Tuesday, May 31, 2005

As expected, Brad has much more interesting comments on the Krugman Okrent exhange here than those below. The part that freaked me out was this (brad in bold)

His 2/3/04 assertion that tax proposals offered by Democrats would help the 77 pecent of taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket or less. The most recent generally accepted figures available at the time indicated that the number was actually 64 percent. Note: I believe that 77% of *all* taxpayers are in the 15% bracket or less; 64% of those who pay *income* taxes to the Treasury are in the 15% bracket or less; there are a bunch of people who pay taxes but not income taxes.


How the hell does Brad know that ? Well "I believe" might mean "I guess", but I didn't even have a guess. Now I see Okrent might have made the mistake of confusing "tax payers" with "income tax payers." Of ourse they are different groups and this would be a less bad than average error for Okrent. Now if the Democrats proposal would not increase refundable credits, then Krugman is wrong about the fraction of taxpayers it would help. I guess that it would, since so far by Okrent, Samwick and Patrick Sullivan have provided amazingly strong evidence that Krugman makes amazingly few mistakes.

By "less bad than average for Okrent" I mean very little indeed. The statement "15% bracket or less" makes it clear that Krugman is not talking about income tax payers but rather all tax payers (as he wrote).

Update: Brad has one final really funny post on this and I am a trackback spammer.
Omigod Daniel Okrent makes more of a fool of himself debating Paul Krugman than I thought possible. Like many webadicts I have been waiting for the debate between Krugman and Okrent here.

Krugman's defence of himself and criticism of Okrent is, of course, devastatingly effective. Krugman also somehow manages to keep his tone civil avoiding words like "fool". I think that he will not waste more time with Okrent. I don't see how he could avoid using the word fool if he responds to Okrent. I couldn't resist posting after reading Okrent's first point (an own goal of course).

Krugman "Mr. Okrent’s claim that I engaged in "blending, without explanation, numbers from the household survey and the establishment survey -- apples and oranges -- apparently in order to make a more vivid political point about Bush (5/25/04).”

[snip] But I didn’t. All the numbers in my 5/25/04 column came from the establishment survey.


As I said devastatingly effective. This should settle the matter of whether Okrent should ever have been hired by the New York Times, but Mr Okrent has decided to remove all possible doubt writing

3. The mixing of household and establishment numbers in his 5/25/04 column: Missing from the BLS chart he cites is any number that even resembles the 140,000 new jobs each month needed to keep up with the growing population a statistic he cites in the column, and upon which he seems to have based some of his computations. To my knowledge, that number only appeared in the household survey.


This displays such ignorance that it is breath taking. The household survey is a survey of a sample of fixed size, therefore it contains no information on total population or population by age. The problem according to Krugman (and Greenspan) with attempting to use the population survey to determine employment, as opposed to the employment rate, is that it is necessary to multiply the employment rate by a guess of the working age population whcih can not be measured in any way by the population survey. Some guess that the divergence is due to the fact that the guess about population does not take into account reduced illegal immigration due to post 9/11 tightening of border security. This is just a guess, but anyone with any familiarity with the debate whatsoever must understand from the existence of this guess that the household survey specifically lacks data on the working age population.

Anyone with any understanding of numbers at all must understand that the figure "140,000 new jobs each month needed to keep up with the growing population" is a function of population (anyone who also has a brain understands that it also reuires a definition of working age and population growth by age). Thus anyone who has paid the least attention to the debate and knows what "population" means, can see that the number can not be based on the household survey.

I actually did not have a negative opinion of Okrent before I read his farewell column (basically I had no opinion). After reading the attack on Krugman, I concluded that he was nasty, unfair and dishonest. After reading his point 3, I conclude that he is a total idiot.

I am going to check at Brad's site to find if he still thinks Luskin is the stupidest man alive. I think a case can be made for someone else. If I am right about Okrent, then Okrent is. If I somehow managed to be wrong about something which seems to me to be so totally obvious than I am the stupidest man alive.

[rest after this jump. I don't know how to make "there's more" tabs but the stuff below really is a total total waste of time even by my standards]


Okrent's point 4 keeping with the soccer analogies Okrent should be sent off for vicsiously fouling himself for this one.

4. The Polivka-Miller paper: On the substance, readers can come to their own conclusions by examining the report themselves, particularly the chart and related narrative addressing “Duration of Unemployment” on page 23 (pdf). On Prof. Krugman’s defense of his unfamiliarity with it, he’s effectively saying, “If I didn’t know about it, it must not be important.” This is a polemicist’s dodge; no self-respecting journalist would ever make such an argument.


Uh oh Mr Okrent. Are you the same Okrent who doesn't know that the CPS is a survey of a sample of households ? It is also very unwise to use the phrase "a polemicist’s dodge" immediately after putting words in one's opponents mouth rather than quoting him. Doesn't the Times have a rule about quotation marks ? I think that, as a matter of elementary journalistic integrity, the Times should have, at the very least, forced Okrent to use an indirect quote in his blatant distortion as in "he’s effectively saying that If he didn’t know about it, it must not be important.” This would be a distortion of what Krugman said, but it would not be an abuse of quotation marks. I am naive enough to be a bit shocked that the Times would allow such an abuse of the form of a direct quote when a rewrite would have been trivially easy.

Punctuation aside, Krugman does write that the Polivka-Miller paper is unimportant. He seems to seriously consider the possibility that Polivka and Miller have convincingly argued that US unemployment duration is at a 10 year high not a 20 year high. And htat's Paul Krugman writing. God I wish I had written that paper. I would be famous now. I would be surprised if Krugman's text doesn't end up on both Polivka's and Miller's refrigerators for a while. I would be delighted at such recognition.

Actually the exchange is marginally useful, because it publicizes the Polivka Miller article, assuming that Krugman's passing assessment is as favorable as it seems and Krugman has not been snowed by Polivka and Miller. However, Okrent's knowledge of a research paper is further evidence of his dishonesty. It is impossible that someone who knows about the change in the CPS questionaire in 1994 also thinks that the CPS measures the working age population. That is, it is absolutely incredible that Okrent is familiar with the Polivka and Miller paper. Presumably someone told him about it (clearly he doesn't surf the BLS site). I think it is clear that he hasn't discussed Krugman with this person, since he couldn't have made his first howler if he had. Thus he has not run things past a source. This is a sign of journalistic irresponsibility and dishonesty, and it is also a sign of extreme haste. I find it impossible to doubt that Okrent started looking for examples after writing the column. It seems to me that the strange mixture of astonishing ignorance and obscure knowledge only makes sense if the obscure knowledge is the result of one way communication without follow up. This in turn convinces me that Okrent's knowledge is a hot tip, something he just learned, something he learned after his slanderous farewell.

What Krugman very clearly wrote is that he couldn't be expected to know about the article, since the BLS didn't warn him, so his failure to consider it is not evidence of dishonesty. Krugman used a standard series in a standard way. The second "example" has nothing to do with Okrent's accusation. Okrent's reply has nothing to do with Krugman's obviously correct self defence.

Okrents appalling and totally un called for humiliation of Okrent is based on the idea that "no self-respecting journalist would ever make such an argument. " Krugman's argument is that he (like every person who has ever lived) had not read all of the relevant literature, since he does not have time. When Okrent's false quote is replaced by Krugman's actual argument, Okrent's absurd sentence implies that he thinks it is disgraceful and dishonest not to know everything. This would be an appalling idiocy demonstrating astounding ignorance of how much has been written, even if Okrent had not demonstrated his totally unbelievable amazing ignorance in the preceding paragraph.

Also when Okrent's false quote is replaced by Krugman's actual statement, Okrent clearly asserts that "no self-respecting journalist would ever" confess that he was unaware of a relevant argument and that he had not read a relevant document. I have long suspected that journalists are unwilling to admit that they are not omniscient. I guessed above that Okrent believes that all self respecting journalists are omniscient, but I realise that he might have meant that all self respeecting jounalists lie and claim that they know everything even though they don't.

Okrent claims that he told Krugman about another "example". He does not mention this example anywhere in his reply. I can not believe that discussion of this third example could possibly be as humiliating for Okrent as was discussion of the two "examples" above. I mean, I can't remember anyone ever making such a fool of himself. Okrent must have decided not to discuss his third example for some reason other than it provides more solid proof of his dishonesty and idiocy than the two he discusses, since nothing could possibly provide more solid proof.

Okrent's point 5 is plainly dishonest. He made a claim about Krugman and should have been able to back it up. His inability to immediately back up his claim, shows that his initial slander was malicious. His totally utterly pathetic efforts to provide examples further show that he is a liar and an idiot. Now after he gave Krugman his best shots missed and knocked himself out, he presents more arguments without giving Krugman a chance to reply. This is a totally unfair debating trick. Byron Calame, should not have agreed to publishing Okrent's further accusations without giving Krugman a chance to reply. Again the solution is simple, cut Okrent after point 4 and ask Krugman if he want's to reply to alleged point 5. If Calame did not do that, he is guilty of misconduct, as he is in the case of the quotation marks. Of course Calame may have done so. Krugman may have replied that he has better things to do with his time and the fact that Okrent is coming up with new arguments after trying and failing to support an accusation is proof enough that Okrent is guilty of slander. However, Okrent concludes saying that Krugman might reply to his point 5. It seems to me that this is proof that he has not declined a chance to do so. Thus Calame is guilty of serious misconduct unbecoming to an employee of the New York Times.

I have read Okrent's last three points. The dribble of accusations makes it clear that they are coming in after the slander. The last point is that Krugman called retirement income "retirement income" and that this seems to have confused Okrent. Given the proof above, I think it is possible that Okrent was genuinely confused. The words are perfectly clear and Krugman used them to mean the only thing they could mean in the English language. It's not his fault that Okrent is so utterly ignorant that he managed to get confused.

I am ignorant and lazy myself, so I won't comment on the two new examples Okrent pulls out of his e-mail box oh sorry I mean "files." I do think the claim that he had them on file is a lie. For one thing they are less pathetic than his first two attempts. The delay in accessing files seems incredible to me. I think the delay is in receiving e-mails. I think that Okrent is lying and, thus, is not a journalist.
first new point "His 1/27/04 assertion that the cost of unemployment insurance “automatically” adds to the federal deficit. This two-fer misrepresents a pair of facts: that unemployment insurance is largely borne by the states, and that major federal contributions to the states come about only because of an act of Congress, which is hardly automatic." I would have said the same thing Krugman said. If Okrent is right, then it seems to me to be an honest mistake. Krugman's claim is standard in Macro text books with regard to automatic stabilizers. It might be wrong, but it clearly is not dishonest and doesn't correspond at all to Okrent's original accusation. I am ashamed to be ignorant on this point.

Sedond "His 2/3/04 assertion that tax proposals offered by Democrats would help the 77 pecent of taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket or less. The most recent generally accepted figures available at the time indicated that the number was actually 64 percent." I am not ashamed to be ignorant on this. I don't know who is right. Again it doesn't correspond to the original accusation, which alleged number bashing not errors. Again it is very hard to believe that someone who thinks the household survey measures the adult population (even though he is discussing the discrepancy between the household survey and the establishment survey) would have these facts on file.

I know Krugman has better things to do with his time than argue with Okrent. Hell I have better things to do with my time, but I hope he replies. I had a great time reading the exchange, even though I am a bit appalled by Okrent.

I used the word slander repeatedly. I know Krugman is a public figure, but I think that Okrent has demonstrated that he made his accusation with reckless disregard for the truth. Also I think he is lying about whether he had the "examples" on file before writing the column. I have no doubt in my mind about this. I am writing in Italy and can not defend myself by saying Okrent is a public figure. If I am wrong I am liable.
Andrew Samwick comes close to proving a negative (too bad he was trying to prove a positive).

There has been some chatter in the blogosphere about Daniel Okrent's parting comments about Paul Krugman during their time at the New York Times. The offending sentences are:

Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. ... No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. ... But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

[snip]

. The discussion that followed Okrent's piece might lead one to believe that there are no examples. I'll remind my readers of one that occupied our time back in October. It started with the post, "Paul Krugman, Meet Irony." The key quote (with the offending statement highlighted) from Krugman's op-ed, "Checking the Facts in Advance" is:

Mr. Bush will boast about the decline in the unemployment rate from its June 2003 peak. But the employed fraction of the population didn't rise at all; unemployment declined only because some of those without jobs stopped actively looking for work, and therefore dropped out of the unemployment statistics. The labor force participation rate - the fraction of the population either working or actively looking for work - has fallen sharply under Mr. Bush; if it had stayed at its January 2001 level, the official unemployment rate would be 7.4 percent.


As I noted in my original post and the considerable discussion that followed (here, here, here, here, and here), there are two channels that allow the unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate to fall while leaving the employment-population ratio unchanged. The first is that people who want to work give up looking for work. (This takes the same person out of both unemployment and the labor force, with no one entering or leaving employment.) The second is that people who have jobs decide they don't want them anymore (perhaps to take care of their kids or go back to school), and they get replaced by someone who was previously looking for work. (This takes one person out of employment and the labor force and another person out of unemployment and into employment. Same net effect.) The two channels have opposite implications for whether we think the statistics are bad news for the economy.


Samwick is a smart guy. This should be about the best shot at Krugman. Samwick's "example" does not support Okrent's claim that "Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults." The number cited in the op-ed criticized by Samwick is payroll employment, unshaped, unsliced, and selected because it is very very important.

Samwick disagrees with Krugman's interpretation of the number. Actually Samwick only hints that he might disagree, since he only claims that another interpretation is logically possible, but does not argue that it is reasonable (it is not as explained by Brad DeLong explains).

I can imagine no stronger evidence that Okrent is wrong and that there is, indeed, no example (thus Samwick surpasses Patrick Sullivan in a comment to a post below). A smart economist sets out to find an example for Okrent, explicitly responding to the view that there seems to be no such example. He comes up with something else entirely. A negative can't be proven, but rarely in human history has anyone come so close.

Update: Thanks for the link Prof Samwick. However, this post doesn't deserve it at all. As Samwick gently notes back at his blog I was totally wrong. Krugman's article was based entirely on the household survey and not at all on the payroll survey. He discussed the employment to working age population ratio (best measured with the household survey) not employment (best measured with the payroll surve). The reason is that population working age or otherwise is measured once every 10 years. In between it is necessary to guess about illegal immigration. The anomaly in employment numbers (household survey looks better than payroll survey) might be explained by reduced illegal immigration after 9/11 and general tightening up of border security.

However, I think that Samwick is unfair to Krugman. In the quoted passage, Krugman does not use the word "discouraged" or any synonym or paraphrase. Thus that op-ed was neutral on the very interesting current Samwick DeLong debate (which seems to be going rather well for Samwick as Brad has turned to sociology. Brad really honestly loves sociology and believes in it, but talking about sociology in a debates between economists tends to be a sign of being in a tight spot). Like Brad, I find Samwick's recent post pretty convincing, totally aside from the fact that it contains a link here and he is nice about how dumb the post above is.

Still I think that Samwick combines two questions. One is who is leaving the labor force (unemployed people or workers who retire) the other is why people are leaving (discouragement or some other reason). Krugman is a bit sloppy in suggesting that the people who leave were all unemployed. He does not claim that they left, because they were discouraged. Krugman just notes the fact that the decline in unemployment is, in an accounting sense, fully explained by the decline in labor force participation. In other op-eds when referring to other time intervals Krugman did discuss discouragement. However, it is a more reasonable hypothesis for those periods (roughly 3/2001 through 6/2003). Also I really should find and re-read things before commenting on them.

Thus Samwick's valid point is just that Krugman doesn't mention the fact that gross flows are much larger than net flows. This is a very common omission in discussions of economics in newspapers (maybe I should say "almost universal" not "very common" but I am trying to be relatively careful). It seems to me that Krugman was very careful not to speculate about people's motives, that he just mentioned a fact which tends to undermine a claim based on the unemployment rate. I think that Samwick doesn's disagree with Krugman's interpretation, because I see no evidence that Krugman presented an interpretation.

I think more strongly than ever that Samwick's critique has nothing to do with Okrent's. However, I recognise that Samwick is not proving a negative, because it is clear he is interested in the topic because it is important (rather more important than Paul Krugman) and not because he was looking for misuse of statistics by Krugman. I think the record on that debate is coming close to proving the negative that none such can be found. Clearly many people have been looking hard, and no one has come up with any such thing.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

It's official. Trent Lott coiner of the phrase "Nuclear Option" set up Senator Dr William Frist MD then compromised behind his back. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Knight Ridder remains the best news source in the USA and, I guess, the world.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Robert Waldmann’s Stalled Projects Without Co-Authors which have not been presented at informal talks the next of which might happen in Room C Thursday June 9 at 15:00.
If anyone wants to hear about any of these topics (except 4 because I am not going to talk about inequality data again that soon) vote in comments or by e-mail.

1. Forecasters I

The signs of forecast errors can be predicted using the difference between individuals' forecasts and the average of earlier forecasts of the same variable. It is possible to improve 115 forecasts without worsening any. It is difficult to reconcile this result with the rational expectations hypothesis, because the average of earlier forecasts is in the information set of the forecasters.

2. Forecasters 2
If forecasters compete in a tournament in which the forecaster with the smallest forecast error wins a prize, it is not an optimal strategy to minimize expected squared forecast errors. Instead, in Nash equilibrium, the distribution of forecasts corresponds to the distribution of outcomes. This prediction closely fits results of analysis of a very small data set.


4 Inequality and growth (won't go back there again so soon so don't ask)

The estimated partial correlation between income inequality and subsequent economic growth differs in an apparently significant way across studies. I think this is due to the huge debt crisis shock which hit many unequal countries at once in the 1980s. This is an interesting empirical question and a warning about the impluasible assumption that disturbances to growth are independent across countries.

5 Circular Spite

Evolutionary Economics Models are much simplified by the assumption of randome mixing and matching. It is considerably more difficult to handle models in which agents stay at a fixed position and compete with their neighbors. A very simple model of agents distributed on a circle gives a very different result for the possibility that suboptimal strategies are selected due to evolutionary spite.

6. The Breakdown Point of Instrumental Variables Estimators

I am aware of no research on the breakdown points of analogs of 2SLS, that is, of estimators which are consistent even when the explanatory variables are not weakly exogenous. The breakdown point is the fraction of arbitrarily chosen data points which can cause the estimator to take arbitrary value The challenge for a robust two stage estimator is to guarantee that, if the model estimated with the majority of the data is identified, so is the model estimated with all of the data. Maintaining the rank of the matrix of coefficients is clearly a much more difficult problem than preventing the estimates from taking any arbitrary value. Indeed it can be demonstrated that the breakdown point of any two stage estimator depends on the properties of the majority of the data and is typically bounded above by a value far below 50%. It is possible to describe an estimator which is consistent for jointly normal data in which the explanatory variables are endogenous and which has a breakdown point equal to this theoretical maximum.

7 An unbiased estimator of the variance covariance matrix of OLS estimates with Hetroskedastic disturbances

While standard Heteroskesastic consistent estimators of the variance covariance matrix are biased in small samples, an unbiased estimator is possible. This estimate is not useful for standard inference, but it is useful in testing the homogenteity hypotheisis in panel data.

8. A Diagnostic Statistic

OLS is highly sensitive to Outliers. If results are due to a few outliers, most residuals are reduced if the estimated coefficients are multiplied by a constant less than one. This count is a diagnostic statistic with little finite sample size distortion.

9 A modified information criterion for Stein class forecasting models.

Abstract if anyone is interested.

10. A new Pareto liberal paradox here


11. Who brings in the money and who spends time with the kids. Based on the first 3 wves of the ECHP, it appears that the time fathers spend with their children increases in the mother's income even after considering the amount of time the mother spends with the children. This supports bargaining models of the family as opposed to the standard Beckerian model.

Friday, May 27, 2005

I disagree with Robert Rubin who
"advised the Democrats not to introduce their own plan," on social security

(this is getting scary).

via Brad DeLong

I disagree with Rubin. I think Democrats should stand firm, refuse to compromise and wait for the bulls to gore the Republicans (metaphor due to Brad's commenter Bruce Webbb).

However, I think they should also present a plan. Not a compromise plan but a plan. I think this plan should be to eliminate the FICA ceiling. The latest poll shows 2 to one support (62% yes 31% no). It would be good policy whether or not the trust fund is currently solvent. The Republicans won't accept it (of course).

To me the risk is that centrist Democrats in the senate will try to compromise. That would be a disaster, as a compromise would have to involve benefit cuts or raising the retirement age. There is no point, since the final bill would be written in conference committee. There is no reason to look for a compromise plan to strengthen social security when the Republicans aim to weaken it.

This is obvious. Rubin's is just the most authoritative voice saying it (he being the most authoritative figure economic policy who is not a closet Randian).

It does not follow that the Democrats should not present a plan. Sometimes there is a plan which is both popular and good policy and presenting it is even better than standing by and watching Republicans drown in their own bullshit.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

If anyone reads this blog regularly, he will find this vaguely related to thoughts I have.

Expression cloning of a protective Leishmania antigen.
Science. 1995 Apr 28;268(5210):563-6.

Parasite-specific CD4+ T cells have been shown to transfer protection against Leishmania major in susceptible BALB/c mice. An epitope-tagged expression library was used to identify the antigen recognized by a protective CD4+ T cell clone. The expression library allowed recombinant proteins made in bacteria to be captured by macrophages for presentation to T cells restricted to major histocompatibility complex class II. A conserved 36-kilodalton member of the tryptophan-aspartic acid repeat family of proteins was identified that was expressed in both stages of the parasite life cycle. A 24-kilodalton portion of this antigen protected susceptible mice when administered as a vaccine with interleukin-12 before infection.


The principal difference is that this is a report of something that was actually done and which worked. It sounds very exciting to me. The weird thing is the list of authors

Mougneau E, Altare F, Wakil AE, Zheng S, Coppola T, Wang ZE, Waldmann R, Locksley RM, Glaichenhaus N.

As far as I know, the R Waldmann who actually did something useful related to vaccines against parisites based on expression libraries is not a relative of the R Waldmann who is writing this.

This is spooky.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rest of the West

This headline in the New York Times is odd "China Backs Uzbek, Splitting With U.S. on Crackdown". It did convince me to read the story, not to learn about China but to learn about the Bush administratino, since I had missed their condemnation of Karimov.


In the story I read

Mr. Kong's statement cemented a stark split between the West on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other, over the behavior of the Uzbek authorities, who have been accused of firing indiscriminately into antigovernment crowds on May 13, possibly killing hundreds. Several Western governments, NATO and the European Union have called for an independent investigation.


None of the organisations listed seems to me to be the US. Did the headline writer assume that any group of Western governments must include the Bush administration ? Did the headline writer consider NATO to be an alternative acronym for USA ? Why did the headline include "US" when the list could be summarised as "the West" ?

I still don't know if the Bush administration has condemmed Karimov.

Update: 2 minutes of google later. Also at the NY Times

The revised casualty figures followed statements of concern and criticism from the European Union, Britain and France and from the United States, which maintains a major military base in Uzbekistan, shares intelligence with it on counterterrorism and has helped train and equip the Uzbek military and security forces.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration had raised its concerns about the crackdown on dissidents with the Uzbek government.

"Nobody is asking any government to deal with terrorists," she said Tuesday evening at a news conference in Washington. "That's not the issue. The issue, though, is that it is a society that needs openness, it needs to reform, and again, I think if you look at the record, we have raised that with the government of Karimov for quite some time."

Ms. Rice said President Bush's support for democracy and openness was "without regard to what else might be going on."

At least one member of a Central Asian government said international reaction had been delayed and insufficient. "I'm very disappointed that it took the United States three days to condemn the massacre," said Balbak Tulobayev, an official in the administration of the interim Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. "Only the Americans can help the Uzbek people against this tyrant."


I respect Tulabayev, but I don't agree with his characterization. "we have raised that with the government of Karimov for quite some time." means "business as usual".
Also a clear distinction should have be made between the need for "reform" and the need to stop firing on crowds of civilians.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The compromise as transcribed from a *.pdf by pontificator at the Daily Kos


I have no way of knowing that the transcription is accurate.

update: Now I do the link to TheDeal.pdf has been fixed. The transcription below is accurate.

It sounds like all of the proposed compromises. Some nominees get votes and some don't. The Democrats say they will filibuster only under extreme circumstances (as they say they are currently filibustering under extreme circumstances). The Republicans promise not to support the nuclear option unless the Democrats filibuster under other than extreme circumstances (as they say the Democrats are currently filibustering under other than extreme circumstances). Could be the show down is just delayed. I would guess no more tip toeing up to the brink until there is a supreme court vacancy.

Who caved depends on who was bluffing, that is, on how Specter, Warner, Hagel and DeWine would have voted if it came to that. I'd say those four played their cards well, but, hey, it beats a melt down.

MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS

We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

We have agreed to the following:

Part I: Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations

A. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).

B. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

Part II: Commitments for Future Nominations

A. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

B. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.
I have a bank account at the SunTrust bank and recently attempted to set up an online banking accounts (I failed). I just got the following e-mail at robert.waldmann@gmail.com

A better than average effort I would say. I wish I could have clicked on the "invite to gmail" key and edited it to "invite to jail".

Dear SouthTrust Member,



As part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website, we are undertaking a period review of our member accounts.



You are requested to visit our new site, and fill in the required information.
Click the link below:
[no way I post that link for my readers]
This site is our new verify site,encrypted with 128bits encryption





This is required for us to continue to offer you a safe and risk free environment to send and receive money online and maintain the experience.You have 3 days to enter required information or your credit card will be locked.



Thank you,

Sincerely,SouthTrust Online Banking Customer Service



As outlined in our User Agreement, SouthTrust will periodically send you information about site changes and enhancements. Visit our Privacy Policy and User Agreement if you have any questions.



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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Finally Dem. Congressman Robert Wexler Offers Soc. Sec. Fix

Which is half elminating the FICA ceiling. Solvency, no benefit cuts, no increase in the retirement age, and no personal accounts. Also paygo. Sounds great to me. I really don't know why Pelosi is against it. Just hold the line at the Wexler plan and refuse all compromise.
We wouldn't want some Senator to violate Patricia Owen's constitutional right to an up or down vote by reading this report and adding context like how many judges are rated as "poor" by as many as 45.3% of the local bar association. Via Pandagon via Brad DeLong

I stress that the constitution clearly grants the right to an up or down vote to judicial nominees whose last name begins with one of the first 15 letters of the alphabet so Owen has that right and, of course, Paez did not.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Robert Byrd's absurd Hitler analogy may be compared to Rick Santorum's intemporate nuclear rhetoric

Like Santorum, Byrd named Hitler when discussing the nuclear option. A difference is that Byrd simply argued, in the abstract, that deliberative bodies can establish dictatorial power by a vote, while Santorum explicitely compared his estemed Democratic colleagues to Hitler. Byrd has also compared the possible action of the US senate to the institutional suicide of the Roman senate violating Richardius Goodwinius's law by implicitly comparing Bush to Augustus (a very offensive analogy to Romans).


Byrd might be held to have simply noted that a vote to fundamentally change the rules of a deliberative body is a very dangerous thing. However, he added details (which I'm not sure they are even accurate) which show his analogy is totally absurd. Byrd said (via Digby)

But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.

"Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."


And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.


Now this would be an arguable analogy if Frist were proposing to change the filibuster rule by the current procedure which requires a two thirds m,ajority to chande a rule. However, Frist aims to change the rule by a simple majority by claiming falsely and dishonestly that he believes that the current rule is unconstitutional, asking Cheney to agree, and foreclosing debate on the matter of constitutional interpretation even though the right to such debate is guaranteed by the current rule.

It is totally unfair to compare this procedure based on blatant lies and on violation of existing rules to the enabling bill, which was certainly legitimately passed according to the rules of the Reichstag under the Weimar constitution.

Byrd must aopologise to Frist for understating his audacity, determination and can-do focus on results.
Rejecting the Alternative II

Elementary Statistics on the Front Page of the New York Times again.

Rejecting the alternative hypothesis is an elementary error in statistics. In the Neyman Person framework (hypothesis testing) the null hypothesis can be rejected against an alternative. A failure to reject the null is not evidence against the alternative. I have mentioned this error before here.

Todays case is very blatant.

Benedict Carey writes

But in the only rigorously controlled trial so far in depressed patients, the stimulator was no more effective than surgery in which it was implanted but not turned on.


and

In the study, doctors implanted the device in 235 severely depressed people. The stimulator sends timed pulses of electricity to the vagus nerve, which has wide connections throughout the brain.

Half of the patients then had their stimulators turned on. The investigators did not know which of their patients had their stimulators on.

After three months, researchers "unblinded" the study and compared levels of depression in the two groups based on standard measures of disease severity, the F.D.A. documents show. They found that 17 of the 111 patients who had implants turned on and completed the trial showed significant improvement. But 11 of 110 who had no stimulation and completed the trial also felt significantly better. The difference between the two groups was small enough to be attributable to chance.


It appears that Mr Carey is unaware of the subtle mathematical point that 17/111 is greater than 11/110. The arithmetic error is made worse by the fact that the false claim that the two proportions are the same is made before the jump and the actual numbers which are not the same only appears after the jump.

Now the difference does not reject the null that the two rates are the same, that is, that the treatment is ineffective. The probability that 17 or more of 28 positive responses are in the treatment group is (roughly using a normal approximation to the binomial) 13 %. To be careful people tend to use a two tailed test, that is, ask what is the chance that 17 or more of postive responses are in the treated group plus the chance that 17 or more are in the control group. That would reject the null at the (very roughly) 26% level. This is far above conventional significance levels.

It is, indeed, very strange that the FDA is considering approval of a treatment supported by such weak evidence. Like various experts quoted in the article, I would have expected that FDA advisory panel to tell Cyberonics Inc., the Houston company that makes the stimulator that the device would only be approved after they performed a larger study and then only if the pooled results were significant. If the point estimate of the benefit were exact (roughly a 50 50 chance) the study would need to be quadrupled, so the new sample would have to be about 330 patients half treated and half controls. If the device happened to be almost exactly as effective as (weakly) suggested by current data, this would have a 50 50 chance of resolving the question.
At the cost of $ 15,000 per patient mentioned in the article it would cost about 5 million (rounding up a bit for the cost of keeping FDA quality records). I suspect that Cyberonics claimed that they couldn't afford such a study.

It seems to me that it might be reasonable to give the FDA some money to finance studies of promising but unproven treatments. The current approach of having firms pay all of the cost of testing seems to me to be a false economy, since firms can choose not to release negative data.

Still my basic point stands 17/111 > 10/110, weak evidence in favor of the alternative is not proof that the alternative is false, don't reject the alternative that a treatment is better than nothing unless there is significant evidence that it is worse than nothing. If you can't know, don't write nonsense like 17/111 = 10/110.
A Specter is haunting the low bankdwidth cybersphere-- the specter of the death of text.

Emptywheel at the Daily Kos tells me I must know what Arlen Specter said Friday and provides a link to video. My connection to cyberspace

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

is not up to streaming video.

I decided to browse the Congressional Record. 10 seconds to find it with google one minute to search it 2 minutes to remember he is Specter not Spector 2 minutes to go to browse and find the intollerable lag of one whole weekend before they put Friday's transcript on the web letting me see nothing sooner than Thursday.

This is intollerable. Why isn't the congressional record put on the web in real time ?
The "Mother of Parliaments "vs The "Worlds Greates Deliberative Body"
sort of like King Kong Vs Godzilla although, in the event, it was more like King Kong vs Thumbillina.

George Galloway MP (indep Bethnel Green and Bow) takes on Norman Coleman (R Minn) who accused him of benefiting from the Oil for Food program (see Roberto Frimigoni).



Senator, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader. and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one - and neither has anyone on my behalf.

Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice. I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice.

Now I want to deal with the pages that relate to me in this dossier and I want to point out areas where there are - let’s be charitable and say errors. Then I want to put this in the context where I believe it ought to be. On the very first page of your document about me you assert that I have had ‘many meetings’ with Saddam Hussein. This is false.

I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August of 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as “many meetings” with Saddam Hussein.

As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defense made of his.

I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and Americans governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas. I used to demonstrate outside the Iraqi embassy when British and American officials were going in and doing commerce.

You will see from the official parliamentary record, Hansard, from the 15th March 1990 onwards, voluminous evidence that I have a rather better record of opposition to Saddam Hussein than you do and than any other member of the British or American governments do.

Now you say in this document, you quote a source, you have the gall to quote a source, without ever having asked me whether the allegation from the source is true, that I am ‘the owner of a company which has made substantial profits from trading in Iraqi oil’.

Senator, I do not own any companies, beyond a small company whose entire purpose, whose sole purpose, is to receive the income from my journalistic earnings from my employer, Associated Newspapers, in London. I do not own a company that’s been trading in Iraqi oil. And you have no business to carry a quotation, utterly unsubstantiated and false, implying otherwise.

Now you have nothing on me, Senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Baghdad. If you had any of the letters against me that you had against Zhirinovsky, and even Pasqua, they would have been up there in your slideshow for the members of your committee today.

You have my name on lists provided to you by the Duelfer inquiry, provided to him by the convicted bank robber, and fraudster and conman Ahmed Chalabi who many people to their credit in your country now realize played a decisive role in leading your country into the disaster in Iraq.

There were 270 names on that list originally. That’s somehow been filleted down to the names you chose to deal with in this committee. Some of the names on that committee included the former secretary to his Holiness Pope John Paul II, the former head of the African National Congress Presidential office and many others who had one defining characteristic in common: they all stood against the policy of sanctions and war which you vociferously prosecuted and which has led us to this disaster.

You quote Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Well, you have something on me, I’ve never met Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Your sub-committee apparently has. But I do know that he’s your prisoner, I believe he’s in Abu Ghraib prison. I believe he is facing war crimes charges, punishable by death. In these circumstances, knowing what the world knows about how you treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Bagram Airbase, in Guantanamo Bay, including I may say, British citizens being held in those places.
I’m not sure how much credibility anyone would put on anything you manage to get from a prisoner in those circumstances. But you quote 13 words from Dahar Yassein Ramadan whom I have never met. If he said what he said, then he is wrong.

And if you had any evidence that I had ever engaged in any actual oil transaction, if you had any evidence that anybody ever gave me any money, it would be before the public and before this committee today because I agreed with your Mr Greenblatt [Mark Greenblatt, legal counsel on the committee].

Your Mr Greenblatt was absolutely correct. What counts is not the names on the paper, what counts is where’s the money. Senator? Who paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars of money? The answer to that is nobody. And if you had anybody who ever paid me a penny, you would have produced them today.

Now you refer at length to a company names in these documents as Aredio Petroleum. I say to you under oath here today: I have never heard of this company, I have never met anyone from this company. This company has never paid a penny to me and I’ll tell you something else: I can assure you that Aredio Petroleum has never paid a single penny to the Mariam Appeal Campaign. Not a thin dime. I don’t know who Aredio Petroleum are, but I daresay if you were to ask them they would confirm that they have never met me or ever paid me a penny.

Whilst I’m on that subject, who is this senior former regime official that you spoke to yesterday? Don’t you think I have a right to know? Don’t you think the Committee and the public have a right to know who this senior former regime official you were quoting against me interviewed yesterday actually is?

Now, one of the most serious of the mistakes you have made in this set of documents is, to be frank, such a schoolboy howler as to make a fool of the efforts that you have made. You assert on page 19, not once but twice, that the documents that you are referring to cover a different period in time from the documents covered by The Daily Telegraph which were a subject of a libel action won by me in the High Court in England late last year.

You state that The Daily Telegraph article cited documents from 1992 and 1993 whilst you are dealing with documents dating from 2001. Senator, The Daily Telegraph’s documents date identically to the documents that you were dealing with in your report here. None of The Daily Telegraph’s documents dealt with a period of 1992, 1993. I had never set foot in Iraq until late in 1993 - never in my life. There could possibly be no documents relating to Oil-for-Food matters in 1992, 1993, for the Oil-for-Food scheme did not exist at that time.

And yet you’ve allocated a full section of this document to claiming that your documents are from a different era to the Daily Telegraph documents when the opposite is true. Your documents and the Daily Telegraph documents deal with exactly the same period.

But perhaps you were confusing the Daily Telegraph action with the Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor did indeed publish on its front pages a set of allegations against me very similar to the ones that your committee have made. They did indeed rely on documents which started in 1992, 1993. These documents were unmasked by the Christian Science Monitor themselves as forgeries.

Now, the neo-con websites and newspapers in which you’re such a hero, senator, were all absolutely cock-a-hoop at the publication of the Christian Science Monitor documents, they were all absolutely convinced of their authenticity. They were all absolutely convinced that these documents showed me receiving $10 million from the Saddam regime. And they were all lies.

In the same week as the Daily Telegraph published their documents against me, the Christian Science Monitor published theirs which turned out to be forgeries and the British newspaper, Mail on Sunday, purchased a third set of documents which also upon forensic examination turned out to be forgeries. So there’s nothing fanciful about this. Nothing at all fanciful about it.

The existence of forged documents implicating me in commercial activities with the Iraqi regime is a proven fact. It’s a proven fact that these forged documents existed and were being circulated amongst right-wing newspapers in Baghdad and around the world in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Iraqi regime.

Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life’s blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

“Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq’s wealth.

Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money, but the money of the American taxpayer.

Have a look at the oil that you didn’t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government.”


Ouch
Like Matt Yglesias I agree with E. J. Dionne

He asks if Democrats should just say no. He concludes "To everything there is a season. There is a time for the Politics of No. When the time for Yes comes around, it ought to be about affirming bigger ideas and larger purposes."

I think, however, that he makes a very simple answer appear to follow from an needlessly complicated question. The straw man paradox is that some people argue, correctly, that Democrats would be fools to attempt to compromise with Republicans and some people argue, correctly, that the Democrats should offer "a compelling alternative vision.". Obviously there is no contradiction here. Offering a compelling alternative vision is nothing at all like compromising.

I think that three points are obvious. Democratic senators should not try to craft compromises with Republican senators, because the house Republican caucus has an unamerican level of discipline, final bills will be written by conference committees and the Republican leadership has decided to abuse to the fullest its authority to nominate members to conference committees. Compromise is not unwise, it is impossible. Since Democrats are totally out of power, there is no way their initiatives can be enacted. For Democrats it is impossible to reform or legislate. This is, by the way, the normal situation for most political parties in the world. US Democrats are so used to being in the majority that they have trouble understanding that they are currently in opposition.

So no compromise, legislation or reform. What's left ? Clearly the Democrats can make proposals which are voted down (or if passed by near miracle vetoed). Such proposals are, of course, really submitted for consideration by voters. If they are popular enough Democrats will win enough seats to enact them. Such proposals are not attempts at compromise nor are they introduced with the hope that they will be enacted before 2006. This is all obvious.

I have been tirelessly and tiresomely advocating one such proposal. It is to propose that the FICA ceiling be eliminated thus making the social security trust fund solvent without cutting benefits or raising taxes on the non wealthy. This is a no brainer.

Another no brainer is to make the income tax more progressive by cutting taxes for all but the richest 1% and eliminating the Republicans cuts for the very rich. Again this is good policy which is likely to be very very popular. The Democrats would be able to tell voters that, if the Democrats had been in power and if the voter's family income is less than say $ 200,000, then the voter's family would have been $ x richer. I am sure this is good policy and I am also sure that it is very very popular. Why don't they propose such a reform as an amendment to every bill that comes past ? Are they afraid of some (rich) pundits accusing them of class war ?

Vision my posterior. The Democrats don't need vision. The Republicans are offering them such a wide target that they just have to take some pot shots with their eyes closed.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Speaking hypothetically

Josh Marshall writes

it wouldn't seem a bad deal to me if the senate Democrats were to allow up or down votes on some or even most of the judges in question, if what they got in return was some ironclad guarantee that the Republicans would no longer try to break the rules and abolish the right to filibuster.

Now, how that guarantee could truly be ironclad? I have no idea. But I'm speaking in hypotheticals.


Josh Marshall is a very smart guy, so if he has no idea how something can be done, it is a major intellectual challenge. I have an idea -- public use video. The senate governs itself. Legally binding contracts can only be enforced by the Senate. This means the simple majority of senators and no judge will intervene if the majority of senators decide to lie about how ironcald their guarantee was mean to be (as 47 to 53 Republica Senators are prepared to lie about their view on the constitutionality of the filibuster of judicial nominees). I believe that there is, hwoever, a judge with power over these senators and I don't believe in God. I am thinking of television.

If the senators in question record a video in which they swear to protect defend and uphold the constitution *and* declare that this video is in the public domain and can be broadcast by anyone, anytime for any reason (even in an ad paid for by their future oponents) that will put the fear of TV in them.

Something along the line of each senator reciting on video "I acknowledge that the rules of the senate allow extended debat on all matters includingjudicial nominations and that the description of debate as deliberately dilatory or a filibuster is an expression of opinion with no relevance to the application of the rules of the senate. Debate can only be curtailed by a motion of cloture which requires 60 yes votes to pass. I acknowledge that the rules of the senate continue until they are changed by the vote of at least two thirds of senators. If I ever attempt to restrict the filibuster by any method other than a vote of cloture supported by at least 60 senators or a rule change supported by at least two thirds of the senate I shall demonstrate that I am no gentleman (woman) and that I do not deserve to be a snator. Such an action will demonstrate that I am a depraved liar with no honor or decency and that only a complete idiot would ever vote for me. I recognise that this video is in the public domain and may be broadcast by anyone at any time for any reason."

That would be an ironclad guarantee.
Intemporate nuclear rhetoric.

Nuclear means related to the gross assault on Senate rules named "the nuclear option" by Trent Lott. The issue is Senate approval of nominations to US courts and whether it is constitutional to block votes on such approval by filibuster (talking the motion to death).

Senate president pro tempore Dr William Frist has had some trouble reconciling his current claim that he believes that such filibusters are unconstitutional and his vote against cloture (ending of debate and calling a vote). Now I think his best rhetorical trick would have been to claim he has changed his mind and views his earlier vote as a violation of the constitution (a youthful indiscretion). Senator Doctor Frist MD chose to attempt to claim that his logically inconsistent views are consistent. In doing so, he discussed a hypothetical senator who might have good reason to vote against cloture because more time was really needed to learn the facts of the case. This hypothetical senator exists (Barbara Boxer D Calif) but she is not William Frist. Frist voted against cloture because he didn't want a vote on the nomination Paez which had been pending for 4 years. By the way, I mentioned this proof of totaly lying shameless hypocricsy here before Shumer, Atrios and Kos (but based on think progress anyway).

Under unfair assault by logic and the English language Frist became a bit intemperate saying "

"The issue is not cloture votes per se, it’s the partisan, leadership-led use of cloture votes to kill - to defeat - to assassinate these nominees."

Now now Doctor Senator is it really doing justice to such nominees to imply that a political position is equivalent to homicide ? Well yes it is

Brown: My grandparents’generation thought being on the government dole was disgraceful, a blight on the family’s honor. Today’s senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much “free” stuff as the political system will permit them to extract


I can't resist getting into the act. The Republicans argue that the Democratic filibusters are unprecedented (forgetting Paez) because the democrats are blocking an up or down vote on nominations which have reached the floor of the Senate. This is silly, since about 60 Clinton's nominations did not get an up or down vote because they did not reach the floor of the Senate because they were blocked by Orrin Hatch (who in many cases did not even hold hearings on the nomination). Thus the Republican position appears to be that it is unconstitutional for 41 senators to block an up or down vote but OK for one senator to block an up or down vote. To me this is like the case of the guy (not Orrin Hatch) who murdered his mother an father and then threw himself on the mercy of the court (not Judge Brown) saying he was an orphan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hoe ho Hoe

Gardening tools and Spam.

Gmail filtered out a more amusing than usual bit of spam.

hoe to make your girlfriend crazy
to me
how to make her crazy please click the url to view more.

Do click on the work safe url, which, sad to say, was hilariously non-useful.

I don't know if they titles reference to gardening is a typo, an effort to evade spam filters or something very very kinky. The last hypothesis is supported by

This which caused great hilarity about a week ago.


Seventh Circuit Judge Terence T. Evans on distinguishing between gardening implements and a staple of rap music vernacular: Footnote one of the Seventh Circuit's opinion today in USA v. Murphy states:

The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch "hoe." A "hoe," of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing "hoe" to "ho," a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps "You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies."


Could it be that the court reporter has more current information than Judge Evans on exactly what wild and crazy people with limited command of English are up to ?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Brad DeLong Discusses Chet the archetypal investment banker.

Alamedia of unfogged asks him for a consult

I have known many investment bankers in my day. ... All of them ... have the same basic character type, which I will call "Chet". Chet is a hail-fellow-well-met sort, cracking jokes all the time (some of most of which may be "politically incorrect", because he doesn't care about things like that). Chet is tall, probably tan, and has big white teeth like a mouthful of chiclets. If Chet does not play golf, it is only because he has ascended into the super-Chetosphere and plays polo. Chet is a member of country clubs, and has a thin wife, and two adorable kids, etc. etc. ... Finally, Chet has an incredibly high opinion of himself. He is confident to the point of arrogance, but friendly, outgoing. There is one thing Chet is not, ever, in my experience, and that is particularly bright. Really. Not an intellectual powerhouse, is where I'm going with this. Not, in all likelihood, able to perform complex mathematical operations.


[big snip]

5. Why do they all have to be irritating Republicans who are convinced there is some very real sense in which they have earned a multi-million-dollar bonus, when it's so clear to anyone that they cannot possibly, ever, have done enough work to "deserve" all that money


Brad analyses the value of Chet's to investment banks. I guess that his example of valuable chetting by Felix Rohatyn is very untypical. I would guess that the key to Chet is to be comfortable with rich people and act confident, because any sign of doubt scares off the investors. Brad thinks they are good at sizing up other people and guessing how much they are willing to pay and thus drive good bargains. This is a very valuable skill and clearly very different from judging how much an asset is worth that is making trading strategies.

Brad's answer to question 5 seems wrong to me. He jokes "As to why they're all Republicans who believe that they generally deserve all their wealth. It is very annoying, but it's inevitable given what humans are: all our successes are due to our skills and industry, and all our failures are do to bad luck, right? "

I don't think the irritating sense of entitlement is just human nature. I think it is key to Chet nature. People who think they have been unfairly fortunate don't drive good bargains. The sense that they deserve everything they can get is necessary for them to get everything they can for their firm. People who think rich people generally are unjustly fortunate don't get along with rich people. People who can't hide the fact that they think investment bankers' incomes are absurd definitely can't squeeze money out of investors.

One other thing. I don't know any Chet's. I know one or two investment bankers and they are very very smart. Guess I must be hanging out in the wrong clubs. I wonder if Alamedia knows the salesman type investment bankers and I know a couple of trader faces.
WAPO out to get Isikov but having some trouble with spelling.

Howard Kurtz is dumping on Michael Isikof because a source of the Koran in the toilet story has slightly changed his assertion. This is read as a retraction of the accusation which has been made many times by others.

In the same paper Justin Blum and Colum Lynch are after another Issikov

Two people were listed as receiving allocations on the council's behalf -- Alexander Voloshin, the highly influential chief of staff to Putin and Yeltsin, who also headed the council, and Voloshin's friend and confidant Sergey Issakov


Personally I have no sympathy either for krooks in the Kremlin or for anyone who feeds non news scandals to Matt Drudge, but I hope that Mr Issakof has been warned that they are about to find him in the phone book.

By the way an attack article by column Lynch must be a joke no ? Looks like the Onion has hacked the Washington Post's web page.
Nuclear Option Meltdown

A Time Magazine Poll on the Nuclear option (sorry the Nuke the Constitution in order to punish Byrd for knowing the rules option) shows that the American people are not willing to support the Republicans assault on the rules.
The question did not even explain that Senator Frist plans to try to change the rules by a simple majority by claiming that the filibusters of judicial nominees are currently forbidden even though there is no such rule, because they are unconstitutional. Still the overwhelming majority of polled Americans are opposed.

Time Poll conducted by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas (SRBI) Public Affairs. May 10-12, 2005. N=1,011 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.



"Some Republicans in the Senate want to eliminate the ability of Democrats to use the filibuster, or extended debate, to block the Senate from voting on some of President Bush's judicial nominees. Do you think the Republicans should or should not be able to eliminate the filibuster in this case?"


5/10-12/05

Should Be Able To Eliminate 28 %
Should Not Be Able To Eliminate 59 %
Unsure 14 %


Recall Frist voted against cloture on approval of the nomination Richard Paez to the 9th circuit and thus, he claims, against the Constitution (well he admits that he is interpeting constitutional penumbras here). Frist just wants to avoid judicial activism as in people saying that the text regardless the consitution clearly meant to say that they get what they want.

Also Orrin Hatch, in 1999, "refused to sign off on any nominees until Clinton nominated Republican Ted Stewart, former Gov. Mike Leavitt's chief of staff." 59% is nothing compared to the majority which will reject the Republican senators when the facts are debated.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Robert Waldmann’s Stalled Projects Without Co-Authors

1. Forecasters I

The signs of forecast errors can be predicted using the difference between individuals' forecasts and the average of earlier forecasts of the same variable. It is possible to improve 115 forecasts without worsening any. It is difficult to reconcile this result with the rational expectations hypothesis, because the average of earlier forecasts is in the information set of the forecasters.

2. Forecasters 2
If forecasters compete in a tournament in which the forecaster with the smallest forecast error wins a prize, it is not an optimal strategy to minimize expected squared forecast errors. Instead, in Nash equilibrium, the distribution of forecasts corresponds to the distribution of outcomes. This prediction closely fits results of analysis of a very small data set.

3 Income Distribution and Infant Mortality

Recently interest has focused on the inequality hypothesis according to which an unequal income distribution causes poor aggregate health outcomes even if the income of the unequal country dominates that of the more equal country.
This pattern does not appear in recent data according to people who think I work at Columbia University. Is this due to the huge disturbance due to AIDS ? Is it possible to explain the pattern in older data ?

4 Inequality and growth

The estimated partial correlation between income inequality and subsequent economic growth differs in an apparently significant way across studies. I think this is due to the huge debt crisis shock which hit many unequal countries at once in the 1980s. This is an interesting empirical question and a warning about the impluasible assumption that disturbances to growth are independent across countries.

5 Circular Spite

Evolutionary Economics Models are much simplified by the assumption of randome mixing and matching. It is considerably more difficult to handle models in which agents stay at a fixed position and compete with their neighbors. A very simple model of agents distributed on a circle gives a very different result for the possibility that suboptimal strategies are selected due to evolutionary spite.

6. The Breakdown Point of Instrumental Variables Estimators

I am aware of no research on the breakdown points of analogs of 2SLS, that is, of estimators which are consistent even when the explanatory variables are not weakly exogenous. The breakdown point is the fraction of arbitrarily chosen data points which can cause the estimator to take arbitrary value The challenge for a robust two stage estimator is to guarantee that, if the model estimated with the majority of the data is identified, so is the model estimated with all of the data. Maintaining the rank of the matrix of coefficients is clearly a much more difficult problem than preventing the estimates from taking any arbitrary value. Indeed it can be demonstrated that the breakdown point of any two stage estimator depends on the properties of the majority of the data and is typically bounded above by a value far below 50%. It is possible to describe an estimator which is consistent for jointly normal data in which the explanatory variables are endogenous and which has a breakdown point equal to this theoretical maximum.

7 An unbiased estimator of the variance covariance matrix of OLS estimates with Hetroskedastic disturbances

While standard Heteroskesastic consistent estimators of the variance covariance matrix are biased in small samples, an unbiased estimator is possible. This estimate is not useful for standard inference, but it is useful in testing the homogenteity hypotheisis in panel data.

8. A Diagnostic Statistic

OLS is highly sensitive to Outliers. If results are due to a few outliers, most residuals are reduced if the estimated coefficients are multiplied by a constant less than one. This count is a diagnostic statistic with little finite sample size distortion.

9 A modified information criterion for Stein class forecasting models.

Abstract if anyone is interested.

10. A new Pareto liberal paradox here




11. Who brings in the money and who spends time with the kids. Based on the first 3 wves of the ECHP, it appears that the time fathers spend with their children increases in the mother's income even after considering the amount of time the mother spends with the children. This supports bargaining models of the family as opposed to the standard Beckerian model.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Reimporting PharmaceuticalProfits OK
Reimporting Pharmaceuticals NO

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Total DeLay Trip Blogging

Since Tom DeLay seems able to generate one huge scandal per international junket, I decided to look around the internets for old reports of DeLay travel.

One trip got a bit of negative attention at the time (1996). It was a trip to Burma/Myanmar in 1996. Dennis Hastert was along for the ride. The trip was financed by the Asia Pacific Exchange Foundation, a tax-exempt organization in Washington. www.burmanet.org suggests that the Foundation may have been effectively laundering lobbying money for Unocal and its French partner Total.

During part of the trip, Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and an aide flew
by helicopter over the remote area where a U.S. oil company, Unocal, and its
French partner, Total, are building a natural gas pipeline.
That $1.2 billion project, Burma's largest foreign investment deal,
could be in jeopardy because of possible U.S. sanctions against the
southeast Asian country.
The trip by Hastert, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, New York
Rep. Bill Paxon and Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce was paid for by the Asia Pacific
Exchange foundation, a tax-exempt organization in Washington.
The group's president, Richard G. Quick, declines to say where its
money comes from. But Unocal acknowledged it is among the foundation's sponsors.


A lot of interesting looking but mostly dead links are here. The only live link seems to be back to the blurb itself.

This has embarrassing info on Carl Ford and Brent Scowcroft (which means DeLay trip blogging creates complications for Block Bolton Blogging).

My favorit hit is this
diagram of a 2 dimensional scaling exercise in which distance decreases the more often two names appear on the same page. The explanation and disclaimer notes that this technique would make Mother Teresa appear to be at the center of a vast charitable conspiracy.

Note that the Asia Pacific Exchange Foundation is closely linked to Unocal and is linked both to Tom DeLay and Li Peng the Tienamen square smashing hardliner.

The Burma trip does not disappoint. We have DeLay linked to ChiComs, French interests and the use of Non profits to launder corporate lobbying cash.

Also the diagrams are really cool.
Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend

on Social Security Reform.

I have repeatedly redundantly reported my disagreement with many people who think that Democrats should just say no to Bush's plans for Social Security. I have argued again and again that a better response is to advocate eliminating the ceiling on FICA and changing nothing else. The argument against this seems to be twofold. First polls showing that this is popular are not to be trusted. Second the Democrats have to maintain discipline or a good plan will pass the Senate and then turn into a bad un filibusterable plan in the conference committee. I never imagined that a plan which consisted only of eliminating the ceiling would pass any majority Republican body. No bill no conference committee and no bill no problem with people deciding they don't like it after all now that it is a real possibility.

Now I want to disagree more radically with they guys (and gal) being Reid, Pelosi, Atrios, Drum, Yglesias, and Marshall (note quick escape from official Washington to cyberspace). I think the Democrats don't need discipline. I think the Democrats need indiscipline, extreme indiscipline total (fake) indiscipline. The point is that, since insolvency of the SSA trust fund is a minor fiscal problem compared with the Bush fiscal train wreck, there are many many ways to solve the problem. In fact there are many popular populists ways to solve the problem. I see there is a problem with the Democrats presenting a Democrat plan. I think that there should be a Democrat plan of the week; each appealing to most Americans and unacceptable to Republicans. That is, I thin that different Democrat senators should propose different plans. This complete chaos of clear ideas will make it impossible for the Republicans to reach a deal in the Senate in order to set up a conference committee. They will have the option of betraying their principles and their contributors in exchange for one vote in the Senate. The vigorous (fake) debate among Democrats will give the impression of ideological flexibility and great effort to solve the problem.


So senator 1 should say "I have a plan to make the SSA trust fund solvent without any cost to most Americans. I think we should eliminate the Ceiling."

Congressman 2 says "Well sure Senator 1's plan would work and it is much better than the Bush plan, but it hits the upper middle class. I think we should restore the estate tax and use it to make the SSA trust fund solvent"

Senator 3 says "well plan 1 and plan 2 would work and are much better than the Bush plan, but I like the idea of making a killing in stock so the SSA should invest in Stock"

Senator 4 says "well plan 1, plan 2 and plan 3 would work and are much better than the Bush plan, but I am worried about a stock crash. The safe part of stock is the dividend, the risky part is the capital gain or loss, so I think the SSA should be funded partly with a tax on dividend income (like the one Glenn Hubbard convinced Bush to cut).

Pundit 5 says "Finally Democrats are trying to solve the problem instead of just saying no. Their plans 1 through 4 are better than the Bush plan. However I am an independent (lying in the same way but not the same direction as O'Reilly) and I prefer spending cuts to tax increases. I notice that the social security shortfall is roughly equal to the absurd medicare prescription drug benefit give away. §Why not allow the medicare administration bargain for lower drug prices and use the money to cover the SSA shortfall.

(the last has to be an "independent" because it is better not to mix up medicare and social security)



The plan of the week strategy is like a filibuster in that, if succesful it will prolong debate not just in the senate but on poliitical talk shows. I mean reporters want something new. If the Democrats give them something new every week, they might cover the Democrats. This will extend the Social Security debate (which is a very good thing for Democrats). I think the analogy is Marathon (not the race the battle) and argue with John Milton that "our maniples will defeat the phalanx of the enemy" or something. The Republicans could not take advantage of these fake openings, because the lack of ideological rigidity of the Democrats would be so extreme that they would have no idea of who to deal with. Also the plan of the week would show how easy it is to think of a better plan than the Bush plan.

One might argue that the Democrats do not need a new strategy, since they are clearly winning the battle on social security reform. This ignores the fact that the battle has also caused approval of Bush and Republicans generally to plumment. The Democrats need to find a way to snatch debate from the jaws of victory.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I am Spartakus too

Boing Boing via Brad DeLong

Phillip Lenssen blogged some material about a 'Search Engine Optimizer' (a company that helps web-developers inflate their rankings with search-engines) called Search Engine Optimization, Inc. [SEO, Inc] The service had all but vanished from Google's database, and Phillip, a commentator on this industry, noted that this boded poorly for the company, indicating that they'd probably done something wrong to incur the wrath of Google (the 'Google Death Penalty'), which meant that they ended up looking totally incompentent: not only couldn't they improve your site's PageRank, they couldn't get themselves ranked on Google.

The company responded with a threatening, bogus Cease-and-Desist letter telling Phillip that he had to take his page down or face legal action.


Link to Google Cache of Lenssen's article

Link to PDF of cease and desist letter

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Complete Jim Jeff Guckert Gannon for GOPusa opus here at Blogslut (also thanks Ms Blogslut not only for the tireless research with the way back machine but also for making a permalink).
Funny google referals to this Blog

According to www.google.ie I am the web's 4th leading expert on Kaletra big capsules. My reaction ? What the hell is Kaletra ?

Also where is ie ? is that Ireland Iceland or what ?

according to www.google.co.uk I am the webs 6th leading expert on stochastic sex (if only).

According to www.google.com I am the web's 2nd leading expert on Brian Brendle. My reaction ? Who is Brian Brendle and why did I post about him ?

According to www.google.jp I am the web's 10th leading expert on Rexon Ryu. This is surprising because I don't seem to have misspelled his name (my usual root to google prominence).

According to www.google.jp I am the web's 4th leading expert on polygyny disadvantage

See comment to google.co.uk above.

I love referrals from www.google.jp, because I find kanji kool.
Kevin Drum says that Bob Balls endorses Robert Waldmann's proposals for Social Security.

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Century Foundation has published a paper by ├╝ber-mega-lifetime Social Security guru Bob Ball that outlines a "relatively painless solution" for restoring Social Security to solvency. Basically, it raises the payroll cap a bit, dedicates estate tax revenue to Social Security, and invests a portion of the trust fund in the stock market.


I argued for Balls' point one here here here here , here here, here, here, here.
I argued for Balls's point two here.
I argued for Ball0s point three here, here, here, and here.
I disagree with Matt Yglesias

I decided not to post for a bit so that solerte Italian magistrates will notice that anything Indymedia did I did sitting right here in Italy (magistrate guardate il post sotto questo).

I almost resisted reporting a disagreement with Matthew Yglesias who opposed giving money to college students here.
I'll also note that anyone who thinks the Liberal Democrats have gotten to Blair's left by opposing fees for university students needs to think harder. Free college tuition is a subsidy to the upper middle class, not to the poor. Given the availability of student loans, the main barrier to higher education for working class kids isn't tuition, per se, it's primary and secondary school systems that don't let them compete on a level playing field in the admissions sweepstakes.


I think that this shows that he has not completed his transformation into an economist (congrats Matt). To me as a regular guy, his argument makes sense. However, as an economist I must note the alleged relevance of supply and demand in possibly affecting relative prices. The economist's argument is that egalitarians should be very eager to subsidize university education, because that will cause an increase in the supply of graduates and a decline in the wage differential between Universtity graduates and non graduates. Thus if you want to take money away from a group of people, you should give money to others in order to convince the others to become like the people you want to hammer.

There is strong evidence that US wage inequality is closely related to the return to diplomas, which is strongly influenced by exogenous factors like the war in Vietnam (which caused the most amazing people to discover an interest in studying the most amazing subjects just ask the revs David Stockman doctor of divinity and Gary Hart doctor of divinity) and the GI bill. The periods of declining or stable inequality in the USA have a lot to do with sudden incentives to go to university. Of course the fact that the curriculum in the late 60s and early 70s had an arguably excessive focus on smoking pot and occupying the deans office might also have had an effect on the decline in the economic return to higher education.

I say pay people to go to college to soak over priveledged college graduates like Matt and me.