiving a higher proportion of Electoral votes than popular votes. My numbers come from the Wiki articles on the elections. All facts and figures are from the period beginning with the 1856 election. I picked 1856 as my starting point because it's the first time that a Democrat (Buchanan) ran against a Republican (Fremont) in the two-party pattern that we recognize; can we really draw a meaningful red-blue map of the Adams-Jefferson race? FYI, the last time the White House was occupied by a non-Democrat or Republican was in 1848.


Figure: the Electoral College exaggerates the results of the popular vote. I included only the GOP here because including Democratic returns would make the graph too busy and a benefit to either party would in any event not be obvious from visual inspection.



The answer is interesting. Out of these 39 elections, the GOP benefited 26 times (66.7%) and the Democrats benefited 18 times (46.2%). Yes, that adds up to more than 100%, because both parties can benefit when there are third parties scoring Electoral votes (which there were in 8 of these 39 elections; I don't count 1872, which I'll explain below if you care). So in this case, the GOP definitely has shown greater benefit from the Electoral College over time than the Democrats.

Of course in a winner-take-all system (which the Electoral College is, except for Maine and Nebraska), the electoral outcome can differ from the popular vote. In fact this has happened three times, and all three times were to the GOP's benefit (to elect Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and most famously in 2000).

And now that I mention third parties, how does the Electoral College treat them? Like a baby treats a diaper, as it turns out. There have been 10 major third parties in 9 elections (the 1860 election had 4 parties getting electoral votes). I define "major third party" as any party getting at least some electoral votes or >10% of the popular vote). Only 2 of these 10 parties benefited from the Electoral College (20%, compared to the GOP's 66.7% or the Democrats' 46.2%). These two parties were Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats in 1948 (and I'm sure we're all glad it was him that benefited), and the fourth party in 1860, the Constitutional Union Party, which received only a marginal advantage. The last time a third party got electoral votes was 1968(George Wallace - again, yippee). Qualification: I don't count the 1872 election as a major third party election - they had a non-traditional party but was still two-party; the Democrats were still in a mess after the Civil War and nominated the Liberal GOP candidate (the non-traditional party). If you've read my other articles you know that I'm a big proponent of more choice - more competition - on the ballot for our vote, just like we're fortunate to have more choices at the market than citizens of other countries.

Third parties since 1856 have been only spoilers, if even that, except for the 1912 election where Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose - the defected Progressive wing of the GOP - won 88 Electoral votes to the GOP's measly 8. Wilson went on to take it for the Democrats, but this goes to show that my exhortations for the market-and-foreign policy GOP to either kick out the theocons or start their own party are not without a somewhat successful historical precedent.

So what function does the Electoral College serve? Proponents argue that it forces candidates to focus on rural and low-income areas and not hang around the wealthy population centers. and system is deliberately skewed to benefit low-population-state voters. Consequently, your individual vote in Wyoming counts 280% more toward an Electoral College vote than does a vote in Texas or California. But if you're not in a swing state - and, Wyomingites, you aren't - in terms of having your concerns listened to by the candidates, it doesn't matter, and the campaign strategists know this. Here's a nice map of what states the 2004 candidates paid attention to (credit Wikipedia); purple hands are visits, green dollar signs spending. No clovers, horseshoes or diamonds, and (surprise) no attention paid to always-red Wyoming:



Hey Oklahoma, how much did you see either candidate in the last few cycles? How about you, Texas? I know the only time we saw them in California was if the candidates were coming to a $500 a plate fundraising dinner - in 2008 McCain made repeated visits to San Francisco, and I don't think it was because he thought he could influence the voters here (in fact he never appeared in public). Notice my careful choice of the Electoral College diverting candidates' attention from both always-blue and always-red states here. If you're lucky enough to live in Colorado (a big-landholder conservative Western state but with a big urban population) or Indiana (with a unionized Rust Belt but a very conservative element in the farming areas), the candidates might actually listen to your issues. Otherwise, you're out of luck. In this campaign there were a few surprise visits - like Obama's people playing strategy mind games with McCain and scaring them by having hm go to Montana five times (Obama never had a chance there but it worked to rattle McCain's staff). But McCain never camee, because he knew you guys were in the bag for him. The only reason Montana got any attention at al was as part of a feint in a great Electoral game of Risk.

While I was running the numbers - it was notable that the lowest popular vote ever for a winner in this period was for Lincoln 1860, 39.8%. There were 4 parties running in 1860, including a Democratic party split in half geographically - that's what a country really about to have a civil war looks like. The highest vote for a winner was Johnson 1964, 61.1% (really? The first southern president elected after the Civil War? Not counting Missouri as the South). The lowest popular vote for a winner in a 2 party election was - wait for it - Bush 2000, with 47.9% (also one of 3 times that Electoral and popular results differed). The highest vote for a loser was Nixon 1960 with 49.6% (higher than Bush's winning popular vote!). The lowest vote for the loser of any two-party election was James M. Cox, the Democratic challenger losing to Harding 1920, no doubt because of men in pubs snickering at his name. Of course, it turned out that Harding sucked and voters got suckered (Malcolm Gladwell uses Harding as an interesting example of humans' sometimes faulty ability to judge character in Blink).

Finally, since 1856 the GOP has received on average 47.4% of the popular vote and 53.72% from the Electoral College, a clear benefit on average, with the Democrats receiving 45.7% of the popular vote and only 44.3% from the Electoral College, a clear disadvantage over time. Since a) the numbers don't add up to 100% and b) both numbers are higher for the GOP, by extension one can infer that third parties tend to draw more voters away from Democrats than Republicans, though with only 9 out of 39 elections, that's not a powerful prediction, and it'll be completely dependent on the nature of the third party. It's hard to argue that Bull Moose and Ross Perot hurt the Democrats more than the GOP.

In 2004 and especially 2000 there were cries from the Democrats to abolish the Electoral College. I'm not hearing it quite as loudly this time, possibly because the election wasn't close and it couldn't have mattered, or maybe because the GOP is well aware of these numbers.

In closing, I had two other questions during my digging that I'm not going to bother further investigating, but if you have an opinion, feel free to share it in the comments. Since 1856 there have been 5 presidents from Ohio and 3 from New York, but only 1 from Pennsylvania (Buchanan, and at the very beginning of that period no less). Even Massachusetts had 2. Why has PA not produced presidents? No, it doesn't have a Manhattan, but neither does Ohio. My "statriotism" is wounded here.

Second, why does American historical education largely ignore the period from Reconstruction until Teddy Roosevelt? Even well-read Americans can tell you only "Lots of factories with smokestacks, the Gilded Age, Cleveland was the only president with non-consecutive terms" and that's about it. This period is like an American Meiji era, or the U.S. equivalent to Bismarck's unified Germany, or the reign of Augustus in the New World's Rome. Why so neglected?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Time For Paternalistic Libertarianism

Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek said "probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rules of thumb, above all of the principle of laissez-faire capitalism". Of course Hayek is using the word "liberal" in the classical economics sense where in American politics we would probably say instead "market conervative", "fiscal conservative", "libertarian".

Now is a bad time to be a market fundamentalist. Much like the Chinese, we Yanks have the numbers and the media presence to dwell in an island of our own homogenous discourse, largely insulated us from the rest of the developed world's prevailing opinions. Sometimes we're right, other times we're behind the curve. In late 2008 it's the tidal wave of capitalism-is-dead sentiment currently sweeping the rest of the planet that we're insulated from. There are the usual Europeans quick to pronounce the demise of Ango-American capitalism, as did Nicolas Sarkozy: "Self-regulation as a way of solving all problems is finished. Laissez-faire is finished. The all-powerful market that always knows best is finished." There are the predictable smug neo-Confucianists of the Chinese Communist Party who consider it as given that free markets can only produce chaos (read: detract from the power of the state). In fact, the economic zeitgeist is such that it seems we've returned to the mindset of the late 1970s when it was in poor taste to even claim rational underpinnings for free markets (see Robert Frank's defensive tone about markets in Choosing the Right Pond, 1983). Given the credit crisis that is still unfolding before our eyes, the stream of critics will not be ending any time soon.

Libertarians would do well to heed Hayek's advice. Russia and particularly China are in the ascendant and smirking at having done so without having to credit any sort of liberalization. Twenty-first century autocrats feel justified in spurning old-fashioned notions of a free market and individual rights, and the words of a former monetary policy advisor to China's central bank are a nice summary of the prevailing attitude: "During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the crisis occurred in East Asia. The students [Asian countries] failed to learn from their teacher [America]. The Asian countries therefore suffered. But this time, the teacher is in trouble." Indeed, the Economist does not use defensive language like this unless there's a real threat to the future of global markets:

"If the bail-outs are well handled, taxpayers could end up profiting from their reluctant investment in the banks. If regulators learn from this crisis, they could manage finance better in the future. If the worst is avoided, the healthy popular hostility to a strong state that normally pervades democracies should reassert itself. Capitalism is at bay, but those who believe in it must fight for it. For all its flaws, it is the best economic system man has invented yet. Capitalism is at bay, but those who believe in it must fight for it. For all its flaws, it is the best economic system man has invented yet."


The Economist hits the nail on the head. The tragedy is that amid the meltdown hyperbole and political maneuvering is that market liberalism is still empirically the best social mechanism for creating - and distributing - wealth. Particularly tragic in the US is that many minorities have just recently begun moved en masse into the middle class where they can finally share fully in the benefits of an affluent society. It was in fact the industrial revolution created a middle class that in turn led to increased education, enfranchisement of women and ethnic minorities in politics and the markets themselves. While Marx was preaching revolution, the growing middle class in the industrial world was gaining influence and voting in representatives who would improve their conditions - yes, government was the institution directly responsible for that improvement - not markets. You don't have to be a market fundamentalist to think that markets usually (but not always) do good things - to quote Deng with full irony, it doesn't matter if the cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.

And, I'll even let you in on a secret. I was in favor of the bailout the whole time - not because I relish the idea of bankers getting bailed out, but because of the echoes throughout our economy of our big financial institutions fail. It's not a position we should be happy the economy is in, but for the time being we have no choice if we want the world to keep spinning. We can indulge in Hayek's wooden insistence on no bailouts for banks and automakers, and then watch the lights go out in New York and Detroit - and then your town.

The point of any civilized social system is to make humans happier by allowing them opportunities to expand their material wealth through labor and voluntary associations. Capitalism of course is not the perfect system - it is, as Jane Galt puts it, the system for finding the perfect system. Capitalism's detractors would have you believe that capitalism is untenable because it has occasional rough spots, one of which we're in right now. Granted, the recession we've now entered is no fun, but it's a picnic compared to, say, China's Great Leap Forward. Bubbles like this one have happened in freely trading societies, as chronicled in Mackay'Extraordinary Population Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, starting with the seventeenth century Dutch tulip craze. Bubbles are the price we pay for capitalism and freedom.

How might we fix this, or at least soften the impact next time? For one thing, the impact is considerably softer today than it was in 1929, so whatever we've done in the past to that end seems to be working so far. What did we do back then? Circuit breakers in exchanges, and rules about trading - in other words, smart, directed regulation dealing with new economic realities made possible by technology. There, I used the R-word, which immediately has free-market readers heading for the exits. But ask yourself if you would return to pre-1929 financial market rules? Why then would you return to pre-2008 financial market rules?

In tradeoff terms, if I can have capitalism, minus bubbles, plus a little smart regulation of financial markets, I'll take it. But saying that capitalism is dead and we should switch to heavy, permament state intervention because we're at the bottom of a cycle now is like being in the middle of the ocean in a row boat that just sprang a leak, and getting rescued by the Titanic. If nothing else, this crisis will highlight to market fundamentalists that markets cannot exist without a state to protect it (otherwise why isn't Somalia a laissez-faire paradise?). This recognition doesn't seem profound but it's one departure of what is sometimes called paternalistic libertarianism from traditional strong libertarianism, and if the state can save the market with some directed regulation, then it should - because "for all its flaws, [the market] is the best economic system man has invented yet."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Nonprofits Abusing Their Tax-Exempt Status

Certain large and (inappropriately) politically-ambitious nonprofits overtly supported Proposition 8, abusing their special tax status to do so - my thoughts as a Libertarian on Prop 8's passage are here. What can we do about it? You can, like I did, and like this person did, and like thousands of other people are doing, file an IRS complaint. Guidelines are here. It took me all of 10 minutes.

If you have any hesitation, be reminded of the words of the immortal George Carlin: "Tax 'em! Tax the motherf***ers!"

Purple Electoral Maps for 2004 and 2008

This is the first of a few simple looks I'll be taking at electoral data. This map of the contiguous 48 states shows returns by county or parish, not by state, and is shaded anywhere from red through purple to blue depending on how Republican (red) or Democratic (blue) the county voted. If you want to see the animation just click on the image to see it by itself.



(Credit for source maps to Mark Newman).

The New York Times has a very nifty gadget that doesn't have quite the fine gradations of purple these maps have but lets you play with it a little more.

Trends:

- Maybe the most interesting: the Black Belt typically votes solid Democratic, and in both elections, the central region (along with the southern Mississippi River) does indeed. That's not a surprise. What's more comment-worthy is how the areas around it, and in particular just north of it, are more solidly red in 2008 than in 2004, against a general headwind of blue-ification. This can be made even clearer on the New York Times gadget, which is where I captured this image from:



Looking at this map, you're immediately tempted to speculate that voters in these states were affected by Obama's race. I think an even more likely reason is that these voters were looking for an evangelical, and Sarah Palin won them over.


- Most counties in the Western US (west of the Rockies) got a shade bluer, even in the big-landowner ranch states of Montana and Wyoming.

- The upper Midwest (MN, WI, MI, IA, OH, IN, IL) got much bluer - especially the western half of this region.

- Upper New England got bluer, especially Vermont.

- There's a small patch in northern/northeastern North Carolina that was solid blue in 2004 (which is Research Triangle, then spreading out into a rural agricultural area). The red around it filled in substantially in 2008. Turns out all those tech jobs NC's good universities are bringing in are good at creating wealth, but not so good for fundamentalists at the polls.

- More just out of demographic curiosity - I don't know much about the Midwest, and I'm wondering what's the difference between Iowa and Nebraska that makes Iowa more Democratic. Yes, Obama got Oprah to open for him in Des Moines, but the more Democratic character of Iowa predates that. Some trends are easy to understand; the blue counties in central South Dakota are almost always reservations. But Sioux County, Iowa is an outlier at 81.1% for McCain; why so conservative? I'm curious because I've always questioned why the Upper Midwest (Minnesota) is more liberal and the Lower Midwest (Oklahoma) more conservative.

The Credit Crisis and China

There's no consensus on what the credit crisis is going to end up doing to China, though the predictions are getting bleaker. Yes, they have $1.9 trillion in reserves; no, they don't have an economy without exports.

In Chinese the written symbol for crisis is a compound character composed of "danger" and "opportunity". I'm really trying to think of the silver lining to this economic mess that can be used to build bonds between the two governments that give the U.S. leverage on issues of individual freedom - on things like freedom of speech and free elections that we take for granted in the West. In the post-rendition era, the U.S. already has a hard time convincing even third-rate developing-world dictators we're serious about human rights; it will be even more difficult to put pressure on China when we owe them 1.5 trillion dollars. Five grand of that is your share.

I've written on this blog before about U.S. and China maneuvering in Africa to get at metal commodities, but it's becoming clear that China might win the oil game too. Remember that "the oil will pay for the war" argument in Iraq? Iraq just signed its first oil deal with a foreign country since 2003 - with, who else? China National Petroleum.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

If You're Mad About Prop 8

Sign the petition here. You have to be a California resident.

Election Results - Local and National Races

In our ballot initiatives, California voters defied many of the national stereotypes I so often decry. Here are the results, and how my own votes fared:




National and California Candidates
OfficeMy VoteResultComment
RaceMy VoteResultComment
US House District 9Jim Eyer (L)Barbara Lee (D)Surprise – incumbent Democrat in the Bay Area– but nice to see the LP candidate getting half the votes of the Republican
CA Senate District 9Claudia Bermudez (R)Loni Hancock(D)Again, surprise, but nice to see a double-digit showing in this neighborhood against an incumbent whose husband is the mayor of Berkeley.
CA Assembly District 14Myself! (L) Nancy Skinner (D)The Chronicle didn't bother reporting my name.












California State Propositions
MeasureMy VoteResultComment

1A
YesYesWe got us our bullet train. Japan and France with their old beat-up trains
can kiss our asses.
2YesYes(Treatment of farm animals)
3NoYesOne of my main domestic issues now is to resist socialization of medicine, and this unfortunately is a further step in that direction.
4NoNo(Minor abortions)
5NoNo(Drug treatment vs prison)
6NoNo(Law enforcement fund)
7NoNo(Bad renewable energy measure – the Sierra Club and PG&E both hated it; that's a bad sign)
8NoYesGay marriage now outlawed, and our constitution was altered for this. A disgrace for California.
9NoNo(Victims' Rights)
10YesNoAlternative fuel vehicles. One of the main arguments was that T. Boone Pickens would personally profit if it passed. I don't see a problem with individuals who create wealth keeping some of the wealth, but then again I'm not a socialist.
11YesYes?Redistricting and politician accountability. Still too close to call as of Thursday of election week.
12NoYesExtend veterans loan program. LP was against it.





Local Candidates
OfficeMy VoteResultComment
Oakland At-Large City CouncilmemberHammillKaplanI still like Ignacio de la Fuente for Mayor in 2010, so a connection to him (as Hammill has) is not a negative in my eyes.
Superior Court JudgeDalyHayashi
AC Transit At-Large BoardmembmerPeeplesPeeples
AC Transit Ward 2 BoardmemberHarperHarper







Local Propositions
OfficeMy VoteResultComment
NYesNoThis is the State of California trying to get Oakland schools in shape; strongly resisted by local teachers organizations, which is a hint that the state-appointed administrator who backed the initiative might be onto something. Education is one area where I don't mind government standards.
NNNoNo(police funding measure backed by absentee mayor Dellums)
OONoYesPeople are suckers for kids.
VVNoYesTransit bonds. I hope this money is used to finally make the transit system go where I can use it.
WWYesYes(park bonds - see argument in favor)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Republican Schism: It's About Time

It would be very easy to read this post as just another rant by a blue-state blogger who can't wait to get the GOP out of the White House. That's not true; what I can't wait for is to get George W. Bush out of the White House, because of how he has wrecked the Grand Old Party, the core values of which remain the best answer for America and its relationship to the world, and which he has largely ignored for eight years. I can't understand why one of the greatest GOP Senators of the late twentieth century would distort his positions and use the same campaign tactics that tainted the GOP under Bush. If you're a real conservative - if your values are those of Reagan or TR - then I can't understand why you wouldn't feel the same way. And I can't understand why, like many other conservatives, you wouldn't also voted for Barack Obama. A political party is a voluntary association of people with similar ideas about how a government should run - that's all. And if your love of a party trumps your love of the United States, then you have a problem.

I wrote before about how, in the month before the election, with politically-ambitious pseudo-evangelicals' grip slipping on the GOP and the American heartland, there were finally the first stirrings of a genuine split in the GOP that Bruce Bartlett had predicted prematurely in 2004. In the end, waking up in October was too little, too late. But I submit that nothing has been better to shock the GOP back to its core values than this solid drubbing, in the White House and in the Capitol. Volunteers in depressed hotel ballrooms around the country said this repeatedly to reporters last night.

The GOP has endured and even grown stronger from fractures before. First and less known is the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds in the decades following the Civil War; this was largely isolated from rank-and-file Republicans since it the split was an issue of career politicians, who fought over whether to maintain the Republican political machinery that dominated US politics. And the GOP survived it stronger than ever, united by Chester Alan Arthur. Better known is Teddy Roosevelt's defection when he formed a whole separate party in 1912; his former protege William Taft was dismantling much of the progressive agenda that TR had fought for in the White House, including (especially) preservation of public land and labor reform. The Democrat (Woodrow Wilson) won, but the incumbent Republican received only 8 electoral votes to TR's 88. That's far beyond a "spoiler" and quite impressive for an ad-hoc third party like the Bull Moose Progressives. And what do you think the factions might be in 2008?

There have always been cynical fundamentalists in American politics, some probably sincere in their beliefs and some surely not, who divided their loyalty between the Constitution (when it was convenient) and their own extremist interpretations of Scripture - and their apparent desire to view the Constitution as just another book of the New Testament (sorry, I'm an American; to me our Constitution is much, much more important than that). Before World War II these characters were at least as often Democrats as Republicans; it's underappreciated that William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted John Scopes in 1925 for daring to teach evolution in school, argued that evolution was clearly evil because it encouraged capitalism. And Bryant even ran 3 times as a Democrat for President. This seems strange to us today because Bryan's political descendants shifted allegiance in the 1960s until finally we got a GOP with three wings: the business people, the patriots and military, and the faithful (market, country and God) until today we have smooth operators like Ralph Reed, Bob Dobson, and Pat Robertson (who literally cursed a town in my home state after the Dover School Board ruling - no, he doesn't have a political agenda at all. Yes, it would be funny if millions of people didn't hang on his every word and threaten America's technical competitiveness by damaging our educational system).

Party fault lines often show themselves in the primaries - I first paid attention to this when in the 1996 primary it came down to Forbes, Dole and Buchanan. In the 2008 general election you can see it in a blue Virgina, and a blue New Mexico, and even a North Carolina evenly split, thanks to younger Republicans who, religious or otherwise, weren't so thrilled about candidates making godlessness a campaign issue.

As it happened, in 1920 the GOP took back the White House in the form of the Warren G. Harding, replaced after his death by the taciturn Calvin Coolidge. Although Coolidge had remained in the GOP when TR left, his administration incorporate much of TR's progressivism. Again, political natural selection had improved the GOP. Guess where I'm headed with this?

It's time to rebuild a party whose membership is not dominated by religious zealotry. It's time to return to the facts-and-figures party of ideas, not one that asks Americans to pray to make the hurricane zone all better. I want to be able to vote GOP again, because I want a party that makes reason-based decisions to keep government efficient and let Americans create wealth and pursue their dreams. If you're a market or country Republican, now is the time for you to stop turning a blind eye to the Religious Right just because they get voters to the polls (until the ruin the party), and show them the door - and then we'll be able to elect the twenty-first century Coolidge. Otherwise we'll be doing the equivalent of running Taft again, and 2012 will be even uglier than 2008, and Americans' range of choices will be narrower. Michael Grunwald in Time gives an excellent forward-looking rundown of the state of the GOP and how it must evolve to survive in the future. He focuses on one politician as the face of the the GOP's next phase:

Indiana Governor: The Future of the Party

Mitch Daniels was a somewhat tragic figure as President Bush's budget director, a policy-wonk small-government conservative who found himself carrying water for a politics-driven, big-government budget-buster. His aides almost had to strap him down to get him to sign a White House-directed letter supporting the corporate-welfare farm bill of 2002. But as Indiana's governor, he's gotten to do things his own way, privatizing roads, expanding health coverage, even supporting tax increases to get his state's fiscal house in order. His tough-love measures were unpopular for awhile, but after he cruised to reelection while Obama won his state, he's got to be part of the conversation about future Republican leaders, a former Reagan aide and drug-company executive who cares about policy and knows what he's doing.


Mickey Edwards makes the same case in Reclaiming Conservatism, that a substantial retooling is required – and a move away from religious fervor and anti-intellectualism – and this is a Republican legislator from Oklahoma who helped found the Heritage Foundation, not some Libertarian from San Francisco with a blog. He takes to task the mutant form of "conservatism" that pollutes the ideals of Lincoln's party in the minds of Americans today, pinning the cause of the drift on "coalition forming with neoconservatives, the religious right and former supporters of George Wallace who all owed little to the Goldwater-style conservatism in which the thing being 'conserved' was the liberal revolution embodied in the Constitution." Hoover Institute Fellow Bill Whalen has recently called for a twenty-first century conservatism. Seen any headers with that phrase recently?

Or, instead of reclaiming conservatism, American rank-and-file conservatives could stay with the social-religious wing of the party that performed so well on Tuesday. Yes, I did my share of Palin-bashing leading up to the election. Palin was chosen because the GOP thought she could unite religious conservatives, disaffected Hillarians, and bring down the average age of the ticket, not because she was the most brilliant conservative executive in the country. But I also don't think she's a bad person. For example, I would buy a house from Sarah Palin. I would live next door to Sarah Palin. And there is nothing inconsistent with saying I still don't want her to be President, or Vice President, and that goes beyond my disagreement with her views. If you owned shares in Pfizer, a massive pharmaceutical company, and they were going to bring in as CEO a woman who had only run a small San Diego biotech company with 50 employees, how would that sit with you - even if you fundamentally agreed with her strategic plan and management philosophy? Now how about if you didn't?

The big question is, what's more important to you, your country, or your party? I hope I don't have to make that choice in another election. The Democrats have their man in the White House for the next four, and I plan to do my 0.00000001% on this blog to persuade him, through you, to change certain policies that I disagree with.

One more question: the U.S. has been around for 219 years. What are your plans for us for the next 219 years?

Consequences for Dole's Religious Extremism

No need to go into detail, but the chickens came home to roost for Lizzy Dole. Dole decided to go the holier-than-thou attack route and accused her opponent of being "godless". And North Carolina voters realized she was a little creepy, and voted for Kay Hagan for Senate instead.

Could this signal the end of using Americans' faith as a wedge issue? As Karl Rove said, I am not fortunate enough to be a person of faith, but I don't think that people who are care for this kind of exploitation by politicians. At least the ones in North Carolina don't.

California Gay Marriage Ban Passes

Gavin Newsom said it best when he stated that California now has the dubious distinction of being the first U.S. State to take away a right that has previously been granted. Proposition 8 passed tonight, writing into our state constitution the refusal of the right of marriage to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court had previously allowed this right, and now it's been
revoked. Newsom added that, regardless of your moral position as a voter, you can't ignore that California's economy has been so strong for so long because it attracts talented, hard-working young people of all walks of life, gay or straight, and this intiative is saying, "Regardless of your ability, we don't want you." I don't appreciate intrusive moralists, acting as part of a national campaign based in Virginia and organized by fundamentalist elites, taking this social reverse-engineering project upon themselves. This is incredibly disappointing and embarrassing for my chosen home state, a state I'm very proud to call my home.

There are two reasons people often provide (and conflate) in arguing to take away this right. The first is the consequentialist argument. It says: marriage is a fundamental building block of society, and if we allow gay marriage to alter the institution, we'll irreversibly damage society. Guess what? Massachusetts already has it. Spain has it. Canada and other U.S. states have civil unions, and civilization hasn't ended in any of those places. Sorry - the consequentialist argument is dead on arrival.

The other approach to morality is absolutism. The absolutist argument is that gay marriage is wrong because it's wrong, period, no matter the consequences or lack thereof. I have yet to meet a single person making this argument who isn't making it out of religious convictions (and sure enough, the Bible does say to kill gay people). The problem here is that religious convictions are fine, except where they're hurting your neighbor even when your neighbor isn't doing anything that demonstrably hurts you. If, as Jefferson said, he is neither breaking your leg nor picking your pocket, you have nothing to say about him. And real small-government Republican officials agree.

I think it says something that this effort to take away a civil right is one of the few victories of conservatives on Election Day 2008. Do conservatives really want to be known as a force for big intrusive government? It seems the answer is a resounding yes.