How the terrorists are winning

I was discussing just this topic during lunch today, so quite propitious to return from lunch and come across this essay:

In the meantime, we citizens need to deal with the biggest threat to America. And contrary to popular opinion, the greatest threat to America is not what a terrorist is going to do to us, but rather what we are going to do to ourselves (either because of what they did to us in the past or what we think they might do to us in the future). In short, terrorists aren’t the biggest threat to America, we are.

Consider this: We are the world’s only superpower. We have 309 million citizens and control 3.79 million square miles of land. At $14.3 trillion, we have the world’s largest economy. We make up two-fifths of the world’s military spending. It is virtually impossible for our enemies to beat us physically…

So since you can’t destroy the land that is America; in order to destroy us, you must kill the idea that is America – the principles that brought us together in the first place and that bind us now, even when we fall short of realizing them. Our worst enemies don’t want our body. They want our soul. Like the devil, the only way they can get it is if we give it to them. Unfortunately, politicians are racing to sign the dotted line.

Over the last six weeks, politicians of both parties have abused our most cherished ideals, first by publicly bullying Muslims for wanting to pray in an ‘insensitive’ location and then by attacking a preacher for burning a book he finds offensive. On the surface, our reaction to these acts seems reasonable. Why not move a few blocks North? Why not shut down the rants of a single preacher? Is preventing the ‘free exercise’ of religion and speech to a small number of Muslims and one crazy man really that consequential? Of course not. However, our collective willingness to betray our founding principles because someone’s feelings might get hurt or because people across the ocean may not like it is profoundly consequential. Even in our darkest days – days of injustice and hypocrisy- our founding principles have provided the architecture for our endurance. They are today, as they were at our founding, who we are…

Our nation can be ‘indivisible’ only if we remain committed to the idea that our differences – whatever they may be – are less important than our shared ideals. By forfeiting these principles – and so easily – we accomplish what no terrorist ever could.


Not surprising science of the day

Via Bloomberg Businessweek:

Men are much more likely to seek and have casual sex than women, and are far less choosy about the looks of their sex partners…

The students were asked to imagine being approached by a member of the opposite sex, described as either “slightly unattractive,” “moderately attractive” or “exceptionally attractive.” The participants were then asked what their response would be if such members of the opposite sex offered to go out, go to their apartment, and to go to bed with them.

The 427 men were more likely than the 433 women to agree to casual sex, and the men expressed a greater desire for it than women. The study also found that the men were more likely to go out, go to the apartment, and go to bed with members of the opposite sex in all three categories of attractiveness.

Men needed to be exceptionally attractive to tempt women to consider casual sex, said Dr. Achim Schutzwohl, of the department of psychology at the University of Brunel in the U.K., and colleagues.

Anybody actually surprised by these findings?

How much did the health care vote matter?

So, we’ve got a number of Democrats in somewhat conservative districts in North Carolina.  Most of them voted against Obama’s health care plan.  All of them, except possibly Larry Kissell who voted against the health care plan, look like they should be re-elected.  So, I got to wondering, just how much, if any impact of the health care vote has there actually been on Democrats in conservative districts.  I asked political science blogger extraordinaire, Seth Masket, if he had seen anything suggestive of the answer.   Apparently, no.  Seth, though, being much more industrious than yours truly, rose to the challenge and actually ran some data to try and estimate this.  Seth:

Out of the original 50 districts, only 41 had members who cast a vote on health care reform and are running for reelection.  If we just divide these members based on their health care votes, those who voted for health reform are running 2.7 percentage points behind those who voted against it.  But, of course, we should control for other things, especially district conservatism, since those from the more conservative districts voted almost uniformly against reform.  I also included the members’ DW-NOMINATE scores to distinguish the health care vote from the members’ overall voting records.

What I found was that Democratic supporters of health care reform are running 3.2 percentage points behind Democratic opponents.  (This is statistically significant at the p≤.05 level.) That’s a three percentage-point penalty resulting from a single roll call vote.  I would describe that number as large.  Most members of Congress win by much greater margins than that, of course, but for Democratic incumbents from conservative districts in a distinctly anti-Democratic year, three points is serious business.  Indeed, of the 41 Democrats I examined, only six are currently forecast to win by more than three points (and none of those voted for health care reform).

Obviously, the 3 points is just an estimate, but it is a statistically sound one.  I still don’t think the health care vote will be responsible for the Democrats losing the House (the economy has that covered), but it may very well cost some Democrats their seats in close races.  And if it does, at least it was for a good cause.  Extending health care to millions of Americans is presumably the kind of thing a Democrat gets elected to Congress to do.  Should Larry Kissell lose in NC’s 8th, I won’t be shedding many tears for him.

The truth about TARP

I was talking to a Republican friend (yes, I have them) Saturday night who asked me what I thought about Obama.  The truth is, failings on civil liberties and expansion of executive power aside (okay, those are pretty big), my biggest disappointments are political, not policy failings.  Like, how he has just let the Republicans own him on the stimulus and TARP (a policy passed by Bush, no less!) which have actually been quite successful.  I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around, but surely Obama shares in it.  Both Yglesias and Drum last week had nice posts on the just how crazy it is that Obama’s taking all this flack for “the bailout” i.e., TARP, when a) it was passed under Bush; and b) it’s pretty clear to any honest observer, that it pretty much saved our financial system from utter collapse.

I really like Yglesias‘ take, because it also makes a larger and important point about “the free market”:

The real outrage of TARP has nothing to do with TARP and everything to do with the catastrophic failure of progressive politicians to win the interpretative battle over TARP in the winter of 2009-2010.

TARP was both a good idea and nothing less than an exposure of the myth of the free market. There’s an idea out there about a free market that operates “naturally” and produces a certain distribution of wealth and income. Any further interventions into that marketplace to ensure that prosperity is broadly shared constitutes some kind of illegitimate “redistribution” of wealth and income from its natural state. This is not, however, an accurate description of how any economy featuring a modern banking system works. A world in which we simply didn’t have banking and finance would be, overall, a much poorer world. But a world with banking and finance requires various forms of management—monetary policy, regulation of the financial system, and intervention amidst panics and crises. TARP and the associated activities of the Federal Reserve were examples of such intervention and were good ideas. But they highlight that public policy decisions are integral to the creation and sustainment of modern capitalist economies. Under the circumstances, wise and moral policymakers will necessarily attempt to ensure that the prosperity they create is broadly shared by law-abiding members of the community.

And Drum:

And the cost of TARP? CBO estimates the government will make a profit of $7 billion from the bank bailouts (though it may still lose money on GM and Chrysler, which were also rescued with TARP funds) and it now looks like AIG will pay back all its bailout money too. Bottom line: the ongoing recession caused by Wall Street’s reckless behavior has cost us a bundle. But TARP itself? Its net direct cost is zero, and when you include the fact that it almost certainly saved the banking system and softened the recession, it may boast the biggest bang for the buck of any bill ever passed by Congress…

Yes, TARP eventually passed, and yes, I’ll defend it anytime too. But it also represents the modern rebirth of know-nothingism represented by the Tea Party movement. I don’t have a problem with the tea partiers’ anger — hell, I share it — but instead of channeling it into a demand for genuinely game-changing reform of Wall Street, conservative demagogues and business interests managed to channel it into mindless rage at one of the very things that saved us from Wall Street’s folly.

Damn Tea Party idiots.

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