Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hendrick Hertzberg has an interesting breakdown of the various ways of calculating the popular vote numbers of Clinton and Obama in the Democratic primary. According to one method, Obama's ahead by about 500,000 votes; according to another, Clinton leads by 121,000. The numbers vary due whether or not Florida and Michigan are counted, whether some caucuses are counted, and how the "uncommitted" votes in Michigan are counted (Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan--only Clinton was--so, even though Clinton won a majority there, there are hundreds of thousands of "uncommitted" voters who may have been favoring Obama). Hertzberg lays out one scenario in which claims about the popular vote could be muddled enough to give Clinton an opening to argue for her popular legitimacy:

I calculate that roughly another four and a half million people will vote in the remaining Democratic primaries. If Clinton wins these by the overall margin she piled up in Pennsylvania—i.e., around ten points, 55-45—she will net another 450,000 votes.

Here’s what that would do to the margins in our eight categories, in the order I’ve discussed them, starting with just the D.N.C.-approved primaries down to the two “corrected” (by me) Michigan-included ones:

Regular primaries:

Obama’s margin: 51,298

Regular + four caucus states:

Obama’s margin: 161,520

Regular + Florida:

Clinton’s margin: 243,474

Regular + Florida + caucuses:

Clinton’s margin: 133,252

Regular + Florida + Michigan:

Clinton’s margin: 571,783

Regular + Florida + Michigan + caucuses:

Clinton’s margin: 461,561

Regular + Florida + Michigan + uncommitted:

Clinton’s margin: 371,783

Regular + Florida + Michigan + caucuses + uncommitted:

Clinton’s margin: 261,561

In other words, Clinton would have a case. Obama would have one, too—he’d still be a little bit ahead in the popular vote according to to the rules everybody agreed upon in advance, and he would definitely be ahead in elected delegates. She would have a popular vote lead in all the count-Florida-and-Michigan categories. But neither candidate could any longer plausibly claim that he or she was unambiguously the people’s choice.

Of course, that presumes she can win by ten points in every state, and a ten-point victory doesn't seem too likely in North Carolina for starters....Based on his speculations, Hertzberg says that, for every point less than ten in Clinton's overall post-PA lead, Obama nets 45,000 votes. Timothy Noah's claiming that any hope of a Clinton win is a "fairy tale," but Hertzberg thinks that there's a possibility of a "rough" popular vote tie (and thinks that the popular vote will matter a lot) and seems to suggest that the race may not be over yet.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Virginia's Prince William County changes some of its policies for last year's immigration-enforcement laws. Now, instead of having police checking the immigration status of all those suspected of a crime, it will check the immigration status of only those arrested for a crime. (H/T Matt Yglesias)
David Freddoso draws attention to a report by scientists that places part of the blame for spiraling food prices on the embrace of food-based biofuels (like ethanol). This report suggests that a moratorium of food-based biofuels could cut corn prices by as much as 20%. A World Bank study has claimed that the 60% rise in corn prices can be traced to the US ethanol program. Some at the White House put a lower rate of influence for the biofuel program.
Lester Brown and Jonathan Lewis, associated with two prominent environmental groups, think that ethanol has provided limited energy benefit and significant environmental damage. They provide this statistic: the US last year "burned about a quarter of its corn supply as fuel," and, for this quarter, saw oil consumption drop by 1%. That's a lot of corn! Transferring corn to ethanol takes a lot of (coal-based) energy, and the extension of corn crops would itself entail certain environmental pressures, so it's unclear how much energy/environmental benefit is derived from ethanol mandates. They urge Congress and other government institutions to withdraw biofuel mandates. President Bush remains a strong supporter of ethanol.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rather than engaging the main thrust of Michael Hirsh's essay claiming that the US has become a bastion of Southern intolerance, I'll instead make a cheap shot about a detail:
What does seem foreign to us today is the dedication to free thought and, even more, free moral choice that so dominated the correspondence between those two great minds [of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson]. When Jefferson, in his letter of May 5, 1817, condemned the "den of the priesthood" and "protestant popedom" represented by Massachusetts' state-supported church, he was speaking for both of them--the North and South poles of the revolution. Yet John McCain, even with the GOP nomination in hand, would never dare repeat his brave but politically foolhardy condemnation of the religious right in 2000 as "agents of intolerance." Why? Because we have become an intolerant nation, and that's what gets you elected.
Without wanting to take anything away either Jefferson or Adams or their intellectual seriousness, I think Hirsh's comparison is inapt. There's a big difference between a statement written in private correspondence between two ex-presidents (Adams was out of office for over sixteen years and Jefferson for over eight years by the time this letter was written) and a statement given by a presidential candidate on the campaign trail. It certainly wasn't very politically risky for Jefferson to attack Massachusetts religious laws after he'd left the highest executive office in the land (and some might see the "den of the priesthood" comment as not particularly tolerant, either).
And what did McCain say about the "religious right" in 2000? It doesn't sound like he condemned the "religious right" as a whole back then:
Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.
He does call Robertson and Falwell "agents of intolerance," but are they the whole of the "religious right"? Maybe Hirsh thinks they are. Though, to be fair to Hirsh, McCain did reconcile with Falwell and did go to speak at Falwell's Liberty University, so McCain obviously has backtracked from that earlier statement.