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August 2009

Station Fire: Mount Wilson Observatory

As of 7:34 PM PDT:

Mount Wilson Observatory Battles Station Fire for Another Long Night: The... photo is from the Mount Wilson Observatory webcam at 7:34pm.  The TV antennas are still standing, as is the historical landmark of the century old Mount Wilson Observatory.  Thought to be a goner last night, it will once again be a long night for the brave firefighters battling the march of flames...

Mount Wilson Observatory Battles Station Fire for Another Long Night.gif

As of 8:58 PM EDT, things look bleak for Mt. Wilson:

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Joe Klein on "Bipartisanship" in Health Care Reform

Joe Klein:

Adios - Swampland - Looks like the charade of including Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi in the health care negotiations is over. It is not impossible that other Republicans who are not Senators from Maine can be located to support health care reform. But it's also entirely possible that the Republicans will continue their kamikaze ways and oppose a reform that is likely to prove very popular with the American public when it's enacted (which is why, in truth, the GOP nihilists oppose it).

There are still some real problems the legislation is facing, especially if the rougher edges of the House bill--insufficient attention to cost controls, the public option--aren't sanded down. More than a few Democratic Senators and Representatives are going to have to summon a bit of courage to vote for any form of health reform, especially those from moderate to conservative states (like Arkansas where 55% prefer Rush Limbaugh's vision of America to Barack Obama's, according to a recent poll). But it should be possible to find a more plausible funding source now, like the President's wise proposal that tax deductions for the wealthy be limited to the same rate as paid by the middle class. My guess is that the final bill will enable the Democratic caucus to be fairly united on this, and that a few Republicans will join in--and that we will have health care reform this year. It is liberating, however, to finally shed the dead weight of Grassley's know-nothingism and cowardice.

Firearms Are Tools; You Carry Tools When You Think You Might Use Them... (Atlantic Montly Crashed, Burned, and Smoking Watch)

Faisal Jawdat emails:

A friend's father waited 20 years for an opportunity to say "Hey, they shot 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They,' didn't they?" Another friend was then able to remark, "He said, 'hey, they shot 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They,' didn't they?' didn't he?" Of course then someone asked "You said, 'he said, 'hey, they shot, 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They,' didn't they,' didn't hey,' didn't you?"

With that in mind, I read John Cole reading Thomas Levenson reading Megan McCardle so, uh, no one has to:

Balloon Juice » Blog Archive » Dirty Jobs: Thomas Levenson deals with McMegan so you don’t have to.

Another Reason Why My Doctor Tells Me The Nation Shouldn’t Read Megan McArdle… « The Inverse Square Blog: [P]ieces like this actually evoke more of a sense of wonder than anything else — not merely at the banality and evil so neatly conjoined in its content, but at the astonishing reality that anyone who routinely writes such…how to put this…bonecrushingly stupid; water-her-twice-a day dumb; the wheel is spinning but the hamster’s dead material, still has a job, much less an apparently appreciative audience.... Her post is so full of different instances of nonsense, bad faith argument, sheer failure to understand what she seems to think she is talking about that she achieves a certain effect:  by seeding her post with so much to be debunked, she increases the odds that one whack-a-mole notion or another will slip past the defenses of rationality and real-world experience....

Where to begin? Oh yeah — keep it short....  [P]rotest may not satisfy the kool kid McArdle appears to imagine herself to be, but people have died in proving her wrong time and again within even her callow memory.  I’d add that he dismal track record of which McArdle writes exists, but should be sought in her own archives.

But I think people have a perfect right to do it, including with guns, though I also think the secret service is within its rights to ensure that they don’t have a sight line on the president.

That’s “Secret Service,” a proper name, not some generic function; and I’m sure its brave members sleep a little more soundly now that they know that Ms. McArdle has acknowledged her belief that they have the right to perform their duty.

But the hysteria about them has been even more ludicrous.  Numerous people claim to believe that this makes it likely, even certain, that someone will shoot at the president.

I call Inigo Montoya on her use of the word “ludicrous” in this context. And as for the “numerous people...” sentence... this is both a logical fallacy — the straw man again, in her assertion that the claim has been made that the presence of guns at rallies make it “certain” that someone will shoot President Obama.... I guess worrying about the fate of the president is risible to some, the real kicker here, of course lies with the remarkable statement that it’s ok to bring a loaded gun to protest a presidential visit because “most” won’t be “near” President Obama himself. It pains me to say something so utterly obvious and predictable but, if I may break the fourth wall for just a moment:  Ms McArdle.  Are you awake?  Sentient?  Even a little?  Remember, when it comes to bullets... It Only Takes One. And as for “near.”  I’m guessing that McArdle’s upbringing/background is once again suckering her into the realm of unknown unknowns here... guns are not in fact solely short-range weapons. The AR-15 rifle carried to the rally in Phoenix is a derivative of the military M-16... [with] an effective range of over 500 meters in its most common forms.  While I hope indeed that the Secret Service does indeed manage to control all the sightlines to the president, half a kilometer is not what I would call near... and McArdle, whatever she actually knows of modern firearms, certainly manages to convey in this post complete ignorance of the subject.


It is, I suppose, more plausible to believe that they might take a shot at someone else.  But not very plausible:  the rate of crime associated with legal gun possession or carrying seems to be very low. Guns, it turn out, do not turn ordinary people into murderers. They make murderers more effective.

Species of logical fallacy:  biased sample.  The relevant sample is not all those bearing guns legally, but all those bearing guns in a political context, and perhaps in the specific context of Presidential appearances. However you might want to begin analyzing it, the group of those who consider it a form of acceptable democratic speech to bear a loaded gun at a political rally is a distinct subset of gun owners, and the assertion that their behavior will track that of the group at large is both bad statistical reasoning and bad-faith argument, all rolled into one....

There is a false equivalence at work, to begin with. Birther and 9/11 conspiracy beliefs do not derive from the same underlying logical or empirical structure that the argument that the repeated incidence of bearing loaded firearms within the context of purportedly peaceful protest increases the risk of violence in the future. The prediction may be wrong — that is, we may go through an entire eight year Obama Presidency with nary a hint of gun violence in political contexts. But the argument that such violence is a reasonable thing to fear is a qualitatively different one from that required to believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary that Barack Obama is not legally the President of the United States.... Those who suggest that the presence of guns openly carried implies a series of risks — how many concealed weapons might be present; how much organization there might be in the insertion of armed protesters into the fabric of peaceful protest; how long it will take for over-the-top violent rhetoric to find a truly receptive ear amongst all these “patriots” — are not saying that any individual gun-toting asshole is a thug bent on murder. They are saying that the more useful idiots like McArdle legitimize the presence of guns in political discourse, the greater the risk we take that the guns will stop being symbols, and will reappear as the tools they are…tools that are capable of dealing deadly violence at a distance.

McArdle would rather not dwell on that ugly fact of guns.  They are not toys.  They are not megaphones.  They do not utter cute or funny or pointed commentary on the state of American polity today. They dispatch useful weights of metal at high speeds across considerable spaces with an accuracy restricted by the quality of the machine and the skill of its operator. Reality matters....

I was born in 1958.  Since then, there have been ten presidents who have served before the current incumbent:  Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II.  Of them, one was killed by a rifle.  Another had guns drawn on him twice in two weeks. A third was shot outside a Washington DC hotel by a deranged celebrity hound.  Three out of ten. More: Over the history of the presidency, ten out of the first 43 presidents were subject to attempted or successful assassinations.  Political violence is a fact of American history. Taking note of that risk is not mere mental masturbation, pleasuring ourselves in the contemplation of the demonic nature of the opposition. It is simple prudence.

Let enough people with guns get close enough to powerful people, and the American experience is that something bad will happen…at a rate approaching (and in recent times exceeding) one time out of four.  (And yes — I know about the sample size and so on...) Let’s add to that. You may have noticed that the current President doesn’t look like his 43 predecessors.  He is, not to put to fine a point on it, black, African American. McArdle may not wish to dwell on the subject, but there is something of a history of violence imposed on African American leaders in this country.  There is as well a hint of a racial overtone (ya think?– ed.) to at least some of the commentary around the Obama administration from the right. Put that together:  Obama is in an office that is historically a target; he is a member of a group that has been preferentially selected for deadly force in the context of political action; and there has been a demonstrable escalation of rhetoric against his policies and his person.

And thus the ironic (and that’s putting it nicely) grotesquery that is McArdle’s last line, a castigation of people like me who are, in her view, merely enjoying our fantasy of potential assassination:

Unfortunately, these sorts of fun pastimes are horribly corrosive to civic society.

Well, so they are, in the form committed by the disastrous McArdle.

And Josh Micah Marshall:

Gun-Toter From Obama Event: I, Like My Pastor, Want The President To Die : Chris Broughton, the man who brought an AR-15 rifle and a handgun to an Arizona Obama rally earlier this month, says he "concurs" with his fundamentalist pastor's prayer for President Obama "to die and go to hell."...

[P]astor Steven Anderson himself elaborated on his statement to TPMmuckraker that he would prefer Obama to die of natural causes so "he's not some martyr." "I don't want him to be a martyr, we don't need another holiday. I'd like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer," Anderson now says....

Broughton said of Anderson's controversial August 16 "Why I Hate Barack Obama" sermon: "I concur, I think we'd be better off if God would send [Obama] where he's going now instead of later. [Obama] is destroying our country." And when a reporter followed up with, "you're not advocating violence against the president?" Broughton, who has previously said his weapons are for defense, says "I'm not going to answer that question directly. I don't care how God does it, I'm not going into further detail than that," Broughton says. "It would be better now than later." In fact, Broughton added, he moved to the Tempe area to attend Anderson's storefront church, which is an "old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, separated Baptist church." Roughly 24 hours after attending Anderson's anti-Obama sermon, Broughton made national headlines when he showed up heavily armed to an Obama event in Phoenix.

You Mean 29% of Investors Are Keeping Their Money in Cerberus?

As Tanta wrote many years ago, why would anyone entrust their money to people who named their fund after the vicious three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell?

It is a mystery...

Tom Lindmark?

Investors Fleeing Cerberus | But Then What: I guess this isn’t a big surprise but probably worth noting anyway and I do have an ulterior motive for writing this post which I shall divulge at the end. At any rate, Cerberus, the giant operator of hedge funds not the mythical dog, is watching its investors leave in droves. Here is how the WSJ reports the news:

Investors in hedge funds run by Cerberus Capital Management LP, whose audacious multi-billion dollar bet on the U.S. auto industry went bust, are bolting for the door, clinching one of the highest-profile falls from grace of a superstar in the investment world. Clients are withdrawing more than $5.5 billion, or nearly 71% of the hedge fund assets, in response to big investment losses and their own need for cash, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We have been surprised by this response,” Cerberus chief Stephen Feinberg and co-founder William Richter wrote in a letter delivered to clients late Thursday. The client exodus is a reversal of fortune for Mr. Feinberg and Cerberus. The New York investment firm emerged as one of the most successful private-equity and hedge-fund firms over the last decade — an era when these vehicles for the rich used cheap money to snap up troubled companies and vowed that their financial wizardry would make their investors a fortune. But investments in those very assets — particularly Chrysler LLC and GMAC LLC — proved to be the Cerberus funds’ undoing.

Cerberus isn’t alone in seeing assets flee and its once-lucrative business crumble. The firm’s success and now its struggles mirror the bubble in so-called alternative investments over the past decade — and the air that has since come out of it.

That they are surprised that investors are voting with their feet may stand as testimony to the utter cluelessness of both men. Having invested several fortunes in industries that most undergraduates with a firm grounding in finance 101 could have told you would come to no good, Cerberus is quickly coming to be the Drexel Burnham of this generation of financiers. The real surprise is that 29% of their investors haven’t asked for their money back. And why did I want to put up this post. Well, to be perfectly honest, with Cerberus shrinking into a perfectly harmless little hedge fund I figured this might be the last time I get to use the picture of the “dog” and it is one of my favorites.

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Howard Kurtz Edition)

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Outsourced to Dean Baker:

Beat the Press Archive: Those of you who remember Paul Krugman's often harsh criticisms of Obama during the election campaign might be surprised to read Howard Kurtz's media column which puts him first among the disappointed former Obama cheerleaders. Krugman has certainly been critical of Obama's performance in office, but this is only news for Kurtz, not people familiar with Krugman's writings.

Yep. Kurtz writes:

Obama's Liberal Base Loving His Cool Approach Less and Less: [T]he criticism of Barack Obama has turned strikingly personal as some of his liberal media allies have gone wobbly on him. After playing a cheerleading role during the campaign, some are bluntly questioning whether he's up to the job. If Obama is losing Paul Krugman, can the rest of the left be far behind?...

I must say that I had thought that Howard Kurtz read the New York Times editorial page. It is a surprise to me that he does not.

Shut the Post down. Shut it down today. It isn't doing anybody any good--and it's losing the Graham family money they could spend on some worthwhile charity.

We Told Them So...

Back last fall, those of us who had sat at the feet of John Hicks and Charlie Kindleberger said two things that made many around us think that we are crazy:

  1. That the enormous debt quantities the federal government was about to start issuing were unlikely to significantly push up interest rates.

  2. That the federal government, if it managed the TARP money properly, might well wind up making a profit from it--buy low sell high after all.

The first of these has certainly come true. Now Dan Gross says that the second may as well:

How the Government Is Profiting From TARP.

Yet more evidence that the first generation of macroeconomists after Keynes really did have some idea of what they were talking about...

links for 2009-08-31

  • Read [Glenn Greenwald's] whole thing (it’s short and deadly). Our children and grandchildren will remember these strutting second- and third-generation media peacocks they way we look back at the White Russian officer corps—as examples of astonishing decadence. They will wonder how these people, out of all those who could be discussing the day’s events, were the ones chosen to be on television, day after day, as the world careened toward ruin.
  • We're obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it: "Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes 'Today' reporter."... They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy.... About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed: "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer quicky noted that they already have been: "Liz Cheney"...
  • Here in southern California, we are currently living through our annual late August-early September ritual of wildfires. In the San Fernando Valley, where I live, the air is heavy with smoke, and people are staying inside. It was worse in Pasadena, where I attend a Quaker meeting, and where the houses of several Friends are in danger of going up in flames. The advantage this year is that the Santa Ana winds have not come in yet. But it is somewhat misleading for me to say that this is an annual ritual. It has only been that over the last few years. When I was growing up, brushfire danger loomed every summer and we were not sure what would happen: nowadays, the fires erupt every year. It’s not if the fires come, but when. One might say, of course, that this is what happens when the world heats up, and the scientific studies suggest as much. But I’m sure it’s really all just a complete coincidence whipped up by left-wing radicals.
  • It seems quite reasonable that the spread of information (wrong or right) can reinforce trends in economic activity, and hence magnify and propagate shocks, but as noted in a part of the article not included above, this doesn't help us much with the problem of predicting turning points in economic activity. Predicting when the stories suddenly "morph into different forms ... is actually very complex. And even when feedback mechanisms are straightforward, they can produce very strange outcomes, not predictable very far into the future..."
  • the Democrats’ two Senators from California, two from New York, one from Florida, two from Illinois, two from Pennsylvania, one from Ohio, two from Michigan, one from North Carolina, two from New Jersey, two from Virginia, two from Washington, two from Massachusetts, one from Indiana, one from Missouri, and two from Maryland together represent 51.125 percent of the American people. That’s just 25 Senators. There are an additional 35 Democratic Party Senators. Legislation by “majority rule” would mean something less like “50 Senators get to make laws” than “the House of Representatives gets to make laws.” And keep in mind that for all the problems with Barack Obama’s strategy and all the perfidy of the right-wing and all the fecklessness of the media and all the ineffectualness of the Democratic Party leadership, if we operated on a majority rules system of government we’d be having a very different conversation...
  • We do feel for the beleaguered actual reporters in the WSJ newsroom, who have to see their own reputations suffer by association while their paper's leadership caves in to a celebrity pseudo-columnist's right to disregard basic conflict-of-interest rules. One Journal employee told us, "While the Mark Penn incident is as egregious as it is embarrassing, at this point, I think most of the newsroom is so emotionally numb that nothing surprises us anymore. Truly."
  • This site contains some 150 links organized and described. For instance, on the left you have sections on Procopius, on the empress Theodora and a short list of Late Antique and Byzantine links. More focused topics are dealt with in the Articles and in the Special Topics section, which covers topics such as Justinian's general Belisarius, his Legal Reforms and the Racing Factions. Don't throw out your library card. Don't be misled; on this as on all topics except itself, the internet is a dangerous and selective source. Source criticism isn't just for breakfast anymore. Does that page on Justinian agree with Procopius that Justinian was literally a devil? Are the footnotes all to 100-year old desktop encyclopedias? Inquiring minds want to know.
  • laukon: "Didn't somebody say about society that there was no such..." Agathon: "Hush! If you want to quote Margaret Thatcher, you must introduce her as a speaking character in this dialogue and grant her some of your time..." Glaukon: "I? You're the authorial stand-in in this dialogue, not me..."
  • Now as it happens it’s not 100 percent clear what alternative rule you should use. Which I think is one reason economists remain attracted to the “distribution doesn’t matter” point of view. It’s false to say that distribution doesn’t matter. But if you choose to believe that distribution doesn’t matter, that provides an unequivocal answer to how you ought to build distribution into your analysis. If you decide, accurately, that distribution does matter you’re left with the tough problem of specifying exactly how it matters. Much easier to just pretend it doesn’t matter, and then pretending that the fact that you’re pretending it doesn’t matter doesn’t matter either because it’s a “value-neutral” point-of-view. But it just isn’t/

Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander Fisks the Washington Post's Health-Care Coverage

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Shorter Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander:

All but a dozen of the Post's 80 A-section health care stories by Ceci Connolly and the rest since July 1 aren't fit for fishwrap...

Alexander starts:

Readers Fault Post Coverage of Health-Care Debate: The Post publishes health-care reform stories almost every day as it tracks the twists and turns of the epic debate. So it's surprising to hear from so many readers who ask: Why hasn't The Post explained what this is all about? "Your paper's coverage continues in the 'horse race' mode," complained Bill Byrd of Falls Church. "Who's up, who's down... political spin, personal political attacks. "How I would love to read more actual journalism on this issue," he e-mailed.

Alexander ends:

[ReADERS] want more glossaries explaining basic terms, easily digestible Q&As, short sidebars that summarize complex concepts and graphics that decipher complicated data. And they want stories that say what health-care reform will mean to them. Last Sunday's Outlook section carried a piece by former Post reporter T.R. Reid titled "Myths About Health Care Around the World." The writing was terse and anecdotal, without health-care gobbledygook. No he-said-she-said. On the Post's Web site, it was among the most viewed articles on Sunday and Monday. It was one of the week's most e-mailed stories. There's a reason.

In between, however, there is craven gobbledygook:

Make no mistake, The Post has produced some stellar health-care coverage... exposed heavy industry campaign contributions to key members of Congress who are drafting legislation... revealed those with personal investments in corporations that could be affected by the health-care laws they write... it's burrowed into thorny questions about who should be authorized to deny patient requests for expensive but non-critical medical care.... [S]tories... about process or politics... [are] coverage The Post must own... Washington is filled with policy wonks and decision-makers.... Urban Institute President Robert D. Reischauer, a health policy expert, said that The Post needs to keep providing in-depth coverage of politics and process "because you're the newspaper of record on policy matters."... Post editors face a huge challenge in serving a range of audiences. "We've tried to create a balance," said Frances Stead Sellers.... "We'll keep looking for more ways to make this challenging topic accessible to readers," she said...

Nevertheless, Alexander is improving--much better than last February's:

Andrew Alexander: Thank you for your e-mail.... [T]he Post has a multi-layer editing process.... George Will’s column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group... our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors. The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that "Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979"...

Of which Hilzoy said at the time:

Hilzoy: I clicked the link Mr. Alexander provided, and read it. Did he? I don't know what would be worse: that he did, and takes it to support Will, or that he didn't take his job seriously enough to bother.... Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: "P is not evidence for Q, and here's why", it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and [then] use that quote as evidence for Q. If one of my students did this, I would grade her down considerably, and would drag her into my office for an unpleasant talk about basic scholarly standards. If she misused quotes in this way repeatedly, I might flunk her.

Mark Kleiman on Regulatory Reform and Benefit-Cost Analysis

He has an open letter to Henry Waxman and Peter Orszag:

Reforming regulatory benefit-cost analysis: At one level, all policy analysis starts with benefit-cost analysis: on what basis could one choose among option except their advantages (benefits) and their disadvantages (costs)?... [But] benefit-cost analysis should be controversial... [in] environmental and safety... beloved of industry lobbyists and loathed by activists.... [T]he benefit-cost analysis practiced in the regulatory process... differs in three ways from ideal, or armchair, benefit-cost, as practiced by someone trying to figure out what course of action will best serve the public interest.... Each of those differences constitutes a frank error, and all are enforced by the courts and by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget.

  1. Formal benefit cost analysis counts everyone’s gains and losses equally. But common sense and the principle of diminishing marginal utility agree that a dollar’s worth of gain is more valuable to someone with few dollars than it is with someone with many....

  2. Formal benefit cost analysis draws artificial lines around the impacts of a program: impacts that are very indirect, or very distant in time, or highly uncertain, which ought of course to be adjusted to reflect those facts, are instead usually excluded from the analysis as “speculative,” which amounts to treating them as being certain not to take effect....

  3. The same is true of gains and losses with no obvious market valuation. After great struggle, the value of preventing an early death has been set at several million dollars. But any health damage short of death, or health gain other than reduced mortality, is usually valued only in terms of lost income and medical expense, rather than at its full “willingness-to-pay” value....

[T]he Congress should order the administration to commission a study by the National Research Council to establish a set of standards... written into the statutes that require such analysis... adopted by OMB for benefit-cost analysis done in other administrative contexts... rules that embody distributional adjustments, Bayesian weighting of uncertain gains and losses, and willingness-to-pay evaluation of gains and losses that do not come with market prices attached.

Mr. Waxman?

links for 2009-08-30

Theodora's Emperor

When I was 11, my favorite book was Harold Lamb's Theodora and the Emperor.[1]

Now there appears to be an equivalent for the 49-year old me: Peter Sarris's Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian--and it's available for the Kindle.[2]

[1] Which contains no mention of Gibbon's infamous "her murmurs, her pleasures, and her arts must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language" footnotes.

[2] Which I hope contains no mention of the footnotes either. Gibbon's footnotes are, I believe, based entirely on the Anecdota of Procopius of Caesarea, which may be best read as the sixth-century equivalent of National Review or the American Spectator. My favorite part of the Anecdota is not the part about the insatiable lusts of Theodora but rather Procopius on the nature of her husband the Emperor Justinian:

And they say Justinian's mother said to some of her intimates once that not of her husband Sabbatius, nor of any man was Justinian a son. For when she was about to conceive, there visited a demon, invisible but giving evidence of his presence perceptibly where man consorts with woman, after which he vanished utterly as in a dream.

And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left it.

Another said he stood beside the Emperor as he sat, and of a sudden the face changed into a shapeless mass of flesh, with neither eyebrows nor eyes in their proper places, nor any other distinguishing feature; and after a time the natural appearance of his countenance returned. I write these instances not as one who saw them myself, but heard them from men who were positive they had seen these strange occurrences at the time...

Extending the Bush Tax--Well, They Aren't Cuts, They Never Were, They Were Just Shifts of the Tax Burden from Us to Our Descendents

From my perspective, it makes no sense to let taxes go up until we are well into a strong, robust economic expansion--but it also makes no sense at all to permanently extend the Bush tax shifts of the burden from us to our children and grandchildren.

Howard Gleckman appears to agree:

TaxVox: the Tax Policy Center blog: Trillion Dollar Health Reform, $3 Trillion in Tax Cuts: It is interesting, and perhaps worth noting, that while political opposition seems to be hardening against the $1 trillion, ten-year cost of the early versions of health reform, barely a peep of concern has been raised about the $3 trillion price tag for President Obama’s plan to extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts. The message seems pretty clear: The President, congressional Democrats, and nearly all Republicans are fine with busting the budget to cut taxes for nearly everyone, notwithstanding a cumulative deficit over the next decade of $9 trillion. They are, by contrast, unwilling to spend one-third as much to provide medical insurance for those who cannot afford it. I’ve always felt that health reform is as much an ethical choice as an economic one. We appear to be making ours.   

Well let me, for one, say that I am most definitely not fine by extending the Bush-era--well, Howard could start by not calling them "tax cuts" because they are not: they are a tax shift from current taxpayers into the future.

My view is that we should (a) decide how much we want to spend, and then (b) balance the non-Social Security budget. And that is not at all consistent with extending the Bush tax cuts. But is there a chance that any number of Republican-leaning economists will join me? They are very scarce on the ground.

And Obama's senior economic advisors appear to be lobbying the president to choose differently than Gleckman assumes:

Obama officials: Taxes may rise: Geithner and Summers both sidestepped questions on Obama’s intentions about taxes. Geithner said the White House was not ready to rule out a tax hike to reduce the federal deficit; Summers said Obama’s proposed health care overhaul needs funding from somewhere. “There is a lot that can happen over time,” Summers said, adding that the administration believes “it is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out, no matter what.”...

“If we want an economy that’s going to grow in the future, people have to understand we have to bring those deficits down. And it’s going to be difficult, hard for us to do. And the path to that is through health care reform,” Geithner said. “We’re not at the point yet where we’re going to make a judgment about what it’s going to take.”

PBS Crashed, Burned, and Smoking Watch

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?


T.R. Reid - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: His 2008 Frontline documentary, "Sick Around the World", under the premise that the US health care system is a failure, takes a look at the national health care systems of five wealthy countries around the world. The first two countries visited are the U.K. and Japan, both places where Reid has lived while serving as the Washington Post bureau chief and has had doctors. They are followed by Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Frontline asked T.R. Reid to follow-up with a companion documentary, "Sick Around America" which aired March 31, 2009, on PBS. But when it appeared, Reid was nowhere to be seen, and his conclusion, that "You can't allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance," was completely absent from the program. As quoted by Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action and The Corporate Crime Reporter, Reid said "...mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world. I said I'm not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book."

Les Trahisons des Clercs...

Adam Serwer on the sink of iniquity that is National Review:

National Review Defends Its Segregationist Roots: You'd think that National Review would be trying to put things like its proud advocacy of white supremacy during the Civil Rights Movement to rest, but Fred Schwartz wants you to know that William F. Buckley was right, dammit:

Anyone who knows what “states’ rights” meant in 1964 must shudder at those words; but in retrospect, Goldwater and the editors [of National Review] had at least half a point...

Here are the editors of National Review, with their half a point:

The central question that emerges... is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists...

In context, when William F. Buckley calls for "such measures as are necessary to prevail" he is calling for measures up to and including murder and terrorism--and he knows it.

Anybody writing for National Review who wants to be regarded as a human being by anyone in the future, now would be a very good time to vocally express your dissent from the claim that William F. Buckley and company had "half a point."

The Latest OLC Memo from John Yoo...

On April 1, 2002, John Yoo wrote in an official OLC opinion memo:

The powers of the U.S. President as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces are those that have traditionally been exercised, in common international law, by previous Commanders-in-Chief of other countries. The President of the United States's powers cannot, by logic, be less than those of, say, the Commander-in-Chief of the navy of the Cretan Imperial Thalassocracy of the second millennium BC.

It is well established in the historical record that the then-Commander-in-Chief, Minos, (a) used genetic engineering to breed a human-animal hybrid, the man-bull called the Minotaur; (b) imprisoned detainees who were not lawful combattants in a maze underneath the Palace at Knossos; and (c) had the Minotaur chase, gore, kill, and eat detainees.

I will not opine on whether it is wise or moral for the President of the United States to breed human-animal hybrid monsters, imprison detainees in an underground maze, and have them gored to death. It may be, it may not be. I am just an expert legal technocrat. And it is indisputably true that the plain words of the Constitution give the President the power to order that such deeds be done, and that it is unlawful for any member of the military to (a) refuse to breed monstrous human-animal hybrids, (b) contruct a maze, or (c) unleash the minotaur if the President or a friend of the President's like Richard Cheney orders that it be done.

ONN discusses:

Is Using A Minotaur To Gore Detainees A Form Of Torture?

Herbert Hoover: A Working Class Hero Is Something to Be

Oh Noes! Andrew Leonard reads Lee Ohanian:

Herbert Hoover: The working man's hero - How the World Works - I did not need a cup of coffee to wake up this morning -- I just checked my e-mail, and saw the subject header: "Hoover's pro-labor stance helped cause Great Depression, UCLA economist says."

Without reading the message, I knew instantly who the economist must be -- Lee Ohanian.... Last we saw of Ohanian... he was arguing that FDR's New Deal policies extended the Great Depression and resulted in "less work than average" for American workers. Which might be true, if you don't count anyone who got a job through "the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), or any other of Roosevelt's popular New Deal workfare programs." Makes sense -- if you don't count Roosevelt's pro-labor programs, he doesn't end up very pro-labor!

So now we have "What -- or Who -- Started the Great Depression?," a 68-page paper Ohanian has been working on for four years that is sure to become a never-to-be-extinguished talking point for New Deal haters, union-busters, and opponents of all kinds of government intervention in the economy. Here are some key points, taken from the press release pushed out by UCLA.

Pro-labor policies pushed by President Herbert Hoover after the stock market crash of 1929 accounted for close to two-thirds of the drop in the nation's gross domestic product over the two years that followed, causing what might otherwise have been a bad recession to slip into the Great Depression, a UCLA economist concludes in a new study. "These findings suggest that the recession was three times worse -- at a minimum -- than it would otherwise have been, because of Hoover," said Lee E. Ohanian, a UCLA professor of economics.

According to Ohanian, these pro-labor policies including pressure for job-sharing and propping up wages handcuffed industry's ability to respond flexibly to the post-crash economic contraction.

After the crash, Hoover met with major leaders of industry and cut a deal with them to either maintain or raise wages and institute job-sharing to keep workers employed, at least to some degree, Ohanian found. In response, General Motors, Ford, U.S. Steel, Dupont, International Harvester and many other large firms fell in line, even publicly underscoring their compliance with Hoover's program. "By keeping industrial wages too high, Hoover sharply depressed employment beyond where it otherwise would have been, and that act drove down the overall gross national product," Ohanian said. "His policy was the single most important event in precipitating the Great Depression."

Hoover as the pro-labor liberal! Never mind that Hoover spent decades after his spectacularly failed presidency bemoaning the country's New Deal turn to Bolshevism. And never mind that the definitive conservative economic treatment of the Great Depression, Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz's "A Monetary History of the United States," pinpoints monetary policy mistakes by the Federal Reserve as the crucial catalyst that turned a stock market crash and recession into a Depression. Never mind the now-fading cultural memory of the United States, which somehow remembers Hoover as being bad for labor, and Roosevelt being good. All that pales against the necessity of making a key political point relevant to today's financial crisis.

There is a germ of information buried in the pile: Hoover did urge business leaders to be gentle to their workers because, he assured them, the Great Depression would soon be over.

But Hoover's interventions do not appear to have had much effect. If you take the degree of government-sponsored union power and wage rigidity in post-WWII Europe to be 100, then FDR's New Deal counts as a 30 and Herbert Hoover's "can't we all just get along?" White House meetings count as a five. If Hoover's inviting businessmen to the White House could push the unemployment rate up from 4% to 23%, simple extrapolation would then suggest that Roosevelt's labor-market policies ought to have pushed unemployment up to 118%--and unemployment in post-WWII Europe ought to have averaged 384%.

It simply does not appear as if Hoover's exhortations had much effects. Average wages in manufactuing stood at $0.55 in 1930, at $0.51 in 1931--an 8% cut--and $0.44 in 1932--a 20% cut. Coal miners' hourly wages went from $0.66 in 1930 to $0.63 in 1931 to $0.50 in 1932--a 25% cut. Skilled male manufacturing workers' wages went from $0.66 an hour in 1930 to $0.63 in 1931 and $0.56 in 1932. You had the same 20% cut in nominal wages over 1930-1932 as you had over 1920-22 (but a 50% decline in industrial production in total in the 1930s and only a 30% decline in industrial production in the 1920s). The argument would have to be that if not for Hoover, firms would have cut wages much, much faster than they in fact did.

In 1996 Ben Bernanke and Kevin Carey, in their "Nominal Wage Stickiness and Aggregate Supply in the Great Depression," plotted real wages and industrial production levels in 1932 relative to 1929 for 22 countries:


Four countries--Australia, Argentina, Hungary, and New Zealand--have low relative real wage levels in 1929 not because employers have cut wages but because they are small open economies and had already undergone massive currency develuation by 1932: wages were more or less where they were in 1929 but the domestic price level was much higher because the currency was worth less. the rest of the countries were still on or not yet far off the gold standard. Some--Germany and the U.S.--had relatively low real wages and were doing horribly. Some--Norway and Japan--had relatively low real wages and were doing well. And some--Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland--had relatively high real wages and were doing middling. The scatterplot strongly suggest that Hoover's interventions (a) were too feeble to make the U.S. a more-than-average country in the downward rigidity of its nominal wages, and (b) that at least as of the end of Hoover's term, how deep the Great Depression was in your country had very little to do with whether your internal nominal wages level had fallen far or not.

As Eric Rauchway points out, to blame the Great Contraction of 1929-1932 on government interference in the labor market creates a very strong presumption that thereafter the Great Depression should have gotten much worse rather than eased--for the interferences in the 1930s, starting with the NIRA, were much larger deviations from laissez-faire:

[H]ere's the thing: if you want to say, "I'll take 'Causes of the Great Depression', Alex," you have to be prepared with an explanation for (a) why things got so bad under Hoover and (b) why they then got better under Roosevelt.

Monetarist models explain this: the gold standard was deflationary, and going off the gold standard helped countries out of the Great Depression. Hoover didn't go off the gold standard. FDR did. Things got better.

Keynesian models explain this: Hoover didn't do enough to stimulate demand. Roosevelt did more (though still not quite enough).

Ohanian's model doesn't explain this.

And I would like to raise a further caution. Ohanian is working in a framework in which nominal demand--the total dollar flow of spending--is constant. In such a framework lower wages lead businesses to cut their prices and so the same flow of demand buys more goods, and that induces firms to hire more people and produce more. Jacob Viner, Milton Friedman's teacher, strongly cautioned against this line of argument in 1933 because a decline in wages was part of an "unbalanced deflation." Wages fell, but debt principal and interest paymenst did not.

In Viner's view, and in mine, if wages had fallen faster and further, goods prices and real estate prices would have fallen further and faster, more banks would have gone into bankruptcy, the bank failures would have shrunk the money supply even more, the velocity of money would have fallen even further, and the Great Depression would have been even worse.

Larry Summers and I wrote a paper about this back in the 1980s.

Milton Friedman's teacher Jacob Viner always argued that it was "unbalanced deflation" -- i.e., declines in asset prices and wages and incomes while debts remained the same -- that was the cause of the Great Depression. So did monetarist school founder Irving Fisher.

Ask yourself: if everybody's salary in America were to be cut right now by 25 percent -- but everyone's mortgage payment, everyone's credit card balance and interest payment, and every corporation's debt interest payments remained the same--would we see a recovery or another chain of financial bankruptcies that would push the economy down further?

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Dr. Steve B. thinks that lobbyists have a really easy time playing the New York Times's Kevin Sack

State of the Nation: [T]he same day as the ThinkProgress piece, which pointed out that even the Wall Street Journal had already previously reported that the insurance industry had actively mobilized 50,000 of it employees to work against health reform, we get a pathetic sob sister whine of what sounds like a public relations planted script... all those employees are being upset that they are being made out to be villains, just because they... go out of their way to defend [the health insurance system] against the barest minimum of civilized reform. Apparently Kevin Sack can't tell when he is being played by an organzied PR campaign...

He then praises ThinkProgress's Lee Fang--from whom you can learn infinitely more than you can learn from the New York Times's Kevin Sack, and who is writing the stories that Sack would be writing if Sack were in the inform-the-readers business:

State of the Nation: ThinkProgress has connected the specific dots between AHIP and their corporate lobbyist friends and the various channels and front groups and astroturfing that have been getting all the attention for the past several months. Much of it is connected to the corporate consulting firm "Democracy Data & Communications" which is a link, conduit, connector for much of the behind the scenes public relations media gaming and astroturf.  It is sort of a one-stop shopping for corporate badness....

One not so small thing that the invaluable (and therefore to be ignored by the mainstream media) ThinkProgress piece misses, is that it is not at all surprising that the insurance industry and the Chamber of Commerce are completely together on this.  As former and repentant head of corporate communications for CIGNA (the country’s fourth-largest insurer) Wendell Potter pointed out, at the lobbyist level they are all fronts working for each other.   In theory, the economic self interests of the insurance companies would seem to not necessarily be the same as those of the members of the Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business (small business lobby) and Business Roundtable (big business lobby), to say nothing of the tobacco industry.

Unfortunately in the real world it is not that simple.  For one thing inside the beltway, at the political and lobbying level, the interests of the actual grassroots membership of the organizations may not take priority. The people and major funding and control of the organizations is subject to the same sort of capture as we bemoan of some progressive organizations...

links for 2009-08-29

Some Very Practical Knowledge...

Teresa Nielsen Hayden sends us to:

Doctrine and Covenants 129: THE DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, SECTION 129: Instructions given by Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, February 9, 1843, making known three grand keys by which the correct nature of ministering angels and spirits may be distinguished. HC 5: 267:

  1. THERE are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
  2. For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
  3. Secondly: the aspirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
  4. When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
  5. If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
  6. If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
  7. Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
  8. If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.
  9. These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.

Liveblogging the Origins of World War II, August 28, 1939

George Orwell:

28.8.39: Have been travelling etc. during the past days & therefore unable to keep up the diary in ordinary way. The main developments have been as follow:

Hitler has proposed some or other kind of plan which was flown across by N. Henderson & has been discussed at several Cabinet meetings including one yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, but no statement has been made by the gov.t as to the Nature° of Hitler’s communication. H. is to fly back today with the Brit. Gov.t’s reply, but even so there is no sure indication that either H.’s proposal or the gov.t’s reply will be communicated to the public. Various papers have published statements, all of which are officially declared to be unfounded.

No clear indication of the meaning of the Russian-German pact as yet. Papers of the left tendency continue to suggest that it does not amount to very much, but it seems to be generally taken for granted that Russia will supply Germany with raw materials, & possibly that there has been a large-scale bargain which amounts to handing Europe over to Germany & Asia to Russia. Molotov is to make an announcement shortly. It is clear that the Russian explanation will be, at any rate at first, that the British were playing double & did not really wish for the Anglo-French-Russian pact. Public opinion in the U.S.S.R. said to be still somewhat taken aback by the change of front, & ditto the left wing opinion in the West. Left wing papers continue to blame Chamberlain while making some attempt to exhonorate° Stalin, but are clearly dismayed. In France there has evidently been a swing of opinion against the Communist Party, from which there are said to be large-scale resignations (D.Tel. repeating Reuter). Humanité has been temporarily suspended. The Anglo-French military mission is already returning.

Germany & Poland now more or less fully mobilized. France has called up several more classes of reservists & is said to have 4,000,000 men under arms. No more reservists yet called up in Britain. Admiralty has taken over control of all shipping. Sale of foreign shares is being controlled by gov.t. Main buildings in London being sandbagged. Practice evacuation of children in evacuation areas today. Little or no excitement in London. For the last day or two it is possible to overhear people in the street discussing the situation, but only in terms of “is there going to be war?” Yesterday afternoon during the Cabinet meeting about 1000 people in Downing St., mostly rubbernecks, & no banners etc. No demonstrations in Hyde Park. The only political speaker there a Trotskyist who was getting a good hearing (about 200 people). No mass-exodus from the railway stations, but immense quantities of luggage waiting to leave, by the look of it luggage of the fairly well-to-do people.

L.[H.]M[yers]. is of opinion that if we do not involve Italy in the war she will sit tight until we are in difficulties & have alienated the smaller European countries & then will come in on the German side. He is of the opinion that virtually the whole of the wealthy class are treacherous & quite ready to do a deal with Germany, either without war or after a short sham war, which could be presented as an honourable peace, & would allow for the imposition of fascism in England. Spain is at present making declarations of neutrality, & Turkey still declaring she will stand by France & England.

The price of gold has risen to record heights (about 155/- per ounce). Price of wheat still extremely low (price in wholesale markets recently quoted at less than 4/- the cwt.)

P.P.U. evidently completely quiescent & not intending to do anything. I.L.P. has issued official declaration that they will not support the government in war.

The Emergency Powers Act passed by over 400 votes to 4. Dissentients were Maxton (the other 2 I.L.P. MPs acted as tellers), Lansbury, Cecil Wilson & an Independent. Gallacher abstained.  Some of the extremists, eg. Ellen Wilkinson & A. Bevan, voted for the bill.

Lying on Couches and Reading All Day

Jo Walton writes:

Post Comment: It's a funny time for Brad Delong to think I lie on a couch and read all day, since not only have I been dashing around all over but I'm also very aware that I don't have (and don't want) a couch and they don't (yet) have one even though they do... oh well. They get the keys tomorrow and the weekend is going to be mostly painting, then the actual moving truck is booked for Wednesday afternoon. It's going to be weird not living with Z; I've been doing it for a long time. I also have no idea what I'm going to do with his room, though I love 1crowdedhour's suggestion that I could fill it with all the junk that piles up and keep the rest of the apartment relatively tidy... posts: Doorways in the Sand, My love/hate relationship with funny fiction, David Weber's Off Armageddon Reef, Donald Westlake's Get Real. And of course, the way the economics works in the real world is that I get paid for writing my posts on If I didn't get paid, I'd still read just as many books, and I might even write about some of them now and then...

I didn't say that I think Jo Walton lies on a couch and reads all day. I don't.

I said that she clearly enjoys reading so much--so much more than I do--that a world in which the rest of us maintained her in style so that she could lie on a couch and read all day might well be a wonderfully good world from a utilitarian point of view.

And I urge Tor to pay her more money. I would even commit to buying a copy of Doorways in the Sand if they promised to do so...

If You Are So Rich, Why Aren't You Smart?

A correspondent emails me a link to

Greg Mankiw looks at:

Greg Mankiw_s Blog_ The Least Surprising Correlation of All Time.gif

And says:

The Least Surprising Correlation of All Time: [S]o what? This fact tells us nothing about the causal impact of income on test scores.... Suppose we were to graph average SAT scores by the number of bathrooms a student has in his or her family home. That curve would also likely slope upward.... But it would be a mistake to conclude that installing an extra toilet raises yours kids' SAT scores. It would be interesting to see the above graph reproduced for adopted children only. I bet that the curve would be a lot flatter.

And he drops it there.

But merely saying that correlation is not always causation and dropping the issue is, I think, profoundly unhelpful--and shows a... lack of work ethic as well.

Off the top of my head...

IIRC, the age-adjusted correlation between log income and IQ is 0.4: take someone with a log income higher by one standard deviation than average--these days someone with a middle-age-adjusted family income of $100,000-$120,000 rather than $60,000-$80,000--and their IQ is likely to be 0.4 standard deviations (6 points) above average. The individual heritability of IQ is about 0.5: take an individual with a IQ 6 points above average and their children will be expected to have an IQ 3 points above average. SAT scores have a mean of 500, a standard deviation of 100, and a high but not a perfect (0.7) correlation with IQ.

So if we compare people whose parents have an income of $100,000-$120,000 to those with an income of $60,000-$80,000 we would expect to see 1 x 0.4 x 0.5 x 0.7 x 100 = 14 points. The actual jump in the graph Mankiw refers to is twice as large.

The rule of thumb, I think, is that half of the income-test score correlation is due to the correlation of your test scores with your parents' IQ; and half of the income-test score correlation is coing purely from the advantages provided by that component of wealth uncorrelated with your parents' (genetic and environmental!) IQ.

The curve is less steep, but there is definitely a "what" here to be thought about.

The masters at explaining this, of course, are (Googles) Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, "The Inheritance of Inequality"

UPDATE: Conor Clarke reminds me of Christiane Capron and Michael Duyme (1989), "Assessment of Effects of Socio-Economic Status on IQ: A Full Cross-Fostering Study," Nature "changes in IQ resulting from changes in postnatal environment are of similar magnitude and exhibit the same general trend independently of the SES of the adopted children's biological paretnts."

DeLong: Project Syndicate: Obama Has Lucked Out with Bernanke

Obama lucky to have Bernanke -- Shanghai Daily | 上海日报 -- English Window to China New: WILLIAM McChesney Martin, a Democrat, was twice reappointed chairman of the United States Federal Reserve by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Paul Volcker, a Democrat, was reappointed once by the Reagan administration (but not twice: there are persistent rumors that Reagan's treasury secretary, James Baker, thought Volcker too invested in monetary stability and not in producing strong economies to elect Republicans).

Alan Greenspan, a Republican, was reappointed twice by Bill Clinton. And now Barack Obama has announced his intention to renominate Republican appointee Ben Bernanke to the post.

The Fed chairmanship is the only position in the US government for which this is so: it is a mark of its unique status as a non or not-very-partisan technocratic position of immense power and freedom of action - nearly a fourth branch of government, as David Wessel's recent book "In Fed We Trust" puts it.

The reason American presidents are so willing to reappoint Fed chairmen from the opposite party is closely linked to one of the things a president seeks: The confidence of financial markets that the Fed will pursue non-inflationary policies.

If financial markets lose that confidence - if they conclude that the Fed is too much under the president's thumb to wage the good fight against inflation, or if they conclude that the chairman does not wish to control inflation - then the economic news is almost certain to be bad.

Capital flight, interest-rate spikes, declining private investment, and a collapse in the value of the dollar - all of these are likely should financial markets lose confidence in a Fed chairman.

And if they occur, the chances of success for a president seeking re-election - or for a vice president seeking to succeed him - are very low. By reappointing a Fed chairman chosen by someone else, a president can appear to guarantee to financial markets that the Fed is not too much under his thumb.

But US presidents seek more than just a credible commitment to financial markets that the Fed chairman will fear and fight inflation. They seek intelligence, honor, and a keen sense of public interest and public welfare.

Presidents' futures - their ability to win re-election, to accomplish other policy goals, and to leave a respectable legacy - hinge on the economy's strength.

It may or may not be true, especially these days, that what is good for General Motors is good for America and vice versa, but certainly what is good economically for America is good politically for the president.

It is here that Obama has lucked out. Ben Bernanke is a very good choice for Fed chairman because he is intelligent, honest, pragmatic and clear-sighted in his vision of the economy. He has already guided the Fed through two very tumultuous years with only one major mistake - the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

links for 2009-08-28

Health Care: Andrew Samwick Really Doesn't Understand What Is Going On...

He writes:

The Health Care Reform Mystery Deepens: At least for me, it does. Earlier this month, I blogged about what I think is the key issue in the health care reform debate, pre-existing conditions, and why I think the Republicans' part in the debate should be to focus only on that issue.... The Republicans should be the ones advocating for community rating plus a mechanism to adjust for differences in the risk pools selecting each health plan. It turns out that the political strategy for the Republicans is even easier than I thought, because such mechanisms are part of the key bills.... Take a look at HR 3200, Section 206(b) [risk adjusters].... The idea in this section of the bill is essential, along with those underlying Section 111 (Prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions) and Section 112 (Guaranteed issue and renewal for insured plans).  Those three elements constitute health insurance reform that should be acceptable across the political spectrum.  They improve fairness and promote competition (by lessening the threat of adverse selection against the insurance companies). The latter should drive down costs without requiring additional public funds apart from the cost of administration.  If the Republicans proposed a reform that consisted only of that, we would eventually reach a reasonable compromise. So why not do it?

I had the same expectations for a deal back in 2005. The Republicans were offering private accounts as a carve-out from the current Social Security system. The Democrats were responding with a bid for private accounts as an add-on to the current Social Security system. I expected a deal--most add-on, some carve-out, and long-run system solvency guaranteed by triggers that would impose cuts in benefits in the outyears triggered if the trust fund balance turned out to require them (which it is highly likely that it would have). But the Republicans seemed more interested in having a wedge issue than a bill--they would not move away from "the purpose of this bill is to end Social Security as we know it."

Similarly, right now, from the Republican National Committee:

The Reality-Based Community_ First they came for grandma ....gif

There is no mystery, Andrew, the Republican Party's leading politicians are all now bats--- insane. This is the curse of Richard Nixon and his southern strategy. It's Richard Nixon's party you belong to--you just live in it.

The problem is that Gingrich's "let's block everything Clinton tries to do even when it's good for the country, proclaim that he is a failure, and win the next election" move won the 1994 election. And now they are trying to repeat it. Only a throughgoing shellacking at the 2010 and 2012 elections--a Goldwater-magnitude shellacking--has, I think, a chance of restoring even a modicum of sanity to the Republican Party.

An Unresolved Issue in Moral Philosophy...

Jo Walton:

Beautiful, poetic, and experimental: Roger Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand

really does seem to enjoy lounging on her couch reading books much, much more than I do--or indeed than anyone else in the known universe does.

Does this mean that a good--utilitarian--universe is so ordered that people like me work like dogs manipulating piles of numbers to keep her fully absorbed in books?

Gird Your Loins!

We roll at 12:30 in Haas F295, the 300 seat Arthur Andersen Auditorium. However, we are only slotted for 240 students in eight discussion sections of 30--budget cuts, you know.

At 12:37 I stand up. I give my "this is an economics course; you have to do arithmetic" spiel; I give my "this is a history course; you have to read a lot" spiel; I give my "this is Berkeley, the finest public university in the world--expect to work hard (but also expect a moderately high grade curve)" spiel".

And one of two things will happen:

  1. There is a rush for the door, and we end up with a class of 200.

  2. Because the university has cut back materially on undergraduate course offerings this fall, and because this course fulfills requirements for Economics, Political Economy, and Global Poverty, we wind up with 330 people wanting to take the course--and I spend the next week weeping and whimpering and yelling as we try to staff up and clear the wait list.

At the moment we have 240 students enrolled, and 62 on the wait list...

The Passive Voice Is to Be Avoided!

Daphne Eviatar writes:

The Washington Independent » Memos Suggest Legal Cherry-Picking in Justifying Torture: The Office of Legal Counsel is where John Yoo and Jay Bybee, beginning in 2002, wrote a series of what came to be called the “torture memos,” defining torture so narrowly and the law so permissively that near-drowning, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions and many more “enhanced interrogation techniques” were deemed legal...

Come on, Daphne! The passive voice is to be avoided!

Do note write: "what came to be called the 'torture memos'..."

Write instead: "what Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley and many others call the 'torture memos'..."

links for 2009-08-27

bSpace = Hellspawn

May I say that a content management system that--if you have been off dealing with another crisis in the middle of a task--decides when you come back and try to save your work that you are no longer logged in and dumps you to a login page after which it dumps you not on the page you were working on but on the root page, LOSING YOUR WORK!!!1!!

Such a content management system is HELLSPAWN!! Is WROSE THAN HILTER!1!!!1!...

Visual Representation of bSpace:

cthulhu.jpg 540×405 pixels.png

Why does Berkeley think it should be in the business of building its own content management systems anyway?

bSpace | Educational Technology Services: What is bSpace?  bSpace is a web-based communication and collaboration environment powered by the Sakai community. bSpace supports teaching and learning, committee-based projects, and research initiatives for the UC Berkeley community.  Using a supported web browser, users may choose from the many tools in bSpace and combine them to create a site that meets their needs.

For courses, bSpace provides features and technologies that support and enhance teaching and learning. These include:

  • Easy file sharing with Resources
  • Email and message communication with students and groups within your course
  • Weighting and calculation of course grades with Gradebook
  • Online assignment submission and feedback
  • For projects, bSpace provides tools to facilitate communication and organize collaborative work regardless of the participants’ location.

To see an overview of the tools and functions available in bSpace, visit our online Help.

Who uses bSpace?  Instructors, students (undergraduate and graduate), and staff use bSpace every semester in a variety of ways. During the 2008-2009 academic year, we had over 50,000 users on our system.

Since its launch on the Berkeley campus in 2006, bSpace has progressively gained more followers. In Spring 2009, 2722 course sites existed and 3427 project sites existed.

About bSpace and Sakai:  bSpace is UC Berkeley’s implementation of the open-source Sakai CLE (Collaboration and Learning Environment). The Sakai community is made up of over 100 schools, institutions, and commercial affiliates. Other UCs using Sakai are UC Davis, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz (in pilot), and UC Santa Barbara. For more information about Sakai, visit


Customize Site Info Display: Help for Site Info Display: Page Not Found


From Jon Hays

Dear bSpace course site instructor,

For Fall 2009, the bSpace team will discontinue its support of the Mailtool, which had proved unreliable for our users over the course of the last couple of semesters. In it's place we have add a new tool called Messages.

How does this decision affect you?

  1. You will no longer be able to add Mailtool to existing or new bSpace sites
  2. The Mailtool will not be removed from your site If it was created prior to the release of Messages.
  3. To remove Mailtool, see our FAQ: How do I remove Mailtool from my existing bSpace course or project site?

And may I say that a maximum allowable title of 32 characters--so that things become "Econ 115 Course Website: Twentie"--is totally lame?

Remember Medicare Part D?

Matthew Yglesias:

A Look Back: When thinking about health insurance reform, it is worth looking back at the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. For one thing, in its final form it passed the United States Senate by a vote of 54 to 44. For another thing, unlike the House or HELP health care bills, it added hundreds of billions of dollars to the 10-year deficit window. And it contained nothing that even purported to “bend the curve” over the long term. But notwithstanding those problems, it was good enough for both Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley to vote for. This was only six years ago, hardly ancient history.

Scott Horton on the CIA Report

He writes:

Seven Points on the CIA Report—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine): The Inspector General’s review was launched by complaints coming from valued senior employees who felt that the Bush Program (as John Yoo has dubbed it) was wrong. One of them actually expresses his worry that those involved will be hauled before the World Court at some point because of [and that’s redacted!] This makes clear that good employees of the agency opposed the Bush Program, were vocal in their opposition, and focused concern on the program’s illegality. The OLC memos were intended to silence these complaints, but they only accentuated the agency’s morale problems by enmeshing it in obviously illegal and immoral conduct. By contrast, the number of CIA personnel involved in pushing it through and supporting it is tiny—probably not many more than two dozen—though their voices are heard very loudly. It’s interesting that in a stream of appearances by CIA personnel on TV yesterday—Tyler Drumheller, Jack Rice, Bob Baer and others—all said that a criminal investigation was a good idea. The official spokesman of the CIA torture team remains, as for the last seven years, David Ignatius.

links for 2009-08-26

john Yoo: as Bad as We All Knew

The question of whether John Yoo has violated the University of California Faculty Code of Conduct with respect to (II) (B) "Types of Unacceptable Conduct: Violation of canons of intellectual honesty," does not admit of any answer other than "yes."

The latest example, via Smintheus: » Another Bush administration legal fiction: [John Yoo] wrote an undated memo sometime before June 16, 2003 which... advanced a flagrantly false interpretation of the UN Convention against Torture.... Here is what the Helgerson report states the memo said about the UN Convention:

The analysis adds that "the [Torture] Convention permits the use of [cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment] in exigent circumstances, such as a national emergency or war."

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment says no such thing. The OLC/OGC lawyers evidently were insinuating that the Convention drew a very major distinction between the prohibitions against torture on the one hand, and against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment on the other. Article 2 of the Convention states explicitly that there are no circumstances that may be used to justify torture:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

It is true that the Convention does not repeat the Article 2 statement when it later discusses "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment". However that discussion (in Article 16) is extremely brief and to the point: that governments should prevent 'cruel etc. treatment' as they do torture and should give its victims the same legal recourse as victims of torture. There is no implication whatsoever in the Convention that "exigent circumstances" permit the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment...

Here is the Convention's sole discussion of other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:

UN Convention Against Torture: Article 16: Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture or references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The provisions of this Convention are without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument or national law which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or which relate to extradition or expulsion.

Here are the applications of Article 16 to Articles 10-13:

Article 10':Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment. Each State Party shall include this prohibition in the rules or instructions issued in regard to the duties and functions of any such persons.

Article 11': Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 12': Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction.

Article 13': Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to and to have his case promptly and impartially examined its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.

Acadmic freedom is not promoted or vindicated by the retention of professors--like Yoo--whose conduct is unacceptable. That's what "unacceptable faculty conduct" means.

In Which Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post Fisks Michael Steele and Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post

The only thing about the Washington Post's publication of Michael Steele's oped on Monday worse than the oped itself was the fact that Fred Hiatt had published it.

Steven Pearlstein replies:

The New Republican Plan to Bankrupt America: Michael Steele... revealed a secret Republican plan that would end up eliminating all federal farm subsidies; closing down Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks; selling off the interstate highway system; and canceling Head Start, subsidized school lunches and the entire college loan program... [in] an op-ed piece this week in The Washington Post in which the party chairman committed the GOP to spending an ever-increasing share of the federal budget, and the national income, on Medicare. When combined with other Republican promises -- to balance the budget, protect defense spending and never, ever raise anyone's taxes -- the inescapable inference is that the government would run out of money for every other domestic program sometime around 2035.

Steele's stunning announcement brings the conservative strategy of "starving the beast" to a new level... eliminating half a dozen Cabinet agencies, firing tens of thousands of government workers and ending government regulation as we know it.... Steele promised that under the Republican health-care plan, runaway Medicare spending would continue untreated and unabated. Not only would that mean no cuts in benefits, but it would ensure that reimbursement rates to doctors, hospitals and drug companies would continue to rise faster than inflation, regardless of how much they earn or how unnecessary or wasteful the services they provide. Any effort to contain future spending growth, Republicans now believe, is nothing more than a "raid" on Medicare, the government-run health plan that Republicans were against before they were for it.

The country's top Republican official also vowed to cut off all federal funding for research....

According to Steele, Republicans will also seek to outlaw "any effort to ration health care based on age." You don't have to be a lawyer like Steele to understand that would effectively make it a federal crime for any hospital to refuse a heart transplant to a 95-year-old....

After reading his broadside, one is left wondering exactly what health reform plan Steele thought he was attacking. At one point, Steele claims that Democrats would prevent Americans from keeping their doctors or an insurance plan they like. Later, he warns that government will soon be setting caps on how many heart surgeries could be performed in the United States each year. Where is he getting this stuff? Has the chairman of the Republican Party somehow gotten hold of a top-secret plan for a government takeover of the health-care system that GOP operatives snatched during a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters?

If all that sounds like a spurious and unsubstantiated allegation, it is. And it fits right in with the cynical lies, distortions and political scare tactics that Steele and other Republicans have used to poison the national debate over health reform.

Have you no shame, sir, have you no shame?

We need a very different opposition party to the Democrats--and a very different newspaper in Washington DC.

In Which James Fallows Flays Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times and Uses the Skin for His Drumheads

New York Times crashed-and-burned-and-smoking watch. James Fallows:

Will it never end? McCaughey v. Ezekiel Emanuel: I do understand... how difficult it is for the mainstream press to decide that one party to a controversy is making things up, doesn't care about facts,  and will keep saying whatever it wants.... But does it have to presented [by Jim Rutenberg] in a way that suggests that the McCaughey-Bachman-Palin-LaRouche team is just another participant in political discussion? This can give "fairness" a bad name...

Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey... has brought more misinformation, more often, more destructively into America's consideration of health-policy issues than any other individual. She has no concept of "truth" or "accuracy."... And now we have [Jim Rutenberg of] the New York Times, in a big take-out story, saying that Dr. Emanuel, in his role as Obama health-care advisor, is in an "uncomfortable place" because he is being criticized by: 1) Betsy McCaughey! 2) Rep. Michele Bachman (look her up)!! 3) Sarah Palin!!! 4) Lyndon LaRouche!!!! McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, LaRouche -- shaping American debate and media coverage about health policy? Was Zsa Zsa Gabor not available?...

Why is [Jim Rutenberg's] story about Ezekiel Emanuel being on the hot seat in the first place -- and not about the campaign of flat lies by McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, and LaRouche?...

If I start a campaign of lies against somebody and get Soupy Sales plus Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme to agree with me, can I expect them to be regularly publicized in the mainstream press?

The answers to James Fallows's questions are:

  • No, it will never end--at least not until the New York Times's presses are sold off for scrap.
  • Yes, Jim Rutenberg believes that it would be "unethical" for him to present the story in a way that even hints that the McCaughey-Bachman-Palin-LaRouche team are dangerous lyng clowns.
  • Yes, the New York Times is giving McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, and LaRouche power to shape American debate about health policy because informing his readers is literally the last thing on the mind of Jim Rutenberg and his editors.
  • No, Zsa Zsa Gabor was not available--she is recovering from a flu-like illness--but if she had been, it would have been a mitzvah for Rutenberg to have turned his entire news hole over to her.
  • Because, once again, informing his readers is literally the last thing on the mind of Jim Rutenberg and his editors.
  • Yes, if you start a campaign of lies against somebody and get Soupy Sales plus Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme to agree with you, you can expect your lies to be regularly publicized in the mainstream press.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Here is the whole thing:

Will it never end? McCaughey v. Ezekiel Emanuel: Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel should need no introduction to Atlantic readers. Among his many pursuits is writing a number of interesting articles for our "Food Channel," under Corby Kummer's auspices. He should need no introduction to anybody, since over the past decade-plus he has so often been involved in deliberations about the right future health-care path for America and the world. I stress "the world" since he has traveled widely and emphasized public-health challenges for poor nations too. I know him slightly -- just well enough that, a few weeks ago, I asked his journalistic advice for contacts in China on a public-health story I'm working on. He is an oncologist and bioethicist -- and, of course, older brother of Rahm Emanuel from the White House.

Elizabeth "Betsy" McCaughey also needs no introduction to Atlantic readers. She has brought more misinformation, more often, more destructively into America's consideration of health-policy issues than any other individual. She has no concept of "truth" or "accuracy" in the normal senses of those terms, as demonstrated last week when she went on The Daily Show. Virtually every statement she has made about health-reform proposals, from the Clinton era until now, has been proven to be false. It doesn't slow her down.

And now we have the New York Times, in a big take-out story, saying that Dr. Emanuel, in his role as Obama health-care advisor, is in an "uncomfortable place" because he is being criticized by*:

1) Betsy McCaughey !
2) Rep. Michele Bachman (look her up) !!
3) Sarah Palin !!!
4) Lyndon LaRouche !!!!
McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, LaRouche -- shaping American debate and media coverage about health policy? Was Zsa Zsa Gabor not available?

To be "fair," the story puts the criticisms in "context," thus:

"Largely quoting his past writings out of context this summer, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, labeled Dr. Emanuel a "deadly doctor" who believes health care should be "reserved for the nondisabled" -- a false assertion that Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, repeated on the House floor."

"Out of context" and "false" are useful caveats. But why is the story about Ezekiel Emanuel being on the hot seat in the first place -- and not about the campaign of flat lies by McCaughey, Bachman, Palin, and LaRouche? Why are real newspapers quoting what they say any more? (Interestingly, LaRouche's claims rarely get NYT coverage. In in this case, he is apparently "legitimized" by ... McCaughey.) If I start a campaign of lies against somebody and get Soupy Sales plus Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme to agree with me, can I expect them to be regularly publicized in the mainstream press?

I do understand - and wrote before -- about how difficult it is for the mainstream press to decide that one party to a controversy is making things up, doesn't care about facts,  and will keep saying whatever it wants. I also recognize that when a campaign of falsehoods has a political effect, the effect itself can be worth writing about. But does it have to presented in a way that suggests that the McCaughey-Bachman-Palin-LaRouche team is just another participant in political discussion? This can give "fairness" a bad name.

Here are paragraphs two and three of the story -- the "nut graf" passage establishing that there is a controversy:

"Largely quoting his past writings out of context this summer, Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, labeled Dr. Emanuel a "deadly doctor" who believes health care should be "reserved for the nondisabled" -- a false assertion that Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, repeated on the House floor.

"Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska has asserted that Dr. Emanuel's "Orwellian" approach to health care would "refuse to allocate medical resources to the elderly, the infirm and the disabled who have less economic potential," accusations similarly made by the political provocateur Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr."