Sunday, June 29, 2008

Duty Free

Just picked up a liter (I guess around here it's a litre) of Bombay Sapphire for $18.58 at the Duty Free store here in Hong Kong. Building my liquor cabinet through international travel will be part of the game plan for the next couple years.

Singapore!

I'm leaving for my new job at the National University of Singapore in a couple hours. Wooooo!

Things I've posted on Cogitamus lately

If Obama wins the election, who will replace him? Let's hope the Governor of Illinois picks Jan Schakowsky.

John Edwards polls better in Ohio than the Governor of Ohio. And with economic worries getting more intense, he's the sort of VP pick you need.

I can NBA-blog too! Here I talk about how Michael Beasley really is the best player in the draft.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sadly, The Name 'Moral Hazard' Is Already Taken

Lindsay Beyerstein and Amanda Marcotte introduce me to a kind of market failure I hadn't heard of before. Compucredit VISA "cut credit lines if consumers used their cards at certain places. Among them: tire and retreading shops, massage parlors, bars, billiard halls, and marriage counseling offices."

As Amanda says, the idea is that these things correlate with future credit problems. If you're getting your tires retreaded, it's probably because you don't have enough money to buy new tires, which is a sign that you may have financial problems down the road. If you're going for marriage counseling, you're more likely than average to have a messy and financially difficult divorce in your future. Never mind that marriage counseling may help you keep your marriage together and avoid these problems. Useful attempts to remedy a problem correlate with problems, so the bean counters will regard you as a problem if they see you taking them.

Taken to an extreme, this sort of thing can prevent you from taking useful steps to get your life in order. If you're having marital problems that require some counseling, don't get counseling or the credit card company will get antsy and take away your credit! So now we're in a situation where the forces of the market give people reasons to avoid helping themselves.

Telecom immunity

So the new big controversial thing I've written is a post on how the new telecom immunity legislation, though bad, isn't quite the disaster that people have made it out to be. There's good discussion in comments.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Veepery

Two VP-pick related posts at the CogBlog today: One on Barney Frank putting his foot down against the Sam Nunn VP ridiculousness, and one on why picking Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty doesn't deliver Minnesota to McCain.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Taking It To The Max

I've been very interested to read Ezra's posts on Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, an oft-disappointing Senator who's crucial in reforming health care. Yglesias details how Baucus helped Bush pass his tax cuts for the rich and takes tons of money from health care and insurance interests. I remember Baucus as the only Dem to vote against giving DC a vote in Congress, on the ridiculous grounds that it would dilute Montana's voting power. But Ezra lays out some reasons for optimism that he's taking health care seriously and says in comments:

Baucus is the chair of the relevant committee for health care reform. If you care about the issue, you have to watch him closely, try to figure out what he's doing, and try to figure out what his incentives are and how to shape them.

This is one instance of a big question that I generally don't know how to answer: How do you, as an ordinary citizen, get an influential Senator from another state to do what you want? I know only two ways to push on a Senator -- direct contact through letters and phone calls, and primary challenges. The former only works if you live in the state, and the latter probably isn't feasible in the case of a red-state Democrat who works his evil magic behind closed doors in the Senate, not out in the open on cable TV like that idiot from Connecticut who got kicked out of the party in 2006.

All that comes to mind is buying BlogAds on Left in the West to explain to our Montana progressive brethren that the fate of American health care is on their shoulders, and we'll buy them all the beer they want if they organize really good letter-writing campaigns. Is that the appropriate move here?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Home of the Whopper

The LA Times caught up with "Curveball", the guy who told the CIA all the bullshit about WMD in Iraq. I'd always thought he was a top scientist or something. Turns out that he left Iraq after his shampoo business failed (he was cheating his partners), his cosmetics business failed (he was cheating his suppliers) and he lost his job at a TV company (he was selling their equipment on the black market). He was working at a Burger King in Germany when we were deciding whether to invade Iraq:

In early 2002, a year before the war, he told co-workers at the Burger King that he spied for Iraqi intelligence and would report any fellow Iraqi worker who criticized Hussein's regime.

They couldn't decide if he was dangerous or crazy.

"During breaks, he told stories about what a big man he was in Baghdad," said Hamza Hamad Rashid, who remembered an odd scene with the pudgy Alwan in his too-tight Burger King uniform praising Hussein in the home of der Whopper. "But he always lied. We never believed anything he said."

His fellow Burger King employees knew he lying. (I imagine that the guy who gave him the codename 'Curveball' had an inkling too. I'm waiting for it to be revealed that the CIA's other informants were codenamed 'Play-action' and 'Headfake'). But he said what Bush wanted to hear, and the CIA bought it.

If only a Burger King employee had been president instead of George W. Bush.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did Anybody Watch That 70's Show?

I see that a lot of the folks over at The Next Right like attacking Barack Obama by tying him to Jimmy Carter. One of the foremost problems with this is that half of today's voters are too young to get the reference. The median voter is 46 years old, meaning that they were 17 when Carter left office, and presumably not paying too much attention to macroeconomic phenomena.

And the late 70s weren't all that bad for ordinary folks -- the unemployment rate during the Carter years was well below the worst numbers of the Reagan era. Of course, the combination of stagnant asset values and inflation made it a terrible time to be an investor, so tying Obama to Carter will probably resonate with the voter who had a large stock portfolio during the Carter days. McCain is welcome to make those folks the focus of his messaging, just as I'm sure he'll be welcome to visit Barack Obama in the White House next year.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Instant Identities! Just Add Water!

Kevin and Ezra are making fun of the post where Jim Geraghty tries to attack Barack Obama for not wanting to live the life of a suburban commuter who works a 9-to-5 job. Geraghty tells us that "there's a fine line between rejecting that life and looking down at that life. Because some people are just fine with jobs that require them to take the New Rochelle train... Never mind the small towners who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment." Obama didn't want to be a suburban commuter." It's a half-assed attempt to gin up something like a new anti-suburban-commuter Bittergate. Or something.

Right-wingers have coveted the power of left-wing identity politics for some time. They don't, however, have a good idea of why gender and racial solidarity are politically powerful. When some group has a common interest, you can get them to band together behind it. Defeating racism and sexism definitely count. But what are suburban commuters up against? Lousy train service? Unless Republicans are going to go after Ryan Avent and David Alpert with box cutters and somehow hijack the mass transit movement, they're just not going to succeed in stirring up an anti-Obama suburban commuter voting bloc.

Why don't Republicans get this? In part, it's because a lot of them think racism and sexism are over. So they think that Democratic voting blocs are still hanging together in the absence of any common interest. And if identity politics is that easy, turning Italian-Americans, or suburban commuters, or anyone else into a cohesive anti-Democratic group will be simple. But actually, there are good reasons why voting blocs hang together.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Big Obama/Edwards post

I forgot to link my favorite post as a guestblogger for Kevin Drum. It's the big one in which I lay out 10 good reasons for an Obama/Edwards ticket.

Edwards is denying VP interest a little more intensely than VP candidates usually do. Given that an Obama/Edwards ticket seems to be electorally invincible (check out reason #2 from Minnesota) and Edwards is the guy I'd most want as VP and president (check out most of my blogging for the past 3 years) his protestations of disinterest aren't enough to deter me. My guess is that if Obama told Edwards he'd have a somewhat looser leash than he did in the '04 Kerry days, he'd be a lot more receptive.

Another post, at Cogitamus, about the possible end of ridiculously good media coverage for John McCain is here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More Pelosi!

I've got a big love note to Nancy Pelosi at the Washington Monthly.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Foresight

Now at the Washington Monthly's site: my big post on how Barack Obama is completely awesome.

Flint

Tonight, my friends drove me up to Flint, MI, and I drank two pitchers of Killian's. It wasn't the chosen drink of any of my compatriots, so I had to drink them by myself. My head is spinning like... uh, I'm looking for some kind of economically depressed Rust Belt analogy, preferably involving things unionized workers in the automotive sector would attend to, but it's escaping me.

I hope all of you had a similarly wonderful Saturday night.