Tuesday, November 30, 2004

What it Takes 

Being back in my parents' house with my wife and daughter was a wonderful experience. Everyone was happy and in good spirits, and it was a truly relaxing holiday.

But what cheered me most of all was the stratospheric level of pedantry required for every conversation, a trend which reached its apex on Saturday night. My brother, in an effort to rebut arguments against his claim that "hair" was a "mass noun" and that "hairs" was not a "well-formed" word, complained that the rest of us were guilty of the greatest sin of the sophist, "splitting strands of hair."

The only thing that bugs me is that there is some chance that my brother was somehow technically correct. [I've suggested, incidentally, that "Technically, He Was Correct" should be carved on my brother's gravestone. For the record, I fully admit that it could just as accurately be engraved on mine: I have been readying my argument based on the term "crosshairs" for the inevitable second round of the conversation.]

Resumption of Service 

I'm back from Thanksgiving and have reduced the work backlog far enough to offer this tidbit from my trip to Oklahoma to visit my parents:

While I was there, I spotted the legendary BikerFox. It was only a glimpse of some flashing bicycle reflectors out a bar window, but I knew it was BikerFox when I heard other bar patrons say things like "oh, that's that stupid BikerFox guy again."

If you aren't part of the BikerFox bandwagon, well, it can only be because you haven't carefully perused his awe-inspiring website or have better things to do with your time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Thanksgiving => Light Blogging 

Traveling today, so no more posts. Expect light blogging until Monday.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Goodbye to "Sparkling Wine?" 

That " California sparkling wine" you're tippling? It may be plonk, but soon enough it may also be labeled "champagne."

According to the Washington Post:
The United States and Australia prevailed in an interim ruling by the World Trade Organization in a dispute over protection given by the European Union to its regional goods such as Champagne wine and Feta cheese, trade officials said Thursday.

The ruling is not binding, but it indicates that the final report -- due in about a year -- will likely also go against the E.U., said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

If the final ruling goes in favor of the United States and Australia, producers around the world will be able to continue using specialist regional names for their own products -- such as calling a product champagne, even though it is not produced in the Champagne region of France.

Speaking in Brussels, trade spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez confirmed that the E.U. received the confidential report Wednesday, but she declined to go into details.

Gonzalez said it was "a little bit too early" for the United States and Australia to claim victory and stressed that the E.U. was still "very certain" its arguments were sufficient to allow the WTO to find its system in compliance with global trade rules.

The WTO said it was unable to comment, as the findings of a preliminary ruling are distributed only to the parties involved.

Brussels last year published a list of 41 wines, cheeses and other regional products that it wants to protect under WTO rules. The United States and Australia then complained to the WTO -- the body that sets the rules on international trade -- that the E.U. isn't giving enough protection to their products.

The two countries claim the E.U. is breaching WTO rules by not protecting imported goods that have so-called geographical indications -- high-quality products known by the region or city where they are produced.

They say the E.U. gives better protection to its member states than to other countries on the issue, breaching WTO rules that say all trading partners must be treated equally.
"National treatment" is indeed one of the central norms underlying the WTO, and while I've read very little about this case (here are all the documents made public by the WTO, and here is the most comprehensive document on the subject from the US Trade Representative), my understanding is that the EU's case actually rests on one of the other pillars of the WTO: reciprocity. Basically, the EU says that countries such as the US which don't accept the EU's full list of protected place-name designations can't ask the EU to protect their own geographic "brands." If I recall correctly, the US, while accepting the sacredness of the "Champagne" designation, ignores certain other similar products like Parma ham (check this). To Europeans, then, "reciprocity" is taken to mean "If you accede to all my demands, I'll accept a similar list that you draw up."

The US points out that the EU actually signed treaties guaranteeing "national treatment" before presenting other countries with this list. [National treatment simply means that if you allow regions within your sovereign domain to get protection for their "brands," then refusing identical protection to foreign geographical "brands" like "Idaho potatoes," "Florida oranges" or "New York minutes" entails giving your national products a leg up in contravention of your treaty obligations.] If the US's case is accepted, it would appear to mean that the sequence of events dictated which WTO norm determined proper action here.

It's an interesting case. I'm looking forward to seeing the WTO's decision. In the meantime, I think I'll enjoy some good ol' American Champagne.

Wedgin' It 

Jonathan Chait, brother of Bonassus reader Daniel Chait, is also a Los Angeles Times columnist. In today's piece, Chait suggests that Democrats seek to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts as a first step in reconfiguring the party to appeal to "moral issues" voters.

Setting aside whether this is a good idea, policy-wise (I'm married to an artist, so I'll recuse myself on this issue), there's a bigger question worth asking: Will this possibly do any good?

The answer: no frickin' way. Not only (as Kevin Drum argues here) will Republicans gleefully join Democrats in voting to remove NEA funding (or even its existence), but they'll make certain that they get full credit for the move. A Republican member of the Appropriations Committee will get to be the one who offers a showy floor amendment to remove the funding. That's what the power of holding a committee chair buys you.

Drum points out that an effective Kulturkampf strategy forces the opposition to make a difficult choice, which Chait's proposal will not accomplish. It's a good point, and one that I've struggled with a bit. Most of the good "wedge" issues I've been able to come up with require a Republican to overreach, something that's pretty tough for Democrats to accomplish without a mind control device or incriminating photos. I've half-jokingly endorsed a "Save Halloween" strategy, but even this proposal, which might actually meet the "tough choice" and "requires no miraculous GOP missteps" criteria, would be tough to force into the public consciousness without control of either chamber of Congress or the Presidency.

To reiterate, then, a good wedge strategy must:

1) Force Republicans to choose between two groups of voters in the coalition that supported them, e.g. the Christian Right and libertarians.

2) Not require any specific action by Republicans except the taking of a position on an issue.

3) Appeal strongly enough to the media or to specific interest groups that Democrats can force Republicans to take a public stance on the issue without being able to force floor votes in either chamber of Congress.

Note that there is nothing here about feasibility of enactment into law, nor anything about the quality of resultant public policy.

Am I missing anything here?

UPDATE: Jason Barnosky argues that pork barrel politics make Republicans leery of cutting the NEA. Fair enough, but as I've argued in the comments to this post, that hasn't stopped them from making grand gestures in this direction in the past. On the other hand, Republicans did put caps on the per-state allocation of NEA grants a couple of years ago, suggesting that Red-Staters are making a concerted effort to push some NEA pork their constituents' way.

Friday Monkey Blogging 

Please stop me before I post another story about monkeys.

Too late!

Despite strong evidence of a simian plot to destabilize the world grocery system, governments have taken little action to date. But when a nation's public works are threatened by apes or monkeys (imperiling toll collection?), leaders jump into action. I, for one, applaud the brave officials of Himachal Pradesh state in India, who are finally taking steps to take back man's highways.

The BBC reports that up to 2,035 of the state's 378,860 monkeys have taken up the lives of highwaymen. (Somebody else made up those numbers, by the way. Don't blame me for the suspiciously-precise count) Mankind's defenders?
Monkey-catching experts have been brought in from other states and the national capital Delhi to help the wildlife department in their task.

The move followed an order of the high court after complaints that the monkeys were becoming a menace.

Officials say the monkeys attacked anyone carrying food, rummaged through dustbins and littered the place while people looked on helplessly.

There have also been growing cases of monkey bites in the state capital, Simla, which is a popular tourist resort...

Some people believe that a more effective way of dealing with the menace would be to sterilise the monkeys instead of moving them from place to place.

But wildlife officials are nervous about taking that step since such a large-scale sterilisation of monkeys has never been carried out so far.

"The final decision regarding sterilisation of monkeys would be taken after an in-depth study of similar operations elsewhere," said Mr Gulati.
Presumably the sterilization experiment will take place in or near a grocery store.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A New "New Trade Issue" 

"International trade" and "assassination" aren't usually words that are found in the same sentence outside the most fevered dreams of anti-globalization protestors. But take a look at today's NY Times:
Assassination Is an Issue in Trade Talks

As union activists have fallen by the hundreds here, making Colombia the world's most dangerous country for union organizers, their families and those who have dodged assassins' bullets have had little recourse. Practically all killings of union leaders have gone unsolved.

Now, labor rights groups and some members of the United States Congress have promised to do something about the violence and the impunity, using free trade negotiations between Colombia and the Bush administration to prod the government of President Álvaro Uribe to do more to protect union activists and prosecute the killers.

The idea, say labor activists from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and senior Congressional aides, is to make the issue of violence and impunity as important a component in trade talks as the struggle over agriculture tariffs and intellectual property rights. Its failure to protect union members, the argument goes, gives Colombia an unfair edge over countries that do, like the United States.

"A country should not achieve an unfair comparative advantage by willful omission or noncompliance of labor standards," said Stan Gacek, assistant director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s international affairs department, which works with unions in other countries. "The issue of rights is not an obstruction to trade, it is absolutely essential to the success of trade."

An American trade official, who spoke on condition that he remain anonymous, says that Colombia is obligated to enforce its own labor laws, which guarantee freedom of association and other labor standards.

"And how do I know someone is denied freedom of association?" he said. The murder of trade unionists, the official said, is a violation of freedom of association. "So clearly violence against trade unionists or impunity for killers is an issue with Colombia, and we've told them that."

The pressure is already having an effect...

Five lawsuits have been filed in American courts accusing companies like Drummond, a coal producer based in Birmingham, Ala., and two bottlers affiliated with Coca-Cola of using paramilitary gunmen to eliminate union organizers. The companies strenuously deny the allegations.

But the lawsuits, filed in American courts under a 215-year-old statute, have put an unwanted spotlight on Colombia's problems and irritated the Bush administration, which argues that they interfere with foreign policy and open multinational companies to sometimes frivolous grievances.

It is just the kind of pressure that union advocates in the United States want to increase, using the trade talks as a way of further prodding the two governments.

"They're looking for levers of pressure," said Michael Shifter, a senior policy analyst who closely follows Colombia for the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington group. "And it's not surprising as the United States begins negotiations with Colombia on a free trade deal that they're going to explore the possibility of using this as a way of increasing pressure."
This is an interesting development. When NAFTA was being negotiated, labor and environmental groups had enough clout in the US Congress to force the question of "side agreements" on these issues to the table, but not enough pull to get them written into the text of NAFTA itself. Presumably the power of labor groups is at a serious low tide right now, so it's tough to believe that there will be any ongoing enforcement mechanism written into a US-Colombia FTA. But what's going on in Colombia is obviously very extreme. It'll be worth watching to see what happens.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Save Halloween! 

Via Pandagon, I see that Christian Right folks have scored another victory: banning a "Sadie Hawkins Day"-type tradition in an east Texas town on the grounds that it "promotes homosexuality."

Maybe most Americans would just laugh this one off. But if the radical clerics have their way, Sadie Hawkins is just first on the list. Halloween is next.

Seriously. Check out these randomly-selected pages:

God hates trick-or-treaters.

Satan egged your house.

Here's a whole bibliography on the subject.

"Sure," you might say, "but none of these sites actually advocates government action to ban Halloween."

And you'd be right. But that line of thinking hasn't stopped GOP candidates and their backers from making claims about a "homosexual agenda." And maybe it shouldn't stop Democrats from introducing some wedge issue bills.

Here's my suggestion: "The American Traditions Protection Act of 2005", which will protect American holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween from efforts to ban them by dangerous activists promoting the "intolerance agenda."

Yes it's stupid. Maybe even dangerous. But is it, on balance, a bad idea?

UPDATE: I was wrong: "they" do want to ban Halloween, after all (at least when it falls on Sunday). A diligent Bonassus reader has dredged up links to news stories about an official move to ban the holiday in a Louisiana town (but see a half-hearted debunking here) and a church-led move to change the date of Halloween in Newfoundland, Canada.

I should note that I still have no idea what "banning" Halloween would actually entail.

The Plot Thickens 

More posting on politics soon, I swear it. But first, since I'm really busy, let's revisit a terribly important story that I've somehow let drop: THE MONKEYS.

Yes, squid are taking over our seas. But as I've described, in manner both tireless and tiresome, monkeys are taking over our supermarkets.

And the plot thickens: the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection , apparently a front group for the monkey invasion, has duped Paul McCartney into shilling for an effort to sponsor a new macaque outpost in Thailand. I haven't checked, but I'm fairly certain that the new "habitat" isn't too far from a supermarket.

Oh, the humanity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Squid Update 

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, squid are still getting bigger, and still taking over the ocean.

Further research confirms my initial hypothesis that these super-squid are delicious. But there's more: they (or at least the type of squid mentioned in the ABC News article) are also dangerous to swimmers and surfers, and appear to be involved in drug smuggling.

The drug smuggling case is a little hard to understand, as according to the CNN story it involves "giant squid" being transported across borders. My understanding is that giant squid are mysterious creatures that no one has ever seen alive, and that only a few, partial carcasses have ever been found. In other words, smuggling cocaine in a giant squid would be a little like smuggling cocaine in an Australopithecus. This NY Times story suggests that it was just a lot of squid fillets, rather than a single giant squid, in which the cocaine was being smuggled. Let's hope that the Times has it wrong.

Finally, those Bonassus readers interested in following the story a little further (and who have access to LA Times archives) might wish to read the February 10 article on the Sea of Cortez, which describes the squid invasion in frightening (and fascinating) detail.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Making Land a Mobile Factor? 

Well, not really, but Canada's borders do seem shockingly mobile these days.

As I've mentioned innumerable times before, Denmark is trying to claim territory Canada regards as its own. But now comes news that Canada is considering annexing some territory to the south: The Turks & Caicos Islands.
This 40-island archipelago is surrounded by the aqua-blue waters of the Caribbean, but some leaders here and in Canada see a brighter future as part of the Great White North.

In pursuit of a winter escape, Canadians have been eyeing this sun-drenched diving paradise for decades. Some politicians looking for new markets think the Turks & Caicos would make a fine regional springboard.

Never mind that the world's most powerful country stands between Canada and the Caribbean or that with no direct flights from Ottawa to Grand Turk, the island chain's capital, the journey can take the better part of a day. Year-round sunshine for the frozen northerners and First World government services for the far-flung islanders have both sides warming to the notion of a federation.

No polls have been taken nor any referendum held, but talk about becoming an outpost of Canada, an idea that dates to 1917, has become more animated since a new government took power here a year ago.

"It certainly is still an issue we are interested in pursuing with the Canadians," says Chief Minister Michael Misick, leader of this colony, one of the British Empire's last footholds in the Caribbean. He planned to travel to Ottawa during the parliamentary session to discuss the possibility of merging the islands with Canada.
While the Canadian government has rejected the idea in the past, there is now an organized effort by some Canadian lawmakers to sell the idea to a skeptical public.

No word yet on whether the International Cartographers Union has started a lobbying effort in Ottawa...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Filibuster as "Moral Issue?" 

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell is arguing that the GOP attack on Senate "obstructionists" is an opportunity to paint the ruling party as anti-Founding Fathers:
The current administration claims to be both conservative and strict constructionist; it’s neither. In fact, it’s trying to short-circuit the basic constitutional checks and balances of the US political system in order to ram through its agenda. The US apart, presidential democracies are extremely fragile, in large part because presidents tend to grab all power to themselves. This is exactly what the Bush administration is doing, both in its sweeping constitutional arguments about the extent of presidential privilege, and in its efforts to impose strict discipline on the Senate. This is something that shouldn’t only be worrying to lefties - it’s something that should be of deep concern both to serious conservatives, and to libertarians who are worth their salt.
I'm all for keeping Rule 22 intact, and I think the Senate's role of making radical policy shifts more difficult is well worth defending.

Of course, there's another values-based argument that Republicans will make: obstructing the political agenda of a party with a pretty good claim to an electoral mandate might be considered anti-democratic. And Democrats have a recent history of opposing supermajority rules for tax increases, so a sudden love of procedures and rules allowing a Senator or two to thwart the will of the majority could look a little disingenous.

But I think Farrell is on to something here: it's abundantly clear that the Founders intended the Senate to be an obstructionist institution. This page from the Senate's own website has a number of (real or apocryphal) quotes by Founding Fathers supporting this contention.

The question remains, though: how do Democrats turn this rhetorical raw material into effective communication? Who's the audience?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Back to Basics 

For those of you not paying attention, election season is over.

That means it's back to basics here at the Bonassus: obsessive coverage of ludicrous international conflicts like this one and this one.

The newest item on the agenda? Alex at Detached Observer purports to have discovered Russo-Estonian conflict over the letter "n."

[I say purports because the article he links to is written in a language I don't speak, in an alphabet I don't read. Anyone (Ben) care to translate it for us?]

More on the "Moral Values" Vote 

Obviously I didn't get around to posting much this weekend: the weather was beautiful and my wife and I spent a lot of time at the park with our baby daughter, enjoying the warm days.

That doesn't mean I wasn't obsessively mulling over the election results, though. I spent some time thinking about (and discussing) possible wedge issues for Democrats. Dems have had success in the past with bills, such as the assault weapons ban, designed to separate extremists from mainstream voters. But there hasn't been much of this for a while, at least in part because it's tough to launch initiatives like this from the minority. So far, the ideas I've come up with have been flawed and unusable, either because they're somehow kind of ethically unpleasant, or, in most cases, because they rely on getting GOP politicians to do what I want them to. Thoughts on good wedge issues are welcomed here at the Bonassus.

I also spent some time thinking about the latest line on what won Bush the election: as Paul Freedman has argued in Slate (and Andrew Sullivan has also suggested), the role that "God guns and gays" moral issues played in the election may have been overstated by the press. This may well be the case. But I don't think we can say so with any confidence based on the data and analysis presented so far. Freedman's article, as far as I can tell, is methodologically unsound, relying on aggregate, state level data to make claims about individual voter behavior. His conclusions may well be correct, but we can't tell using his data. We'll have better individual level data soon enough, but until then the regression methods implied by his reporting are inappropriate.

Freedman also, in my view, makes some mistaken assumptions about the relevant counterfactuals. Sounds technical, doesn't it? Let me be more concrete so I can (hopefully) be more clear. Look at this claim of Freedman's:
More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.
This is all fine as long as we assume that there wasn't a strong bloc of new voters motivated to come to the polls in 2004 by the desire to throw Bush out of office. Bush's vote share, and the share of his voters motivated by "moral values" may not have changed, but the underlying dynamic, and more cogently the total number of votes cast, did. Taking into account the current environment, with talk of Iraq and national security dominating the news and campaign rhetoric, getting out an additional however-many-million voters it took to balance the Dem's voter surge is all the more impressive, and even Freedman's analysis doesn't suggest that the anti-gay initiatives didn't play a significant role here. Finally, let's not forget the "moral values" aspect of the 2000 election, when , at least according to press accounts, morals-driven "Clinton fatigue" weighed heavily against Gore and motivated Christian Right voters to come out in droves. Anything that increased this sort of voting frenzy is worthy of attention in its own right.

Another one of Freedman's claims is kind of disconcerting:
Why did states with gay-marriage ballot measures vote so heavily for Bush? Because such measures don't appear on state ballots randomly. Opponents of gay marriage concentrate their efforts in states that are most hospitable to a ban and are most likely to vote for Bush even without such a ballot measure. A state's history of voting for Bush is more likely to lead to an anti-gay-marriage measure on that state's ballot than the other way around.
This claim may be partially true, but it sits uncomfortably alongside the fact that both Oregon and Ohio, a "leans Dem" and a "leans GOP" state, both passed anti-gay marriage initiatives, Ohio's so strongly worded that it will limit the rights of unmarried heterosexual couples. Furthermore, to the extent that Karl Rove hoped to maximize Bush's popular vote (in order to make claims of a mandate more plausible), this was an apparently costless way to drive up Bush votes in states that both campaigns were otherwise ignoring.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Stuff to Read 

No time for a substantive post today. Here, though, is what you should be reading:

The Head Heeb on life after Arafat.

Everything Mark Schmitt has had to say over the past few days.

That's it for now. I'll post liberally this weekend, I hope. I have a lot to say.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

So Now What? Part IV 

The "Moral Issues" Problem
Wrapping up today's ruminations (1,2,3) on Tuesday's electoral fiasco, here's some slightly more developed thinking on the "Moral Issues" problem I started discussing yesterday.

Mark Kleiman reprints an e-mail from a moderate Republican reader who suggests that Democrats need to aggressively point out that many of the "moral values" arguments offered by the GOP are just plain old bigotry. I agree completely.

Matthew Yglesias has a gazillion ideas (some of them better than others) but he starts with these three observations:
1. Shouldn't at least part of coping with the "moral values" problem involve some effort to do a better job of convincing people that more liberal positions than the ones they currently have are actually the correct ones?

2. More broadly, you've got to have a strategy for convincing people that at least some of your currently-unpopular ideas are ideas that they should like, not just a strategy for trying to figure out which ideas will be popular.

3. (1) and (2) above are less the task of campaigns than they are something other people need to be doing out in society when a campaign isn't happening.
What's the difference between the Kleiman and Yglesias approaches? One tries to convince voters that existing Democratic values are important. The other tries to convince voters that existing GOP values, which these voters may have thought they held, are actually BAD. The potential audience is perhaps slightly different, too. Both approaches, in my view, are absolutely necessary. More on this tomorrow.

Now to some bad ideas about how to fight the ongoing kulturkampf:
Robert Wright, writing in Slate, argues for a return to Tipper Gore/Joe Lieberman style schoolmarmery by the Democrats. Look: I'm a parent myself now, and when I think of my little girl growing up in a toxic culture, Tipper Gore and Joe Lieberman scare me as much as Hollywood and MTV. I'm willing to listen to arguments that I'm being irrational and taking my eyes off the prize here, but I find Wright's argument utterly unconvincing.

Jerome at MyDD argues that Democrats should be putting forth their own moral manifesto. He thinks perhaps we should borrow the Greens'. Here are the first five:
1. Humankind depends on the diversity of the natural world for its existence. We do not believe that other species are expendable.

2. The Earth's physical resources are finite. We threaten our future if we try to live beyond those means, so we must build a sustainable society that guarantees our long-term future.

3. Every person should be entitled to basic material security as of right.

4. Our actions should take account of the well-being of other nations, other species, and future generations. We should not pursue our well-being to the detriment of theirs.

5. A healthy society is based on voluntary co-operation between empowered individuals in a democratic society, free from discrimination whether based on race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social origin or any other prejudice.
Seriously. This isn't going to work. Yes, it's true that the Democrats have not actually tried to win a presidential election with this appeal. Yes, it's true that it would draw some nonvoters or Green or Nader voters to vote Democratic. But this kind of talk will scare off at least as many Democrats as it fires up, and most people won't even bother to listen. It's not scare talk ("the gays are coming to git ya!") and it's not buzzwordy ("Marriage. Life. Faith"). Go back and try again. Also, "colour?" What are you, Canadian?

So Now What? Part III 

Things to Keep in Mind
I've been thinking about the election (1,2). So have other bloggers. Here are some more blogospheric postmortems, these in the category of "yes, but":

Mindles H. Dreck and Jon Kay point out that not all Bush voters are redneck homophobe troglodytes.

Fair enough. I don't think anyone has ever suggested that they are. It's just that there are a lot of redneck homophobe troglodytes out there, and the current administration has won reelection by successfully getting them to vote. Thus focusing on this fact isn't necessarily a sign of lazy stereotyping: it can also be plain old realistic strategic thinking.

Mark Kleiman makes the case for Democrats to put on their obstructin' shoes:
Unite behind the President? Help him dig himself out?

Are you kidding?

Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.

Show me a Democrat who's helped George W. Bush, and I'll show you someone with Karl Rove's knife in his back. And if we unite behind him, he will claim to be vindicated in his role as a uniter.

We should give our duly re-elected President the same loyalty the Republicans gave Bill Clinton.

Our goal should be to have Bush leave office with the popularity level of a Nixon (or a Truman) and be a long-term albatross around the neck of his party, as Carter and Clinton are around our necks. No lying is required to accomplish this; we just have to figure out a way of telling the truth persuasively.
I'm a bit torn here: I worry that the longterm stakes may be too high for this extremely attractive philosophy to guide us well in every issue area.

There's also the problem of actually turning this call to action into action: we don't have any institutions of party discipline in this country, unlike in Westminster democracies such as the UK. The "loyal opposition" role adopted by British parties when they're out of power is in large part made possible by the discipline rules, and without them it's tough to imagine how we can herd Democrats in the House, Senate and state legislatures and governors' mansions into presenting a united front. The GOP under Clinton had the enormous institutional advantage of controlling Congress from 1994 on: in Clinton's first two years in office, the president and House leadership basically did the GOP's public affairs work for them.

That being said, I do think that some of the GOP's tactics (calling for hearings on every teensy possible misstep by the White House, overdramatizing the extremeness of minor administration policy proposals, etc.) can be effectively adopted by a minority party. It's worth thinking about tactics.

So Now What? Part II 

Yesterday I offered some initial thoughts on lessons learned from Tuesday's electoral debacle. I was hardly alone: the blogosphere is awash in postmortems and protostrategies. Today I'll review a little of what I've seen suggested and offer some reactions.

Thinking Outside the Box
Let's start with some of the wilder suggestions:

Angry Bear endorses a "starve the Red beast" strategy whereby Blue states adopt policies to staunch the net outflow of tax dollars to the Red regions. Gets the blood goin' doesn't it? But think about the likely collateral damage...

Atrios (building on a Nick Confessore idea) suggests that Democrats need to start adopting one of the Republicans' serially-successful strategies: offering stupid red meat ideas as central campaign issues. Confessore focuses on state ballot initiatives, which is an interesting idea: obviously, since Republicans control the entire federal government at this point, it's awfully tough for Democrats to get items on the agenda in any way other than plebiscites. The other institutional mechanism that the GOP has repeatedly used for this purpose is the constitutional amendment process (which has the virtue of gaining a lot of publicity for bad, red meat ideas, with a low risk of actual adoption); the problem here, even if we dismiss the fundamental drawbacks of using the constitution to extract short-term partisan gain, is that it's tough to see how Congressional Democrats, especially in the House, could get floor consideration for their mischievous ideas.

My brother has started coming up with some concrete proposals: obviously, to the extent that these are supposed to be red herring issues, it's a bad idea to discuss them on the internet where anybody can see them. Still, I'd love to get readers' thoughts.

UPDATE: Talk about synergy. Atrios is now proposing a combination of the two ideas discussed above, in the form of a "Tax Fairness Act" requiring the some kind of proportionality between the federal funds flowing to and from each individual state. This is a terrible idea policy-wise, both because it would be likely to exacerbate regional economic downturns and because the likely victims would be (as always) the poor and defenseless. Does it make for good, harmless (except to GOP electoral hopes) political theater? I don't know.

UPDATE 2: djw makes the case against a blue state retreat of the kind suggested by Angry Bear and Atrios quite eloquently:
I support gay rights for all who are gay. But I'm alot less worried about the rights of a 35 year old computer programmer in San Francisco than I am about a teenager in rural redland. I want good teachers, good textbooks, and a sound, reality-based curriculum in all schools, but it's a lot more important for children in the households of those with less education, who have precious few other ways to learn that the worldview of their parents and community isn't the only option in the world. The malnutrition that accompanies extreme poverty is most damaging to children. The forms of pollution that would almost certainly return to redland have a much more substantial negative impact on the health of children.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Is It That I'm So Pretty? 

I would have expected most readers of the Bonassus, who I assume are generally Democrats or Democrat-sympathizing foreigners, to have averted their eyes from the blogosphere this morning in order to devote as much attention as possible to licking their wounds and getting back to regular life.

But traffic seems to be running about normal, even for my RSS feed.

Can't stay away, huh?

So Now What? Part I 

Some initial thoughts, the day after:

On Bunkum and its Removal
Hopefully we can now lay to rest the idea that Prester John and his army of progressive young people is out there, lying latent among the American electorate, waiting for someone other than Al Gore to lead them to victory.

The American electorate is just what years of opinion polling have told us: split nearly down the middle on a range of issues. Previous elections' non-voters are either not systematically different from voters in their policy preferences, or progressive non-voters (especially young people) are simply not persuadable to vote.

A more solidly leftist Democratic party or presidential nominee will not bring out the missing progressive vote, because that vote isn't "missing" in the sense of untapped, but "missing" in the sense of being non-existent. This is the left's version of the Laffer curve, and hopefully now it is thoroughly debunked.

I'm not saying that some things aren't worth standing for on principle. But I am saying that Nader's argument circa 2000 (the non-Leninist argument), that establishing a Green Party to drag the Democrats leftward would lead to progressive heaven, was complete and utter bullshit, and now even he and Peter Camejo should know it.

The contrary argument is, as always, that Kerry, by reaching out to independents instead of motivating his base, just didn't manage to wake the slumbering progressive behemoth. I challenge anyone to tell me with a straight face that George W Bush has not motivated the Democratic base as effectively as any leftist standard bearer ever could.

The same Genie of Debunkment will hopefully also be visiting Roy Teixeira and others who purport to see between the lines in the work of more established pollsters. Once again, most of the pollsters turned out to be pretty accurate in their (other than last-minute) predictions. No Copernican revolution in public opinion measurement appears necessary.

On "Moral Values," Gay Rights and Abortion
Early analysis has pegged social issues, particularly gay marriage, as bringing out the Christian Right vote, and costing Kerry the election. My guess is that this is probably a pretty accurate read. Underestimating heartland hostility to gays, especially among older age cohorts, is easy to do: overestimating it is nearly impossible.

Sure, the long-term trends on this look better: younger people across demographic groups are more tolerant than their parents on this issue. But that doesn't mean that clever manipulation of the symbols in this realm won't keep gay rights a winner for rightists for many years to come. This issue needs to be defused, somehow. I don't think that capitulating to bigotry is the right answer. I also don't think that the problem will go away on its own. I don't know how to win this fight though. You?

The "God, gays and guns" formula works over and over again to turn out the Christian Right vote. And that vote, apparently, is at least as large as the lefty vote turned out in reaction to Republican invocations of the unholy trinity, and sufficient to win close elections at the national level and in many states. In the long run, Democrats must alter peoples' preferences on these issues. That's going to be tough work, and it'll take a long time to do, if it is indeed possible. In the short to medium-term, however, what are the alternatives? Suppressing the rightwing vote with tactics like those the GOP uses to suppress minority voting (NOTE: I DO NOT ENDORSE THIS IDEA)? Giving up and adopting the GOP's positions on these issues at a national level (individual Democrats like Brad Carson and Stephanie Herseth who tried to do so in the absence of partywide movement on these issues have seen mixed results, obviously)? There are some obvious reasons to dismiss these strategies out of hand. What's left? I'll have more thoughts tomorrow.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux has a good post in a similar vein up on his blog.

UDPATE 2: William Saletan has a piece up at Slate with some suggestions for how Democrats can win by talking about values. I agree with him as far as he goes, but my fear is that "God, gays and guns" will consistently beat out the kind of "personal responsiblity" talk Saletan (and jds in the comments to this post) are calling for. A successful Democratic strategy will have to directly address gay rights and abortion somehow.


Well, that was ugly.

Not to mention depressing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Dizzy Dan 

I promise no more liveblogging, but I'm watching CBS and Dan Rather has ALREADY STARTED with the bizarre commentary. It's only 10 'til 8! What's he going to be like by midnight?

Election Night II: Poll Closing Times 

You can see when polls close here. There is some possibility that polls will be held open late again this year in some places. This is a regular (albeit contentious) feature of election nights in the US.

UPDATE: The TV nets are reporting that polls in Ohio may be held open an additional five hours to allow people who joined lines at polling places by the official closing times to vote. This isn't the same thing as holding a polling place open late (as in the link above, or as in the case of St. Louis in the 2000 election)

UPDATE 2: CNN is reporting (in a somewhat confused manner) that polls in Allegheny County, PA are being held open. Judy Woodruff suggested this could benefit either candidate. Jeff Greenfield pointed out that this was a bizarre reading. Josh Marshall, though, has a different take: it's only provisional balloting that's being held open for an additional thirty minutes.

Election Night I: Non-Presidential News 

So, there are a few other races of interest this evening. I don't have any data that I'm confident in right now (although it looks bad for Sen. Daschle). Readers interested in a knowledgeable local perspective on some of the more interesting House races should head to Burnt Orange Report or Off the Kuff for info on what's happenin' down in Texas.

I'll post more on Congressional/Gubernatorial races later tonight and tomorrow.

Election Day IV: 2PM VNS Numbers 

Jerome at MyDD has 'em. Suffice it to say, they look good for Kerry so far. But as I said before, there are many reasons not to trust these numbers.

UPDATE: New reasons not to trust those numbers: now Drudge claims they're screwy 'cause they heavily oversampled women. This statement, on its own, is completely uninterpretable, as it doesn't tell us whether the entire national sample is strange like this, or if it is a factor in some specific states.

Also, Wonkette has just posted another set of alleged exit poll data, which is slightly less favorable to Kerry, although still showing him as leading in Ohio and Florida.

UPDATE 2: Lots of sites all over the political spectrum seem to have failed. There is speculation that it is a DoS attack, but it seems just as likely that freaked-out blog addicts are swamping the servers.

In any case, here's the latest rumor, via MyDD:

FL: 50/49 - KERRY
OH: 52/47 - KERRY
MI: 51/48 - KERRY
PA: 58/42 - KERRY
IA: 50/48 - KERRY
WI: 53/47 - KERRY
MN: 57/42 - KERRY
NH: 58/41 - KERRY
ME: 55/44 - KERRY
NM: 49/49 - TIE
NV: 48/49 - BUSH
CO: 49/50 - BUSH
AR: 45/54 - BUSH
NC: 47/53 - BUSH

Election Day III: My Visit to the Polls 

Mrs. Bonassus and I went to vote early this morning, but there were literally hundreds of people waiting in line. Calvin Trillin rode up on a bike, looking super-mega-nerdy, and started asking the toothless (literally, not figuratively) pollworker whether he had to wait in line if he always voted here. I think he was deadpanning.

We decided to come back later.

At around noon, we ventured back to P.S. 3 to find that the line was down to a more manageable 25 or so people. We had some entertainment while we waited: Someone had constructed a kind of robot out of army boots and camouflage fabric. The boots formed two wheels (radiating from a hub with the soles at the outer edge), and the robot rolled back and forth in an amusing manner. Somebody (presumably the sculptor) was manipulating the robot via remote control, but I didn't see who it was, as I was too busy laughing at the reactions of passing dogs. Attention comedians: dogs + robots = hilarious.

Once inside the polling place, we had to stand in another line to actually use the machine for our specific electoral subdivision. A couple of the people ahead of us weren't on the voter list, and had to fill out provisional ballots. We got a little nervous about election board incompetency, but luckily, the Bonassus family was still on the list.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, we don't get no fancy-pants electronic touch screen voting booths here in Greenwich Village. We're still using machines which appear to have been built in the 1950s, basically one step up from scrawling our votes on ostrakons and tossing them into a jar.

Mission accomplished!

We headed back outside, but the robot was gone. We saw a couple of policemen standing around, and jumped to the conclusion that they had asked the roboticist to move his creation for some reason having to do with electioneering near a polling place, but this was just a guess.

The End.

I Hit Reload So You Don't Have To? 

It may well be a long night of waiting for web pages of dubious quality to load so that I can see the latest, worthless exit poll numbers. Here's my pledge to you: should I get any good info, I'll post it right away.

If you get any good data, please feel free to post it in the comments section.

Election Day I 

Oh, those early exit polls. Everybody loves 'em. But here's why you shouldn't take them too seriously.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Non-Election News 


Here's another horror for your list: global climate change is filling our oceans with oversized sea monsters. Delicious, delicious oversized monsters.

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