Owen Rice has a series of cool charts that show optimal classification location of members of congress and “cutting lines” on various votes. The way it works is first you locate members, based on their votes, into a two-dimensional ideological space. Then on any given vote you can create a “cutting line” across the ideological space that does the best possible job of correcting sorting members into yeas and nays. That helps you get a sense of the underlying dynamic of the issue.
Here’s an example of a vote that broke down on pure party lines:
Kevin Drum wants to know why the optimal classification comes out this way:
Actually, though, I think I’m more interested in the placement of senators themselves. Democrats are almost all bunched into a single grouping, with only four outliers. Republicans, by contrast, are spread through considerably more space on both the economic and social dimensions. That doesn’t seem intuitively right to me, but it strikes me as more complimentary toward Republicans than Democrats. So tell me again why they want to defund pointy-headed political scientists?
It’s not intuitively right. What I think it is is an illustration of the importance of setting the agenda. The Democratic leadership has only brought to a vote bills that unite the overwhelming majority of Democrats. Consequently, a visualization based on votes of the 111th Senate shows the Democrats as enormously bunched-together. If you look at the House where Nancy Pelosi doesn’t need a unanimous caucus to pass bills, you see that Democrats and Republicans are about equally dispersed. If Republicans were to capture the House and pick up some Senate seats in 2010, then legislation would more often be focused on issues that split the party caucuses (education, immigration) and the visualizations would look different.
This morning, the House began consideration of the rule for debate of the House health care bill. As the Democratic Women’s Caucus took to the microphone on the House floor to offer their arguments for how the bill would benefit women, House Republicans — led by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) — repeatedly talked over, screamed, and shouted objections. “I object, I object, I object, I object, I object,” Price interjected as Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) tried to hold the floor.
In an effort to delay and derail the proceedings, the Republicans continually talked over the Democratic women for half an hour. They sought to prevent the debate by calling for unnecessary “parliamentary inquiries” and requests for “expanding the debate” by an hour.
After being repeatedly interrupted by Republican shouts, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) observed:
Do I not have the right to be able to continue my sentence without objections that are trying to censor my remarks here on the floor that I have a right to make as a member of this House?
Watch a compilation:
The presiding chair of the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), tried to assuage the Republican ruckus, without much success. The debate must be conducted with “a measure of comity and grace and decency,” Dingell urged. “There’s no advantage to be achieved by making all this fuss,” he told the Republicans.
Media Matters Action Network has produced its own mash-up video highlighting the GOP’s uncivilized tactics.
Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of Balkh province in Northern Afghanistan says:
“Karzai is a thief of people’s votes. Democracy has been buried in Afghanistan. He’s not a lawful president,” Mr. Atta said in an interview in his vast rococo-styled office, as turbaned supplicants lined up to petition for his help in resolving court cases and disputes with local authorities.
At the moment, the mainstays of the Karzai government in Afghanistan are the non-Pashto areas of Afghanistan where there’s a great deal of popular hostility to the Taliban. But its precisely for that reason that Karzai, a Pashto, was picked to lead Afghanistan. The view was that such a person would have the most legitimacy in the most contested areas. The risk with what’s now happened in the election is that Karzai will either start to lose his Tajik support and his government will become untenable, or else that to prevent that from happening the government will need to shift all the way in the direction of him basically being a frontman for a Fahim/Dostum Tajik/Uzbek warlord coalition that has no support in Pashto areas.
During yesterday’s all-night marathon hearing before the House Rules Committee to consider which amendments would be introduced during floor debate of the House health care bill, the Committee agreed to allow the full House to vote on Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) amendment to effectively ban plans in the exchange from covering abortion services. The floor will debate the amendment on the House floor for 20 minutes.
Democrats have been trying to broker a compromise on abortion coverage by offering up Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) less restrictive amendment to segregate public funds from abortion funding and hire “a private contractor to pay abortion providers, thus avoiding direct federal payments.” But that agreement “fell apart,” Stupak reported.
“We came to the point where we actually an agreement tonight, but unfortunately it fell apart. So that’s why we had to scramble to be here. I regret that the agreement fell apart, I think everyone meant well and I’m not trying to place blame,” he said at midnight:
First, our amendment does not prevent any private insurer from selling a policy which covers abortion. This ensures that those who want abortion coverage have access to it without forcing anyone or anyone else to pay for another one’s abortion with their tax dollars of with their private funds. Second, our amendment does not prevent any individual from purchasing a plan that covers abortion as long as their coverage is not subsidized with affordability credits….Our amendment does not prevent an insurer participating in the Exchange from selling health plans in the Exchange…Our amendment simply applies the current law, Hyde Amendment to the public health insurance option and the private policies purchased using affordability credits.
But Stupak is misrepresenting the House legislation and the existing federal restrictions on abortion funding. Currently, the House bill contains what’s called the Capps Amendment — a compromise that maintains Hyde Amendment restrictions. The arrangement protects Hyde by specifying that subsidy dollars could only be used to abort pregnancies that threaten the life of mother or result from rape or incest (Hyde allows for this). Other kinds of abortions would have to be funded with private premiums. The provision also requires that at least one plan in each market area offer abortion services and one plan not. No abortion services—even those allowed by the Hyde Amendment — can be mandated as part of a minimum benefits package.
Stupak and his allies want to go beyond Hyde. Under their amendment, women who purchase comprehensive private insurance packages — that include abortion services — would have to pay for the entire cost of the package (even if they qualify for subsidies).
They’re arguing that the current firewall between public and private money is inadequate. If a woman uses federal subsidies to pay for a basic benefit, she would have more private money available to fund her abortion, they claim. Or, alternatively, “premiums paid to that plan in the form of taxpayer-funded subsidies help support that abortion coverage even if individual abortion procedures are paid for out of a separate pool of privately-paid premium dollars.” It’s the equivalent of arguing that women who receive abortions should not use public buses or highways to travel to the abortion clinic.
The amendment won the endorsement of the Conference of Catholic Bishops but sparked criticism from several pro-choice groups. “This amendment would violate the spirit of health care reform, which is meant to guarantee quality, affordable health care coverage for all, by creating a two-tiered system that would punish women, particularly those with low and modest incomes,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a late-night release. “Women won’t stand for legislation that takes away their current benefits and leaves them worse off after health care reform than they are today.
Politicians love commissions. They love them so much that journalists have come to love cynically deriding them. So now that talk of a “budget commission” to tackle the long-term deficit is in the air, people are being cynical about it. I actually think commissions are a pretty good idea since congress is so bad at designing policy. The real question is what would a serious budget commission look like?
I think Pete Davis and Bruce Bartlett have some pretty good posts on this matter. I would say the most important thing is for congress to not entirely abdicate its policymaking role. The key is to actually tell the commission, in a real way, what it wants studied. Reduce the deficit to such-and-such a percent of GDP relative to baseline and do it this percent with tax cuts and this percent with spending cuts. That’s a real mandate, and exactly the sort of decision elected officials should be making. Similarly, if congress wants the Pentagon to get special treatment, they should say so. With that done, having a commission try to work out the details within the framework of a congressional mandate makes sense.
FOC is now selling coal to children. ThinkProgress obtained the “Let’s Learn About Coal” coloring book, which asks children to unscramble statements about the “advantages” of coal, such as “Than coal other cheaper is fuels” (“Coal is cheaper than other fuels”). Kids also learn that coal is “important” and “provides jobs for lots of people!”
During an episode of Sesame Street that was originally broadcast two years ago, a character tells Oscar the Grouch, who happens to be reporting for “GNN” (Grouchy News Network), that she is switching her news viewing loyalties to “Pox News,” adding, “Now there is a trashy news show.”
Right winger Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” blog took on the Sesame Street menace this week proclaiming: “Add one more soldier to the Left’s war on Fox News: Oscar the Grouch”:
If Mom and Dad watch cable news, it’s better than 50/50 they watch “POX News.” So what gives? PBS — a network partially funded with my tax dollars — has the right to tell my kids that their parents watch “trashy” news? The message is clear, I can’t even sit my kids in front of “Sesame Street” without having to worry about the Left attempting to undermine my authority.
Thursday night on Fox News, host Bill O’Reilly picked up on Big Hollywood’s rant and couldn’t resist defending his network against the smear merchants at Sesame Street. “Say it ain’t so. Sesame Street trashing Fox News!” O’Reilly complained. After airing the segment in question, O’Reilly said wryly, “We may have to ambush Oscar.” Watch it:
As Big Hollywood itself acknowledged, Fox News wasn’t the only news organization or media personality Sesame Street spoofed. “Walter Cranky,” “Dan Rather-Not,” “Meredith Beware-a” and “Diane Spoiler,” all made appearances on the show. And of course, Oscar’s employer, the “Grouchy News Network.”
Media Matters’ Simon Maloy notes, “It looks like Andrew Breitbart’s BigHollywood.com is looking to dethrone NewsBusters as the premiere source for asinine right-wing media criticism” by documenting “the absurd liberal bias in an episode of Sesame Street that aired two years ago. Just let that sink in for a moment…”
We wouldn’t put it past O’Reilly hit-man Jesse Watters to be staking out Oscar’s garbage can right now.
Enjoying fast, fast broadband in Stockholm (my photo, available under cc license)
It’s pretty well-known at this point* that despite the fact that the Internet was largely invented in the United States and that most of the iconic Internet brands are US companies, that America is only a mediocre performer in terms of quality of broadband access and depth of broadband penetration. These points are, however, often made in a pretty superficial way. This recent major study from the Berkman Center (see more discussion) breaks the information down in a more sophisticated way. That shows that some things aren’t quite as they initially seem—Canada and Norway both look worse, for example—but that the US remains a middling performer.
Their main policy conclusion is that “open access” policies of the sort the United States had in the mid-1990s but then abandoned are common across all the high performing nations:
Our most surprising and significant finding is that “open access” policies—unbundling, bitstream access, collocation requirements, wholesaling, and/or functional separation—are almost universally understood as having played a core role in the first generation transition to broadband in most of the high performing countries; that they now play a core role in planning for the next generation transition; and that the positive impact of such policies is strongly supported by the evidence of the first generation broadband transition.
The importance of these policies in other countries is particularly surprising in the context of U.S. policy debates throughout most of this decade. While Congress adopted various open access provisions in the almost unanimously-approved Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC decided to abandon this mode of regulation for broadband in a series of decisions in 2001 and 2002. Open access has been largely treated as a closed issue in U.S. policy debates ever since. Yet the evidence suggests that transposing the experience of open access policy from the first generation transition to the next generation is playing a central role in current planning exercises throughout the highest performing countries. In Japan and South Korea, the two countries that are half a generation ahead of the next best performers, this has taken the form of opening up not only the fiber infrastructure (Japan) but also requiring mobile broadband access providers to open up their networks to competitors.
In leading countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, following the earlier example of the United Kingdom, regulators are addressing the complexities of applying open access policy to next-generation infrastructure by pushing their telecommunications incumbents to restructure their operations and functionally separate their units that sell access to network infrastructure from their units that sell connectivity directly to consumers. Moreover, countries that long resisted the implementation of open access policies, Switzerland and New Zealand, changed course and shifted to open access policies in 2006.
We should do this! The main common denominator, I think, is that the high-performing countries are generally places where electronics manufacturers have more political clout than telecom firms and thus are able to force implementation of these open access policies. The United States, meanwhile, is really shooting ourselves in the foot. The software/media nexus of industries is very important to our economy—these are the things we do well—and we’re letting ourselves be stifled by basically useless telecom firms.