Obama's Soft Paternalism
January 02, 2008

David Leonhardt has a very good piece in today's New York Times taking a look at the (relatively minor) philosophical differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on economic issues. Key takeaway: The easiest way to describe Senator Clinton’s philosophy is to say that she believes in the promise of narrowly tailored government policies, like focused tax cuts. She has more faith that government can do what it sets out to do, which is a traditionally liberal view. Yet she also subscribes to the conservative idea that people respond rationally to financial incentives.

"the Caucus Racket"
January 02, 2008

Leave it to Christopher Hitchens to write the most spot-on take down of the Iowa Caucus, rife with "open corruption," "Tammany tactics," and "mini-bribes." Hitchens illustrates the depths to which our democracy has sunk in detailing the Obama campaign's sending instructional DVDs to caucus-goers' homes; "Nobody needs a DVD to understand one-person-one-vote, a level playing field, and a secret ballot." Of course the secret ballot -- fundamental to any democratic process -- is absent in the caucus, replaced by a bizarre, Midwestern public shaming ritual straight out of a Garrison Keillor novel,

A Losing Strategy For Death Penalty Opponents
December 31, 2007

Orin Kerr over at The Volokh Conspiracy has a nice primer on Baze v. Rees, the Kentucky case the Supreme Court will hear next week challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution. It's particularly interesting that one of the key questions in the case--is there any readily available method of execution that would involve less risk of pain than the current three-drug cocktail?--remains hazy, in part because doctors are prohibited from participating in executions.

The Mccain Surge ... In Iowa
December 31, 2007

Time's Michael Scherer had a nice piece Thursday about the GOP battle for third here, which could turn out to be nearly as important as the Huckabee/Romney fight for first. One interesting nugget: His new position on the issue is a substantial shift from last year, when Thompson said in a Fox News interview that it was not realistic to expel the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants who are here. "You're going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship," he told Hannity and Colmes in April of 2006.

Palestinian Collaborators Then And Now
December 24, 2007

I've just finished a truly intriguing book.  It is called Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 and is the product of what is clearly a daring mind, that is the mind of Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The book bears two blurbs: one from Zachary Lockman, director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies at N.Y.U., who last appeared in the news as a signatory to the international petition calling on universities and colleges to boycott Israeli academics.  The second blurb was by Tom Segev, an Israeli version of Alexander Cockburn: "all that the hom

Biden Alert!
December 22, 2007

For our small-but-passionate band of Biden devotees: An AP story on Biden's hopes for placing third in Iowa: He draws enthusiastic crowds to his events and last week began his first sustained TV ad campaign.

Is Huck Going To Lose His Cool?
December 21, 2007

Iowa City, Iowa One of the big topics of conversation among the reporters following Huckabee is if or when the famously thin-skinned governor will lash out at someone in a way that sets him back. I personally don't think it's going to happen. The Huckabee campaign isn't the most disciplined operation, to say the least. And Huckabee is hardly the most disciplined candidate. (That honor probably goes to Romney--or at least it did before the "definition of saw" fiasco.) But if there's one thing Huckabee knows absolutely can't happen, it's some kind of blow-up.

When Journalists Play At "real Jobs"
December 19, 2007

There's a first-person piece in today's WaPo by a reporter who spent a day working at Sam's Club to get a sense of what it's like to be a holiday retail employee. The unsurprising answer: It sucks.  All things considered, this particular piece is likeable enough: faintly amusing if not terribly enlightening. But more broadly, this genre of journalism is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, it's lovely that reporters want to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. But there's a big difference between pinch hitting for a day and working at something for even a couple of weeks.

Death Waits
December 17, 2007

Today, New Jersey became the first state to ban the death penalty since it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. In honor of the development, I wanted to link to this 1998 piece by Jonathan Rauch on uncertainty and the death penalty, which is among the most thoughtful essays I can recall ever reading on a matter of public policy: In 1868, John Stuart Mill rose in Parliament to make the case for death as eloquently as human words permit.

Helping Ex-cons Find Work
December 13, 2007

Brad's post below on the re-entry of newly released prisoners into mainstream society touches on an important issue that was a subject of much discussion at a fascinating Brookings Institution panel yesterday on facilitating and rewarding work (see here for their solid policy recommendations). Bruce Western, a sociologist whose work focuses on the social effects of incarceration, gave a talk in which he recommended, as Brad does, that states adopt incentives for employers to hire newly released prisoners. The panel discussion following Dr.