Political Animal

BUSH AND TURKEY….Good column from

BUSH AND TURKEY….Good column from Josh Marshall in The Hill this week. The Bush administration screwed up on Turkey, and now the conservative fangs have been bared against the Turks themselves, instead of against the hamhanded Bush version of diplomacy that caused the Turkish defection in the first place.

That’s the price of democracy, W. You actually have to persuade people instead of simply bullying them, and that’s a lesson you seem loathe to learn.

POLITICAL CLIQUES….Yesterday I wrote a

POLITICAL CLIQUES….Yesterday I wrote a couple of posts about alternate views of the war, one from Saudi Arabia and one from Robert Fisk, and this led to an email exchange with Nicholas Pisarro over at Dark Machine about “confirmation bias,” the tendency of people to pay attention to evidence that supports their views and to dismiss evidence that contradicts it ? even if the credibility of both pieces of evidence is about the same.

By chance, I came across an interesting and related item while reading Discover last night. Valdis Krebs is the author of a piece of software that analyzes social networks, and on a whim he decided to use it to find out if buying patterns at Amazon.com could be used to draw conclusions about the polarization of American politics:

“I started thinking, I wonder if you could see evidence for this in the book-reading networks.” Krebs used InFlow to analyze the network of book purchases surrounding two best-selling titles, one from the left (Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men) and one from the right (Ann Coulter’s Slander).

“What I got were two cliques that were about as distinct as they could be. I kept looking for paths that crossed between them. Every time I tried to follow one of these paths, I’d go out three or four steps, and then boom, I’m right back in the clique.” Most strikingly, the two networks intersected only on a single title: Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong? Otherwise, the two groups were engrossed in entirely different reading lists, with no common ground.

Granted, these are pretty extreme books and appeal to pretty extreme audiences, but it’s still an interesting little data point about the discomfort people have even listening to arguments they disagree with.

And while we’re on the subject, Nicholas recommends this Christian Science Monitor article about war reporting and confirmation bias. Check it out.


CAN THE CENTER HOLD?….The LA Times has a local columnist, John Balzar, who writes some very nice pieces. Today he talks about extremism:

Speaking in terms of culture, not advocation, I find myself wondering about the center and its place in society. A large share of American political energy has taken flight. From a shared sense of direction, people have dispersed to the self-righteous poles.

It took two presidents and several bloody, unhappy years of Vietnam before 100,000-plus people demonstrated in the streets for an end to the fighting, or before officers were fragged in their tents in the field. This time, we’ve witnessed both in the opening hours of war.

I know this is just idle chatter, but I can’t tell you how much I yearn for a new political party that represents, as Al Franken puts it, the mushball middle. The Finns have a party called, appropriately, the Center Party, and I want one too.

Why? Because I think that fundamentalism is the real enemy of progress, and that includes both fundamentalist take-no-prisoners conservatives as well as fundamentalist America-is-a-sink-of-corruption lefties ? both at home and abroad. I’m tired of Christian fundamentalists, who apparently think America should be ruled via some lunatic interpretation of the book of Leviticus, and I’m tired of Islamic fundamentalists, who think it’s a sin for women to drive cars. Likewise, I’m tired of tax-cut fundamentalists who want to ruin the American economy via deficits as far the eye can see, and I’m tired of anti-globalization fundamentalists who think McDonald’s is the root of all evil.

Like Balzar, I have a hard time empathizing with any extreme view of the war with Iraq. It’s a close call, after all. The fact is that Saddam poses only a moderate ? and long term ? threat to the United States, so it’s a little hard to understand the mouth frothing rage that conservatives bring to the pro-war cause. At the same time, Saddam is about as brutal and unliberal a dictator as you could imagine and the world will undoubtedly be a better place without him, so it’s also a little hard to understand the anti-war fervor that some liberals bring to their cause.

End of rant, I guess. But if anybody were ever able to set up a credible political party for the middle 60%, they could sign me up in a flash. Sure, I’d end up losing a few fights and compromising on some things I’d rather not compromise on, but there’s a chance that we’d be able to keep the extreme loonies out of power, and that would be reward enough.

Feh. Maybe my serotonin levels are just a little low today. Back to the fight tomorrow…..

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias says I’m just reading too many blogs. He’s probably right.

And both Matt (directly) and Atrios (indirectly) make the point that the Republican party really does have an extremist wing with real influence, whereas extremists in the Democratic party are pretty marginalized. That’s true, and it’s why I’m a registered Democrat. But I think there’s more to it, and I’ll blog about it when I get my thoughts together.


TAX AND SPEND?….NO, IT’S TAX OR SPEND….Pandagon says that Republicans don’t understand Keynesian economics:

As far as I can tell, Republicans have one and only one reading of Keynesianism that comes from the shortened second day of Econ 001 – government spending can revitalize the economy. It just so happens that the rest of it is politically inexpedient, and they have a preferred method of spending that can be sold any time, regardless of the circumstances…tax cuts.

Yeah, tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts…..

The lesson of Keynes is that governments can help economies out of a recession via deficit spending. Essentially, the government is trying to keep overall demand in the economy high by replacing the spending that consumers and businesses aren’t doing.

And it has to be deficit spending because it doesn’t do any good to simply tax money away from consumers and then spend that same money via the government. Total spending stays the same, and since government expenditures tend to be less efficient than consumer and business expenditures, the overall effect would actually be moderately damaging to the economy.

Needless to say, you can run a deficit either by spending more or taxing less, so which should you choose? There are two big considerations: (a) because there are lags built into any big economy, you want the stimulus to happen as fast as possible, and (b) you want the stimulus to be temporary. When the economy recovers, the deficits should go away.

That’s what makes the Bush tax cuts such a disaster: it will take a long time ? probably on the order of 18-24 months ? for their effects to be felt, and hopefully the economy will be recovering by then anyway. And of course, the tax cuts are permanent, which means we’ll be running deficits forever, even when the economy is strong.

In other words, spending programs are generally better and faster ways to stimulate the economy than tax cuts. And this time around we don’t even have to deal with one of the biggest problems with Keynesian spending programs, namely that it’s often hard to find useful, short-term projects to spend money on. Federal money could be spent on helping states out of their budgets crises and on increased unemployment benefits, and thanks to 9/11, money could also usefully be spent on the war with Iraq, on vastly increased homeland security measures, on reconstruction efforts in post-war Iraq, and so forth. All of these things are both immediate and temporary by their nature, and when you add them all up and throw in the usual pork projects (bridges, water treatment plans, etc. etc.) you could easily have a stimulus package that amounts to several hundred billion dollars.

If there was ever a time when a pure Keynesian spending program was the best solution to a slow economy, this is it. It’s too bad that Republicans have allowed their fundamentalist ideology to blind them to it.