Mad Wombat

A moderately liberal Democraticly-themed blog

The Return of EV Status?

I don’t know how many people remember from 2008, but I decided to do an election prediction algorithm that I called EV Status back then. I even had my own domain for it, though I can’t use it now because someone else grabbed it up. But you can still see an archived version of my final predictions on archive.org.

In any case, I was thinking of reviving it for 2012, though it’s a little early to get started, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to do it here, do it as it’s own wordpress.com blog, or get a domain for it again. There are advantages as doing it as it’s own domain such as having all the PHP that calculates everything online and being able to format things the way I want. Of course, the downside is that I have to pay for it.

In any case, my project in 2008 was a success. It predicted every state right except for two: Indiana and Missouri, which were the two states with the closest margins in my projections (0.6% and 0.2% respectively) and, well, a lot of people guessed wrong on Indiana and Missouri. The only thing I didn’t get was the Nebraska electoral vote, mainly because I wasn’t trying to track it.

One thing I don’t think I have done yet is actually go through my final projections and compare them to the actual final margins in each state. In fact, I still haven’t, so as you see them on here, they’ll be as new to you as they are to me…

So jump below the fold to see the results

Read more of this post

The bitter politics of Greed

As you probably saw last night or read this morning, Mitt Romney won a pretty resounding victory in last night’s New Hampshire primary.  It’s hard to see how things could have been better. He won by 16% getting nearly 40% of the vote, Ron Paul, the person who poses the least risk of beating him in a head-to-head finished 2nd (besides perhaps Huntsman, and he finished 3rd). The two potential anti-Romneys left in the race – Gingrich and Santorum – both well under-performed and finished under 10%.  As Chuck Todd liked to point out, this was basically a home game for Mitt. Still, it could have been a lot worse.

Clearly Romney agreed, as his acceptance speech last night had a distinct general election feel, focusing almost entirely on President Obama, with only a couple of swipes at the rest of the primary field mixed in.

The speech, as seems to be normal now days, probably had more lies in it than discernible facts. I was going to make a list of his lies and quick debunking, but it just made this post way too long. However, one of this statements last night was particularly galling to me:

The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We have to alter an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we’re lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.

My mouth almost fell open when I heard him say this. The bigger politics of envy? This isn’t about the middle class being “jealous” of the rich and wanting to punish them for being rich. This is about many rich people – with Romney personifying them in many ways – getting rich on the backs of and at the expense of the middle class. As I said on twitter this morning, Obama isn’t about the politics of envy, it’s about the politics of stop screwing the middle class in the name of making yourself a bigger profit.

The reason why Romney’s time at Bain is a problem for him isn’t because he got rich there. It’s the way he got rich, by basically taking over struggling companies, sucking everything he could out of them, and them letting them go, often resulting in complete failure. Perry’s term of “vulture capitalism” is pretty accurate, I think. It’s the same thing with banks, where executives were giving themselves big bonuses while at the same time foreclosing on millions of Americans and getting bailed out by the government. If Romney wants to defend that sort of capitalism, as opposed to the person getting rich through actually working hard and success, then that’s up to him.

However, what makes it even worse, is that he doubled-down on the politics of envy this morning on the today show:

Matt: Let me ask you about the choice of words last night when you said we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the politics and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy or fairness?

Mitt: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99% versus 1%, and those people who have been most successful are in the 1%, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. I believe in the final analysis, the American people will reject that.

Matt: Aren’t there questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?

Mitt: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and tax policy and the like. But the President made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires, and billionaires, and executives, and Wall Street. It’s an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

There are so many things wrong with what Mitt said this morning. Of course there is doubling-down on the politics of envy. Then there is him saying that any criticism of how Wall Street has operated or how financial institutions ran things is out of envy and not out of fairness. So Mitt Romney is saying that if you’re mad that bank CEOs wrote themselves huge bonuses while throwing you or your family or your friends out of their homes, you’re just jealous and should get over it.

He then goes further, not only saying that it’s A-OK for rich people to get rich on the back of the middle class and poor, but that it is part of this nation’s religious heritage by invoking “one nation under God.” So not only are you being envious by criticizing how people became rich, but you’re potentially being un-Christian too!

Then the final blow came with this suggestion that, sure, it’s OK to talk about wealth distribution, but only hidden away in “quiet rooms,” lest we incite the rabble, or something.

Mitt thinks he’s found a winner in his politics of envy line, but I think he’s really going to step in it based on how he answered questions here. He is making a full-throated defense of the exploitation of the middle class by some members of the upper class, not as just being OK, but as the way America does and should work.

If that’s the debate Romney wants to have, I have a feeling Obama will be more than happy to engage him in that discussion.

What makes a (dumb) progressive?

So David Sirota has a new article at Salon essentially arguing why liberals should vote for Paul for President over Obama (but he’s not really, he swears!). The short version is this: Paul is 50% progressive and Obama is 50% progressive, so either person you choose is OK. However, Paul can implement all his progressive stuff without Congress and Congress will block everything liberals don’t like about Paul. Meanwhile, Obama can implement his evil half without Congress, and Congress will block his progressive half, so we get nothing from him. So we just as well vote for Paul.

Of course, there are some serious problems with this. The first problem is that Sirota is essentially making the judgement call that things like racism, destroying the welfare state, destroying labor laws, environmental regulations, unions, and so on is equally as evil as Obama sending more troops into Afghanistan, using drones, killing Anwar al-Awlaki, and the drug war. I think this is a very difficult equivalence to make, but his entire article is essentially based on this premise. Is using drones really as bad as eliminating environmental regulations? Is sending more troops into Afghanistan really as bad as allowing corporations to run their workers into the ground? Is continuing the drug war really as bad as gutting Social Security and Medicare? Sirota appears to think so. I don’t know about you, but I think Paul’s flaws here far outweigh Obama’s

However, let’s take Sirota’s claim at face value that Paul is just as much of a progressive as Obama is, but just on different issues. I’m sure we’ll agree on the issues where we think Obama is a progressive, so let’s address the list where he claims Paul is:

At the same time, though, when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare and civil liberties, Paul is more in line with progressive goals than any candidate running in 2012 (or almost any Democrat who has held a federal office in the last 30 years). This, too, is indisputable.

See! This is indisputable. Except I’m about to dispute it right now.

Let’s take them one at a time:

1) War

If you oppose Afghanistan completely (and I would argue that, while this is the majority positions among progressives, it’s still not a universal one), Paul’s position still isn’t as great as it sounds. First off, wars take a while to wind down. Obama essentially ended the Iraq war as quickly as was feasible. He’s in the process of doing the same thing in Afghanistan. It’s hard to see how Paul would be able to pull out of Afghanistan significantly quicker unless you just don’t care about things going to hell in the process. I’m sure some may argue it will go to hell anyway, but perhaps we have a responsibility to try to prevent that as much as we can?

It also seems unlikely that Obama is going to get us engaged in any similar type of war in his second term as well. This leaves us with situations like Libya. About the only argument here is that you oppose using military force at all for any reason. It’s hard to find a reason to oppose Libya except for a universal opposition to the use of military force. Of course, the problem here is that that’s not really Paul’s position. He’s not anti-war in the Kucinich sense. Yes, he’s against things like doing things in Libya. But if someone attacks us, it’s not like Paul is going to refuse to respond. His main thing is the belief that a declaration of war is required to take action, not that we shouldn’t take action.

So is Paul better than Obama on war? I suppose that depends on your point of view. Obama ended Iraq and is ending Afghanistan. It’s hard to see how Paul is better here. I actually think limited military strikes such as what we did in Libya to take out dictators may actually be a good use of the military, though if you disagree you would side with Paul on that. Otherwise, it’s difficult to see an appreciable difference between the two candidates right now.

2) Police Power

Here’s the problem with this argument: the vast majority of police power is vested in the states which, frankly, Paul doesn’t really care about. Indeed, I think he’s essentially made it clear that the states can do whatever they want. In fact, one could argue that Paul is worse on police power because he would oppose any sort of federal check on the use of police powers by the state where Obama might, if a situation got serious enough anyway. All of these OWS crackdowns were done by city and state forces, after all, not federal forces.

3) Bank Bailouts

Here is the thing about the bailouts: they were necessary. I know many progressives hate even thinking about admitting it, but you pretty much have to. Not doing TARP (which didn’t cost us anything in the end, by the way) would have resulted in pretty much the economy collapsing.

So the question here is: how do we prevent doing bank bailouts in the future? There are essentially two options: the first is to implement regulations that make bank bailouts unnecessary in the future. Obama and Democrats have been trying to work toward this goal. This option is also antithetical to Paul’s libertarian ideas. The other option is to not have any regulations and just not bail out the banks and let the economy burn.

I find it difficult to grasp how Paul is better on this issue. Obama supported the bailouts in 2008 because that was our only real choice at the time. As a consequence, he’s supported policies that will hopefully make it unnecessary to have to do the same thing in the future. Paul opposes both bailing banks out and having regulations that would prevent situations where bailing out banks may become necessary, and as a result, essentially supports a form of economic armageddon. Again, it’s hard to see how this is the superior policy position.

4) Cutting the Defense Budget

The biggest problem with cutting the defense budget has more to do with about 500 members of Congress being opposed to it that who the president is. Also, it’s not like Paul opposes the military. Yes, he would cut the budget by closing bases and things like that and is perhaps the position I agree with Paul on the most, personally. It’s also the issue where the President has perhaps the least power of all to actually effect change because the opposition to it in Congress is so strong and vast. Also, Obama has signalled willingness to cut the defense budget himself. Certainly not to levels that Paul might, but it’s certainly better than any other GOP alternative would come even close to.

5) Corporate Welfare

I find this argument actually rather silly because it doesn’t take into account the candidate’s complete views on corporations. Sure, Paul opposes corporate welfare, but only because he opposes government doing anything in general, not because he’s some sort of anti-corporate crusader. OK, so you get rid of corporate welfare. But what do you get in exchange? Repeal of labor laws? Repeal of safety laws? Repeal of consumer protection laws? That hardly seems like an equal trade. And it’s not like Obama is big on the corporate welfare bandwagon himself. And he would keep all of that other stuff too. Again, I find it hard to accept the argument that Paul is actually better than Obama on this issue.

6) Civil Liberties

For sure, Obama perhaps hasn’t done as much on civil liberties as some people probably hoped he would. But this notion that he’s restricted them even further seems silly to me. Also, I think you have to look at the entire package here.  Paul may improve civil liberties on the federal level, but may very well allow states to violate people’s civil liberties – and civil rights – at that level. And, much like the police powers, much of this rests on the state level and not just the federal level. So while Paul may be, in absolute terms, better than Obama here, I don’t think the advantage is as big as people make it out to be.

7) Surveillance

I’m sure part of the hope here with Obama is that he would oppose the PATRIOT ACT. And indeed, he has renewed the law without any real changes, although he has implemented some improvements unilaterally that at least makes things a little better. Certainly he probably hasn’t done enough to roll back some of the surveillance things Bush put into place, but it is also hard to argue that he’s made things worse. This may be the only real point where one can say without very much equivocating that Paul would probably be better than Obama. Of course, that comes back to the question about whether this issue is enough to abandon everything else.

So, despite Sirota’s claim of Paul being “indisputably” better than Obama on the above 7 issues, I’d say that Paul isn’t actually better than Obama at all on 3 of them, is better, but with an asterisk or not as much as people like to claim on 3 others, and is actually clearly better on 1 issue.

Now let’s address the 2nd part of Sirota’s claim, which is essentially that Paul won’t be able to implement the things liberals don’t like about him because of Congress.

With perhaps the exception of the defense budget (which is the main thing liberals like), this is a pretty silly argument. Why? Because when it comes to the budget, Paul largely falls in line with the GOP, and there is a not insignificant chance that the GOP will control both Houses of Congress come 2013. If that’s the case, who, exactly, is going to stand in Paul’s way?

And even if you address some of the more extreme parts of Paul’s plan, even those that the GOP may balk at, Paul has a great card: the veto pen. After all, if your plan is to essentially eliminate government, is there much different between getting a budget passed that does just that and repeatedly vetoing budgets that don’t and getting government shutdowns in the meantime? Not really.

About the only things Paul couldn’t do without Congress is mandatory spending – mainly Social Security and Medicare. Those can’t be touched without an active act of Congress. But again, if he has a GOP congress to work with, do people really believe those won’t be carved up as well? Paul may have to compromise on completely eliminating them, but if we get to that point in the debate, it’s already going to be too late for progressives.

So in conclusion, what do we have? This appears to be an exercise in overstating Paul’s positive, overstating Obama’s negatives, and then pretending that Obama’s negatives and Paul’s negatives are roughly equal in weight. Sirota tries to argue that such a choice is “debatable” but I find it hard to see how it is. One is essentially saying “since Obama isn’t a 100% pure progressive, then we’ll go with the guy who supports the few things that Obama isn’t really doing, but nevermind that he’ll destroy everything else.” As I’ve kind of said on twitter a couple times, people are abandoning Obama over 1 or 2 issues, despite all others, but are willing to support Paul over 1 or 2 issues, despite all others. And yet, we, the Obama supporters, are the ones “willing to accept anything” our candidate does.

January 3, 2012 Politifact Truthfulness Ratings

I’ll probably start doing these “thruthfullness scales” a little more frequently now that we’re actually into the primary season. I don’t know about weekly, because I don’t know if the updates on Politifact really justify that, but I may do it every other week now.

If you aren’t aware of how I calculate these, candidates get awarded 2 points for a “true” rating, 1 point for “mostly true,” 1/2 point for “half true,” -1/2 point for “mostly false,” -1 point for “false,” and -2 points for “pants on fire.” I then divide the total points by the number of ratings to get the Truth Average. The higher the score, the better. A negative score basically means a candidate wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the face.

So here are the ratings as of January 3rd, with the change from the scores from December 16th in parentheses. Minimum 10 ratings:

  1. Barack Obama: 0.59 (NC)
  2. Ron Paul: 0.41 (-0.05)
  3. Jon Huntsman: 0.40 (-0.06)
  4. Mitt Romney: 0.33 (-0.01)
  5. Rick Santorum: 0.15 (NC)
  6. Rick Perry: 0.01 (NC)
  7. Newt Gingrich: -0.38 (-0.07)
  8. Michelle Bachmann: -0.56 (+0.03)

So the only GOP candidate with any upward movement in the past two weeks is Bachmann, thanks to a Mostly True rating and her already abysmal average that makes it hard for her not to move up short of a False or Pants on Fire rating. Santorum didn’t change because he didn’t get any new ratings. Perry got several new ones but they pretty much all averaged out to zero which is why his didn’t change either. Everyone else went down.

If you were wondering, five GOP candidates have been in the ratings since I started posting them on my blog in August – Paul, Romney, Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann. Only Perry and Bachmann haven’t seen rather precipitous drops in their ratings since then. Bachmann, again, because it’s hard to keep such a horrible rating, and Perry, who seems to consistently average about 0, telling as many truths and untruths. Romney has dropped 0.13 points, Paul had dropped 0.30 points, taking his reputation has being a “different” candidate when it comes to the truth with it, while Gingrich had dropped a staggering .49 points, going from above zero to next to last and in danger of being passed by Bachmann, of all people, for the cellar.

For a while, both Paul and Huntsman – and even nominally Romney – could challenge Obama for truth telling, with both Paul and Huntsman actually leading the ratings at one point. But at this point, in the battle for the GOP bottom feeding votes, there is pretty much no one who is even close to Obama’s score now. Indeed, both Paul and Romney (and Huntsman if he had enough ratings to count) had better scores in August than any GOP candidate has today, including themselves.

December 2011 Politifact Truthfulness Scale

It’s time to release the “Truthfulness Scale” for December 2011, based on Politifact’s ratings for the current 2012 presidential candidates. Yes, I actually did do this in November. I just didn’t bother posting it on my blog, so the comparisons will be to the November ratings. Sorry about that. I’m also doing this month’s ratings early because I have a feeling I won’t get around to it at the end of the month due to the Holidays. I may also start doing these more frequently upon the start of the year due to the primaries heating up.

If you aren’t aware of how I calculate these, candidates get awarded 2 points for a “true” rating, 1 point for “mostly true,” 1/2 point for “half true,” -1/2 point for “mostly false,” -1 point for “false,” and -2 points for “pants on fire.” I then divide the total points by the number of ratings to get the Truth Average. The higher the score, the better. A negative score basically means a candidate wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the face.

So here are the ratings as of December 16th, with the change from the scores from November 29th in parentheses. Minimum 10 ratings:

  1. Barack Obama: 0.59 (NC)
  2. John Huntsman: 0.46 (-0.17)
  3. Ron Paul: 0.46 (-0.08)
  4. Mitt Romney: 0.34 (NC)
  5. Rick Santorum: 0.15 (+0.40)
  6. Rick Perry: 0.01 (NC)
  7. Newt Gingrich: -0.31 (-0.21)
  8. Michelle Bachmann: -0.59 (-0.03)

Some notes: Herman Cain has been taken out of the ratings because he dropped out of the race. However, Newt has apparently decided to take his spot as one of the worst liars now that he’s been made the frontrunner. I don’t know what it is about becoming a front runner and lying, but Bachmann did it (and continues to do so), Perry’s score fell lock a rock when he became the frontrunner, Cain’s score was always low, and now Gingrich’s score has dropped like rock since becoming the front runner. I don’t know if this lying is making them the front runner or if they feel compelled to lie to appease their base, but there definitely seems to be some connection between being the flavor of the month candidate and not telling the truth. The only candidate this doesn’t really seem to apply to so far is Mitt Romney.

As recently as August, Gingrich had a score of 0.11, making him the 3rd most truthful Republican. Now he’s next to last, having lost almost a half point average since then. That’s a lot of lying in the past 3 1/2 months.

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has been doing some truth telling. It’s not really about Obama or anything – basically some statements on unemployment for college grads and some statements about the Balanced Budget Amendment when he was in the Senate, but I don’t really care what the ratings are about, and Politifact decided to judge them, so they’re in. In any case, it’s enough to boost his score by nearly half a point – helped by the fact that he only has 13 ratings to begin with. But it’s moved Santorum from next to last (sans Cain) to 4rd among Republicans, at least for the moment.

Jon Huntsman’s lead didn’t last long. He joined the list last month (finally) having a rating of 0.63. However, a couple of “mostly false” ratings has dropped his score into a tie with Ron Paul for 2nd overall, though still tied for first among GOP candidates.

Since the end of August, the change in the candidates ratings are now thus (Huntsman and Santorum aren’t listed since they didn’t have enough ratings to have a score at the time):

  • Michelle Bachmann: +0.23
  • Rick Perry: +0.02
  • Barack Obama: No change
  • Mitt Romney: -0.12
  • Ron Paul: -0.25
  • Newt Gingrich: -0.42

I should note it should say something when Bachmann has improved her score by a quarter of a point and she still is about a quarter point behind any other candidate at this point. Her score back in August was a truly abysmal -0.82. It’s now only -0.59. Which means she’s told the truth occasionally, but her “mostly false,” “false,” and “pants on fire” ratings still outnumber her “true,” “mostly true,” and “half true” ratings nearly 3 to 1.

Sadly, she’s really the only Republican candidate to have made any improvements. Perry improved from -0.01 to +0.01, which isn’t that much of a change, really. All other GOP candidates scores have dropped in the past 3 1/2 months. The main reason Obama’s score hasn’t changed is that his over 300 ratings make his score extremely stable.

I suppose the only good stat for the Republicans is that, unlike last month, half their field is no longer underwater. Newt Gingrich already had a negative rating, Herman Cain dropped out, and Santorum went from having a negative rating to a positive one. That means 5 of the 7 GOP candidates now actually have a positive rating. But as noted above, the trend for almost all of them is still downward.

Just a few comments on the Plan B debate

I’ve largely stayed out of the Plan B kerfuffle for the most part just because I don’t really know enough about the issues involved to really make a judgement.  That, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t necessarily lean one way or another, but I don’t think I can necessarily come out and say “that’s right” or “that’s wrong” to the decision.  But I do want to make a few comments about my thoughts.

First, I largely understand the arguments about why some want Plan B available over the counter to anyone. They’re pretty similar to the arguments surrounding a minor being able to get an abortion without parental consent. Arguments range from avoiding the stigma of having sex or having to reveal abuse before getting treatment to a general argument that women, and in this case girls, should have complete and unfettered freedom to do whatever they want with their reproductive health. However, I have a few comments I’d like to add to that.

The first is that – and perhaps I’m wrong about this – I find it difficult to believe that someone as young as 13 or 14 or younger would be looking into getting Plan B without some sort of adult education or urging, whether it’s a parent, sibling, friend, or otherwise. And if that’s the case, how much of a greater burden is it to just have that adult buy Plan B and ensure the child uses it correctly than hoping they buy it themselves and hope they know what they’re doing, or at worst take them to a doctor to get a prescription?

The second is, I was rather surprised to learn as part of the discussion that minors, even those 10 or 11 years old, could buy drugs like aspirin, tylenol, or hell, take any drug, without a problem over the county. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. Perhaps there’s a good reason for it, but I can’t immediately think of a good one right off hand. I found it a bigger problem that a 14 year old could buy a bottle of aspirin, no questions asked, than with the fact that they couldn’t buy Plan B the same way.

Some people are trying to argue that this is some sort of sexism because condoms are available for anyone to buy. The problem with that logic however, is that you’re essentially saying that Plan B, which is a drug by the way, is just as harmless as a condom. And while there haven’t been any real serious side effects reported with Plan B, I think one would be hard pressed to argue that something like a condom is equal to a drug – any drug – as far as risk.

I suppose the argument I’m most sympathetic toward is the stigma argument. I seem to recall some statistic somewhere – I’m not sure I could even find it now – that showed that condoms used to be one of the most shoplifted items from stores, but since scan-it-yourself registers came, that rate has fallen, suggesting that people were shoplifting condoms not because they wanted to steal them, but because they didn’t want to go through the stigma of having to have the person at the register know that they were buying condoms. If there is one part of the decision I don’t like, it’s that Plan B has to stay “behind the counter” (though available without a prescription) as a result of the ruling.

It seems drug stores don’t work this way, but I guess I’d think it would be better if they were on the shelf, and anyone who looked too young to buy it was IDed, ala cigarettes. I would think that would at least help reduce the stigma part of the problem, though I suppose the concern about that  is if a store has a scan-it-yourself register, someone under 16 could just buy it anyway like that, and the argument that there may not be much of reduction in the stigma problem if either everyone has to show ID or you have to swing by the register anyway.

My last comment is about this article where some people are threatening to “stay home” in 2012 over this issue. Really? You’re going to stay home, and not vote, and allow the GOP to take over everything just because a 14 year old can’t buy Plan B over the counter? I suppose this issue is a big one for women’s groups, but in the whole sceme of everything that is going on and everything that is at stake, it seems like a pretty pathetic thing to stay home over. I think your time would be better spent re-electing Obama and trying to change his mind than letting a Republican president come in, who you know will never change their mind about it, and perhaps (and probably) do even more damage. You really want to possibly destroy abortion, and possibly even contraceptive rights, in America over the fact that Plan B isn’t available to a 14 year old over the counter? I don’t think so. And if you do, you’re the world’s biggest fool.

WTF Quote of the Month and the REINS Act

I hate to link to Huff Po for anything, but one of their stories on the House passing the worse-than-idiotic REINS Act has a hilarious quote from Texas Republican Representative Ted Poe:

“Who do the regulators answer to? No one,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) in debate on the House floor.

“When the regulators go to work everyday, like most people go to work, their work assignment’s a little different,” Poe said. “In my opinion, they sit around a big oak table, sipping their lattes. They have out their iPads and their computers, and they decide, ‘Who shall we regulate today?’ And they write a regulation and send it out to the masses and make us deal with the cost to that.”

This is a guy who has been in Congress for 6 years and is supposedly well educated and knowledgable, being a lawyer and judge (though I suppose the judge part doesn’t mean anything, depending on what level of judge he was. Some local judges are dumber than shit).

Yeah, regulators don’t do anything but sit around expensive tables, sipping expensive coffee, playing on their expensive gadgets that they bought with their obviously excessive federal salaries thinking of new ways to screw the American people. Now, if he had said corporate executives instead of regulators, it might be more believable since it’s their job in the company to figure out how to charge their customers more for less, but I don’t know of a lot of people, even very liberal people, who sit there and try to think of ways for government to regulate things just for shits and giggles.

Here’s the thing about a lot of regulations: the benefits of regulation can be very much hidden. Take the classic example of a factory that is dumping waste into a river. Eventually, someone is going to have to clean up the river and the area around the factory, and chances are it’s not going to be the corporation who ran the factory, it’s going to be the local, state, and federal government. And this is on top of all the cost to the local citizens who had to deal for years with having a polluted river.

So someone puts in a regulation that tells the factory to not dump waste into the river. Suddenly the “cost” of the regulation is how much it costs the company to not pollute into the river. After a few years people are like “why does this company have to spend money to do all this silly environmental crap” because the benefit of the regulation – the prevention of the pollution of the river and the inevitable cleanup as a result – doesn’t happen and is thus hidden.

So even though the company can come out and be like “this regulation costs us $X millions of dollars!,” what you can’t easily quantify is how much the company, community, and government is saving by not having to deal with the externality that they’re preventing. But in the end, this regulation is both saving money in the long run and shifting the cost of dealing with the problem from the community and the state onto the company who is creating the potential problem in the first place.

That is the benefit of regulations: to prevent externalities that will be harder to deal with and even costlier to clean up later, and to push the actual cost of dealing with problems off of government and onto business. The fact that business has to “pay” for regulations doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a cost that wouldn’t be there otherwise. It’s almost certainly a cost that is being moved from someone else – either consumers, the state, or someone else – onto the business in the name of preventing externalities, preventing unfair business practices, or some other problem.

Does that necessarily mean all regulations are good or efficient? No. Regulating something just to regulate it doesn’t solve anything. Also, circumstances might change which ends up making certain regulations that perhaps used to make sense not make sense any more. That was part of what drove airline regulation back in the 1970s. When the airlines were regulated like a utility in the 1930s, it kinda made sense. But technological advancements, cost savings, and other factors made such regulation largely unnecessary by the 1970s.

However, this doesn’t mean regulations are bad. That is hardly the case. I think a large part of the idea behind regulations being bad lies behind the idea that regulations are imposing a cost on business while preventing nothing. Of course, if such a regulation existed, that would be bad, but I think a lot of people would be hard pressed to actually find a regulation like that. Another argument against some regulations is that it costs more than the problem you’re trying to prevent. The problem with this argument isn’t just that it’s not only hard to estimate the cost of the problem you’re trying to prevent, but regulations also shift the burden of who is paying for it to the corporation from other innocent 3rd parties.

The final, silly part of Representative Poe’s statement is that regulators don’t answer to anyone. This is silly. First and foremost, they answer, at the very least, to the President. One can see that with the difference on how President Bush and President Obama treated not only creating regulations, but enforcing them. Second, it is and always has been in Congress’ power to overturn any regulation they don’t like. Such a bill would still be subject to a Presidential veto, of course, but Congress has always had that power. And this isn’t even addressing all the congressional oversight Congress already does over federal agencies.

The problem with the REINS act is that it completely shifts the balance of power. Now, the Congress is essentially prohibiting the executive from creating regulations without the consent of both houses of Congress, essentially giving either house of Congress veto power over almost any regulation. Not only is this dangerous and stupid, but it’s also potentially unconstitutional.  First, the Supreme Court has never really been very font of the ability of one house to singlehandedly veto a legitimate action of another branch of government (see INS v. Chadha). Also, it’s been a pretty accepted fact that it’s part of the executive power’s to create regulations to implement the laws that Congress passes as part of it’s executive power. The REINS Act would essentially shift this power from the executive branch to the legislative branch, something also which the Supreme Court generally doesn’t smile upon either.

It also creates the problem where one Congress can effectively “veto” a law passed by another Congress, merely by the inaction of one of it’s Houses. Let’s say the 114th Congress passes a major piece of legislation that requires a lot of regulatory structure at the end of it’s tenure. Three months later the 115th Congress comes into power with a new legislative majority. This 115th Congress can now prevent the implementation of the bill passed by the 114th Congress by simply doing nothing. This would effectively require that the bill be passed by BOTH Congresses before going into effect, something that would clearly be unconstitutional.

The counter argument is that Congress can pass laws with as much or little specificity as they want and that they’re the final say in what is allowed and what isn’t, and that’s true. But here’s the problem: the REINs act is saying that the Congress can pass a pretty vague bill with a lot of interpretation to it, and then after the fact, have a single-house veto power over how the executive branch tries to interpret or implement that law. That seems to be a pretty clear violation of separation of powers. If Congress wants to be specific about the regulations that are allowable or not in a piece of legislation, then that’s their prerogative, and the executive can’t overstep the bounds set up by Congress. But that’s different than essentially castrating the executive branch from being able to do anything by the simple non-action of one of the Houses of Congress doing nothing.

October 2011 Politifact Truthfulness Scale

It’s time to release the “Truthfulness Scale” for October 2011, based on Politifact’s ratings for the current 2012 presidential candidates.

If you aren’t aware of how I calculate these, candidates get awarded 2 points for a “true” rating, 1 point for “mostly true,” 1/2 point for “half true,” -1/2 point for “mostly false,” -1 point for “false,” and -2 points for “pants on fire.” I then divide the total points by the number of ratings to get the Truth Average. The higher the score, the better. A negative score basically means a candidate wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the face.

So here are the ratings as of November 1st, with the change from the scores from September 27th in parentheses. Minimum 10 ratings:

  1. Barack Obama: 0.59 (NC)
  2. Ron Paul: 0.48 (-0.04)
  3. Mitt Romney: 0.44 (-0.02)
  4. Rick Perry: 0.02 (+0.08)
  5. Newt Gingrich: -0.14 (-0.09)
  6. Rick Santorum: -0.25 (NEW)
  7. Herman Cain: -0.45 (+0.01)
  8. Michelle Bachmann: -0.59 (+0.17)

This month’s conclusions
So the main notes right now are these: I removed Sarah Palin from the ratings since she removed herself (finally) from consideration, so all that remains are actual candidates running, as it seems highly unlikely anyone new will jump in at this point. Also, we welcome Rick Santorum to the ratings after he finally mustered up the requisite 10 ratings to be included. Jon Huntsman is next in line with 9 total ratings, so his next one will put him in the list as well. The only other person I’m tracking who doesn’t qualify is Gary Johnson, who only has 5 ratings.

There seems to be a somewhat evening of the truthfulness score going on in the GOP field. The top 3 GOP candidates from last month all saw their ratings drop while the bottom 4 candidates saw their ratings go up, resulting in Perry and Gingrich flipping positions this month.  The entire GOP field is now at least 0.11 points behind Obama in the ratings, which might not sound like much until you realize that from Obama to Bachmann, there is only a difference of 1.18 points.  The total gap between the top and bottom of the GOP field has shrunk from 1.3 points at the end of August to only 1.07 points today, a narrowing of about 17%.

With Paul’s drop below 0.5 points, Obama is now the only candidate in the list that averages better than a “half true” rating.  More than half of the GOP field is still under water, sitting with negative ratings.

The GOP candidates are still getting hammered with false ratings as well. Four of Seven ranked GOP candidates have as many or more “Pants on Fire” ratings than President Obama, even though none of them have more than 1/3 the total ratings. If the GOP candidates had as many total ratings as Obama, none of the ranked candidates would have any fewer than 29 “Pants on Fire” ratings. Only Romney would have fewer “False” ratings than Obama – by 4 – but he would more than make up for that with 25 more “Pants on Fire” ratings. Only Paul and Romney would even have over 50 “True” ratings – 78 for Paul, 79 for Romney – vs. Obama’s 79.

Anwar al-Awlaki, Citizenship, Acts of War, and the Judiciary

So there is quite a bit of debate of whether the Obama Administration was justified in killing Anwar al-Awlaki for the support of and inciting terrorism against the United States due to the fact that al-Awlaki is still an American citizen.  The primary concern here being, of course, the 5th and 6th Amendments of the US Constitution. (for those not up on your amendments, those deal with due process and right to a fair trial).

These aren’t insignificant concerns. The government is inherently playing with fire if it desires to take out a US citizen who has become an agent of a hostile foreign power, or who otherwise poses an imminent national security threat. There is also the concern of some that, even while they might support the government’s right to take out such a person, they are uncomfortable with the fact that, often, the evidence the government holds that implicates such a person is currently secret due to national security concerns.

However, I think sorting through the issues at hand suggest that taking out al-Awlaki was the proper thing to do.

Issue 1: Criminal Acts vs. Acts of War

I would say most people would clearly make a distinction between criminal acts and acts of war. I would say most people don’t have a problem taking out soliders or leadership of enemy states that we might be fighting because clearly they are engaging in an act of war and being dealt with by an act of war. Does that concern suddenly change if one of the people we take out is an American citizen? Or, despite being a US citizen, does the fact that he was engaging in an acts of war against the United States, and taken out during an act of war effectively make the status of his citizenship moot?  If high-level leadership in the Germany military, or the Viet Cong, happened to be US Citizens, does that suddenly mean the US can no longer take them out via military operations, because we would then be violating their rights to a fair trial? I think it would be extremely difficult to make that argument.

The reason for that is the inherent difference between criminal acts and acts of war. If German troops attack the United States, they aren’t committing a criminal offense, per se, they are committing acts of war, where the license for the government to kill in response to defend it’s national security is, while perhaps not limitless, pretty unrestrained.  Again, does that change if one of the soldiers just happens to be a US Citizen? I would argue no because, again, they re committing an act of war, not a criminal act. If someone committing an act of war against the US is detained, and isn’t subject to the Geneva Conventions, then, yes, they can be further charged with criminal acts, but that doesn’t mean any act of war a US citizen takes against the US inherently MUST be treated as a criminal act and not an act of war.

Issue 2: Imminent Threat or Danger

But let’s assume that, yes, everything al-Awalaki has done is subject to, and only subject to, the US criminal justice system. Is it possible that the US was still justified in it’s actions? I think there is a good argument to be had that, yes, they were.

One analogy, admittedly not perfect but I think it’s close enough, that I made earlier today is the comparison of taking out al-Awalaki to the police taking out someone who is taking hostages and who clearly doesn’t appear like they are going to surrender or who looks like they are going to go down shooting.  I would say very few people would have a problem with this police action resulting in taking out of a person who hasn’t been charged or had a trial in the hostage situation because he is an immediate threat to public safety and there is little reasonable chance of detaining him successfully and safely.

The question here is: is al-Awlaki any different? I think there are two circumstances which, when taken by themselves wouldn’t justify military action, but put together might.

The first circumstance is the past and probably current involvement in plots that would result in the death of Americans.  Of course, this by itself wouldn’t be a cause to take action. If we find evidence of terrorists in the US planning to commit a terrorist act, we don’t just go in and shoot them up, so planning imminent action isn’t, on it’s own, cause to take lethal action against them.

The second circumstance is the ability, or in this case, probable lack of ability to detain him successfully and safely. Clearly, if someone isn’t an immediate threat, then taking them out instead of detaining him would be overkill. This is also why analogies like “it’s just like the police busting into the house of an accused murderer and killing him in his bed!” are off base. No one is suggesting that, if you have the ability to arrest someone, that that is the action that should be taken. But you actually have to have that ability first.

But what if we put these two circumstances together? The difference between terrorists in the US planning to take action and getting caught is that the authorities had a reasonable chance of arresting them with little or no incident, and thus they took that action.  But what if one is imminently engaged in plots to harm Americans and we have little chance of successfully detaining them? Then the situation starts looking a lot more like the hostage situation described above, where in the interests of public safety, authorities decide that they have no choice but to just take the person out, without trial.

Issue 3: Secret Intelligence and National Security Concerns

This might be the area where those raising concerns have the most valid arguments, though I generally think wrapping them in complaints about the US taking out a terrorist makes those trying to make the points less credible.

But anyway, there is the not insignificant concern about intelligence gathered by the US government to take out someone like al-Awlaki being secret, and the argument of “what if they could take you out based on secret intelligence that doesn’t actually exist?”  And indeed, national security has always been a rather grey area, where secrecy is both necessarily and breeds concerns over abuse.

It’s a problem in that many people who may otherwise not really trust the government are forced to do so in national security matters because even most of them would admit that having the intelligence and other information the government has out in the open would be harmful to protecting national security.  This leads to the ongoing debate of 1) how much should be secret and 2) how long should it be secret for, which is a very important debate to have. In a sense, it’s a shame that the concerns brought up about this point are being lost because of the context which it’s advocates have chosen to bring them up in. I just don’t think one gets very far bringing up these concerns when you wrap it in complaints about bin laden being killed or taking out someone who is known to have been involved in plots against the United States.

Conclusion

Personally, I think it would be difficult, given the circumstances of the situation, to argue that the US wasn’t justified in taking the action they did.  To do so, you would effectively have to believe one of three things:

  1. One could argue that no matter what damage a citizen who has become an agent of a foreign power might be able to inflict on the United States, the US can’t do anything about it until (and unless) they can detain him for trail. Again, I find this to be a very difficult position to support. What if some nuke scientist from Los Alamos defected to North Korea and we couldn’t detain him, but we could do something to take him out? Could one really argue that the right to a trial is greater than the damage to national security that the person could inflict?
  2. One could argue, such as what Glenn Greenwald appears to be, that secret intelligence is never sufficient to take out a US citizen who is an agent of a foreign power, regardless of what they might be doing. The problem I have with this is the seeming requirement that the US release information that could potentially further damage it’s national security in order to publicly justify taking the person out – and then hoping that people like Greenwald wouldn’t criticize them for doing so anyway.
  3. One could take a middle-ground position that at least the US should have indicted, and perhaps even gone through the trial first.  My three main problems with this, however, are 1) it assumes, again, that the criminal justice system is the only avenue through which the US can deal with the situation, even if it involves an act of war; 2) you still have to deal with the still unresolved issues of charging people with a criminal acts using evidence that, if made public, may harm national security. The US almost certainly would have indicted him if he were ever caught, but didn’t want to reveal potentially sensitive information unless it came to that; and 3) There is potentially the concern that, if he were found guilty, he would be sentenced to anything less than death. That suddenly makes taking him out via military means extremely difficult, even if you receive intelligence in the future that would otherwise justify taking that action.

I think the entire situation is in some shade of grey, but I also think that one starts into a much more questionable area when one starts saying that, even if someone is an agent of a hostile foreign power, and even if they were involved terrorist attacks in the past, and even if it is probably (if known already known) that they were currently involved in future terrorist attacks, and even if there is no reasonable expectation that they can be detained, that the person still must be detained and tried, or nothing.

Such a stance results in the conclusion that the United States has no choice but to leave alone a threat to national security and a threat to the American people, even if we might have a military way to deal with them.  Using the military to take someone out certainly isn’t the first choice or the preferred choice. But in some cases, it may be the only choice.

September 2011 Politifact Truthfulness Scale

It’s time to release the “Truthfulness Scale” for September 2011, based on Politifact’s ratings for the current (and potential) 2012 presidential candidates. If you aren’t aware of how I calculate these, candidates get awarded 2 points for a “true” rating, 1 point for “mostly true,” 1/2 point for “half true,” -1/2 point for “mostly false,” -1 point for “false,” and -2 points for “pants on fire.” I then divide the total points by the number of ratings to get the Truth Average. The higher the score, the better. A negative score basically means a candidate wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the face.

So here are the ratings as of September 27th, with the change from the scores on August 26th in parentheses. Minimum 10 ratings:

  1. Barack Obama: 0.59 (NC)
  2. Ron Paul: 0.52 (-0.19)
  3. Mitt Romney: 0.42 (-0.04)
  4. Sarah Palin: 0.02 (NC)
  5. Newt Gingrich: -.05 (-0.13)
  6. Rick Perry: -0.06 (-0.05)
  7. Herman Cain: -0.46 (+0.04)
  8. Michelle Bachmann: -0.76 (+0.06)

Note: I’m tracking Huntsman (7), Johnson (4), and Santorum (7), but none have the 10 ratings that I have set as a minimum to be in the rankings

This month’s conclusions

As might one see from doing the math, Obama has now taken over first place from Ron Paul on the truthfulness scale, largely because since the GOP debates started in earnest, Paul’s score has dropped from 0.91 to 0.52, a drop of nearly 4/10ths of a point, meaning he’s gone from nearly averaging “mostly true” to only averaging “half true.”  That’s a pretty precipitous drop in only two months, and at the rate he is dropping, he’s in danger of being passed by Mitt Romney as the most truthful GOP candidate, as Romney has only dropped 0.06 points in the past 2 months.

Only one GOP candidate who is on the list hasn’t had a drop in their score over the past two months: Michelle Bachmann, whose score in the past two months has increased by 0.05 points. This is largely due to the fact that her score is so bad, that if she says anything remotely truthful, her average is going to improve. Every other GOP candidate has seen their score drop over the last two months, except Palin who hasn’t really had many new ratings. Cain is the only candidate other than Bachmann who saw his score improve over the past month, but, again, he already has an abysmally low score, so saying something true is almost going to automatically improve his average.

Paul, Gingrich, and Perry have all seen their scores drop by an average of 1/10th of a point or more over the past month.  Perry remains the 4th most truthful GOP candidate, behind Paul, Romney, and Gingrich, but that’s largely thanks to the fact that everyone else’s score in the GOP has also dropped, and the people behind him – Cain and Bachmann – are so far behind that it would take a lot of work for him to either drop to their level or for them to recover from their abysmally low averages. It should still be noted, though, that Perry entered the race with a score of 0.04, which isn’t great, but still better than average for the GOP field, and has seen it drop ever since he entered the race. As I noted last week, becoming a GOP candidate for President doesn’t not appear to be very conducive to telling the truth.

Perry is ahead of everyone else in one statistic though: he is the first candidate to hit double-digit “Pants on Fire” ratings with 10, followed closely by Bachmann with 9, and Romney with 7. He also has the 2nd most “False” and “Mostly False” ratings, with 20 and 14, as compared to Obama’s 49 and 41, though Obama has 3.7 times the number of ratings as Perry (as compared to 2.1 times the False and 2.9 times the Mostly False ratings).

If one wants to know what percentage of a candidate’s ratings are “Mostly False” or worse, then here you go:

  1. Bachmann – 80.6%
  2. Cain – 61.5%
  3. Palin – 54.9%
  4. Gingrich – 52.4%
  5. Perry – 51.2%
  6. Romney – 35.4%
  7. Paul – 30.4%
  8. Obama – 29.4%

Yes, that’s right, every GOP candidate other than Paul or Romney has more statements rated “Mostly False” or worse than they have statements rated “Half True” or better. It’s pretty clear that most GOP candidates have a very serious problem with the truth.

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