Friday, December 17, 2004

Harold Ford To Run For Frist's Senate Seat

Why do I feel like this is not getting the attention it deserves? I, for one, am extremely excited to see Ford take his career to the next step.

Harold Ford, Jr. is a really popular Democratic Congressman from Memphis whose name was often -- before Obama -- bandied about in First Black President conversations. And with Bill Frist vacating the Senate in 2006 to stick to a self-imposed term limit, he'll be running for an open seat. Even if Frist were to decide to stick around, Ford would be able to mount a pretty strong attack on Frist's broken promise.

No word yet whether Alan Keyes has been spotted house-hunting in Nashville.

posted by Scott | 12/17/2004 | |

Enough With The DLC Bashing

Seriously, this 'purge the centrists'/'centrists = corporate lackeys' crap has got to stop. The Democratic Leadership Council may not be anyone's favorite Democratic sub-sect at the moment. But they are not, no matter what David Sirota says, the enemy.

Matt Yglesias has an incredibly thorough expose of Sirota's latest Nation piece slamming the DLC up at his site. Anyone who believes that the DLC and DLC member politicians (those right-wingers Ken Salazar, John Kerry, Eliot Spitzer, Phil Angelides, Cruz Bustamante, Jim McGreevey, Zoe Lofgren, Rahm Emanuel, Dick Gephardt, etc.) are out to turn the country over to Corporate America after reading the Yglesias piece is, quite frankly, insane.

I don't like the way DLC head Al From has conducted himself. He's been an incredibly divisive figure in the Democratic Party and has invited many of the criticisms that are often thrown at him. But still on the whole, the DLC is a generally positive organization and should be recognized as such, even if you disagree with some of their stands, candidates, or leaders.

My biggest complaint about Sirota's Nation article is his attack against New Democrat Network head Simon Rosenberg.

Now an effort is under way to set this faux "centrism" in stone. One of the leading candidates for Democratic National Committee chairman is Simon Rosenberg, a former free-trade lobbyist and head of the business-backed New Democrat Network. His group is joined by even more organizations designed to push the party to the right.
This is just stupid beyond words. Simon Rosenberg is not out to push the Democratic Party to the right. I'm sort of at a loss here, as it's virtually impossible to counter such a bold lie. He... just... isn't. See? That's far from the height of political debate.

But let me take this opportunity, once again, to endorse none other than Simon Rosenberg for head of the DNC. He's got the insight and the savvy to restructure the party and I don't believe for a second that he's trying to "push the party to the right." As Kos pointed out today, it's not about 'left' or 'right'. It's about "reform versus status quo"

posted by Scott | 12/17/2004 | |

New Kid In Town

Chris at the new blog Forty-Four is so far doing a much better job than I am at covering the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Our two sites are pretty different, though, so I think there's room for both of us.

Besides, I'll catch up. And no, I'm not being defensive or anything.

Why are you looking at me like that? Grrrr...

No, honestly, go check out his site. It's nice work.

posted by Scott | 12/17/2004 | |

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Conservatism Bias And Confirmatory Bias

I'm in the middle of making some personal investment decisions, so I was happy to see a new piece on investing at Slate today by Henry Blodget, 'Born Suckers'. Blodget makes the case -- not really too hard to make, I'd think -- that people "are wired to make dumb investing mistakes."

What on Earth, you're clearly wondering, does this have to do with politics?

Honestly, not much. But Blodget cites a report from on why people make such bad investment decisions. The report on global equity strategy, published in late 2002, advises in part these two 'rules':

Don't get hung up on one technique, tool, approach or view -- flexibility and pragmatism are the order of the day.

Listen to those who don't agree with you.
Hmmm... As I read this, I was immediately reminded of Team W, and I chuckled to think that one of Bush's strengths was supposedly that he would be "The CEO President."

Reading on, it occurred to me that some of the psychology in this report speaks volumes about the Bush administration. Specifically, they suffer from both the aptly named 'conservatism bias' and 'confirmatory bias'. Here's what the report says about both:

People also tend to cling tenaciously to a view or a forecast. Once a position has been stated most people find it very hard to move away from that view. When movement does occur it does so only very slowly. Psychologists call this conservatism bias (it can lead to anchoring which we will discuss a little later).
This leads to our third rule (3) Don't get hung up on one technique, tool, approach or view. Flexibility and pragmatism are the order of the day.

We are inclined to look for information that agrees with us. This thirst for agreement rather than refutation is known as confirmatory bias.
Instead of listening to the people who echo our own view we should (4) listen to those who don't agree with us. The bulls should listen to the bears, and vice versa. You should pursue such a strategy not so that you change your mind, but rather so you are aware of the opposite position.
Are you seeing where I'm going with this? This has been a constant criticism of the Bush administration -- that they're too stubborn in their own views, that the don't listen to outsiders, that they hear what they want to and reject everything else. But this time, it's not coming from lefty pinko commie America-hating Democrats like me. This is just standard psychology, in this article adapted to global equity investing. However, this report could just as easily be about foreign policy decision making.

Back in Blodget's Slate piece, he links to another report on behavioral finance discussing the impact of herding and group dynamics on markets. Rather than being informative of the administration, this report suggests some interesting things about American voters and why they decided to stick with Bush. The report goes back and looks at a famous Solomon Asch experiment from the fifties:

There were eight members in Asch's experimental group. Seven were in on the experiment and the eighth was the subject. To start, Asch asked the group to solve a very simple problem: determine which of three lines is of equal length to the standard line. Going around the table, each participant named a choice. In the first few trials, all the participants picked the right answers.

After a few trials, Asch signaled the seven members to start making obvious mistakes. While many subjects expressed shock at the group's clear mistakes, 35% of the subjects conformed to the group's incorrect judgments. Those that went with the majority were either convinced their own judgments were wrong (unlikely) or were uncomfortable being a minority facing an overwhelming majority (likely). People often show a preference for being an accepted part of a majority than for being part of the correct minority.
While many of you are probably quite familiar with these tenets of psychology, perhaps even in the context of politics, I think it's instructive to review the 2004 election in this light, getting away from the tendency some of us have to look at the election results as the product of 'stupid' voters. If anything, these voters are pretty typically human.

The Bush campaign was pretty effective this year at making their guy look like a winner. It seems to me that the national Republican Party has a knack for this in general. Even here in New Jersey, Bush stickers were easy to come by. States that voted for Bush but went Democratic otherwise prove the impact of this group dynamic. Colorado sent Ken Salazar to the Senate and turned control of both their state House and Senate over to Democrats. Montana, which went for Bush by 20% over Kerry, elected a Democratic Governor.

The voters in these states are clearly are willing to accept Democratic policies and politicians, so it can't be that they are unquestionably conservative or married to the Republican Party. It's likely that in this election, they went for the candidate they perceived to be the winner.

posted by Scott | 12/15/2004 | |

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Kerik: Who Knew?!?!

When I was slamming the administration's pick of Bernard Kerik for Homeland Security, I had no idea how screwy the guy really was. Take everything I wrote about the guy and then add to it...

- Kerik went on random drive-by shootings of Iraqis while with the Coalition Provisional Authority. (from Newsweek)

- While in Iraq, Kerik told people that he was just there to have a place to spend some time while his house in New Jersey was being worked on. (from Newsweek)

- Kerik's mistress, right-wing publisher and moralist Judith Regan was so scared of him after they split up that she hired a bodyguard to protect her. (from Newsweek)

Of course the kicker has to be that he was a bigamist.

And I haven't even gotten into some of his questionable money-making schemes. Anyway, that's it for me and Bernie Kerik, unless something really interesting comes up. In the meantime, Steve Gilliard's doing a great job of covering all things Kerik.

posted by Scott | 12/14/2004 | |

Sullivan's Enemies

More often than not, I really enjoy Andrew Sullivan's work. Even when I disagree with him, I give him credit for being a talented writer and a sharp thinker. But every now and again, I find myself scratching my head at something he says or does.

Like last month on 'Real Time with Bill Maher,' when both he and Noam Chomsky were guests, he tore into Maher for inviting Chomsky, repeatedly scolding that Chomsky's "world view of the far left in which the United States is the source of all evil ... is why you lost the election." Never mind that Sullivan also voted for Kerry, making the "you lost" taunt utterly bizarre. Sullivan also exposes here the problem with nearly all Washington insiders. Bush's margin of victory didn't come from moderate voters who were angry with Noam Chomsky. In fact, I'd be surprised if most voters for any candidate even know who Chomsky is.

But I digress...

Another example of Sullivan's rhetorical overreach can be found in today's entry, "THE ENEMY'S PROPAGANDA". He provides a link to an Iraqi insurgency propaganda tape that uses some pretty uniquely Western odd arguments to help them make their case. (Emphasis mine.)

The striking thing about this piece of video propaganda for the insurgency in Iraq is how Western-left it appears. From the British accent narrating the talking points to the weird challenge to "use the euro!", it's an interesting mesh of the anti-globalist, anti-American ideology in Europe and the murderous, Jihadist creed. The merger of the anti-globalist left and the anti-Semitic Jihadist right was always possible. Maybe this tape is evidence of its progress.
Now, I've watched the video. It's pretty slickly produced and the fluent English-speaking narrator makes the whole thing that much more watchable. As Sullivan says, the arguments are familiar to anyone who's had any experience with the anti-globalist left.

The arguments they make are actually pretty compelling. Until, of course, you think about the fact that these are the people murdering Americans every day with roadside bombs. But that's the point of propaganda, isn't it? To make easily-swayed people come around to your point of view by tying their cause to yours. When Stalin was building the Popular Front, he appealed to the international community by framing the Soviet system with language of 'social justice.' He cared about no such thing. Hitler successfully appealed to the international community in much the same way. In 1933, Readers' Digest "found no German who dreamed of the possibility of war". I certainly don't think Readers' Digest was somehow in cahoots with the Nazis.

So for Sullivan to claim that this Iraqi video somehow might be evidence of collusion between the international left and the insurgency is ridiculous. This is little more than a case of the Iraqis being smart enough to know their audience. Both Sullivan and the anti-globalist left this video is appealing to would do well to remember that the enemies of one's enemy are not always one's friends.

posted by Scott | 12/14/2004 | |

Monday, December 13, 2004

Want Scientific Sex Ed? You're A Terrorist Hijacker.

Jo Miller picked this up from The New York Times at her blog, Hiding In Plain Site. Right-wing Missouri Representative Cynthia Davis (clearly not to be confused with 'Sex and the City' stars Cynthia Nixon or Kristin Davis) had this to say in introducing legislation that "would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools" in Missouri...

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go. I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."
Wow. This is what the far right is all about. Murdering three thousand people and teaching condom use are moral equivalents.

What neither Jo nor The Times gets into is the fact that this really exemplifies a fear shared by so many of us who lived in the shadow of the Twin Towers. People in red states don't 'get' 9/11.

The way 9/11 is evoked for political use by people across the country really makes me -- and many people I know of all political stripes -- feel that there is a serious lack of reverence and understanding of the events of 9/11. I'm not talking about 'Fahrenheit 9/11', here. I honestly think Michael Moore handled 9/11 in that film with great respect. He should have, after all, being a resident of New York City. Nor am I talking about the 9/11 tributes during the Republican National Convention. Those too were handled with respect.

I'm talking about Falwell and Robertson blaming 9/11 on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America." I'm talking about Jadakiss (a New Yorker who should know better) asking "why did Bush knock down the towers?" I'm talking about all of the Republicans who vocally thanked God that Al Gore wasn't President on 9/11.

Davis' analogy is so typical of this brand of politicization. The idea that the 9/11 hijackers "took people to a place where they didn't want to go" makes me absolutely nauseous. They murdered people. They used a human missile to attempt to destroy a huge chunk of New York City. Davis makes it sound as if it were a mild inconvenience, an unscheduled stop on a bus route.

Typically, I cringe when I hear anyone talk about 'never forgetting' 9/11. It's such an absurd thought to me that anyone would forget something so horrifying, so life-shattering as seeing those planes smash into those towers, seeing the bodies falling from the sky, seeing the towers crumble onto the streets below. Who could forget that? But it seems that people like Cynthia Davis have forgotten. Or perhaps even worse -- they never got it to begin with.

posted by Scott | 12/13/2004 | |
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