The Republican leadership, such as it is, seems to have settled on a strategy of “repeal and replace" for healthcare reform and the coming election. I’m sorry to have to tell them, but even with gains in November, they won’t be able to overcome a veto. The best hope for repeal is if the incumbent president is defeated in 2012 and both the Senate and House are in Republican hands. Good luck with that.
Still, that’s the strategy they’re going to pursue. Not so much because Republicans have any principles, as Dan has been pointing out, but because they want to tap into the anger and discontent that’s manifesting as the Tea Party movement. What I’m afraid of, though, is that the Republicans, and the broader “liberty movement” in general, have little idea of what the Tea Party is all about.
In his latest column, Ron Brownstein describes skepticism about the health care bill, and big government in general, as centered in the white non-college-educated middle class:
Obama has already been hurt by the perception, fanned by Republicans, that the principal beneficiaries of his efforts to repair the economy are the same interests that broke it: Wall Street, big banks, and the wealthy. The belief that Washington has transferred benefits up the income ladder is pervasive across society but especially pronounced among white voters with less than a college education, the group that most resisted Obama in 2008. Now health care could threaten Democrats from the opposite direction by stoking old fears, particularly among the white working class, that liberals are transferring income down the income ladder to the “less deserving.”
Without commenting on the validity of the perceptions he describes, think Brownstein’s right about the demographic provenance of the Tea Party folks. This reminds me of two things.
One is an essay by Michael Brendan Dougherty about the late radical right-wing writer Sam Francis. It was in that article that I first learned about the anti-elitist social commentary of Francis and James Burnham. The gist is that democracy is a sham masking control by a managerial class of elites at the expense of the traditional (read white) working class. Michael’s article is worth a read, and I’ll probably plumb Francis’s and Burnham’s work as I look more into the Tea Party movement.
The other thing I’m reminded of is the 1993 Michael Douglas movie Falling Down. It’s probably not a coincidence this movie came out when it did, sandwiched between the Perot candidacy and the Republican Revolution in Congress. The movie is a garbage heap of cliches, but it anticipates the directionless anger that I see in the Tea Party today.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but let’s just say that it’s a general unease with the siren song of a relatively successful mass movement. I see it luring not just the Republican Party, but the somewhat more intelligent parts of the free market movement as well.
I think I can be forgiven a lack of specificity in my unease since there’s no one who can tell me what exactly the Tea Party is about. Someone recently told me quite astutely that the Tea Party is like Barack Obama’s candidacy, a blank canvas on which we can all project our hopes and aspirations. And that’s what I’m worried about. Well-meaning folks are trying to co-opt the movement for their more-identifiably-pro-liberty ends, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a fit.
The Tea Party seems to be an anti-elite, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, populist grab bag of emotion. And while I can’t blame them for the sentiment given how Washington’s been performing as of late, I’m not crazy about the amorphousness of it all.
“Not every President goes for the multipen signature, however. President George W. Bush preferred signing bills with only one pen and then offering several unused “gift” pens as souvenirs.”—TIME (Always the pragmatist.)
Why do [dermatologists] say that [you should avoid all sun exposure]?
They are heavily invested, I think, with the cosmetics industry. The American Academy of Dermatology just had their annual meeting in Miami Beach. It was huge. Many of the major cosmetic companies were there, and they were spending thousands of dollars just to be out there and promote their products to the dermatologists.
In 2004, you were fired from Boston University’s department of dermatology by Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, who was head of the department.
She called me into her office and said that she couldn’t have somebody in her department recommending sun exposure.
At the time, she also questioned whether your findings had been compromised by money you received from the tanning industry. You received research money from the Indoor Tanning Association.
That’s not true. The money came from the UV Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Indoor Tanning Association.
From a NYT interview with Dr. Michael Hollick. When is it proper to question motives? Only after you’ve made a strong case on the merits?
It’s this built-in community — a more formal linkage than most traditional blogs have — that leads to Tumblr’s focus on curation. According to Tumblr’s Web site, each month the average user creates 14 original posts, half of which are photos, and reblogs three. If you follow someone because you love her impeccable taste in vintage photos of Stevie Nicks, you might find that she is frequently reblogging from another Tumblr — and then start following that tumblelogger, too. It’s akin to the way that taste organically develops; you like a band, and you hear them mention an influence, and then you go out and buy that record, too.
If you don’t know what Tumblr is, I suggest you check it out. Here is my tumblr, here is Dan Rothschild’s, here is Robert Reich’s and here’s Merlin Mann’s. The article makes the point that the unlike blogs, tumblelogs are not about original content so much as about curation of other people’s content. My tumblr is an idiosyncratic collection of things I like or find amusing. If you share my tastes, you’ll enjoy it. Other tumblrs curate a particular topic. There are many “Fuck Yeah” tumblelogs, such as Fuck Yeah DC, Fuck Yeah Lost, Fuck Yeah Leonard Nimoy, and one of my favorites, Fuck Yeah Owls. It therefore surprises me that the ratio of original to reblogged content is so high.
Reading Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy a while back, I thought he might as well have been writing about Tumblr. The (autistic) notion of breaking down culture into tiny fragments and then ordering them however makes sense to us is basically what Tumblr is about. In many ways Marginal Revolution is a lot more like a tumblelog than a typical blog.
The community aspect of Tumblr that the American Prospect article lauds is possible because Tumblr combines the best parts of the open web and walled gardens like Facebook. Unlike Facebook, your tumblelog is visible to the wider web and anyone can view and link to you. You could visit a tumblelog and not realize that it’s hosted at Tumblr. However, if you are a Tumblr user, you will know that you’re looking at a Tumblr site and you can choose to “follow” or subscribe to the site. You then experience the content inside of Tumblr’s interface, which makes much easier and enjoyable to consume lots of content, much like Facebook’s news stream. And like with Facebook’s interface, it’s easy to “like” and reblog content, and that’s where the community forms.
Other great tumblelogs: Soxiam, Westworld, Stare Hard, Yeah, I Was in the Shit.
I was quoted yesterday in this NY Times article about Edward Tufte joining the RAT Board:
Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at George Mason University, has been monitoring the stimulus at his site, stimuluswatch.org.
“What we want is the raw data. We don’t need a beautiful site,” Mr. Brito said.
In fact, he says that recovery.gov is too flashy and too crowded, and uses maps too much instead of simple tables. “Tufte can do a lot of good here,” he said. “There is a lot of low-hanging fruit.”
Today I e-mailed a link to a New York Times article (which will run tomorrow on the front page) about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s proposed budget cuts. I made a special point of copying and pasting the third paragraph, which read in its entirety:
Upending the priorities of his Democratic predecessors, Governor Christie unveiled a budget that would hit the poor, elderly, schoolchildren, college students and inner-city residents hardest, while largely sparing the wealthy and businesses.
When my friend went to read the piece, he noticed that the paragraph I had sent had been changed to this:
Democrats were quick to characterize Mr. Christie’s proposal as falling disproportionately on the backs of the middle class, the poor, the elderly, schoolchildren, college students and inner-city residents, while leaving largely unscathed the wealthy and most businesses.
So, I guess kudos to the NYT for getting it better the second time. This seems to be an artifact of news on the web and the rush to publish in real time without much editing. There’s a reason, though, why bloggers have settled on a norm of using strikethrough when making major modifications to their posts.
Since World War II, the number of seats in Congress occupied by former Congressional staffers has dramatically increased, with many in the positions once held by their former bosses.
In the current session of Congress alone, 75 one-time staffers are now Members, according to CQ’s Politics in America. Of this group, a survey by Congress.org found that over two dozen inherited the seats of retired Members they once worked for.
And at least six staffers are currently vying for seats in elections coming up this year.
Today is the first day of Sunshine Week and I want to tell you about a project Jim Harper, Gunnar Hellekson and I have organized called EarmarkData.org.
Congress recently changed its rules to require members to disclose their earmark requests online. Unfortunately, they don’t disclose these in any consistent way. You have to hunt for where each member has decided to place their disclosure, so there’s no way to systematically analyze earmark data. The White House has promised to give us a unified database of earmarks, but so far hasn’t acted.
EarmarkData.org serves two purposes: First, it’s a petition that you can sign, asking the president and members of Congress to keep their promise and to give us earmark information in a meaningful data format that is truly transparent. Second, it’s a place for techies to help refine a data standard that Congress and the administration can use. We have a draft schema that we’re happy to give to Congress.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. Why waste our time on earmarks when they only make such a tiny fraction of federal spending? Several reasons. First, I believe in incremental change, and if we can make a difference on this margin, I feel I’m earning my keep. Second, earmark spending may be small, but it is an enabler for bigger spending. Earmarks are how members are often repaid for their votes, and shedding light on this is a worthwhile endeavor. Finally, a more transparent earmark process can only help underscore what’s wrong with Washington and why we need institutional reform.
A grad student I’m working with is writing a paper about alternative financing. There are peer-to-peer lending services like Kiva and Prosper, then there are services that focus on equity. Alex Tabarrok recently linked to Thrust Fund, which allows students to finance their education by paying a share of their lifetime income to their investors.
I’m very interested in yet another model: donation-based for-profit funding. Kickstarter is the poster child for this concept. An indie band can seek funds (say $5,000) to finance recording an album. Fans can make contributions large and small. They are incentivized because they receive rewards for their contributions. Donations of $5 of more might get you access to the band’s behind-the-scenes blog, $1000 might get you and some friends backstage at a show. The trick is that none of the funds are released until the fundraising goal is met. Kickstarter takes a small cut for facilitating the transaction.
Today I’ve come across another donation-based funding site that predates Kickstarter by a few years and is very alternative. MyFreeImplants.com is exactly what you think it is. From an article about the site:
Guys who are willing to front the $9.95 monthly membership fee get chat access to every woman on the site, along with access to each woman’s photo galleries, blog, and whatnot.
Benefactors can donate money directly to their favorites; the women can send spicy photos and the like to their benefactors in return if they so choose.
No phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or other contact information is exchanged — the guys give money without ever getting to meet the girls. All benefactor bucks are collected by the site management and held in escrow by an associated trust for each client’s benefit.
Once a given woman on the site racks up enough benefactor bucks to pay for her procedure, the trust pays the doctor out of escrow—in full, and in cash.
After the surgery, women who have their breast enhancement funded by MyFreeImplants.com are contractually obligated to stay on the site for six months, chatting with their benefactors and providing them with confidential “after” photos for scrapbooking purposes.
In this case the company keeps the money in escrow, which raises many questions, such as what happens if the goal isn’t met, and who keeps the interest the money earns in escrow? Kickstarter, on the other hand, doesn’t collect a penny until the goal is met. I wonder if women seeking implants might move to Kickstarter since it seems to offer them more flexibility.
What’s really exciting about this model is it can help solve some basic collective action problems. As Mancur Olsen found, you get can organize a big group only if you give folks an “individualized benefit,” and this seems to fit the bill. I predict political candidacies and grassroots issue campaigns funded this way. Any ideas for a project we could start?
Cass Sunstein gave a talk at Brookings today about “the power of open government.” (Transcript here.) He stressed the key points of the administration’s Open Government Directive: transparency, collaboration, and participation. What I found interesting, though, is that all the examples he gave of open government were in fact examples of someone besides government being open.
He cited the new product recall database from the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a great example of open government. He also mentioned a tire safety ratings database from DoT, the toxic release inventory from EPA, nutrition labeling, FAA flight delay information, and OSHA workplace death tallies. I’m glad these data are public, but these are not about open government.
As Sunstein said, disclosure is a “high impact, low cost” form of regulation. It keeps actors accountable for their performance and this nudges them to behave well. But if disclosure works for regulated industries, it should work for government, too. To me that’s what open government is about—government disclosing its own performance, not just the performance of those it regulates.
Sunstein did mention the new OIRA dashboard, which is meant to give users a view to all of the Office’s open proceedings. (The site, however, was down during his talk—and still is as of this writing—because it is “experiencing technical difficulties.”) First, I haven’t seen any data in the new dashboard that wasn’t previously available at RegInfo.gov. Second, we need more than just disclosure of what matters are before OIRA now, we need information on performance, something Brookings’s Ted Gayer alluded to when he asked about the prospects of more retrospective review.
For example, Sunstein talked about the President’s SAVE Award program, which asks federal employees to submit ideas for budget savings. Thousands were collected and voted on and the winner was a VA employee who suggested that patients be allowed to take unused medicines home with them. Previously, unused portions of medicine were thrown away when the patient was discharged. Wonderful idea and a very laudable process of collaboration and participation to get at it.
My question is about transparency in performance: what happened to the administator(s) under whom drugs were systematically wasted? Were they fired or reprimanded? Did we at least have a management review of how such a policy came to be? Not to be punitive, but accountability must have consequences.
The award for academic entrepreneurialism goes to Alex Leavitt & Tim Hwang who earlier this week release the paper “Chatroulette: An Initial Surey.” Conducted over two days, the study “sampled 201 ChatRoulette sessions, noting characteristics such as group size and gender.”
They find that Chatroulette is “a probabilistic community: a community shaped by a platform which mediates the encounters between its users by eliminating lasting connections between them.” Uh-huh. I think it’s just easier to say that it’s a microcosm of the larger (and earlier) Internet—exhibitionists of the world, meet the voyeurs.
Putting the sample size aside, they found some interesting stats. Males accounted for 87% of their sessions, and 5% of chatters were exposing their genitals. While those two figures are probably related, “This suggests that—in spite of common assumptions—that the large majority of ChatRoulette users do not utilize the platform for sexual purposes.”
They finally make some interesting predictions about where Chatroulette, as a probabilistic community, will head.
After ChatRoulette users become more acquainted with the system (ie., do not browse solely to explore), we predict a decrease in explicit content, an increase in the consolidation of content genres, and an increase in the formation of celebrity figures.
Anyhow, this is all by way of making an excuse to link to this short video I made of persons on Chatroulette reacting to seeing Numa Numa Kid presented as their chat partner. Enjoy.