Scared? I am.

Lately on the show, I’ve been talking a lot about my growing fear of right-wing extremism.

We’ve received a few comments from listeners, mostly accusing me of being a bit hysterical about the whole thing. And while I generally understand that criticism, I do think that the country’s taking an ugly turn.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so:

No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

Rich — somewhat unusually — has quite a bit of fact packed into his piece. Anyone who isn’t worried about the dark turn America has taken would do well to give it a read.

McGinn Walks Back Staff Cuts

Mayor Mike McGinn, whom we supported for mayor when it Greg Nickels was eliminated, is turning out to be pretty ineffective in his first month or so on the job.

He’s now having to walk back his proposed staff cuts in the face of opposition from the entrenched bureaucracy:

During his campaign, McGinn promised repeatedly that if elected, he would cut hundreds of “political appointees” added by his predecessor Greg Nickels—strategic advisors and “senior management” who owe their jobs to political patronage. The claim, a staple of McGinn’s stump speech, was a red-meat line for the fiscal-conservative wing of his supporters.

The problem, as the testimony at this morning’s meeting laid plain, is that most of the folks McGinn is targeting aren’t political appointees at all. In fact, the majority of those who spoke this morning have been at the city for many years or decades. And many were elevated to their current positions after taking on new responsibilities, or, ironically, as a way of saving money—because strategic advisors are management, they aren’t paid overtime for working extra hours.

Come on dude, get it together.

Instant Runoff Voting at the Oscars

Every once in a while, there are glimmers of hope for American democracy.

I’ve been complaining for the last few weeks to anyone who will listen that the increase from 5 Best Picture Nominees to 10 is a bad move, because it will increase the randomness — for lack of a better word — of the winner. When you have 10 choices, I argued, then a movie could theoretically win with 11% of the vote. In other words, the Best Picture of the Year could be a film that 89% of voters didn’t consider to be the best picture of the year.

Happily, I was wrong! The Academy is using a fantastic voting strategy called instant runoff voting (a.k.a. Ranked Choice Voting). IRV lets you rank your preferences, so that if your first choice is eliminated, your vote goes to the second or third choices, if they are still in contention.

Voting-reform nerds love IRV because it means you can register a preference for a candidate without “throwing your vote away” on a long-shot. If we had IRV in the 2000 presidential elections, for example, one could vote for Ralph Nader as #1 and Al Gore as #2. If Nader didn’t garner enough votes to qualify, the ballots that listed Gore in the second slot would be added to his totals.

Defense Spending

On this week’s podcast, we discussed the President’s gimmicky pledge to freeze “non-defense” spending in 2011. For your edification, here’s a chart showing defense spending over recent years:

dod-budget1-480x357.jpg

To put that in context, the total discretionary budget for every other department of government combined — that’s education, HHS, agriculture, commerce, the VA, everything — totals $437B.

Eisenhower is rolling over in his grave.