Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Drum’

Charges of Hypocrisy Are Almost Always Overrated

You may have seen this Townhall story about the Obama campaign checking photo IDs on your conservative friends’ facebook pages. See, Obama opposes strict photo ID rules at the voting booth but not at his events!

This is a great example of why hypocrisy is the least satisfying critique of a person’s policy preferences. President Obama, and others, favor different photo ID policies at different places because the consequences of those policies differ. What’s next, a Townhall headline that the president approves of checking IDs for purchasing alcohol?

Oh wait.

Anyway, why don’t we go through a couple obvious differences:

  • Voting is a constitutional right. Attending a campaign rally is not.
  • Romney supporters were causing problems at the event. In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent and, therefore, not a problem.

Campaign events are for supporters; if a few don’t get in it doesn’t undermine the outcome of the event. In contrast, Voter ID laws may undermine democracy. According to Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Pennsylvania, his party is proud to have passed “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Turzai and the Republican Party might be perfectly consistent in their support for checking IDs, but that shouldn’t absolve them of criticism.

Does Belief in Evolution Matter?

When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. -Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

In response to Gallup’s survey and Andrew Sullivan’s commentary, Kevin Drum argues that “belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything.”  Drum still agrees that the biography of life should still be taught in schools “because it’s true,” but he overlooks the importance of the subject.

Gallup alerts us that 46% of Americans believe that God magically caused man by instantaneous creation.  As evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky noticed, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Therefore, we have around 46% of Americans that neither understand nor will directly or indirectly promote biology, the science that The Economist proclaims will be to this century “what physics was to the 20th.” Drum waves some of that concern away by asserting that “nobody wants to remove it from university biology departments.” Besides being totally wrong about that (here’s the “biology” department at the “University” that one of our major presidential candidates, ahem, just gave the Commencement Address at), who does Drum think will populate our research facilities? Kids don’t just go from outright rejection of science to fully analytical college students after a summer off. Even if they did, education could advance more easily if undergraduate college didn’t have to function as a remedial transition school. Knowledge is cumulative.

Besides light’s ability to illuminate, it also has the power to disinfect and transform. The question of mankind’s origin and his place in nature is uniquely both the cause and the consequence of fundamentalist religious faith. The radiance of Darwin’s idea corroded this keystone to anthropomorphic theistic superstition, the argument from design.

If belief in evolution didn’t have such grave consequences to traditional religious teleology and morality, it’d be a real mystery why creationists care so much about Drum’s unimportant topic. Rather than wondering if evolution has any “real-life impact on anything” it makes more sense to ask if there is any fundamental question that evolution doesn’t alter. The meaning of life, our ethical obligations to all creatures, our stewardship of the environment, our sex lives, our religions, our sciences, whether we have free will – these subjects all differ after contact with Darwinian knowledge.

Next time Kevin spends “an entire day arguing politics and economics and culture with a conservative” without mentioning evolution, he should ask himself what a natural account of life on earth does to arguments against stem-cell research, to objections to unnatural homosexuality, and to just deserts economic philosophy.

Categories: Evolution Tags:

Our History as a Fraud-Ridden Banana Republic

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

The right-wing is super-seriously concerned about voter fraud this year. After Republicans took control of a number of state legislatures, they made sure to enact strict new voter identification laws to ensure that legions of imposters aren’t stealing elections. If historically disenfranchised minority groups are disproportionately affected by the new laws, that’s a small price to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. Remember, it’s just a coincidence that voting blocs that tend to vote for Democrats – the young, blacks, hispanics, the poor, urbanites – are much less likely to have the type of photo ID that the new laws require. Concealed Handgun License = totally permitted; Student I.D./social security card = completely unacceptable.

Listening to the excessive rhetoric, you might start believing the world’s greatest constitutional republic could never have had a legitimate election in its history. Washington, Lincoln, Reagan! all elected without the safeguard of GOP-approved photo IDs. So should Americans just acknowledge our history as a banana republic, asterisk our first 44 presidencies as invalid, and from this day forward commit every available resource to obliterate the scourge of in-person voter fraud?

Fortunately, for the sake of our national psyche, it turns out that voter impersonation is basically a figment of conservative paranoia. The Brennan Center For Justice conducted the largest study to date and found that individual voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. Not a single person was prosecuted for in-person voter fraud after a 2002 to 2007 probe by the Justice Department came up empty handed. And as Rolling Stone reports, “A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud.” In other words, the problem is not actually a problem. But that hasn’t stopped the Republican Party from finding solutions that just happen to disenfranchise eligible voters.

If you live in a place where most people drive, it’s easy to assume that almost everyone has a government-issued photo ID. The reality is that around 11% (21+million) of US citizens don’t have one, 18% of people 65+ don’t, and close to 1-in-4 African Americans lack that type of ID.

Can’t they just get one?

It’s not always as easy as you think. Many older citizens born before the 1970s were born out a hospital and lack the proper birth certificate. Older black citizens born into the Jim Crow south were frequently born out of hospitals to midwives and often have misspelled names on their birth certificates. As many as 32 million voting-age women may lack citizenship documents with their current name (usually the result of marriage). Students that moved out-of-state also face higher hurdles to vote.

After Wisconsin passed their voter ID requirement, they helpfully closed 10 DMVs that coincidentally were in Democratic districts. In Texas, one third of the counties don’t have a licensing office, while “a little less than a quarter of driver’s license offices have extended hours, which would make it tough for many working voters to find a place and time to acquire the IDs.”

Couldn’t the government make it easier to get IDs?

It could, but often doesn’t. Back in Texas, the voter ID law cut the amendments that would have extended licensing office hours and helped pay for travel expenses. Voter ID laws still cost millions of dollars to put in place, and states are reluctant to commit the resources to ensure every eligible citizen can get an ID. For poor citizens without ready access to citizenship documents or inaccurate birth certificates it can be a true financial burden to get the necessary documents and ID.

How much will voter ID laws suppress turnout?

It’s difficult to estimate. One study found that around 5 million eligible voters will find it “significantly harder” to cast a ballot. A study in the Harvard Law and Policy Review determined that voter ID laws “disenfranchised between 3 and 4.5 million voters in 2006” even before many of the stricter laws were put in place. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post argues that voter ID laws suppressing turnout is false or exaggerated, writing, “the states with the strictest photo ID laws (Georgia and Indiana) had higher minority turnout than those with no photo ID requirements.”

For the sake of argument let’s assume that the effect is minor. You still have to answer, how many citizens are you willing to disenfranchise to solve a problem that doesn’t exist?

Voting isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. In a nation with an ugly history of disenfranchising American minorities, we should be extra vigilant to ensure every citizen’s constitutional right is secure. All the evidence suggests that voter impersonation is extraordinarily rare. Even James O’Keefe’s made-up examples don’t prove what advocates of voter ID laws think it does. Kevin Drum:

Nobody in his right mind deliberately casts an illegal ballot. You’re risking a felony rap over one vote. Hell, O’Keefe’s guy wasn’t willing to risk it even though that was the whole point of the stunt, and even though, according to Shapiro, the odds of getting caught were “almost zero.” That’s because O’Keefe’s stooge isn’t clinically insane, which is about what you’d have to be to take a chance like that for essentially no gain at all.

Presidential elections only tend to turn out just over 50% of the voting age population; it seems improbable that any significant number of imposters are risking felony charges when getting actual voters to the polls poses such logistical difficulties for political campaigns. A small number frauds wouldn’t swing an election, and even if in the best case scenario that voter disenfranchisement doesn’t effect the outcome of the election, it’s still too high a price to pay. Any individual’s vote is statistically unlikely to alter an election, but voting has psychological, social, and civic benefits. The bar for depriving any amount of citizens their constitutional rights needs to be a whole lot higher than the mere potential for some fraud.

The small-government, liberty-loving, bureaucracy-hating, Constitution-worshipping, low-tax-champion Tea Partyers passed a solution to a non-problem  that gives the government and bureaucrats more power, makes it harder for citizens to practice their constitutional rights, and costs the taxpayers more money. Yet somehow, it’s not the hypocrisy that bothers me.

Graphing Obstruction

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

You’ve heard it before. “Both parties act the same.” “Democrats and Republicans are equally responsible for gridlock.”

Yet, if you look at the figures one party seems conspicuously more willing to change the culture and ramp up the obstructionism. One of Kevin Drum’s readers made this chart plotting the use of the filibuster when each party is in the minority.

It’s pretty clear Republicans are driving the increase as Drum says. I wanted to have some fun with my new graphing tool so I broke down the numbers a little more. First, I wanted to check this statement by Drum:

When you add up all the red segments, they represent virtually the entire increase in the use of the filibuster over the past half century.

At first I thought he meant the GOP has been responsible for almost all the use in the filibuster.

Certainly they’re responsible for a large majority (61%) of the cloture motions, but not almost all of it. More specifically, he’s claiming the GOP is responsible for “virtually the entire increase.” If you graph the percent change from each congress this becomes more clear.

Ahhh… Now it’s clear who’s steering the change. You can look at this two ways and I think both are correct. When it comes to obstructing the will of the majority, Republicans are leaders and the Democrats are followers. Neither is encouraging.

Categories: Filibuster Tags:

If I were to hold a sign

October 7, 2011 6 comments

I’m not really the protesting type, but the 99 percent movement generally has its heart in the right place. Anyone is welcome to use the sign I came up with:

I suppose you could fill the back with specific policy ideas that could help like a financial transactions tax, NGDP targeting, state aid, an infrastructure bank, etc. Feel free to suggest other ideas too – those were just off the top of my head.

I got the graphs from Kevin Drum and Brad DeLong.

Ride of the Volckery

September 20, 2011 7 comments

I’ve returned from my hike across the beautiful Crawford Path. Sunday night, slightly sore and groggy, I read Paul Volcker’s warning in the New York Times to not pursue an inflationary monetary policy to solve our employment crisis.

My point is not that we are on the edge today of serious inflation, which is unlikely if the Fed remains vigilant. Rather, the danger is that if, in desperation, we turn to deliberately seeking inflation to solve real problems — our economic imbalances, sluggish productivity, and excessive leverage — we would soon find that a little inflation doesn’t work. Then the instinct will be to do a little more — a seemingly temporary and “reasonable” 4 percent becomes 5, and then 6 and so on.

What we know, or should know, from the past is that once inflation becomes anticipated and ingrained — as it eventually would — then the stimulating effects are lost.

Reading his op-ed left me slightly more sore and groggy. It is important to notice that Volcker implies that inflation would be stimulating in the short-run. I can’t for the life of me understand why he doesn’t consider 9% unemployment a “real problem,” but let’s move on. Volcker never explains why keeping inflation at 1 or 2 percent is optimal policy – he only worries that 3 or 4 percent will lead policymakers to try higher and higher rates. I guess once the Fed gets a little hit of that inflation soon they’ll be desperate for more only to keep up with those expectations. It’s only a matter of time, I suppose, that the abuser will be stagflating on the treasury room floor.

But is this gateway drug theory of inflation accurate?

I can’t be the only one that notices that inflation goes up and down. Every time we hit 3% inflation, we didn’t get hooked and ruin our longterm economy, right? Every person that takes a painkiller doesn’t become an oxycontin addict. Even though Volcker knows some junkie from the ’70s we shouldn’t conclude that sick people shouldn’t take medicine.

Here’s some other commentary on Volcker’s column:

Read more…

Grey, Not Blacklist

As the trustworthiness of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser disintegrates, I wonder if Kevin Drum is reconsidering his case for hotels blacklisting accused flashers and other “pervs.”

In other words, if we’re willing to take housekeeper reports of perv activity seriously — and we should be — there’s a pretty slim chance of blacklisting an innocent man. Still, it’s true: mistakes can happen.

After considering Megan McArdle’s objections, Drum hedges from his “zero-tolerance” stance:

So how about this instead: Get reported once and you’re given a warning. My guess is that if you just forgot to deadbolt the door, you’ll never forget again after that. Do it again and you’re blacklisted for a couple of years. After all, everyone deserves a chance to turn over a new leaf. So let them back in after two years, but tell them that a third strike means they’re banned for good.

For the record, I’m not commenting on whether I think DSK is likely to be actually guilty or innocent – I have no idea. I’m not even sure I disagree with Drum’s second proposal in light of the possibility that DSK is innocent. But this extreme case underscores the potential concerns with that type of policy. Hotel chains have a duty to protect their workers but need to ensure that their guests aren’t unjustly banned by and saddled with such a serious charge. Should they adopt a blacklisting policy?

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