Month: January 2009

Red States- An Endangered Species?

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According to data just released by the Gallup Poll, there are only five states where a statistically significant plurality of adults identify themselves as Republicans.

All told, 29 states and the District of Columbia had Democratic party affiliation advantages of 10 points or greater last year. This includes all of the states in the Northeast, and all but Indiana in the Great Lakes region. There are even several Southern states in this grouping, including Arkansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

An additional six states had Democratic advantages ranging between 5 and 9 points.

In contrast, only five states had solid or leaning Republican orientations in 2008, with Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska in the former group, and Nebraska in the latter.

So, what does this mean? An anomaly based upon Obama’s charisma? According to Gallup, the implications are a bit more ominous than that for the Repulbican Party.

The political landscape of the United States has clearly shifted in the Democratic direction, and in most states, a greater proportion of state residents identified as Democrats or said they leaned to the Democratic Party in 2008 than identified as Republicans or leaned Republican.

As recently as 2002, a majority of states were Republican in orientation. By 2005, movement in the Democratic direction was becoming apparent, and this continued in 2006. That dramatic turnaround is clearly an outgrowth of Americans’ dissatisfaction with the way the Republicans (in particular, President George W. Bush) governed the country.

Just more evidence as to how irrelevant the Republican party has become.  The ground has shifted, leaving those of us who live in what Nate Silver calls “the Mormon Belt” behind. Of course, the Republicans will eventually “reinvent” themselves and become a vital force again. But, whatever the reinvented party might look like, I can’t see the rigid ideology that defines them now surviving.

188 Hoovers

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The stimulus bill passed the House 244 to 188. Not a single Republican voted for it. A few Democrats like Idaho’s Walt Minnick also voted against it. All those Idaho Democrats who thought Minnick might actually vote like a Democrat can now face reality. Minnick is a life-long Republican who was willing to run as a Democrat because it was the only way he could fulfill his ambition to hold National office. Not that it matters much. The Idaho Congressional delegation has ranked dead last in influence for the last 20 years and will remain last for the next twenty.   In fact, the whole Republican party appears to be sliding into obstructionist irrelevancy.

As Rep David Obey framed it, It is 1933 and we have 188 Herbert Hoovers in the House.

What Now Mr. President?

John Tepper Marlin, writing on The Huffington Post, talks about an e-mail he receive from his sister, living in England, discussing a documentary she saw concerning health care in the United States.

My sister Brigid Marlin lives in the UK and a few days ago was watching a BBC program on health care in the United States. Brigid is not a public affairs junkie so I was interested when she sent me an email reporting that the program was a shocking portrayal of the high cost and low coverage of U.S. medical care. This itself is not news but there are two things about the show that are worth an alert: (1) The BBC’s effectiveness in describing the problems with U.S. health care, and (2) The fact that Americans can’t watch it.

As Marlin point out in his article, the Panorama documentary cannot be viewed from the BBC site here. Thanks to the wonders of You Tube, however, it is possible to watch it. I am not sure how long it will remain on You Tube, so please take a few minutes to watch it while you can.

What Now Mr President? Part I

What Now Mr President? Part II

What Now Mr President? Part III

Dirk the Delusional

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According to  a headline on the front page of the Idaho Statesman, Dirk Kempthorne might be “planning a run for president”.   Sure, that is going to happen.  Only a delusional egotist like Kempthorne could consider such a possibility with a straight face.

In the pantheon of embarrassing Idaho Republicans, Kempthorne ranks right up there with him, him, him, her and even him. In fact, it could be argued that Kempthorne ranks first in the hall of Republican infamy simply because he has managed to be a shallow, incompetent, narcissistic phony  at almost every level of government-  Mayor, Governor, Senator and Secretary of the Interior.

In a segment titled “A tribute to himself,” Rachel Maddow gave a fitting sendoff to Dirk last week. He has from now to 2012 to take his slideshow on the road. That should jump start his presidential bid.

The Obama Effect

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Two decades ago Stanford Psychologists Claude Steele, PhD, Joshua Aronson, PhD, and Steven Spencer, PhD did a series of experiments that identified a phenomenon they called the “Stereotype Threat Effect.” The study was significant because it refuted  conventional assumptions that it was genetics or cultural differences that led to some students performing poorly on standardized academic tests. Instead, it appeared that negative stereotypes raise inhibiting doubts and high-pressure anxieties in a test-taker’s mind, resulting in poor test scores.  Here is a description of the study:

Steele and Aronson gave Black and White college students a half-hour test using difficult items from the verbal Graduate Record Exam (GRE). In the stereotype-threat condition, they told students the test diagnosed intellectual ability, thus potentially eliciting the stereotype that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites. In the no-stereotype-threat condition, the researchers told students that the test was a problem-solving lab task that said nothing about ability, presumably rendering stereotypes irrelevant. In the stereotype threat condition, Blacks – who were matched with Whites in their group by SAT scores — did less well than Whites. In the no stereotype- threat condition—in which the exact same test was described as a lab task that did not indicate ability—Blacks’ performance rose to match that of equally skilled Whites.

Additional experiments that minimized the stereotype threat endemic to standardized tests also resulted in equal performance. One study found that when students merely recorded their race (presumably making the stereotype salient), and were not told the test was diagnostic of their ability, Blacks still performed worse than Whites.

The stereotype threat effect has been reproduced and the results confirmed numerous times since.  The effect also occurs among women when given math tests. They scored significantly worse than men when they were told the test showed gender differences. There was no difference in scores when the women were told nothing about the test.

All this is background to an intriguing study just completed by Ray Friedman, a professor at Vanderbilt University.

Documenting what Friedman and his co-authors call the “Obama Effect,” the study found the performance gap between black and white Americans in a series of online tests was dramatically reduced during key moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama’s accomplishments garnered the most national attention.

“Our results document compelling evidence of the power that real-world, in-group role models like Obama can have on members of their racial or ethnic community,” said Friedman.

In the study, tests were administered to a total of 472 participants using questions drawn from Graduate Record Exams (GREs) to assess reading comprehension, analogies and sentence completion. The tests took place at four distinct points over three months during the campaign: two when Obama’s success was less prominent (prior to his acceptance of the nomination and the mid-point between the convention and election day) and two when it garnered the most attention (immediately after his nomination speech and his win of the presidency in November).

The nationwide testing sample of 84 black Americans and 388 white Americans – a proportion equivalent to representation in the overall population – matched for age and education level. It revealed that white participants scored higher than their black peers at the two points in the campaign where Obama’s achievements were least visible. However, during the height of the Obama media frenzy, the performance gap between black and white Americans was effectively eliminated. In addition, researchers pinpointed that black Americans who did not watch Obama’s nomination acceptance speech continued to lag behind their white peers, while those who did view the speech successfully closed the gap.

It appears that “Yes, we can!” is more than a political slogan.  Eight years of an Obama presidency might do more to close the “achievement gap” than No Child Left Behind could ever do.

Go here to watch a video of Freidman discussing the study and the implications of the “Obama Effect.”

Net Neutrality and the Stimulus Package

save_the_internetAfter years of struggle, it appears that Net Neutrality is finally going to happen. If you are not familiar with Net Neutrality and why it is important, go to Save The Internet.com. I have commented on it numerous times over the past few years. At times, I was convinced that the powerful telecom corporations would be successful in taking control of the Internet from the people.

But, Obama’s election has appeared to put life back in the Net Neutrality movement. Perhaps the most important indicator is the appointment of Julius Genachowski as chair of the FCC, who is known to be deeply committed to Net Neutrality.

Friday, Declan McCullagh reported on cnet news that the House Democrats have attached Net Neutrality rules to the $825 billion stimulus bill.  McCullagh considers this to be a bad idea, but it is important to understand that he is against any sort of regulation that might infringe on the right of giant corporations like AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast to do whatever they please.  McCullagh, who describes himself as,

…an iconoclast and a skeptic of anyone who says, “We oughta have a new federal law against this.”

exposes his bias when he quotes a bogus report by the US Chamber of Commerce that claims:

that the absence of Net neutrality laws or similar federally mandated regulations has spurred telecommunications companies to invest heavily in infrastructure, and changing the rules “would have a devastating effect on the U.S. economy, investment, and innovation.”

It will be fun watching the anti-regulation, the market is always right, libertarians lose the battles that they have managed to win since the “Reagan Revolution.”

Green Jobs

Few Americans have heard of Van Jones, founder of Green for All, an organization promoting green-collar jobs and opportunities for the disadvantaged.   On Thursday, January 15th, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming devoted its first hearing of the 111th Congress to creating jobs and stimulating our economy through renewable energy and efficiency programs.

The economic stimulus package being worked on by Congress and President-elect Barack Obama presents an opportunity for America to take a step forward by investing in renewable technology and infrastructure that will put people to work while transitioning our nation to a clean energy economy and Jones’ testimony challenged the committee to lead the way toward building a green economy keyed to production, not consumption.

Mr. Chairman, other committee members, I’m just happy to be here and I appreciate the opportunity to talk. I was here in 2007 when the term “green collar job” was very rarely heard anywhere. This may have been the first place it was heard in Congress.

And now it is everywhere, and that reflects something. It reflects a hunger and desire on the part of the American people to solve the two biggest crises possibly ever to face this country: an economic catastrophe and a climate crisis, both of which could undermine our nation’s security, our economy, not just now but for decades into the future.

Here are excerpts from his testimony. Pay close attention to the “three principles” he identifies. IMHO these principles should frame our national dialogue as we consider what ought to be included in an economic stimulus plan.

Given Idaho’s current economic woes, our politicians should be at the forefront of the move to green jobs.

In recent years, Idaho led the nation in economic growth, but Mike Ferguson, chief economist for Gov. Butch Otter, said Idaho is now actually leading the nation in the current recession. Our unemployment rate, which was third in the nation in January of 2008, was 18th in November. We’ve seen “a pretty dramatic deterioration in our employment growth over the course of the year,” he told the lawmakers on the panel. Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor told the committee, “The recession has hit every part of the state.” Overall, Idaho lost 17,600 jobs from November of 2007 to November of 2008 and 19,500 fewer people were working. Manufacturing, construction and financial services jobs are disappearing, and while health care and education are growing, those jobs pay less. “Overall, Idaho’s job situation will continue to decline and the unemployment rate rise through much of 2009 before finding bottom,” Fick said.

There is no doubt that Idaho entrepreneurs are thinking green, but it is less certain that members of the Idaho Legislature have gotten the message.  We need to put pressure on them, individually, or by supporting enlightened organizations like the Idaho Conservation League.

Change is Here

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With each confirmation hearing it becomes clear that the Obama administration really does bring a change we can believe in.  Here is Eric Holder, Obama’s pick for Attorney General.

Addressing the subject of torture at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Holder told Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee chairman, “Waterboarding is torture.” It was so defined under the Spanish Inquisition and when used by the Japanese in World War II, he said, and it remains so today.

How refreshing after years of equivocation from current Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales, both of whom refused to renounce waterboarding.

Asked whether a president might have the power to immunize people against criminal charges if they employ waterboarding, which creates a drowning-like sensation, to obtain intelligence to use against terrorists, Mr. Holder answered unambiguously: “Mr. Chairman, no one is above the law.”

An Attorney General who believes that no one is above the law.   Let’s savor the moment.