Save the Prairie Dogs!!

or, Why political control of the bureaucracy matters.  This Washington Post story describes how a Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly rejected the recommendations of government scientists to protect various endangered species.  The key facts:

A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has
rejected staff scientists' recommendations to protect imperiled animals
and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least six times in the
past three years, documents show.

In addition, staff complaints
that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged
at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector
general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy
assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks
since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species.

The documents show that MacDonald has repeatedly refused to go along
with staff reports concluding that species such as the white-tailed
prairie dog  and the Gunnison sage grouse are at risk of extinction.
Career officials and scientists urged the department to identify the
species as either threatened or endangered.

So, in short, a political appointee without expertise in endangered species is overruling the professional opinions of government scientists who have their jobs because of their merit, not because of who they know.  Just one example of the many small ways in which it matter who (i.e., President Bush) is appointing the top level management at government bureaucracies. 

The government does not want you to have sex!

At least not if you are unmarried (i.e., 99% of my students).  Apparently, the failed abstinence only policy for high school sex education is not enough (trust me, there's copious evidence that this does not work) and now the Department of Health and Human Services is pushing abstinence for adults aged 20-29.  That's right, your federal tax dollars at work encouraging you not to have sex.  How's that for keeping the federal government off your back?

Karl Rove, boy genius?

I was explaining about electoral college strategy in my campaigns and elections class today and I told the story of how Rove sent Bush into California the weekend before the 2000 election in a supposed show of confidence and strength.  Bush, of course, lost Florida handily– had the ultimate result turned out differently, Rove's “genius” surely would have been called into question over this maneuver.  How nice, then, to return from class, check in at Talking Points Memo and see that one of my blogging role models, Josh Marshall, has addressed this very point in a post today:

It was about a stunt Rove pulled that almost lost Bush the presidency in 2000.

Going into the big day the polls all showed a very, very close race,
with perhaps ever so slight an edge for Bush. Conventional logic would
have dictated sending Bush to swing states like Florida. But that's not
what Rove did. He chose instead to send Bush to California and New
Jersey — states Bush could only have any hope of winning in a
blow-out. The reasoning was simple. Rove figured that he could
accomplish more through convincing mainly the press, but also activists
and even highly-plugged voters, that Bush was going to win big than he
would by sending his guy into a state like Florida for some last minute
retail politicking.

It's the bandwagon effect. Psyche out the other side. Act like
you're winning and you'll charge up your activists/voters and
demoralize the folks on the other side. Mainly, get the press to
believe your hype and they'll do the charging up and demoralizing for
you. As it happened, it was a really dumb decision in 2000. If not for
faulty ballots and election stealing, Bush would have lost Florida and
the presidency. And given the margin, at least conceivable that Bush
could have won fair and square had he spent the last few days on the ground in Florida.

This is part of a larger post about how both Democrats and Republicans remain convinced that Rove has some trick up his sleeve to save this election for the Republicans.  I'm definitely with Marshall that Rove is basically just trying to bluff.  Karl Rove may be super-evil (just kidding), but he's not super-human. 

Yellow Dog

Michael Kinsley had a column in Slate today espousing the virtues of yellow-dogism.  Historically, many Democrats, especially in the Solid South, were referred to as “Yellow Dog Democrats” because they would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican.  This is quite an unfashionable idea in modern American politics where you are supposed to vote for the best person, not the party, but Kinsley nicely explains why it makes sense to vote based purely on party– especially in political times as these:

There is nothing wrong with voting for the party and not the person.
There is even nothing wrong with blindly voting for the Democrat (or, I
suppose, the Republican) even if you know nothing else about him or
her. In other democracies, such as Britain, this person-not-the-party
piety is not just unknown but would be hard to comprehend. Whatever
Burke may have said, a member of Parliament is your representative. He
or she runs on a party platform promising various things, and if that
party wins a majority of seats it “forms a government.” You would be
silly to vote for the person and not the party. The party's views are
what counts. The person's own views are almost irrelevant.

under the American arrangement, there is nothing ignoble about voting
the party line. It is an efficient way to minimize your information
costs. Voting is an irrational act: Despite what they drum into you
starting in kindergarten, your vote does not matter unless
it's a tie. And even 2000 was not a tie. The more effort you put into
learning about the candidates, the more irrational voting becomes, and
the more likely you are not to bother. A candidate's party affiliation
doesn't tell you everything you would like to know, but it tells you
something. In fact, it tells you a lot–?enough so that it even makes
sense to vote your party preference even when you know nothing else
about a candidate. Or even vote for a candidate that you actively

Kinsley considers the example of Connecticut's Chris Shays– a solid person and quite moderate Republican by all accounts.  Yet, Shays is just 1 of 435 members of the House and he will vote for Republican House leadership.  If somebody is opposed to the agenda of the Republican leadership, they should vote against Shays, period.  I'm proud to be a yellow dog Democrat.  I'd rather have an incompetent boob pursuing policies I agree with than a skillful politician pursuing policies I think are bad for the country.  I've often said that my own yellow dog would be preferable to George Bush.

At least she wouldn't screw things up.  And she'd surely be much better at diplomacy. 


Terrorists are Democrats?

A rather disturbing theme from Republicans lately has taken to suggesting that insurgents/”terrorists” in Iraq (I think a case can be made that the two are quite distinct) have stepped up the level of violence in order to help the Democrats win the midterm elections.  A pretty scurilous and accusation, but pretty typical for this gang.  The Carpetbagger has been good enough to document some recent quotes:

Q: Are the terrorists trying to influence our election in your view?

Cheney: I think they're very much aware of our political calendar
here, I really do. And when you see the kinds of things that happened
this year, for example, when the Democratic Party in Connecticut purged
Joe Lieberman, in effect, drummed him out of the party on the grounds
that he had supported the President in the global war on terror, that
sends a message to the terrorists overseas that their basic strategy of
trying to break the will of the American people may, in fact, work. [..]

Q: I have a Pentagon source that tells me there are websites out
there that they've just recently translated that actually refer to the
election and ask for an up-tick in violence to try and influence the
election, is that accurate?

Cheney: I wouldn't be surprised. It sounds right to me….

Cheney: “[T]he terrorists are actually involved and want
to involve themselves in our electoral process, which must mean they
want a change.”

Bush: “There?s certainly a stepped up level of violence, and we?re heading into an election.”

Tony Snow: “[I]t is possible that [terrorists] are trying to use violence right now as a way of influencing the elections.”

Rumsfeld: “Here they are, getting up every day saying, 'We've got an
election in two weeks in America, gang, and we want to change horses
over there because we don't like the folks we're having to deal with
now; they're a little tough on us. So let's get out there and let's
make some noise.'”

I was going to write my own summary, but I'll just go with the Carpetbagger's:

How painfully ridiculous. First, Bush has already admitted that there's no intelligence to suggest that terrorists are trying to influence the elections.

And second, if terrorists were intent on affecting our campaign cycle, who, exactly, would they want to help? Al Qaeda wants the war in Iraq to continue, the RNC is paying considerable amounts of money to publicize enemy propaganda film, and the CIA has intelligence showing that bin Laden has timed messages to help Bush politically, for fear that a Democrat might undermine al Qaeda's gameplan.

I'll just second that and say it seems pretty clear that the Bush administration is about the best recruiting tool Islamist milititants have ever had. 

My family is bucking the trend

Interesting story in the News & Observer this week about how blue eyes are becoming ever more rare in the United States:

Once a hallmark of the boy and girl next door, blue eyes have become
increasingly rare among American children. Immigration patterns,
intermarriage and genetics all play a part in their steady decline.
While the drop-off has been a century in the making, the plunge in the
past few decades has taken place at a remarkable rate.

About half
of Americans born at the turn of the century had blue eyes, according
to a 2002 Loyola University study in Chicago. By midcentury that number
had dropped to a third. Today only about one of every six Americans has
blue eyes, said Mark Grant, the epidemiologist who conducted the study.

As you can see here, our three red-haired, blue-eyed boys are bucking the trend. 

On a side note, when I was trying to find this article on-line, I also came across this article about a recent Norwegian study that suggests that blue eyes can be a clue to paternity.  Don't worry, I've got blue eyes in my family :-).  Here's the study in a nutshell:

According to their study, blue-eyed men find blue-eyed women more
attractive than brown-eyed women due to an unconscious male desire to
be able to determine paternity.

The laws of genetics result in offspring of two blue-eyed parents
having blue eyes while if both parents have brown eyes then
three-quarters of the children will have brown eyes and one-quarter
will have blue.

As the brown-eye section in genes is dominant over blue, it follows
that if a child born to parents who both have blue eyes does not itself
have blue eyes then the blue-eyed father is not the biological father.

The researchers argue that is therefore “reasonable” to expect that
a man would be more attracted towards a woman who displays a trait that
increases his paternal confidence and the likelihood that he could
uncover his partner's infidelity.

New Jersey’s Gay Marriage decision

It is a little early to see what the political impact of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage will be, but I wanted to go ahead and weigh in with some thoughts on the decision.  Basically, what the court decided is that New Jersey must allow civil unions– whether they will be “marriage” or not is up to the state legislature, but the legal rights of a marriage, i.e., taxes, survivorship, health care decisions, etc. cannot be denied to same sex couples. This is actually quite similar to the position the Vermont Supreme Court took several years ago.  It is also worth noting that in the 4-3 decision, the dissent did so because they thought the NJ Constitution demanded actual marriage, not just civil unions. 

Surely, the conservative Christian right sees this as a big break before the elections to help mobilize their base.  It may very well do that (though I think at this point it would take a lot more to keep the House from going to the Democrats).  Nonetheless, this decision actually captures, as well as any can, the sense of the American public on the issue.  Public opinion polls tend to show that, by a small margin, more Americans are in favor of some sort of legal recognition for same-sex unions (marriage or civil union) than are completely opposed to gay marriage or civil unions. 

There is admittedly some variance based on question wording, but the civil union position clearly has wide acceptance. 

In her column, Dahlia Lithwick also nicely explained that this is not judicial activism, as its critics are surely already claiming.  I'll let her have the last word:

This case is about New Jersey. It's about that state's constitution
and that state's statutory scheme, which rejects the treatment of
homosexuals as “second class” citizens. This 4-3 decision reflects a
compromise position between mandating gay marriage and tolerating
bigotry. It also happens to reflect the preferences of the majority of
New Jersey citizens?not that this matters for legal purposes, but it
should certainly diffuse claims about judicial activists who override
the will of the people.

If you care at all about states' rights
and state autonomy, read this decision. If you believe in judicial
minimalism, read this decision. If you think judges should engage in
careful scrutiny of state law, read this decision before blasting it as
activism. This was a state court taking care of state business.

Memo to Karl Rove: Those who oppose this decision aren't opposed to judicial activism. They are opposed to judges.

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