Monday, 27 August 2012

Paulites don't act like Republicans, surprised RNC doesn't treat them as GOPers

More mildly amusing reportage from Paulista/desperate book shill/journalist Brian Doherty on the Rodney Dangerfield-level of respect the Paulite delegates are receiving at the sorta-kinda-still-on GOP convention in Tampa. Shockingly, an institution designed on the premise that everyone airs their disagreements in the nomination process and then comes together behind the eventual nominee is reacting poorly to people who participate in the process but then decide to take their ball and go home when the process doesn’t work out the way they wanted.

Then again, reading the tepid reactions to Gary Johnson’s appearance, it doesn’t quite sound like the Paul crowd has much interest in electing anyone not named “Ron Paul” to public office, regardless of party label attached. Maybe they should work on legalizing cloning to fix that problem.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

On the duty of advocates to be honest with the public

TollRoadsNews, a staple of my daily Google Reader diet, is an interesting blend of news on developments in the toll road industry (as the name would imply) with the often-unhinged rants of site proprietor Peter Samuel on developments in the toll road industry. Of late, most of these rants have been in support of the beleaguered owners of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, who have so spectacularly failed in their efforts to make friends and influence people in the Detroit-Windsor area that politicians on both sides of the border have decided to put them out of business once and for all by building a nearby bridge to siphon off the company’s traffic; the latter are so irritated, in fact, that they’d apparently rather spend hundreds of millions on a new project from scratch than just exercise eminent domain over the Ambassador Bridge, which presumably would be a far less expensive option.

Today, however, Samuel turns his ire on a local TV reporter in Houston who has the temerity to point out that the Harris County Toll Road Authority has reneged on a promise made in the 1980s to remove tolls once the Sam Houston and Hardy toll roads were completed and their initial construction costs were recovered. Now, it is true that circumstances have changed since those promises were made, but it is also true that the promise was made in the first place and that similar promises made elsewhere have, at times, actually been fulfilled (for example, in the case of the Kentucky parkway system, albeit in some cases due to the generosity of the federal taxpayer at the behest of Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky).

At the very least, the public is owed an explanation from those who made the promises as to why they were not fulfilled, particularly if the initial promises were disingenuous, at best. I don’t think Samuel would disagree with this notion in the general case (for example, given his apparently-conservative politics, I’d imagine he’d have rather choice words for the Obamacare advocates who are championing its mythical cost-savings), so it is disappointing that in this particular case he seems to be giving public-sector tollers a pass.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Why read the minds of the Framers when we can read what they wrote?

In the midst of a rant against Team Red, James Fallows makes the following observation:

As with equal representation for all states in the Senate, real-world circumstances have changed so dramatically in the past 230+ years that the practical-minded drafters of the Constitution would never have suggested that the details of their scheme should be applied, unaltered, in the 21st century. [italics mine]

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the practical-minded drafters of the Constitution didn’t think that every state should be entitled to equal representation in the Senate forever. If only there had been some way to include provisions in the constitution that expired, could be amended, or only applied to some states—for example, the Constitution could have still guaranteed equal numbers of Senators for each state that existed at the time of ratification, which would have still effected the Great Compromise between large and small states, but might have made no such guarantee for future states, the admission of which were clearly anticipated in the text. That they didn’t suggests that they thought that equal representation of the states in the Senate to be an important value of the constitutional order they established.

And, of course, the Framers designed the Constitution’s scheme to be alterable. If, sometime in the last 230 years, societal consensus had evolved to produce a more Hamiltonian view of the powers of the federal government vis à vis the states, surely the Constitution could have been amended to provide for that consensus to be enshrined into it. The fact the Constitution has laid effectively dormant for 40 years speaks more to the fact judicial whims have evolved to “constitutionalize” changes that in the past would be done by amendment than some inherent difficulty in amending the Constitution in the first place.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Rooting for laundry counterfactual

Assume, for the moment, that the Supreme Court rules that the mandate does not exceed Congress’ powers under the commerce and necessary and proper clauses. (This assumption was probably a safe one for most progressives until Tuesday morning.) The ruling sparks howls of outrage and Republicans win comfortable majorities in Congress this November and Mitt Romney takes the White House.

Congress subsequently determines that Americans can no longer feel sufficiently secure in their homes. Law enforcement, while adequate in some parts of the country, is seriously deficient in others; the rich can hire private security to protect their life, liberty, and property, but no such luck for everyone else. This lack of human security is adversely affecting the national economy; people are losing wages due to injury and death that might be prevented by deterring violent crime. Accordingly, Congress decides, pursuant to its power under the commerce and necessary and proper clauses, to pass a law requiring all Americans over the age of 18 to purchase a firearm. Not just any firearm—because Congress has decided there might be a need to shoot at an intruder from a distance and avoid disturbing the neighbors, the firearm must be equipped with a scope and a suppressor (“silencer”), even though most Americans will never need to shoot anyone at a distance or without waking up the neighbors. And, to ensure that there will not be any shortage of bullets, all firearms complying with the mandate must fire a standard cartridge, so many existing firearms will have to either be retrofitted or replaced to comply. The poor will receive a subsidy sufficient to purchase a firearm meeting these standards. Individuals not presenting proof of ownership of a firearm annually, as part of their tax return, will receive a non-tax penalty for non-compliance, which will be garnished from IRS refunds but otherwise not collected. This law is passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Romney.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: find some way to distinguish the Obamacare case, Florida v. Health and Human Services, from this hypothetical.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

To live or die on the mandate

As everyone knows, it’s Obamacare Week at the Supreme Court (perhaps the less interesting version of Teen Week on Jeopardy!), and today was the main-event showdown over the constitutionality of the mandate. All observers agree it wasn’t the Solicitor General’s finest hour, but Supreme Court cases aren’t really decided by the quality of the oral argument in most cases, and the SG is playing with house money anyway—across the history of the Supreme Court, the solicitor general usually wins (around 70–75% of the time).

Leaving aside the tea leaves, and the wishful thinking that typified people on both sides of the debate going in, the question that strikes me is why the law’s defenders have become so hung up on the mandate question itself. Barack Obama himself campaigned against it in the primaries back in 2008, and even today most people acknowledge that the only real harm from a lack of a mandate would accrue to the insurance companies who’d be stuck taking all comers without getting a mandatory buy-in from the young and healthy, who last I checked were hardly at the top of most liberals’ Christmas card lists. Even there the harm can’t be that great; Obamacare expands Medicaid eligibility substantially, and most of the young and healthy will be staying on parents’ insurance policies well into their twenties (except for, ironically enough, the military’s TRICARE plan). Abolishing the individual mandate wouldn’t get rid of the employer mandate (indeed, neither side is contesting the constitutionality of that). If adverse selection does drive insurers out of business—a big if—doesn’t that just put us one step closer to the single-payer system that liberals (and even some libertarian-leaning conservatives like James Joyner) support?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Back to the olden days

Michael Waterstone in a post about a Supreme Court case that I really don’t know anything about one way or another writes about Justice Scalia’s concurrence in the judgment in said case:

But to Justice Scalia, this means that (except for race discrimination, which he views as different for stare decisis reasons), he would limit Congress’s Section 5 power to conduct that itself violates the Fourteenth Amendment. I find this flat out wrong. As a textual matter, Section 5 gives Congress the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment by appropriate legislation. If all Congress can do is outlaw that which is already unconstitutional, what is the point?

It would seem to me (at least) that the major point of the 14th Amendment was to confer to Congress and the federal government more broadly the power to enforce, upon the states, at least some of the guarantees embodied in the Constitution that had previously been held under Barron v. Baltimore (1833) not to be so-enforceable, in essence to expand Congress’ enumerated powers to encompass enforcement of the amendment itself (which it would not have, absent the Supreme Court reinterpreting Article I of the Constitution to imply Congress has some sort of power to do things that aren’t listed there and not necessary or proper to do the things listed there).

Perhaps viewed through a modern lens where the judiciary routinely has the backing of the executive and legislative branches to overrule the decisions of state governments, such a power seems rather trivial, but in the context of the 1860s when state laws were rarely challenged by the federal government (and when the scope and powers of the federal government were interpreted so narrowly as to rarely infringe on what the states wanted to do) I think explicitly stating Congress had such a power to enforce a new provision of the Constitution, particularly since the 14th Amendment was only the second (after the 13th) to expand the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states (again, given that the Bill of Rights was generally seen at the time as to only apply to the national government, and that the 11th Amendment had actually reduced the powers of the federal government), is hardly meaningless or self-evident.

Monday, 5 March 2012

An aside comment on the "Best Star Wars Film" debate

While I don’t want to wade too deeply into the argument, seemingly initiated by Kevin Drum’s rather absurd notion that Return of the Jedi is the best of the six* Star Wars films, regarding the relative merits of the various films in the series (see also: Doug Mataconis at OTB and Seth Masket), I do want to raise a minor point in response to Dan Drezner on the politics (or lack thereof) in the triology:

The conundrum that political scientists face is that even though the original trilogy contains the better films, the second trilogy has the better politics. There are no politics in Episodes IV-VI, unless one counts Vader and the Emperor’s wooing of Luke. In the prequel trilogy, however, there are lots of parliamentary machinations, tussles between the Jedi Council and the Chancellor, Anakin’s lust for power, and Darth Sidious’ grand strategy for converting the Republic into an Empire.

To a political scientist, that’s good stuff. To human beings interested in enjoying a film, it’s tissue paper without things like strong characters, a good screenplay, and decent plotting.

While I’m slightly sympathetic to Dan’s argument here, the reality is that the politics of the prequel trilogy are, in a word, silly, even leaving aside arguments about whether one would plausibly construct an elective, term-limited monarchy in which the only valid candidates for office are teenage girls, or what sane society would elect the likes of Jar Jar Binks to high office (ok, maybe that one is more credible). Sure, there are depictions of politics, but only within the context of political structures that make no sense, such as the Senate of the Republic (there’s a reason that real legislatures don’t have membership sizes in excess of the population of a mid-sized city) and the Jedi Council (there’s also a reason that real legislatures governing groups of people in the millions have more than a half-dozen, self-selected members).

Slathering on a layer of thinly-veiled BusHitler allegory doesn’t exactly help matters either, if only because in 20 years nobody will get the point Lucas was belaboring—to illustrate the point, imagine if Lucas had taken a 20-minute detour during Empire Strikes Back to establish some boring parallel between the political ascents of “black mayors” Walter Washington and Lando Calrissian, perhaps by giving Lando a bunch of long-winded, boring speeches that paralleled the racial politics of the early 1980s, and then imagine how that would play today.

The other problem of course is that the politics depicted in the prequels is boring. Politics of course need not be boring (for example, the writers of Parks and Recreation manage to make politics entertaining on a weekly basis), but in the hands of Lucas—who’s obviously more interested in the prequels in advancing plot only to serve as a scaffolding for spectacle rather than having the CGI elements there in service of a sensible plot—most of the politics gets reduced to tedious speeches and arguments in what seem to be shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from academic department meetings. In the hands of a skilled writer (or, perhaps more charitably, a writer who cared) I have no doubt the political machinations promised in the prequels might have been interesting; as presented, the Wikipedia summaries of them are positively life-like by comparison.

* Part of me wishes there were only three, but that might edge into the territory of Frequent Commenter Scott’s denial that the sport that is played in the American League qualifies as “baseball.”

Thursday, 16 February 2012

In which I risk seeming in agreement with Rick Santorum

It seems to me that if one’s goal is to reduce the escalating costs of health care (or at least reduce the rate of escalation of those costs), it would be rather counterproductive to increase people’s consumption of health care resources. Yet a number of policies, all implemented or encouraged by the present administration, have done so:

  • Obamacare proper required all health care plans to get rid of co-pays for many routine office visits to physicians.
  • The DEA‘s War on Meth and People with Colds has pushed two states (Mississippi and Oregon) to the point of requiring a prescription for dispensing any effective cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, and many other states require it to be controlled behind the counter. Already one idiotic prosecutor has gone after someone trying to evade this silly requirement. Ten years from now, if not sooner, I have good money that says the feds will be going after “meth doctors” who are “overprescribing” pseudoephedrine, à la Oxycontin, and pharmacies who are “oversupplying” it.
  • Now, we have the administration requiring health care plans to provide women with birth control without a co-pay. Never mind the evidence that women on the pill have worse taste in men.

I get that these things are politically popular and/or support politicians’ desires to Look Tough On Drugs. I also get that women who cannot afford birth control probably should have that expense covered in full. What I don’t get is why these mandated “no-co-pay” coverages aren’t means-tested in some way to at least try to keep costs under control for the large share of the population who can reasonably afford some out-of-pocket health care expenses—indeed, our entire federal income tax system is structured, in part, around the idea that 7.5% of your AGI is expected to be dedicated to health care and thus cannot be deducted, even if you itemize deductions.

Finally, I conclude with the following two necessary caveats: (a) I have no particular truck with the moral positions of the Catholic Church or other churches with similar positions on birth control, and think if they want to employ people they can either provide health care coverage or pay the fines/taxes for not providing it, and (b) employer-based health care in general is a stupid way to accomplish universal coverage, and given that we seem to have decided that universal health care coverage is desirable it follows that some form of single-payer or government-subsidized system is preferable, particularly if you’re going to have a nominally private system that is totally loaded down with mandated coverages (aka unfunded mandates), must-issue rules, and uniform premiums. Hence I think some sort of subsistence level universal government-paid system, with rationing-by-queueing and ward-type inpatient service, is inevitable (if not desirable), and as long as individuals are free to pay (or buy supplemental insurance) to upgrade their place in line and to the Beyoncé Birthing Suite, I can’t say I have any particular problem with it.

Friday, 3 February 2012

On false equivalencies

A public service announcement, in absolutely no way inspired by the current debate over Komen’s funding of Planned Parenthood, follows:

If you are comparing your contemporary domestic political opponents (say, pro-choicers or pro-lifers) to the Viet Cong, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Taliban, it seems to me that one of two conclusions obtain:

  1. You should be willing to support the same level of political violence against the contemporary domestic opponents as you would against the other actors. For example, a pro-lifer who believes that Planned Parenthood is morally equivalent to the Nazis who would support assassinating concentration camp guards should also be willing to support assassinating doctors who perform abortions; similarly, a pro-choicer who thinks someone who supports sonogram bills is the moral equivalent of the Taliban, who supports the targeted killing of Taliban fighters in AfPak, should also support killing politicians who support sonogram bills.
  2. Or, if you are unwilling to take your positions to their logical conclusion, you should tone down your rhetoric so that the apparent equivalency you have expressed is no longer seen by external observers as an equivalency. Or, if you are unable to do so, just be quiet.

This might, for example, also apply to anyone who argues that supporters of Voter ID laws are channeling the spirit of Lester Maddox, or anyone who says that people who support socializing the costs of medicine are latter day Che Guevaras.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

You had me until the last paragraph

This NYT article on Pomona College dismissing 15 workers who were unable to present evidence of their legal presence and right to work had me mildly sympathetic to the various workers’ plight, until the second-to-last paragraph rolled around and I had a “WTF?” moment:

Still, it does little to reassure Carmen, 30, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of alerting immigration officials. Carmen had worked at the college for 11 years, using the money she earned to put herself through a public college. But she never looked for another job, fearing that she would not be able to produce the proper documents. For years she made about $8 an hour, but in recent years raises had increased her wages to nearly $17 an hour. She and her husband bought a modest home in nearby Pomona this fall and moved in just two weeks before she was fired.

“I really don’t know what I am going to do,” she said, adding that her options were to look for work that paid in cash or move back to Mexico with her 2-year-old son while her husband, an American citizen, stayed here. “I’m still in shock. This is the only thing I’ve really ever known.”

So, to review, Carmen is legally married to a U.S. citizen, and presumably has been for a while. Thus she is eligible to legally emigrate to, and then legally work in, the United States, and presumably has been for a while. According to the government, she may not even have to leave the country to do so.

Again I accept, and even sympathize with, the argument that many people come illegally (or, almost as commonly, overstay their legal immigration visas) in part because they are ineligible to “stand in line” for legal status because they lack citizen immediate relatives, or would have to wait for years under the quota limits for relatives, as Greg Weeks often points out. But in the cases of people who are eligible to immediately normalize their status and comply with the law, as it appears this particular individual is, and apparently just can’t be bothered to do so, my sympathy meter is pretty much pegged on empty.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

(Not) achieving the impossible

Mike Munger catches the government doing what government does, rather oafishly: in this case, fining companies for their failure to use enough cellulose-based ethanol, a product that is not even commercially available. The mind boggles.

On the other hand, imagine the possibilities of such an “incentive” program. Fine Boeing a few billion dollars a year for their failure to achieve faster-than-light travel, and I’m sure that we’ll have warp speed in no time.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Obama's medical marijuana policy going to pot

The folks at Reason have been keeping a rather keen eye on the escalation of the Obama administration’s war on medical marijuana; the latest salvo is apparently going to involve aggressive prosecutions of those advertising dispensaries, along with targeting landlords and other property owners whose tenants are dispensing pot, regardless of state licensing. Considering that the average Democrat supports legalizing pot outright,* and polls show even wider support for medical marijuana, the administration’s increasingly anti-pot position seems a bit inexplicable on the surface. However, I do think there are two potential explanations for this seemingly-conservative shift on the issue:

  1. Presidential politics: Most of the medical marijuana facilities are in California, a state that Obama has virtually no chance of losing in 2012. The policy is actually designed to shore up Obama’s support in swing states, where medical marijuana is not legal and the administration’s policy can be spun as “tough on drugs and crime.”
  2. Assertion of national authority against nullification more broadly: Although one would think that the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Raich, which (contrary to a line of Supreme Court cases leading to that point) found that non-commercial, intrastate activity, such as marijuana use, could be regulated under the commerce power, had settled the power of the national government to continue to regulate marijuana as a controlled substance, the behavior of the states that adopted medical marijuana laws has effectively advanced the doctrine of nullification, albeit this time from the left rather than its traditional home on the right. By cracking down on medical marijuana, the Obama administration is signalling that other nullification efforts, such as state laws against participation in ObamaCare and REAL ID, along with other efforts by states to make end-runs around federal policies, will be dealt with in a similar fashion.

The latter explanation, in particular, would explain the rather vehement reaction of the administration over the past couple of years to medical marijuana as other state-level efforts to nullify or crowd out federal policymaking prerogatives have emerged. But I’m certainly open to entertaining other theories.

* According to the 2010 General Social Survey, 52.0% of Democrats and Democrat-leaners supported legalization of marijuana (margin of error: ±4.0%).

Cross-posted at OTB

Thursday, 29 September 2011

See you November 7, 2012

When you read a blog post about the dollar coin and realize that the reason the author—who is a presumably intelligent mainstream Republican who was instrumental in reviving the dollar coin in the first place—only is arguing against any aggressive effort to replace the dollar bill with the dollar coin because there are some people in the Tea Party that support it, and thus can use some minor issues with replacing the dollar bill as bludgeons to argue against Tea Partiers in general (he actually tries to make the argument, presumably with a straight face, that taking the dollar bill out of circulation is somehow an “unfunded mandate,” and that minting a few billion coins is a greater exercise in corporate welfare for miners than keeping Crane’s cotton-based paper business in profit), it’s hard to draw any conclusion except that everyone has caught a case of campaign-induced stupidity and that there’s virtually no point in paying attention to most political commentary on any issue in domestic politics for the next 13 months.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Being Nick Clegg

The Liberal Democrats’ two choices:

Door #1 (aka Nick-and-Dave, kissing-in-a-tree): at least two years in government, at worst a referendum on the alternative vote, most of your fiscal agenda (where you and the Tories agree) enacted into law, and probably some of the blame for the next year or so, followed by some of the credit for the recovery after that.

Door #2 (aka life with Ed Balls): a government that surely won’t last out the year, a referendum on STV (that probably won’t actually go into effect even if it passes until after the next election, since the government won’t last out the year—heck, the government may not even last long enough to pass an STV bill), some of the blame for the next year or so (but none of the credit for the recovery, because your government won’t last that long), and you get to have a big ugly fight on all the fiscal policy stuff with Labour, who campaigned on essentially the opposite platform from the LDP.

If only there weren’t that sticky issue called “ideology” in the way this one would be a no-brainer. But if the LibDems are serious about PR, they’re going to have to recognize that as kingmaker under a more proportional system they can’t be seen as simply the more respectable version of one of the two major parties—and that eventually they’ll have to work with both of them. Better for the rank-and-file who wistfully recall singing the Internationale in their youth before they sobered up to learn this lesson now than later, methinks.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

STV is high-threshold PR

Contra Simon Jackman, the single transferable vote is a form of proportional representation, albeit one with a very high effective electoral threshold (the share of the vote a party needs to gain representation)—in the worst case, something on the order of (but not quite) 100 percent divided by the average district magnitude + 1 (number of seats per STV constituency).

Of course, the motivation for this discussion is the British election and the Liberal Democrats’ demand for a more proportional electoral system, specifically STV. Labour seem rather more enthused about electoral reform than the Tories at present, but one suspects Labour’s newfound sponsorship of the idea had more to do with pre-election positioning than a genuine interest in reform—Labour certainly didn’t complain with the 2005 election awarded them a healthy Commons majority on essentially the same share of the vote the Tories got this week.

Labour’s pre-election offer was the alternative vote, better known in the United States as instant runoff voting, or IRV. IRV effectively is a simplified form of STV in single-member districts, e.g. STV with a district magnitude of 1. I doubt the LibDems would be willing to settle for IRV, as it probably wouldn’t net them many additional seats, even if their supporters would have fewer wasted votes under IRV (as their second preferences would be allocated rather than discarded). IRV and other similar SMD systems (like the French two-round arrangement) are generally regarded as majoritarian rather than proportional.

In the British context at least, STV makes a lot of sense as a preferred electoral reform. Any proportional system will somewhat disadvantage the two leading parties (the Conservatives and Labour) compared to plurality (first-past-the-post/winner takes all) voting, but STV is less proportional at sane district magnitudes (3–6 seats per district) than virtually all PR systems, so the damage to leading parties is smaller. The major beneficiaries are the regional parties, regionally-weak parties (such as the Scottish Tories), and of course the Liberal Democrats; it should also have the salutary effect of somewhat depoliticizing the constituency boundary-drawing process in Northern Ireland in particular.

Fringe parties and those whose platforms can easily be co-opted by larger parties don’t come out ahead under STV, but that would seem to be a feature, rather than a bug—Parliament doesn’t need the BNP around, UKIP is a party without a purpose in a world with the Tories still in it, and the Greens are effectively Liberal Democrats who just don’t want to call themselves LibDems. Denying these groups 25 or so seats in the Commons between them doesn’t seem like any great loss for British democracy.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Your guide to today's UK election

This morning I unleash my inner comparativist and take to the pages of OTB to discuss today’s British elections in excruciating detail for an American audience.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Tweet-length thoughts (or thereabouts)

I’m not particularly inclined to do any long-form blogging at the moment (here or at OTB), but here are a few random thoughts on issues of the day:

  • I can’t think of any good reason to object to a merger between United and Continental; it’s probably a long shot, but maybe the combined airline will see fit to introduce a flight from here that’s further afield than Houston.

  • I don’t have any better tea leaves than anyone else when it comes to the British election. I watched all three debates (which is three more than I watched during the 2008 U.S. presidential contest) and generally think that LibDem leader Nick Clegg simultaneously came off as the best presence and the most politically naïve, which is just as well since Clegg (unlike, say, David Cameron) will never be a British prime minister. Putting the LibDems in charge of the Home Office would probably be a good idea though. Realistically it seems there’s no way Gordon Brown comes out of this as a real (as opposed to caretaker) PM. Your current Nate Silver guesstimate is here.

  • Predicted constitutional crisis of the week: the Conservatives take a majority of the seats in England but few in Scotland and Wales, and try to muddle through with an overall minority, on the (not unreasonable assertion) that on devolved matters at least the party that won the vote in England should govern, at least on matters of domestic policy where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can go their own way. See also: the West Lothian question. As discussed before, this problem is an icky mess to solve.

  • I probably could extend the discussion above into a lengthy post on electoral reform in Britain and the prospects thereof, but… nah. Complicating matters: each plausible reform is essentially rigged in favor of the party proposing it (IRV/AV favors Labour, STV or “top-up” PR favors the LibDems [and UKIP and the Greens and probably the BNP, Pliad Cymru, and the SNP too, although the latter three are radioactive as potential coalition partners for anyone, and UKIP is borderline], and the current plurality arrangement favors the Tories [and whichever unionist and nationalist faction is on top at the given moment in Northern Ireland, similarly radioactive]), making consensus unlikely.

  • On the one hand, Arizona’s tough new immigration law (as amended) probably still treats illegal immigrants better than they would be in most other countries in the world, including Mexico itself and most Western European societies. On the other hand, I think we probably ought to aspire to higher standards than those countries, even putting aside my crazily-anarcho-libertarian-open-bordernik principles.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Old wine in new bottles

In a rare appearance at OTB, I discuss the recycled Schumer-Graham immigration bill. It’s like a Hot Tub Time Machine back to 2006, when another president was heading into midterm elections facing an overseas military quagmire, own-party lawmakers in marginal districts who were distancing themselves from his policies, and deteriorating poll numbers!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Lords reform back on the agenda

Fresh on the heels of promises to adopt changes to elections to the Commons, Labour is now promising to finish its reforms to the House of Lords with some concrete proposals coming “shortly.” The outline of Labour’s proposal suggest:

  • A third of the members would be elected at each general election for the Commons; since a general election must be called every five years, this pattern would give members of the upper chamber a potential term of up to 15 years.
  • The chamber would have 300 members elected via some form of proportional representation; what exact form is left unspecified, although it is likely to be a “pure” PR system (possibly using the same constituencies used for European Parliament elections) instead of the alternative member system used in the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies.
  • Members would be subject to some sort of “recall” process and would have to pay taxes in the U.K., excluding nonresident citizens.

All three of the major parties in Britain are now on-record as favoring a mostly- or fully-elected upper chamber, so presumably an “elected Lords” in some form is coming sooner rather than later. The Liberal Democrats in particular have suggested in the past that parliamentary reforms are a condition of their participation in any coalition, and given the growing chances of a hung parliament after the next election, they may finally be in a position to insist on reform in both chambers.

Friday, 5 February 2010

QotD, there-are-five-lights edition

Why show trials always have ludicrous charges against the defendants in totalitarian states:

[F]orcing someone to admit to something he might have done does not send a strong signal of power. Forcing someone to confess to a crime that everyone knows he could not possibly have committed, on the other hand, is terrifying.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

QotD, the insidious nature of Noam Chomsky edition

Oliver Kamm on his frequent nemesis:

I don’t, as it happens, regard Chomsky as an apologist for the Khmer Rouge or for other appalling regimes. I regard him as a sophist possessed of reflexive anti-Americanism. It’s because his position is an article of faith that he’s so unreliable when it comes to describing the actual sins of omission and commission in American foreign policy. In his position, factual accuracy is secondary (his writings on the Balkans, for example, are an intellectual disgrace). His method is, as I’ve referred to, sarcasm and insinuation. He is different from his associate Edward Herman, who is best known these days as a crude denier of Serb war crimes, notably the genocide at Srebrenica.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Life imitates comedy

Back in my misspent college years, one of my few student activities was working on the student newspaper at Rose-Hulman, the Rose Thorn. Out of boredom—and frankly a frequent lack of real advertising, since we typically gave a local pizza chain a quarter-page ad in exchange for sustenance for the staff, accounting for a sizable chunk of our income—the various people involved in production would frequently insert fake classified ads into the publication. One creation I was personally proud of was a bogus ad for an emerging spring break destination—the various and sundry republics of the former Soviet Union, complete with a fake telephone number (1–8xx-FUN-IN-CIS) to obtain further details. Presumably—hopefully!—the IQs of our readers were sufficiently high that nobody was actually being bothered by obnoxious phone calls looking for information on these exciting tour packages.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea may be getting in on the act for real. Frankly I think my fake ads may have turned out to have been more effective in drumming up interest in unorthodox Spring Break destinations. And whatever you do, don”t stay at the Ryugyong even if the doctored pictures in the brochure look nice.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Hope and change

Via TigerHawk comes a useful reminder that the alleged “grownups” now in charge of American foreign policy still haven’t made any substantive change in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Electoral reform in Mexico?

Via one of my Facebook contacts, the Financial Times is reporting that Mexican president Felipe Calderón has proposed some significant changes in elections to Mexico’s presidency and Congress, including the adoption of a run-off system for presidential elections and permitting members of Congress (but not presidents, breaking the regional trend of late) to seek reelection; the proposal would also cut the sizes of both chambers of the legislature quite substantially.

There doesn’t seem to be much to object to on the surface of the package—although I’m not convinced that either chamber needs a cut in its membership—but Calderón will probably need the support of many deputies from one or both of the major opposition parties for the proposals to succeed. Since the reforms would probably enhance the powers of deputies and senators at the expense of their party leaders, many Mexican legislators may find themselves caught between their partisan and personal interests.

Monday, 7 December 2009

QotD, media groupthink edition

Megan McArdle, on today’s outburst of mass media bloviation on climate change:

If fifty-four newspapers had wanted to make a serious statement about the environment that their readers were sure to pay attention to, they might have stopped printing and distributing their energy intensive product for a day.