Posts tagged ‘Republican Congress’

"Abnormal" Events -- Droughts and Perfect Games

Most folks, and I would include myself in this, have terrible intuitions about probabilities and in particular the frequency and patterns of occurance in the tail ends of the normal distribution, what we might call "abnormal" events.  This strikes me as a particularly relevant topic as the severity of the current drought and high temperatures in the US is being used as absolute evidence of catastrophic global warming.

I am not going to get into the global warming bits in this post (though a longer post is coming).  Suffice it to say that if it is hard to accurately directly measure shifts in the mean of climate patterns given all the natural variability and noise in the weather system, it is virtually impossible to infer shifts in the mean from individual occurances of unusual events.  Events in the tails of the normal distribution are infrequent, but not impossible or even unexpected over enough samples.

What got me to thinking about this was the third perfect game pitched this year in the MLB.  Until this year, only 20 perfect games had been pitched in over 130 years of history, meaning that one is expected every 7 years or so  (we would actually expect them more frequently today given that there are more teams and more games, but even correcting for this we might have an expected value of one every 3-4 years).  Yet three perfect games happened, without any evidence or even any theoretical basis for arguing that the mean is somehow shifting.  In rigorous statistical parlance, sometimes shit happens.  Were baseball more of a political issue, I have no doubt that writers from Paul Krugman on down would be writing about how three perfect games this year is such an unlikely statistical fluke that it can't be natural, and must have been caused by [fill in behavior of which author disapproves].  If only the Republican Congress had passed the second stimulus, we wouldn't be faced with all these perfect games....

Postscript:  We like to think that perfect games are the ultimate measure of a great pitcher.  This is half right.  In fact, we should expect entirely average pitchers to get perfect games every so often.  A perfect game is when the pitcher faces 27 hitters and none of them get on base.  So let's take the average hitter facing the average pitcher.  The league average on base percentage this year is about .320 or 32%.  This means that for each average batter, there is a 68% chance for the average pitcher in any given at bat to keep the batter off the base.  All the average pitcher has to do is roll these dice correctly 27 times in a row.

The odds against that are .68^27 or about one in 33,000.  But this means that once in every 33,000 pitcher starts  (there are two pitcher starts per game played in the MLB), the average pitcher should get a perfect game.  Since there are about 4,860 regular season starts per year (30 teams x 162 games) then average pitcher should get a perfect game every 7 years or so.  Through history, there have been about 364,000 starts in the MLB, so this would point to about 11 perfect games by average pitchers.  About half the actual total.

Now, there is a powerful statistical argument for demonstrating that great pitchers should be over-weighted in perfect games stats:  the probabilities are VERY sensitive to small changes in on-base percentage.  Let's assume a really good pitcher has an on-base percentage against him that is 30 points less than the league average, and a bad pitcher has one 30 points worse.   The better pitcher would then expect a perfect game every 10,000 starts, while the worse pitcher would expect a perfect game every 113,000 starts.  I can't find the stats on individual pitchers, but my guess is the spread between best and worst pitchers on on-base percentage against has more than a 60 point spread, since the team batting average against stats (not individual but team averages, which should be less variable) have a 60 point spread from best to worst. [update:  a reader points to this, which says there is actually a 125-point spread from best to worst.  That is a different in expected perfect games from one in 2,000 for Jared Weaver to one in 300,000 for Derek Lowe.  Thanks Jonathan]

Update:  There have been 278 no-hitters in MLB history, or 12 times the number of perfect games.  The odds of getting through 27 batters based on a .320 on-base percentage is one in 33,000.  The odds of getting through the same batters based on a .255 batting average (which is hits but not other ways on base, exactly parallel with the definition of no-hitter) the odds are just one in 2,830.  The difference between these odds is a ratio of 11.7 to one, nearly perfectly explaining the ratio of no-hitters to perfect games on pure stochastics.

Go Gary Johnson

I decided today to volunteer for Gary Johnson's independent libertarian run for President.  I have always been a Johnson supporter, and was disappointed that he did not get more attention in the debates and nomination process.

Yes, I know folks will be saying that if Gary Johnson does well, it will just be guaranteeing an Obama victory.  You know what?  Given the choices, I don't care.  My other choices seem to be the guy who pilot-tested Obamacare and Rick Santorum, perhaps the only person the Republicans could have found with a deeper authoritarian streak than Obama.  You know those 2x2 matrices where one leg is "government intervention in social issues" and the other is "government intervention in economic issues?"  Where libertarians are low-low and Republicans and Democrats are each in one of the low-high boxes?  Did you ever wonder who was in the high-high box?  Well, Obama has moved pretty strongly into that space.  But Santorum staked it out years ago.   He is right out of the John McCain, I-am-nominally-for-small-governemnt-but-support-authoritarian-solutions-for-a-range-of-random-issues school.

In fact, I might argue that freedom and small government would be better served by an Obama second term that the yahoos likely to gain the Republic nomination.  First, there is nothing worse than having statism and crony capitalism sold by someone who is nominally pro-market (see either of the Bushes as an example).  Second, Republicans are much feistier about limiting spending and regulation in Congress when in opposition.  They tend to roll over for expansions of state power when they have a fellow Republican in the White House -- just compare spending of the Republican Congress under Clinton vs. Bush.  Medicare Part D, anyone?

As I heard Ayn Rand say in a public speech in 1981, there is only so far I can go choosing the lesser of two evils.  I am now all in for Gary Johnson.

Progressivism as Deep (little-c) Conservatism

At least in economic policy, progressives like Barack Obama are deeply conservative.  They want industries, jobs, real earnings, and class positions to be stable and predictable.  No one ever believes me when I say this, but look at the policies.  Trade protectionism protects current industry incumbents and workers, at the cost of poorer future performance due to lack of competition.  Unions attempt to lock in current jobs through numerous controls on work rules, slow or stop changes in technology and work processes that have the effect of eventually castrating the company (think GM).  Socialized medicine tries to lock in the current standard of care for everyone, while reducing the possibility of future improvements.  Redistribution attempts to lock in the current standard of living for everyone while reducing the possibility of future improvements.  I discussed this more European model last week.

I like how Shannon Love summarized it in the context of Obama:

Obama has no concept of business as a creative and experimental endeavor. On some deep unconscious level, he assumes that material wealth is something akin to a natural phenomenon for which no group of humans can take credit. Therefore, he sees distribution as the only serious economic issue and ignores how politics interferes with the actual process of wealth creation.

Though to be fair, I am not sure McCain or GWB understand this either.     (or here in 2005)

I always laughed at Democrats that tried to woo me to their party.  Now I laugh at Republicans too.  MoveOn may get mileage out of attacking Bush, but he has done more for the left/liberal cause than Clinton.  Clinton had NAFTA, welfare reform, and (moderated by an aggresive Republican Congress) fiscal sanity.

Bush Sucks

Chris Edwards of Cato has the numbers:

Edwards_0907

I always laughed at Democrats that tried to woo me to their party.  Now I laugh at Republicans too.  MoveOn may get mileage out of attacking Bush, but he has done more for the left/liberal cause than Clinton.  Clinton had NAFTA, welfare reform, and (moderated by an aggresive Republican Congress) fiscal sanity.  While he too had an Iraq-like war in Kosovo, he never got sucked into the sweeping nation-building Bush has taken on.

Bush II is also leading this poll for the modern inductee to the free market hall of shame.

Democrats and Republicans United In Grabbing Power

This weekend, the Democrats in Congress passed legislation legalizing the Administration's previous grab for new wiretapping powers.  Further proving that the minority party in the US government does not really object to power grabs, they just get in a huff that the other party thought of it first.  Other examples of such behavior include the Patriot act, currently supported by Republicans and opposed by many Democrats, but most of whose provisions were originally proposed by Bill Clinton and opposed by a Republican Congress  (opposition led by John Ashcroft!)

I really don't want the president, of either party, listening to my phone calls without a warrant, and that answer does not change if I am talking  to my friends in Arizona or my friends in London.

John Scalzi has a great post reacting to the line in the article above where Democrats vow to, at some time in the future, "fix" the flaws in the law they just passed.

They wouldn't have to "fix" it if they hadn't have passed it.
Once again I am entirely flummoxed how it is that the Democrats, faced
with the president more chronically unpopular than Nixon, and so
politically weakened that the GOP candidates for president can barely
bring themselves to acknowledge that he exists, yet manage to get played by the man again and again.

If the Democrats honestly did not feel this version of the bill
should have been passed, they shouldn't have passed it. I don't see why
this is terribly complicated. And don't tell me that at least it has a
six-month "sunset" clause; all it means at this point is that in six
months, the Democrats are going to allow themselves to get played once
more, and this time they'll have given Bush the talking point of "well,
they passed it before."

My only objection to this statement is the implication the this is just a matter of the Democrats getting played.  I actually think it's exactly what the Democrats want -- they want to retain a reputation for caring about government intrusiveness without actually reducing government powers (just like Republicans want a reputation for reducing economic regulations without actually doing do when they were in power).  After all, the Dems expect to control the administration in 2 years, and they really don't want to take away any of the President's toys before that time.

Avoiding Bad Precedents

I just finished a course on the history of Rome.  The most fascinating era was the Roman revolution, where over about 100 years Rome slid from a Republic to an autocracy.  The final phases of the era, with the Caesars, gets a lot of play in movies and such, but it is actually the early period I found the most interesting.  In effect, Caesar or someone like him was effectively inevitable by that point in time.  The chance to avoid such an outcome actually came a hundred years earlier.

I won't get into the whole history, but suffice it to say that there was a major difference in the Republic between the theoretical power of certain offices and the actual power.  In effect, certain offices could theoretically take some pretty radical actions, but they were circumscribed by tradition and precedent.  However, when these precedents were broken (interestingly by a man who felt he was doing it for a good cause) restraints were removed and politics tended to devolve.

A while back, I wrote a post saying that I would love to see impeachment hearings in the Senate, because it would prevent the Senate from getting anything else done and it would be enormously entertaining. 

I take it back.  Having thought some more about it, I now think that it would be a really bad idea.   Impeachment has always been a power that could be used any time, but was not because the Congress generally recognized that restraint was in order.  The impeachment of Clinton broke with this tradition.  Yes, I know, he lied under oath.  Fine, yank his law license after he leaves office.  Yes, it probably was technically an impeachable offense.  But it falls way, way short of the line that historic precedent has set for when impeachment is appropriate.  And by greatly lowering this line, the Republican Congress took the huge risk of opening the floodgates to impeachment hearings virtually every time the President and Congressional majorities were from opposite parties.

I really would like to see the Democrats exercise restraint here.  I know many libertarians disagree with me, and would love nothing more than to see more frequent impeachments and recalls;  unfortunately, I just don't think that solves the libertarian problem of reducing the power and scope of government.

I don't want to misinterpret Kevin Drum, but he seems to be making a similar plea.  To M.J. Rosenburg, who argues:

The Constitutional remedy of impeachment is no longer
what it once was. For better or worse, the Republicans changed it, for
all time, when they impeached Clinton over, essentially, nothing.

And Clinton changed it as well. Impeachment not only did not end his
Presidency; it did not hurt his standing with the public. His numbers
stayed high, even improved some, and he left office on schedule, a very
popular President.

In other words, impeachment is no longer the political nuclear bomb
it once was, especially if one knows in advance that conviction and
removal from office is unlikely to occur.

Accordingly, impeachment proceedings are essentially the best means
of getting information to the public which is otherwise unavailable.

To this Drum says:

Impeachment should become a routine tool for getting public attention
whenever we disagree with a president of the opposite party? This might
be the worst argument in favor of impeachment of all time.

I agree.  I think Rosenburg is right that the Clinton impeachment changed the precedents around impeachment, but I would like to see the cork put back in the bottle now, before it is too late.

Earmark Reform

President Bush today, among other proposals, advocated earmark reform in a WSJ Op-Ed piece.  Great, though I would have thought his adult supervision on this issue with the Republican Congress last year would have been more effective.  Also, I would like to turn his attention to a novel Constitutional device called a "veto" that he already has at his command to handle pork-laden bills.

Parties are Partisan, so Get Over It

There is nothing I think is dumber than the standard post-election plea for bipartisanship you see in newspapers after every election.  This election is no exception.  Get over it.  The Democrats won, they have been out of power for a while, and have a backlog of stuff they want to do.  I won't agree with a lot of it, which will put me in the same place I was with the Republican Congress.  I'm going to be pissed when the Democrats try to increase the minimum wage, roll back NAFTA, impose oil windfall profits taxes and raise income taxes.  Just as I was pissed when the Republicans passed McCain-Feingold, the prescription drug boondoggle, steel tariffs, and gave up on social security reform and any meaningful ethics and earmark reform.

Chris Edwards at Cato agrees:

That's nonsense. In a closely divided legislature, partisanship and
attacks on the other team are the logical course for both parties.
Because both parties know that either House or Senate could easily
switch back over in 2008, they will do their best to deny the other
side any legislative victories. The GOP's strategy now will be to show
that the Dems can't get anything done, so they block, filibuster, and
veto. They are the opposition in the House, so their job is to oppose.

The Dems will use their chairmanships and control of the House floor
to schedule partisan hearings and votes to try and make the Republicans
look bad any way that they can. The most important thing for Nancy
Pelosi will be to hold onto the majority and line up some divisive
issues to hammer on to help the party's 2008 presidential nominee. Note
that she won't be scheduling votes on tax hikes anytime soon, because
that would immediately revive the GOP and jeopardize 2008.

I do think the two parties are going to have to figure out how to get some judgeships filled, but I am not holding my breath.  My real wish is that Pelosi would pursue impeachment, not because I think it is justified but because it would tie Congress up into a magnificently entertaining gridlock.  Unfortunately, she has pledged she would not do so.

Postscript:  McCain-Feingold limits expired yesterday, so you have your free speech back.  You may criticize politicians again.

Limiting Free Speech Unifies Congress

Anyone who actually believed that McCain-Feingold was about cleaning up politics rather than just protecting incumbent political jobs can now disabuse themselves of that notion.  It has become clear that election finance laws are pure Machiavellian politics, passed by those who think it will work to their benefit (ie help them in the next election) and opposed by those who think they will be hurt by it.  Principle almost never plays a part any more.

On April 5, House Republicans voted to limit the speech of 527 groups, who up until now were exempt from McCain-Feingold speech restrictions.  Republicans generally supported the restrictions, despite years of saying that money does not tarnish politics, because, well because Democrats were better last election than Republicans at raising money via 527's.  Democrats, who historically as a party have supported campaign finance and speech restrictions and eagerly voted for McCain-Feingold, oppose the legislation for no principled reason except that 527's are working for them.  Democrats will therefore likely prevent this bill from passing the Senate.

George Will has a nice column lambasting the Republican Congress:

If in November Republicans lose control of the House of
Representatives, April 5 should be remembered as the day they
demonstrated that they earned defeat. Traducing the Constitution and
disgracing conservatism, they used their power for their only remaining
purpose -- to cling to power. Their vote to restrict freedom of speech
came just as the GOP's conservative base is coming to the conclusion
that House Republicans are not worth working for in October or
venturing out to vote for in November.

The "problem" Republicans
addressed is that in 2004 Democrats were more successful than
Republicans in using so-called 527 organizations -- advocacy groups
named after the tax code provision governing them. In 2002 Congress
passed the McCain-Feingold legislation banning large "soft money"
contributions for parties -- money for issue-advocacy and
organizational activities, not for candidates. In 2004, to the surprise
of no sensible person and most McCain-Feingold supporters, much of the
money -- especially huge contributions from rich liberals -- was
diverted to 527s. So on April 5, House Republicans, easily jettisoning
what little remains of their ballast of belief in freedom and limited
government, voted to severely limit the amounts that can be given to
527s.

He captures a priceless quote that gets at the heart of why Congressional incumbents love these campaign finance laws:

Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said that restricting 527s would combat
"nauseating ugliness, negativity and hyperpartisanship." Oh, so that is
what the First Amendment means: Congress shall make no law abridging
freedom of speech unless speech annoys politicians.

Props, by the way, to my Representative John Shadegg for his no vote, as well as to my favorite Congressman Jeff Flake, who voted no as well.

GWB the Spending Champ

President Bush has passed even Lyndon Johnson for the title of worst spender in the last 40 years.  While it is probably not a surprise that real military spending has grown an outrageous 8.8% per year during his tenure, it is amazing to see that domestic spending has grown 7.1% (yes, that's real, excluding inflation) per year.  Absolutely shameful.  More here in this Cato report (pdf).

Revised data released during the summer by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide analysts the ability to make side-by-side comparisons of the spending habits of each president during the last 40 years.1 All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.

It is interesting to note that Bill Clinton, who drove Republicans into a frothing hatred, can rightly be classed, along with Reagan, as one of the two most fiscally conservative administrations in 40 years.  Granted the Republican Congress kept him honest on spending and carved off his roughest edges (e.g. Hillarycare) while Reagan had to fight his Congress tooth and nail, but this spending record in the Clinton years combined with his passage of NAFTA and welfare reform make him a far better free market defender than either of the Bushes that bracket him.  I wonder if, in turn, liberals who are driven into a frothing hatred for Bush, will someday come to appreciate the work he has done for them in expanding the size of government and slowing the pace of free trade.

We Won't Respect You in the Morning

Again, small government libertarians like myself, who held their nose and voted Republican in the last election, have been used.  From the NY Post today:

THE Republican promise of smaller,
less-intrusive government is getting harder and harder to believe.
Especially when a more plausible plot line is unfolding every day: that
the GOP has put aside the ideals of Reagan and Goldwater in order to
pursue a political strategy based on big spending.

For the latest, check out a report just released by the
libertarian Cato Institute that tells a striking story about just how
out-of-control spending has gotten under President Bush.

Cato finds that:

* Bush has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson.

* Even excluding defense and homeland security spending, Bush is the biggest-spending president in 30 years.

* The federal budget grew from 18.5 percent of the Gross
Domestic Product on President Bill Clinton's last day in office to 20.3
percent at the end of Bush's first term.

Add to that Bush's massive Medicare prescription-drug
benefit, expected to cost $720 billion-plus over the next 10 years.
(The money for that new entitlement, the first created by a president
in a generation, will start flowing this year.)

It is not in the least bit comforting to have my suspicions confirmed by Cato, whose whole report is here.  Bring back divided government!  I will take Reagan-Democrat Congress or Clinton-Republican Congress over this any day.

 

Why I won't vote Libertarian this year

I originally posted this as an update to this post, but I wanted to move it up top.

I am sympathetic to a number of other libertarian writers out there -- I too am disgusted with the fiscal irresponsibility and trade protectionism of the combination of Bush and a Republican Congress, but have little hope that the Kerry alternative would be any better. There is probably a pretty good argument for divided government here, voting for Kerry and hoping that a Republican Congress will oppose everything he asks for, but its a risky strategy.

Many elections in the past, I have voted for the libertarian candidate as a protest vote, and, in some cases, because I even liked the candidate. This year, I think the guy is a total loony. To some extent, I consider my refusal to vote for the libertarian candidate this year as a protest vote to my usual protest vote. Never has there been a better time for libertarians to get their message out and find traction in the electorate, given a choice between a big government Republican and a big government Democrat, and they nominate this guy?

Libertarians' greatest strength - that they like real diversity, not just of skin color, but of outlook and interests and decision-making - is their greatest weakness as a political party. Political parties are brands, and the power of brands is that they bring predictability, they tell people what to expect. The libertarian brand can mean anything and is entirely unpredictable, from small government South Park Republicans to marijuana-legalization-obsessed sixties holdovers to adult film makers to unrepentant moonbat anarchists. If you ever doubt it, go to a Cato Institute donors reception some time. Its fantastic, the range of personalities you get, but it makes consistent political messaging difficult.

What we need in this country is a new "liberal" party, by which I mean a return to the classical liberalism of free markets and small government (also here)