YK Report

By Sean Carroll | August 6, 2007 10:47 am

Just a brief note to report that we have escaped from Yearly Kos unscathed. The science panel was a great success; Chris Mooney and Ed Brayton gave sparkling talks, Tara Smith moderated with aplomb, Lindsay Beyerstein snapped pictures, and the whole thing went smoothly due to the organizational skills of Stephen DarkSyde and Jennifer “Unstable Isotope” Thompson. The hot lights of CNN and C-SPAN glared down upon us, but we refused to wilt. Ed has a brief report here, and Chris describes the session in detail at the Huffington Post.

The conference highlight was the Democratic Presidential candidates’ forum, featuring all of the major candidates not from Delaware. (See reports on the forum here, here, here, and a convention overview by Ezra Klein here.) It was a sprightly debate, ably moderated by Matt Bai. Despite (or perhaps because of) the restriction to very brief answers, real distinctions between the candidates did shine through. Bill Richardson, for example, actually volunteered his support for a balanced-budget amendment, essentially removing himself from consideration as a serious candidate. John Edwards was slick and said good things, but that was in part because he ignored all of the questions. Hillary Clinton was, predictably, strong and well-informed, but this wasn’t her crowd. She bobbled a question about accepting donations from lobbyists, claiming that just because she took money doesn’t mean she would be influenced by the lobbying. My own biggest problem with Hillary is that she’s too willing to buy into a dramatically reductive view of how the world works, whether in all sincerity or just as a political stance. She dismissed the importance of anti-American sentiment in the world, claiming it was just anti-Bush sentiment, and claimed that we were now safer because we have to take our shoes off before passing through airport security.

I’m a longtime Barack Obama supporter, and the convention reinforced my feeling. His performance at the forum was careful and specific, not letting his charisma shine through, but he was enormously compelling in a breakout session afterward. Obama gets what it’s like to live in a complicated world, because he encapsulates a complicated world all by himself: American mother, Kenyan father, born in Hawaii, lived for four years in Indonesia as a child, educated at Harvard, trained as a street organizer in Chicago. He has an incremental but ambitious health care plan, and was anti-war from the start. Still, I’d be absolutely thrilled to support any of Obama/Clinton/Edwards against any of the embarrassments currently in contention for the Republican nomination. It’s an incredibly strong Democratic field, which is something I never thought I’d see.

But the really interesting news (to me) at the conference was that Bill Foster is running for Congress. Bill’s name might not be familiar to you unless you’re a particle physicist — he’s played a major role in a number of particle-physics experiments, including Fermilab’s antiproton Recycler Ring. Before becoming a physicist, he became independently wealthy when he and his brother founded a company (while at college) that has become the world’s leading provider of lighting systems for theaters. He’s running in Dennis Hastert’s district, although it’s not yet clear whether Hastert himself will be standing for re-election. It’s a Republican district, but not so much so that we couldn’t imagine taking it in a year when Republicans are as unpopular as they’ve been in recent memory. You can donate here to Bill’s campaign.

Wearing the little blue tag that identified me as a speaker at Yearly Kos, I was warned on multiple occasions to be on the lookout for Fox News and other nefarious media outlets, who were said to be lying in wait to ambush the innocent Kossacks, hoping to record them saying outrageous things for later broadcast. I was really looking forward to being thus ambushed, but it never happened. I spent hours lurking in the public areas, doing my best to look vulnerable and yet potentially outrageous, but no luck. My inevitable on-air showdown with Bill O’Reilly will have to wait for some other day.

p.s. It’s true, we did have non-YK fun while in Chicago. I’ll report later on our restaurant exploits, but I’d be remiss not to mention the trouncing at poker that was administered by Jeff Harvey on Friday night, thus falsifying (or at least offering one data point against) my conjecture about string theorists. Jeff had been dominating the local game since I left for California, and he proved on Friday that his success was no fluke. Or maybe it has been a fluke, but it’s a consistent one. Until next time, anyway.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet, Politics, Travel
  • Bill Foster

    Hey Sean, thanks for the shout out. I’ve been really encouraged by the support of physicists and scientists in the community.

    Look forward to bringing real change in Washington and especially to our science policy.

    Thanks again,


  • David Buchanan

    I am kinda curious. How does supporting a responsible balanced budget amendment, one that calls for exceptions during war or economic crisis, remove a candidate from contention as a serious candidate? Does that mean in order to be a serious candidate, someone must support deficit spending? Ah, that’s why we only have one governor running for President. Only Governors have responsibility for balancing expenditures against revenues.

    So, please tell me, what is wrong with living within our means as a country? You have to do it, I have to do it, businesses have to do it or they go bankrupt. Why not the country?

    A Balanced Budget Amendment simply means you pay as you go. If you want a new program, then find the money for it first; either by reducing one program or raising revenue.

    Hmmmm……that’s what I do when I want to make a purchase.

    Just makes good sense….

  • JimV

    David Buchanan beat me to it, but I didn’t get the memo about balanced-budget amendments either. Unworkable in general, even with exceptions built in? Richardson’s specific version no good?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    The balanced-budget amendment, I don’t know where to start. I presume you guys don’t believe in mortgages, either? Thinking that a BBA is a bad idea is one of those rare positions that bring libertarians and liberals together. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a useful overview.

    Here’s a stab: (1) The whole thing is ridiculously ill-defined, as the budget is an estimate of next year’s spending vs. revenue. (2) Zero public debt would actually be a bad thing, as it destroys the ability of the federal government to effectively manage the money supply. (The feds have different responsibilities than states, you know.) Some debt is a good idea. (3) The “exceptions” will either be too narrow to be give the desired flexibility, or so broad that the whole thing will be useless. Not to mention (4) in our actual world, a BBA is only supported by people who lack the willpower to actually balance the damn budget, and want a cheap symbolic action.

    Getting the budget close to balance is a good idea, and can be done without mucking around with the Constitution. Clinton and Congress actually did it, remember? Constitutional amendments are almost always publicity stunts, not thoughtful policy proposals.

  • Myhatma Gander

    The Republicans make me sick. But then I look at the Kossacks, with all those pious “progressive values”, and I just want to laugh. What a choice.

    *The* worst thing GWB has done is to make both brands of bullshit more powerful. Come back Mr Clinton, all is forgiven.

  • http://www.lepp.cornell.edu/spr/2000-11/msg0029236.html Neil B.

    Yes, Obama is appealing but many of us do worry about inexperience. However, some points to keep in mind, that are already being confused or misrepresented by either careless mediawonks or Obama’s enemies:

    1. Obama didn’t say, that he wouldn’t ask Musharraf first about striking in Pakistan. He also didn’t say he’d topple Mushie or such. He said, if Mushie wouldn’t agree, then we’d strike (like in Waziristan) if we had a major target like Osama or maybe nuclear prep. site (terrorist, not Pakistani.) Now, what right-winger wouldn’t get raves for saying that? So they can’t honestly criticize Obama for that. If they mean, he shouldn’t have said it, maybe – but what is a candidate supposed to do if asked about that, just give another mushy answer about Mushie? Maybe it was better to go ahead and say what most Presidents would actually do if enough danger existed, that’s part of Obama’s approach versus the same old doubletalk, isn’t it?

    2. There’s no contradiction between Obama first saying that he’d meet with some unsavory world leaders, and he’s against the war in Iraq, versus the threat described in #1. Meeting with the leaders doesn’t mean you can’t do something ugly once in a while around them, and such meetings happen partly to tell them what they can and can’t get away with (it is rather strongly suspected that we told Pakistan after 9-11, they’d be toast if they didn’t cooperate. I don’t know how literal “toast” is here, but…)

    Also, being against a given badly conceived and executed war is not being a peacenick, that would be contradictory about striking against more immediate enemies in an effective way. Indeed, lots of Democrats’ gripe against Bush’s Iraq misadventure was that we should have finished up better in Afghanistan and maybe even made some incursions into Pakistan instead.

    3. About saying no nukes, well…I’ll pass on that, since there is a lot of deep gaming about what we should say. But even then, maybe lots of voters actually want to know what a candidate thinks. In any case, it’s premature to rule out Obama as serious on defense and rule Hillary in as the required front runner.

    For comparison, here is some of what Hillary and others said about the same subject:

    Clinton, 8/2: “… (Clinton) did not rule out U.S. attacks inside Pakistan, citing the missile attacks her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, ordered against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998.

    “‘If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,’ (Clinton) said.”


    Edwards, 8/2:

    “My belief is that we have a responsibility to find bin Laden and al Qaeda wherever they operate,” Edwards said on camera. “I think we need to maximize pressure on Musharraf and the Pakistani government. If they can’t do the job, then we have to do it.”

    via Kos, Link

    Well, it now looks like Hillary will be it, but Obama had a good run at it, and still has a chance.
    If it’s both: Hillary-Obama, the rednecks will never live it down if they win… Black man and white woman together in the White House! (Well, technically the Veep lives down the road, but the idea…)

  • http://www.lepp.cornell.edu/spr/2000-11/msg0029236.html Neil B.

    Hey, this automated political argument bot is great fun:


  • Pingback: Hey, I Uploaded a Video | Cosmic Variance()


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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