Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that redistricting reform is a bit of a pet issue for me, so hopefully it won't come as too much of a surprise that I think Matthew Yglesias's contrarian approach to the subject is rather incorrect. Yglesias states that
As a general matter, gerrymandering is less important to the declining competitiveness of congressional elections than is generally believed. State boundaries haven't changed at all in decades, but Senate races are becoming less competitive, too. The main problem here is that elections are becoming increasingly expensive. Since the parties have only so much cash to spread around, they tend to target only a few races, leaving most of the country grossly uncompetitive. If elections were free, you would just run conservative Democrats in Republican-leaning districts and moderate Republicans in Democratic-leaning ones and most races would be competitive. But of course while public financing of elections is a good idea, it's also very unpopular.
Now, I'm not really against publicly funded elections per se (although it's always struck me as the kind of program that would have to be very cleverly implemented to avoid the twin dangers of abuse and irrelevance). However, all the public financing in the world won't let Republicans win in districts that have been shaped to maximize the advantage of Democratic legislatures, or vice versa. And this kind of vote-maximizing process has become significantly easier, more scientific, and more reliable in the past decade with the popularization of GIS software.

But back to why publicly financed campaigns probably won't change the status quo very much. If you think about diagrams like this one, it's clear that the success of abusive redistricting efforts is proportional to legislators' abilities to predict the voting patterns of their constituents (in the case of the example, the red and blue dots). In other words, the success of abusive redistricting efforts is proportional to the political polarization of the area you're trying to gerrymander. And here we get into the vicious cycle of gerrymandering - districts tailored to be safe for one political party will tend to elect not very centrist candidates. A legislature made up of candidates from gerrymandered districts will be polarized, not very good at compromising on substantive issues, and in all likelihood will have a slim majority party so focused on perpetuating their rule that little things like "representative democracy" fall by the wayside. The majority party in such a legislature will be good at two things: passing laws without much if any input from the minority party (which has a further, and significant, polarizing effect on voters of both sides), and conducting increasingly abusive redistricting sessions. The more heavily polarized and gerrymandered electorate will, in turn, send to power another polarized legislature in the next election cycle.

Of course, in the real world, the dynamics of elections are more complex than in the scenario I outlined and can be significantly swayed by the ill-concealed blowjob, among other things. But there's no doubt that the positive feedback effects of gerrymandering do exist, and deeply undermine the ability of Congress to adopt policies aimed at satisfying the country's interests, rather than the interests of the base of the majority party (needless to say, the same applies for state legislatures). When you throw in the fact that the representatives of gerrymandered districts are essentially unaccountable for all but the most egregious incompetence and/or corruption, I think it's pretty clear that redistricting reform of some stripe (here's one, for example) ought to be a top priority for any little-d democrat. And given that "85 percent of House incumbents won by landslide majorities of more than 60 percent" in the last election cycle, I'm not sure how the Yglesias plan to improve electoral competitiveness through publicly financing elections could have much of an effect on elections without costing so much as to be fiscally (not to mention politically) prohibitive.

EDIT: Yes, Matt made the point that Senate elections have also become less competitive in recent years (a fact to which this chart seems to attest). I think a lot of this has to do with the politically polarizing effects of gerrymandering I talked about in the original post, although the rising cost of elections has certainly been a contributing factor as well. It's worth pointing out though that political parties have been getting much better at raising cash, which sort of mutes the impact of Matt's explanation (and the utility of his remedy) for electoral uncompetitiveness in America.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why is Che so cool?

He's everywhere. Just last week I saw his iconic picture a half dozen times just walking around class, and everytime I see him, I can't help but cringe. I'm talking about Che Guevara and the ubiquitious woodprint like image plastered on t-shirts and all things capitalistic everywhere. I can't help but wonder if these fellow college students really comprehend the shirt they have chosen to wear. What motivates these people to raise Che to such rock-star status? Is it just because other kids are doing it, and thus it is cool? Do they love communist dictatorships? Doubtful. Sadly, I think most people see Che as just that image on a shirt or that guy in a movie who helped some lepers out.

Of course, Che's early life, which was recently put in cinematic form via The Motorcycle Diaries is fairly non-consequential and even somewhat admirable stuff. Perhaps people have bought these shirts to parade around in because they admire the man portrayed in the movie, but that picture is from a much different era in his life.

Alvargo Vargas Llosa detailed very nicely why it shouldn't be cool to wear Che memorabilia. For one, his own testimonials reflect his true, vicious nature: he would write about himself as a "violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine." Or, take this paragraph from the article:
In January 1957, as his diary from the Sierra Maestra indicates, Guevara shot Eutimio Guerra because he suspected him of passing on information: "I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain.... His belongings were now mine." Later he shot Aristidio, a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on. While he wondered whether this particular victim "was really guilty enough to deserve death," he had no qualms about ordering the death of Echevarría, a brother of one of his comrades, because of unspecified crimes: "He had to pay the price." At other times he would simulate executions without carrying them out, as a method of psychological torture.
As director of La Cabana prison, he was responsible for the execution without fair trial of at least 179 people, and some estimates from the U.S. Government have him responsible for as many as 2000. Later, Che went on to spearhead the creation of Cuba's own police state modeled after the brutal Soviet Cheka.

What really confounds me is there isn't a lot of mystery around Che being a bad guy. He himself told other people a lot of his misdeeds, but the false image of him still remains.

I can't think of any rational reason why a responsible Liberal shouldn't loath Guevara, and yet so many people blindly believe that he must have been an admirable fellow. I get the sense that this is a liberal problem, and that no good conservatives would even think of admiring a communist. But then again, no good liberal would ever think of admiring a the murderous, brutal right-hand man of a dictator.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Thou Shalt Ignore Human Rights Abuses in the DPRK

This chart, I think, settles pretty decisively the question of whether the UN is systematically biased against Israel. The UN Human Rights Commission has taken more than twice as many actions against Israel as it has against the literally genocidal governments of the Congo and Sudan, over four times as many actions against Israel as against China and Iran, and perhaps most amazingly over ten times as many actions against Israel as against North Korea. By the perverted logic of the UN, a country whose government grants all its citizens representation in Parliament is worse on human rights than a country whose government's intransigent approach to foreign affairs forces its citizens to eat grass. Does anyone still take the UNHRC seriously?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Big Right Blogs

Why exactly are so many of the largest blogs conservative? The Ecosystem shows that in the top 10, you have Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Captain's Quarters, Power Line, Little Green Footballs, The Drudge Report. Why don't other major liberal blogs (with the exception of Daily Kos) manage to have the same output? I just find it a little strange. Conservative radio dominance is one thing, something I can understand given the political leanings of so many media moguls today in the United States. But the blogosphere?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Your Mind Powers Will Not Work on Me

Jonah Goldberg, usually quite a candid writer, seems to have donned his disingenuous cap for this Corner post:

I could swear Hillary had some sort of gaffe -- defined as accidentally telling the truth -- in which she told an audience that she didn't trust the people to behave responsibly or to spend their money the right way or something like that. I remember we talked about it in the Corner at the time (about a year ago?). I remember thinking it was similar to Bill's statement as president that he couldn't cut taxes because people would spend the money the wrong way. Does this ring a bell for anybody?

After receiving some help from NRO readers, Jonah reprints the offending quote:

"We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

There's not much I can say about this, except...shit. There's no use maintaining the charade any more. All this time liberals have been pretending we support higher taxes for defensible reasons, like the good of particular individuals, or tribute pay to foreign powers - anything but the common good, for Chrissake. It was a good plan, and there's enough blame to go around - I don't see how any of us could have predicted how tenacious Goldberg would be in pursuit of the truth. Hillary really blew this one, and now that the public knows the real use its tax dollars were put toward we might as well just eliminate FEMA, the military, and public schools, because no one in their right mind is ever going to let the government take things away from them again.