Post from March, 2010

Free Association Wednesday

Wednesday, 31. March 2010 16:50

What do the below two images (of the same moon of Saturn) remind you of? Answer in the comments. In actually, the picture on the left is an image of a moon of Saturn called “Mimas” under normal lighting, while the image on the right is the same moon using a false overlay of temperature data.

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House Expresses Bipartisan Support for Israel

Monday, 29. March 2010 14:48

In what can only be termed as a rebuke of recent Obama administration strong-arming towards Israel (see here and here) the House has sent a letter to the administration with 337 signatories including the House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor (R) and the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer (D). The letter expresses the following:

“We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension,” the letter read. “A strong Israel is an asset to the national security of the United States and brings stability to the Middle East.

“We are concerned that the highly publicized tensions in the relationship will not advance the interests the US and Israel share. Above all, we must remain focused on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program to Middle East peace and stability.”

That the House felt the need to make this public is an indication of just how disconcerting the deteriorating relationship between Israel and the U.S. has become to the Congress. Support for Israel certainly makes for strange bedfellows, as evangelical Christians (who primarily support Republicans) and secular Jews (who primarily support Democrats) are both groups that strongly support Israel. It will be interesting to see if the administration backs off of its hardline stance on the settlements in East Jeruslaem in the wake of this bipartisan expression of support for the state of Israel.

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ObamaCare Passes: 219 – 212

Sunday, 21. March 2010 23:19

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Obamacare: The Final Vote

Friday, 19. March 2010 12:46

It looks like this year-long health care reform process is finally coming to an end…with a vote on Sunday. I’m still not sure which way it will go…though signs this week indicate it just might sqeek by with the 216 necessary to send the Senate bill to the president. At that point, Obamacare will have passed. All that will remain is the extent to which it will be ‘modified’ in the reconcilliation process. Of course we have the “doctor fix” coming down the line. This change to Medicare cuts for doctor payments adds to the deficit, so the Dems seperated it out earlier since they wanted their bill to have the petina of deficit reduction.

There’s a great deal of uncertainty over what will happen Sunday. Based on this week’s indication, I’d rate the chance of passage now as better than 50/50…mabye 55 to 60% chance of passage…though that is little more than a wild guess. If there is a vote on Sunday, it is almost certainly an indicator that Pelosi has recieved assurances from 216 or more members that they would vote yes. If there is no vote on Sunday, then the chances of Obamacare being passed tank…with the odds being that it will be scrapped for the forseeable future.

All in all, very interesting times. Be sure to tune in on Sunday…because either way it will have an enormous impact on health care for the next decade and beyond.

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Star Trek Confusion

Thursday, 18. March 2010 23:04

A little college humor for Spring Break.

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Formal Theory – Solving Obamacare

Tuesday, 16. March 2010 1:26

Jay Cost has an excellent post up gaming out the Obamacare stalemate from the perspective of the relevant players in this high stakes political game:

-Stupak’s Pro-Lifers
-Senate Republicans
-Senate Democrats

Recall, we discussed game theory using the strategic or normal form to describe some basic games to use in understanding politics. Cost uses a game tree or the “extensive form” to describe the game theoretic problem that Brown’s victory in MA presents to Democrats wanting to pass health care. In particular the problem for Stupak, a pro-life Democrat who wants language forbiding federal money for abortions in the reconcilliation package sent to the Senate.

On the one hand, the Republicans are threatening to object to the Stupak language in a reconcilliation package. This would mean that the health care bill wouldn’t specifically forbid funding for abortion, a deal-breaker for the Democratic Pro-Lifers in the House. But, as Cost notes, this is a “non-credible threat.” In game theory, a non-credible threat is a course of action (Y) that a player (A) could take if the other player (B) chooses X, but where it simply isn’t believable that player A would actually choose Y, since it leads to a lower payoff for player A. Player A “threatens” to choose Y to try and forestall player B’s choice of X. But since it isn’t credible, player B should ignore it.

In this case, we can use backwards induction to solve for the subgame perfect equilibrium that reveals the noncredible threat.

GOP Non-Credible Threat.jpg

As Cost notes, if the Republicans are raising a point of order about the Stupak language, then this means the Senate Bill has already passed. So they are left with the choice of having Obamacare with Stupak or without. Since they perfer the Stupak language to nothing, their point of order objection is a non-credible threat. Solving the game yields an equilibrium where the House passes Obamacare, and the Republicans vote for Stupak’s langage.

But not so fast! It is Democrats who enjoy the majority in the Senate. And working from reconcilliation, they only need to raise that same point of order to force a 60 vote supermajority necessary to pass the Stupak language. As Cost argues, any guarantee by the Senate Democrats to include Stupak’s abortion language is an “empty promise.” Why? For the *same* reason. The Senate bill will have already passed. What incentive then do the Senate Democrats have to adopt language they have already rejected?

Dems Empty Promise 2.jpg

Answer: none.

Stupak has a problem. Essentially he is left with the following best case scenarios (ignoring the possibility that he can’t even get Stupak language into the House reconcilliation bill or that his block is irrelevant to passage):

– get the House to include his abortion language, vote for the bill, and see that language stripped in the reconilliation process–by the Democrats, not the Republicans–when it is taken up by the Senate post-passage of Obamacare.

– vote against Obamacare in the House, thus defeating the Democratic effort at health care reform.

Neither choice is particularly palatable to a principled Pro-Life Democrat who wants to remain a Democrat after this vote. But if we believe his “cheap talk” that he would rather have no bill than a bill that permits some form of federal abortion funding, then his sub-game perfect optimal choice would be to vote against the bill. If, however, that “cheap talk” is just a gambit to get his amendment passed…and, in fact, he would prefer Obamacare w/ federal funding of abortions to no bill at all…then we should expect Stupak to cave.

Cost raises the only possible solution outside of those two choices: get the Senate Democrats to act first.

I think the only solution for Stupak is somehow to find a way for the Senate to act first on abortion. This is the most important point: when Stupak and his bloc cast their votes in the House, their leverage is completely gone. That’s the only power they have in the process. If they are induced to go first, they will lose to the Senate liberals.

This may be why the “Slaughter Solution” has begun to get some traction this week. The Slaughter solution (where passage of the reconcilliation bill will be ‘deemed’ by the House to have been a simulataneous passage of the original Senate Obamacare bill) is an effort to avoid the dilemma of sequential moves that Cost describes above. If the Senate bill isn’t ‘passed’ until the Senate approves the House reconcilliation package, then Stupak doesn’t ‘lose’ his leverage. Then again, if it is deemed to have ‘passed’ with the vote on reconcilliation…that seems to be exactly what does happen: the Senate bill passes. Which puts us right back in the same spot (plus a potential constitutional issue). Maybe Slaughter is just about tricking dumb House Democrats into believing that this will get their reconcilliation language adopted by the Senate in toto…despite the fact they have no incentive to do it.

Constitutional issues aside, this seems a rather large hurdle for Obamacare: without a procedure that either inverts or eliminates the current sequence, there is no way to pass a reconcilliation bill with Stupak langage that the Senate would retain.

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Is the Slaughter Solution Unconstitional?

Tuesday, 16. March 2010 0:09

Former federal judge and current law professor Michael McConnell says yes. Jonathan Adler agrees. Meanwhile, Adler (no relation) is still a “no” vote against Obamacare. Thomas Sowell thinks we’re being sold a bill of goods. The Wal Street Journal opines that the rules are whatever the Democrats say they are. And looking at it from a district perspective, the swing votes on Obamacare are in Republican-leaning territory.

On the other side of the aisle, former Clinton administration official Robert Reich argues that the Dems must vote for reform. And Henry Farrell of Salon argues that all this talk about process (i.e. reconcilliation & Slaughter) is much ado about nothing. Contrast that argument with Emery’s contention that the voters strongly oppose a partisan push for health care reform.

The line in particular was telling:

…the main emotion among Democrats seems to be a balance of terror: fear of passing the bill against fear of killing it, making them face the wrath of the voters; or their party’s base, leaders, and president.

What does all this mean? Darned if I know. But I suspect we’re going to find out very soon what the fate of Obamacare is. If I had to guess, I’d still argue it fails an up or down vote…but then I would have guessed the Dems would have abandoned this course long ago. They seem determined to follow Obama over the health care cliff.

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Monday, 15. March 2010 11:32

This is really cool.

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Entitlement Spending

Tuesday, 9. March 2010 9:00

Bad news for the millienials. Well, for pretty much all of us. Hattip to Instapundit.

Entitlement Spending Figure

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Hayek vs. Keynes, pt. III

Thursday, 4. March 2010 23:24

Here are gobs of helpful links related to the “Fear the Boom and the Bust” video I posted earlier. I think after reading it all you qualify for three credits in economics. 😉

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Why Concur?

Thursday, 4. March 2010 19:36

The Suprme Court is currently considering McDonald v. Chicago, a case in which the appellant wishes to see the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution incorporated using the “due process” interpretation of the 14th Amendment endorsed in the Slaughterhouse cases over a century ago in 1868. Well, that is, unless the Court is willing to ressurect a different interpretation of the 14th Amendment that places emphasis on a substantive intepretation of the Priviliges & Immunities clause.

While the case is substantively interesting from an incorporation standpoint, and I encourage you to keep an eye out for the case once the USSC rules, I found this passage from a recent article quite interesting. It is on whether the Court might resurrect the Priviliges & Immunities interpretation of the 14th amendment that the Court abandoned in the Slaughterhouse Cases (in short: they don’t expect the Court to revive the P&I interpretation). What I found interesting was the discussion of a possible Thomas seperate opinion where he would argue on behalf of the P&I interpretation in a concurrence to the presumed 2nd Amendment incorporating McDonald majority.

But no matter what the consensus is, a privileges or immunities victory will eventually have to be won in the Supreme Court, and in my read there is at best one person on the current Court who would vote for it. Justice Clarence Thomas, silent as always in this week’s hearings, has in the past expressed an interest in rethinking privileges or immunities. There’s a strong expectation on the part of some privileges or immunities fans that Thomas will write a concurring opinion uniting in the holding that the Second Amendment is incorporated, but with a separate set of privileges or immunities-based reasoning that could become a rallying flag for future arguments about the clause’s continued value.

While the substantive arguments in the case are fascinating and extremely important as a matter of social policy, take note of the raison d’être the article gives for writing the concurring opinion. As I’ve pointed out in class, the primary motivation for a justice to write a concurring or a dissenting opinion is the possibility that its reasoning could prove influentional (with the public, among legal scholars and the legal profession, as well as future generations)…and one day become the reasoning in a USSC case modifying or overruling the precedent that the justice disagrees with in the current case. And here we see that reasoning expressly acknowledged in this article. Cool.

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Sen. Lincoln’s New Campaign Ad

Thursday, 4. March 2010 16:29

Blanche Lincoln (D, AR) is out with a new campaign ad that is in the mold of the classic “Run against Washington” style used so effectively by congress critters over the years.

Also a common theme when your party is down in the polls and you are up for election is to run against the national party and emphasize your independence from it. Unsurprisingly, Lincoln does exactly that in asserting her independence from almost *all* of the Obama legislative agenda from the last year. There are no glaring misstatements of fact, though some important information is ommitted. For example, she doesn’t mention she was a “yes” vote on the Obamacare vote in December. She claims to have been a “no” vote on the “public option” health care…but that’s a bit misleading. While she did come to oppose the public option, the Senate bill which she voted on never had a public option…so technically she never voted on a health care bill with it in it. By the time a comprehensive health care bill reached the floor in the Senate, it contained no public option. Perhaps she is referencing some committee vote here, it is hard to say. A more straightforward way to put it would have been to say “I voted for a health care bill without a public option”…but this is a campaign ad afterall.

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Abraham Lincoln…Vampire Hunter!!!!!

Wednesday, 3. March 2010 18:52

Just a bucket load of awesome.

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A Roundup on Reconcilliation

Wednesday, 3. March 2010 10:58

The wiki article on reconcilliation.

A description of the reconcilliation process by the House Rules Committee.

A crash course in reconcilliation.

A historical view on reconcilliation from National Review Online.

An analysis of the legislative process involved in reconcilliation.

Slate’s assessment of whether the Democrats have the votes in the House for a reconcilliation vote.

Republican Senator John Thune says Republicans are ready for reconcilliation.

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Upton Sinclair…

Wednesday, 3. March 2010 2:14

…probably should have written about this just to balance out the ledger.

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This is how…

Wednesday, 3. March 2010 2:09

…the Democrats plan on passing Obamacare:

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Lt. Gov Halter to Challenge Lincoln in Primary

Monday, 1. March 2010 23:27

Lt. Governor Halter announced today that he will challenge sitting Senator Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic Primary for a chance to face the Republican nominee in the November 2010 elections.

“Washington is broken,” Halter said in a video on his campaign website. “Bailing out Wall Street with no strings attached, while leaving middle-class Arkansas taxpayers with the bill; protecting insurance company profits instead of protecting patients and lowering health costs; gridlock, bickering and partisan games while unemployment is at a 25-year high. Enough’s enough.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that Halter’s entry into the primary will ensure that Lincoln is a “yes” vote on reconcilliation for Obamacare and that she will tack back toward the “progressives” who make up the Democratic Party’s Left.

As this observer puts it:

“The more problematic aspect of Halter’s challenge is that it will push Lincoln left,” she says. “After all, he is running because he doesn’t feel that Lincoln has been a solid Democrat. Even if she wins the primary comfortably, this move left further weakens her for the general.”

But count me as a voice in the wilderness. I think these politicos are counting eggs not yet in the basket. First, while it is true that Halter has ties to progressive groups in Washington, D.C. and he is a likely supporter of Obamacare, note that he said nothing in his annoucement specifically about the bill or calling for reconcilliation to get it passed. Rather, he made a classic populist / outsider appeal in launching his bid.

And it it difficult to see a “pass healthcare now!” appeal gaining alot of traction with Arkansas voters. As the recent Arkansas Poll shows, Arkansas voters are opposed to Obamacare. This includes the public option, which has polled fairly well nationally when set apart from the bill being pushed through in congress.

Nearly half of all those surveyed – 48 percent – opposed a public option, with 39 percent supporting the creation by the government of “a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.”

As Dr. Parry notes, the only demographic that registered support (and even that was rather tepid) were the uninsured, and they constituted only 15% of the poll’s sample. Since the Arkansas Poll is not oriented towards “likely voter” samples (754 adult Arkansans) such as Rassmussen, I would expect that this demographic is even smaller when we are talking about voters in the 2010 elections.

IOW, Halter has a strong incentive to avoid taking the Scott Brown route: targeting Lincoln on healthcare and making it one of his primary campaign messages. Rather, he is more likely to try and tap into voter angst over spending and partisanship. The simple fact of the matter is that, in Arkansas, Democratic primary battles aren’t particularly leftwing. While Arkansas is generally more acceptant of government spending (i.e. education) than many of her sister states in the South, there is little evidence that a sucessfull challenge to Lincoln could be mounted by rallying “progressives” in the Arkasas Democratic primaries. There just aren’t enough of those votes. Most of them are to be found within the city limits of Fayetteville (and the big university cities), Little Rock, and some of the eastern border towns. Too few to be had in order to tip the balance against the centrist Democratic votes that make up the bulwark of voters in Arkansas. It is important to remember that most registered voters in Arkansas are Democrats and that there are a considerable number of moderates and conservatives who identify with the Democratic party here. In fact, there are more Democratic party identifiers who call themselves “conservatives” than there are who call themselves “progressives” in Arkansas. True, the primary will tend to skew further Left than the median Democratic general election voter, but I don’t think it will do so enough to force Lincoln to substantially tack Left. Certainly not enough to change her vote on the defining political issue of this election cycle.

Furthermore, while Halter constitutes a quality challenger to Lincoln (he holds statewide office), I do not believe he has much of a chance in unseating Lincoln before she gets to a general election. He will be at a considerable fundraising disadvantage, and while some national money might be had from liberal organizations trying to push Lincoln on her healthcare vote, it is unlikely to even approach the $5,000,000 that Lincoln reportedly has at her disposal. Even progressives in Arkansas, upset over health care, are unlikely to turnout to vote for a certain or near-certain loser. Halter’s most likely impact on the race would not be to shift Lincoln to the Left (as that way lies doom for Lincoln’s hopes of retaining the seat), but rather it would cause her to spend significant monies from her campaign warchest in a primary contest. Further weakening her general election bid to keep the seat in the hands of the Democrats.

Thus I remain highly skeptical that Halter’s decision will alter Lincoln’s vote on health care. She has very little chance of retaining the seat as it stands now anyway. If she decides to abandon all hope and look to the Obama administration to reward her vote for Obamacare, that won’t have much to do with Halter. If she decides she can’t win but would like to maintain her viability in the state for future elective office, then Halter won’t influence that decision either. And if she decides to try and persevere until November, well, Halter’s primary challenge is still irrelevant because to have any chance in the general she has to vote “no” on Obamacare. It is too unpopular with Arkansas voters, and would give the Republican an easy campaign message to hammer on in the general. In that case she simply must hope that Halter falls short and that she has enough residual support in the state to eek out a victory over likely Republican challenger, Boozman. Ideally, her opposition to Obamacare would defuse some of the Right’s anger and intensity over the issue, holding Republican-voting turnout in the state–already likely to be higher than it has been in several cycles–to a minimum.

So any way you slice it and despite appearances, her decision on Obamacare isn’t likely to have anything to do with Halter’s primary challenge. If she thinks she has a chance in November, she’ll stay a “no” vote on Obamacare. If, on the other hand, she thinks Ambassador Lincoln has a nice ring to it…

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Keynes v. Hayek Cribsheet

Monday, 1. March 2010 18:32

If that rap video with K & H was a bit confusing to you…or you didn’t recognize some of the is on the way!

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Monday, 1. March 2010 18:26

A peek at life in 1905 San Francisco…

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