Thursday, April 8, 2021

Elizabeth Warren planned Biden staffing

Last year I worried that Joe Biden might hold us back on economic issues. Today the 50-50 Senate is the holdup, and the Biden Administration has been moving things forward impressively fast.

The $1.9 trillion stimulus, with its $1400 checks and extended unemployment insurance, is more than twice the size of the Obama stimulus package of 2009. Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill is now before Congress (the $45 billion to remove all lead pipes from the water system looks excellent). Vaccine eligibility for all American adults is set for May 1 and may soon be moved earlier, which makes me happy as I'm flying back on April 29 and hoping to get my shots fast.

Biden's staff deserves credit. The White House is run by Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who oversaw the response to the 2014 Ebola pandemic under Obama. His deputy is Jen O'Malley Dillon, who managed Biden's victorious general election campaign. They're basically pragmatic technocrats ending a pandemic and building infrastructure. 

Bharat Ramamurti once drafted Elizabeth Warren's memos to Obama blasting his SEC chair for being too deferential to Wall Street. He was senior counsel in her Senate office when she told the Wells Fargo CEO who had created millions of fake accounts, "You should resign" and "you should be criminally investigated." (The CEO resigned. His successor resigned.) Now Ramamurti is deputy director of Biden's National Economic Council. When Larry Summers criticized the stimulus as too large, it was Ramamurti's job to say on Biden's behalf, "we disagree here."

Warren has always identified staffing as the thing to bargain for in controlling a White House. The SEC is now led by Warren ally Gary Gensler. Rohit Chopra and Julia Margetta Morgan (from her campaign's policy team) are advocating student loan cancellation from Administration policy jobs. I can name 11 Warren allies inside the Biden Administration. Her strategy seems to be working.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

First day

Joe Biden is President and Democrats control Congress. Things are as good as I wanted you to hope for on that horrible November 2016 night when I became your Optimism Guy.

With the Georgia Senators seated, Mitch McConnell can't block Biden's nominees, and I like what I'm seeing. Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken wants to pull the Saudis back from their war in Yemen "immediately". CIA Director nominee William Burns negotiated the Iran peace deal, sneaking around spy-style so other countries wouldn't find out and disrupt it.

On the domestic front, Bernie Sanders is the first democratic socialist to chair the Senate Budget Committee. Elizabeth Warren has gotten her staffer into the NEC deputy directorship, her protege running the CFPB, and an ally as SEC chair. The first Native American Interior Secretary will control the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Rahm Emanuel doesn't have a job.

Thanks to everyone who voted or donated or worked to get us here. A special high-five to anyone who joined my donations to the Merkley Leadership PAC, Stacey Abrams and the Georgia Senators, or those 2018 state Secretary of State campaigns. 

I think especially of our donations to Arizona SoS Katie Hobbs, whose Republican opponent in 2018 wanted to eliminate Spanish-language voting materials. The race was called for him on Election Night, but she won on late ballots. In 2020, Arizona went for Biden by 0.3%, and she withstood violent threats from Trump's hordes in seeing the election through. Where would Arizona be without her, and where would we be without Arizona? If you don't like imagining such things, you're free to focus on this happier reality.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Warnock and Ossoff win!

It's a winning night in Georgia, and it feels like winning all over the world.

With 99% of precincts reporting, Raphael Warnock leads by 1.2%. Jon Ossoff leads by 0.4%, and with a fair share of the remaining ballots in deep-blue Atlanta counties, his lead will likely hold up too. Republican attack ads could darken the black preacher's skin and lengthen the Jewish filmmaker's nose, but they couldn't stop Georgia from making them its new Senators.

This gives Joe Biden a 50-50 Senate majority. With Kamala Harris breaking ties, Mitch McConnell can't block the budget. The filibuster still threatens to hold up any larger business by requiring 60 votes to close debate, and some centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin want to keep it. Our best hope is that McConnell obstructs Democrats enough to change their minds.

The House is organized to pass whatever can get through the Senate. Nancy Pelosi just won another term as Speaker, with votes from young left-wing Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Katie Porter, Cori Bush, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi just assigned all four of them to the powerful Oversight and Reform Committee, as I learned from a happy AOC tweet.

A new DNC Chair will be chosen soon. I don't know if Stacey Abrams wants the position -- she may be focused on running for Governor of Georgia in 2022. But after developing a voter turnout operation that saved the first two years of Biden's presidency and gave Georgia its first black Senator, she would be a spectacular person for that job.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Coup Total Landscaping

Trump's coup attempt is bound for Coup Total Landscaping. He's so far behind electorally that he has to corrupt too many people in a coordinated way at once. Collective action problems prevent Evil from overthrowing democracy, so Good will win.

His big plan, I think, is to rope Republicans into his nonsense. Many will play along with the idea that he was robbed or say the outcome is uncertain until the Electoral College makes things official. At that point many GOP primary voters will be permanently convinced. That gives him a nice power base for the next few years.

Trump's one true business skill is winning a bankruptcy. He had six in his hotel and casino businesses. He walks away with most of what's left, leaving customers, creditors, and clients to curse their deals with the devil. We'll see how many Republicans end up in his hell.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The GOP versus the T Party? Dreams of a schism

Trump wants to overturn the election. I don't see how he could succeed. But he'll go at least as far as Republicans are willing to follow, and they could follow for a while. A president fighting such a clear election result is uncharted territory, so I can't say what happens here.

McConnell is approving Trump's move towards recounts and litigation, without criticizing his baseless allegations of fraud. Georgia's runoff-bound Republican Senators are parroting Trump's allegations of fraud in Georgia voting. But the Republican state Secretary of State says the election was clean and rejects their calls to resign. Fox News isn't trying to amplify Trump's fraud allegations -- their top headline now is about Pelosi being a socialist. We'll see how this plays out.

There's a lot I don't know. But I know what I want for Christmas: a schism in the Republican Party. On one side is Trump and his personality cult; on the other is the institutional party that preceded him. Right now he's trying to control the whole thing. But he'll be content to break off a nice big piece and hold the party hostage unless it respects his legal and financial interests.

2010-2012 saw seven Senate races where Tea Party Republicans beat moderates in primaries and lost general elections to Democrats. They included anti-masturbation crusader Christine O'Donnell of "I am not a witch" fame, Todd Akin of "legitimate rape / shut that whole thing down" fame, and Richard Mourdock who got tangled up in the Problem of Evil when answering a debate question about Akin's abortion views. I want to win that way again.

A Trump schism could undermine Republican coordination and help us win the Georgia runoffs. (I'm sorting out Georgia donation ideas. Trouble is that with maybe $100M going into this on both sides, we hit diminishing returns on any way of spending it, and I try to give you extra bang for your buck.) The incumbents could end having to take sides on intra-GOP disputes splitting their base, and the national party might not be able to unify behind them.

The big prize is 2022. Republicans are defending 20+ seats. Many are tough for Democrats to win. But if establishment GOP Senators get overthrown by T party candidates in league with their cult hero, we could clean up. That requires a deep Republican schism, so that's what I'm hoping for.

The Republican Party has been my enemy since I was 10 years old. That's when public-spirited black architect Harvey Gantt, recently mayor of Charlotte, was running for Senate as a Democrat. He lost to old segregationist Jesse Helms, who blocked federal AIDS funding because he thought gay people were disgusting. 

From Helms to Bush to Trump, that party has been the the same coalition of corrupt wealth and vicious prejudice. I don't really strategize against the politicians in it as individuals anymore. The party as an institution must be annihilated; the power of the Republican coalition must be destroyed.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Good luck, Georgia Democrats!

Joe Biden took the lead in Georgia, and I took a walk in the sunshine. Up in a tree were two hornbills, regarded as good omens by the Dayak people of the islands surrounding me here in Singapore. I thought of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, whose double runoff election will decide control of the Senate. 
Warnock and Ossoff's task is difficult. But they have fair chances against incumbents who traded stocks on insider COVID information, and a party that a defeated Trump may drag into chaos. Our NC and Alaska candidates rightly haven't conceded due to their states' back-loaded electoral processes, so we have long-shot hopes there. But Georgia will be the live heart of the struggle.
Stacey Abrams commands the forces behind these men, which now face a great test of strength. I gave her organization $1000 about a year ago when I saw this begin to take shape. Now I hope she can win a mighty victory.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Zach Barnett proves that it's rational to vote

Just in time for Election Day, Zach Barnett has a forthcoming proof that it's rational to vote in most elections.

Some people think it's not rational to vote because the chance of changing the outcome is so small. Of course, the stakes are very high (assuming you care about others). How do these factors trade off against each other?

Zach shows that your likelihood of deciding the outcome is usually more than one divided by the total number of voters. If there are a million voters aside from yourself, there are a million and one possible vote totals (1 million-to-zero.... 999,999-to-1... 999,998-to-2...). In a competitive election, the totals around the middle are much more likely than the ones at the edges. So an exact 500K to 500K tie, where your vote decides the election, is one of the more likely possibilities.

This means that in expectation, voting directs more than your share of tax dollars and government resources. If you could, you'd probably go to the trouble of voting to simply determine who directs your own share of all this (about $10,000 in annual revenue and $400,000 in assets, to divide the government's revenue and assets by the population). Your small chance to direct the $3.5 trillion federal budget and $124 trillion in assets is worth even more.

Humans being humans, I don't expect that Zach's argument is the key to converting many nonvoters into voters. But it's a nice formal explanation of why voting matters.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Boris won't feed the kids

Boris Johnson's Tory government has voted against giving poor children free school meals during the holidays. Before the pandemic, 10% of UK children were poor enough to go hungry, and estimates are up to 20% now. This is unconscionable penny-pinching from a government that subsidized restaurant meals as a stimulus measure during a pandemic.

Feeding poor hungry children is a good idea in so many ways. Most obviously, it improves their immediate well-being. It helps in the long-term, both through direct nutritional effects and by letting them do things now that are good for them. It stimulates an economy that's running below capacity. I'd bet on it as a market-beating human capital investment, giving the UK more healthy and productive future citizens.

India's Constitution explicitly honors a right to food. My utilitarian view of natural rights supports this. If legally guaranteeing something improves the general happiness, there's a right to it. By feeding people when famine strikes, India has avoided the mass starvation that repeatedly killed millions under British rule.

The former colonial rulers are still getting it wrong.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett is unqualified: she doesn't respect the Constitution

Amy Coney Barrett is unqualified for her Appeals Court position. If she joins the Supreme Court, it must be radically reformed.

When asked whether the Constitution allows the President to delay the election, she replied that she'd have to consider matters “with an open mind." At greater length: "I would need to hear arguments from the litigants and read briefs and consult with my law clerks and talk to my colleagues and go through the opinion-writing process." 

This is like being open-minded about whether murder is legal. The Constitution allows only Congress to change election dates, which are set by Title 3, Section 1, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code. 

When asked, "Under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the poll?" she replied, "I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts." But hypotheticals are irrelevant. Federal law bans even attempted intimidation, requiring some combination of fines or prison for "whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote."

If these are sincere statements of her beliefs, she doesn't know vital parts of American law. This renders her incompetent to be any sort of federal judge.

But I expect she knows election law perfectly well. She just doesn't care. Her policy preferences would be promoted by undermining elections so her allies could hold power. She will happily support voter intimidation to achieve that end.

Barrett describes herself as an originalist about Constitutional interpretation. Yet her answers violate the Constitution. This reveals the point of originalism -- to defend gruesome prejudices that society mostly surpassed by summoning them back from the 1700s in their full monstrous form.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Moral Twin Earth to Donald Trump

I've written only one paper that really bears the marks of the Trump Administration -- "One-person Moral Twin Earth Cases", which came out in Thought two years ago. It has two thought experiments. In one, you're a crash-landed astronaut hearing trolley problems from an alien nurse. The other one is heavier.

To explain what the paper is about, I'm criticizing theories of moral language popular among people who think that objective moral facts can be empirically discovered. This is in fact my team, as I think we can empirically discover that pleasure is moral value (long story there). But I think we're getting the linguistic stuff wrong by anchoring moral facts too tightly to things in our social environment, as the causal theory of reference does. The example tries to show that:

"You are an educated person on a planet like ours. While studying philosophy, you learned about consequentialist and deontological theories, each of which seemed to get at part of the moral truth. While studying history, you learned that properties at the level of gender, class, and race had significantly influenced moral judgment over millennia. Other societies within the broad linguistic community of your planet had accepted hierarchical class and gender norms, and valorized conquest, enslavement, and genocide of other races. Remnants of these anti-egalitarian norms still lingered in your society’s folk moral beliefs. You were optimistic that they would eventually be revised away. Future folk morality would then coincide with the philosophers’ values: happiness for all creatures and respect for rational agents. 

Your optimism was shaken by disturbing events. Politicians gained approval in your society and won election to its highest offices by proudly expressing sexist, classist, and racist values. Many of their influential supporters wanted to revise folk morality in favor of these values. They worked to entrench the old anti-egalitarian influences, even against values of happiness for all creatures and respect for rational agents. If their favored revisions succeeded, folk morality would favor the subjection of women, deference to the wealthy, and the glory of a master race.

You were forced to consider a grim future possibility. What if the long-run causal-regulatory influences on moral concepts were as your enemies hoped? What if the popularity of moral theories concerned with happiness for all creatures and respect for rational agency in recent centuries was merely a contingent historical aberration? What if gender, class, and racial properties were the strongest causal regulators of moral concepts across all of time? Would sexism, classism, and racism then be right?

I hope you’ll agree that the answer is no. The causal theory says yes. It entails that “water is XYZ*” is true if XYZ causally regulates the concept of water, and that “sexism, classism, and racism are right” is true if sexism, classism, and racism causally regulate the concept of rightness in our linguistic community. I do not believe that either concept is causally regulated in such a way. If proven wrong on both counts, I will start believing that water is XYZ. I will not start believing that sexism, classism, and racism are right...

[*XYZ is some non-H2O chemical structure.]

...Early causal theorists were optimistic about the causal influence of moral properties and the arc of the moral universe. They wrote in times of progress, when the fall of apartheid and communism made grim possibilities for the long-run causal regulation of moral concepts less salient. The time has come to consider these grim possibilities. Doing so reveals that the causal theory, the stabilizing function account, and the connectedness model allow a dystopian future to shape the moral truth in its own image. Moral concepts must let us convey the horror of such a future, rather than falling under its control."