The Stimulus worked

I meant to post this before Thanksgiving, but it's still worth doing.  The NY Times ran a nice story summing up opinions from private-sector economists (i.e., people paid to be accurate about their opinions rather than just make an ideological point) who largely agree that the stimulus has been quite effective and that our economic situation would be a good bit worse had we not passed this.  Most estimate that unemployment would have been about 2% higher (that's huge!) and that GDP growth would've been 2% lower.  Those figures are nothing to sneeze at.  The problem is that Obama gets no credit for averting economic catastrophe when the economy is still in such poor shape.  "It could've been a lot worse" just isn't much of a rallying cry.  It is, however, an important thing to know.  And it is, of course, worth noting that the modern Republican party has basically taken it as dogma that the stimulus was a bad thing.  Wouldn't want evidence to get in the way of ideology.


What to do about Afghanistan?

Short answer: I don't know.  What to do in Afghanistan strikes me as an extraordinary difficult foreign policy decision and I've yet to read or hear something that thoroughly convinced me one way or the other.  Perhaps that's because being open-minded means accepting that there are no good answers to Afghanistan and there is huge uncertainty about whatever path we choose.  I felt like my studied ambivalence on the issue was validated by Fred Kaplan's latest column in Slate where he confessing to not having a strong opinion about what to do despite writing a column titled, "War Stories."  Kaplan's column nicely lays out the various pro, cons, and uncertainties about the various approaches.  Kaplan's admitted uncertainty and ambivlance is, of course, hugely refreshing in a columnist, and I think in this policy area quite appropriate. The problem for Obama is that, as Kaplan sums it up:

My guess is that President Obama held so many meetings with his national-security advisers on this topic—nine, plus a 10th on Sunday night
to get their orders and talking points straight—because he wanted to
break through his own ambivalences; because he needed to come up with a
reason (not just a rationalization) for doing whatever it is that he's
decided to do, some assurance that it really does make sense, that it
has a chance of working, so he can defend it to Congress, the nation,
and the world with conviction. Let's hope he found something. A
columnist can be ambivalent; a president can't be.

Though my strongest impulse is to question the wisdom of a troop escalation (especially after listening to this amazing edition of Bill Moyer's Journal which featured archival tapes of LBJ discussing whether to escalate in Vietnam), I find it hard to second-guess too strongly any decision Obama makes in this area.  Nobody can argue he isn't giving the matter thorough consideration.

Republicans decrease the intelligence of the American people

Latest polling from the Post: less people accept global warming.  The poll question asks simply whether the earth is getting hotter, not whether humans are causing it.  There's pretty much 0 scientific controversy about that first point.  Even the skeptics (almost none of whom are actually climate scientists) admit to that.  Not surprisingly, the increasing stupidity of the American public (you can never really underestimate that) is driven by the Republican party:

The increase in climate skepticism is driven largely by a shift within
the GOP. Since its peak 3 1/2 years ago, belief that climate change is
happening is down sharply among Republicans — 76 to 54 percent — and
independents — 86 to 71 percent. It dipped more modestly among
Democrats, from 92 to 86 percent.

Of course Democrats have their flaws, but Republicans willful denial of scientific reality is positively medieval.  

Obama and Wall Street

Steve Pearlstein has a really interesting column today arguing that Obama is much too beholden to Wall Street.  There's small, but meaningful steps he could be taking, but isn't.  I have to admit, I agree.


What you missed

So, I was trying to clean up my blog interface a little tonight and delete all the posts that I meant to do during my blog hiatus and never got around to actually blogging about.  Some of them, I couldn't bring myself to delete, so rather than say anything particularly interesting about these, I'm just going to present the link and brief summaries that I never quite blogged about but were definitely worth it:

  1. What we can learn from Portugal's drug decriminalization policy.
  2.  It is, in fact, insane to expect doctor's to effectively treat people without actually having any sleep.
  3. Some interesting theories from evolutionary biology as to why men and women respond to pornography so differently.
  4. My favorite: 7 myths of energy independence.

No back to your regularly-scheduled blogging.

Oh, no, what about terrorists learning our secrets?!

One of the dumber arguments against trying KSM in New York is that somehow terrorists are going to learn all of our top secret methods (who knew the U.S. uses waterboarding?).  The truth is federal judges routinely bend over backwards to protect any information the government deems secret.  Glenn Greenwald strenuously makes the argument here (actually, I don't think there's any arguments Greenwald doesn't make strenuously):

Once conservatives became embarrassed by their cowardly warnings
that we would all be killed if we held a 9/11 trial in New York, they
switched to a new argument:  trials in a real court would lead to the
disclosure of classified information that would help the Terrorists…

To see how false this claim is, all anyone ever had to do was look at the Classified Information Procedures Act, a short and crystal clear 1980 law that not only permits, but requires, federal courts to undertake extreme measures to ensure the concealment of classified information, even including concealment from the defendant himself

Even during the Bush years, numerous defendants accused of terrorist
acts were tried and convicted in federal courts — John Walker Lindh,
Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ali al-Marri, Jose Padilla.  Those
spewing the latest right-wing scare tactic (Osama bin Laden will learn everything if we have trials!)
cannot point to a single piece of classified information that was
disclosed as a result of any of these trials.  If that were a
legitimate fear, wouldn't they be able to?  Like most American
institutions, our federal court system is empowered to shield from
public disclosure anything the government claims is secret.

Next totally false conservative argument?

Time to end the filibuster

Just how ridiculous has the filibuster become?  Theoretically, the filibuster is unlimited debate, such that the majority can never take a vote while being stymied by the minority holding the floor during debate.  The only way to end this "debate" is to have a super-majority of 60 votes.  This weekend, Republicans used the filibuster to try and prevent the health care reform bill from even being debated– the Democrats' 60 votes this weekend were simply votes to allow debate to begin.  Absurd!  Last week, Politico (of all places) actually ran a really smart essay on why we simply need to end this filibuster foolishness:


Both parties have historically used the filibuster, but its overuse by
modern Republicans stands at outrageous proportions. Not only has the
number of filibusters increased dramatically — from never more than
seven a year in the 1960s to a record 137 in the last Congress — so,
too, has their banality.

For example, this month the Senate unanimously passed an extension of
unemployment benefits. It took the breaking of three filibusters and
five weeks of debate to pass the bill while, at the same time, 200,000
Americans lost their benefits. Even pettier is the GOP’s repeated use
of holds. Thomas Shannon, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to
Brazil, is a career Foreign Service officer and served in the Bush
administration. But that has not stopped two Republican senators from
holding up his nomination, for unknown reasons…

In effect, majority rule in the Senate has been supplanted by
undemocratic, supermajority rule. The filibuster has become a tool to
block not just bad legislation but all legislation; it has become so
endemic that it is now an institutionalized way of doing business,
casting its shadow over everything the Senate does.

Solutions to the filibuster problem exist; what is lacking is political will…

Yet while Democrats rail against the GOP’s use of the filibuster, they
seem wary of doing anything about it — no doubt fearful that when they
are out of power, they will be unable to wield the filibuster against
Republican proposals. Yet the longer they allow the GOP to thwart their
agenda, the greater the likelihood that Democrats will soon find
themselves in the minority.

The GOP’s continued misuse of the filibuster represents the single
greatest threat to the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda and its
political future. Biting the bullet on modifying its use will not be
easy, but the longer Democrats empower Republicans by accepting
institutionalized obstructionism as the status quo, the more likely
they are to confirm the worst suspicions of their opponents and
disappoint their most ardent supporters.

It's a great essay.  Read the whole thing.  Also, Dana Milbank, who seemed to have long ago given up on useful journalism, has a nice article pointing out the extreme nature of Republican hypocrisy on filibustering judicial nominees.  Of course, hypocrisy and politics are virtually synonymous, but what the Democrats have been practicing on the issue is AA hypocrisy whereas Republicans are Major League All-Stars. 


All those Senators who speak with such reverence for the founders are clearly full of it.  If the founders had any intention of making the Senate a super-majoritarian institution, they sure would have done so.  To permanently turn the Senate into a super-majority legislature based on a procedural rule is surely more of a subversion of the Constitution than pretty much any decision by an "activist judge."  Time for the filibuster to go.


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