Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Obama Campaign has a good hard hitting negative ad out

but Jed of Jedreport is at least as good (and working on a budget of zero I think).

ouch that's gotta hurt.

And that is just one of 72 flipflops listed by Steve Benen (I told him about the latest addition which is number 62 on the list).

How about 72 McCain debates McCain ads (that way no one gets bored).

Pity Obama is so principled about 507s.
Ballance at the Washington Post

I use the word ballance as a reference to the Washington Post's willingness to break its own clearly defined rules in order to avoid allowing the liberal bias of the facts to influence their coverage of Republicans and Democrats. I stress that the Post does not deny this practice (or assert that any particularly egregious practitioner has suffered any actual consequences as a result). The word refers to Rep Frank Ballance (D) who was included on a corruption scorecard even though the clearly defined rules implied that he shouldn't have been. The post confirms that his name was added (ignoring their rules in view of the result of applying them) so that the score would be more balanced. This is not contested and the Post has given no reason to suggest that the practice does not continue.

In fact, the Post just made it very very clear that the practice does continue. Immediately after reporting the fact that the McCain campaign used absolutely false claims on a matter of fact to accuse Obama of not visiting troops without TV cameras around (as he has repeatedly done) , the Post published not one but two articles which accuse Obama of being presumptuous because of a statement which was (allgedly) quoted second hand from an anonymous source.

The journalistic misconduct in a post by Jonathan Weisman is so extreme that, even given his track record, it is hard to believe that he would abandone all standards if there weren't a decision to provide ballance (maybe his personal decision).

I excerpt

"I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," he said, according to the source.


No tape of the event exists and no one is denying the quote.

Now clearly the Post can't argue that they know for sure that the words in question left Obama's mouth in the order claimed by the source so why the hell did Weisman use quotation marks ?!?!?! An indirect quotation would have been inflamatory enough and would not be absurd. Isn't it a rule that quotation marks are used only when a reporter knows that the quoted words are exact ? Since when are anonymous sources trusted to quote exactly word for word ?

In fact, even if he can't generate indirect quotes, I think that Weisman would have stayed this side of a clear breach of all journalistic standards if he had written

An anonymous source told me "Obama said 'I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,'"

That way he would be correctly quoting his source (and I would expect him to have it on tape) and not claiming to have quoted Obama and relying on a source when making that claim.

The claim that the quote is not contested is no longer accurate.

Someone present in the room mailed Greg Sargent
a quote which includes "I have just become a symbol ... ." This is not just a matter of distorting the meaning of a quotation by removing context. According to this second source the quotation published on is innaccurate, false, wrong and unacceptable, because there is no ellipses between "have" and "just". OK so are Weisman and his editors willing to go into Watergate mode betting the credibility of the Washington Post on their definite specific claim that Obama uttered no words between "have" and "become".

I think the answer is of course not. No paper would bet it's reputation on a quote from memory from an anonymous source. No paper which deserves a reputation would put such a quote in quotation marks.

Now the aid who e-mailed Sargent stresses that just before the contested sentence Obama said (if he recalls correctly) something to the effect of a claim that it has become increasingly clear in [his] travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about [him] at all. It's about America. (the aid put a quote from memory in quotation marks, but hey he's e-mailing not journamalisming in the post).

Roughly simultaneously, Dana Milbank wrote an article about Obama using the same contested quote.

Anyone who is willing to argue that this isn't ballance is invited to do so in comments.

Update Jonathan Weisman is infinitely further from being a journalist that I thought. Like Sargent he received the push back e-mail. He has a new post which I quote in full.

House Aides Push Back On Obama 'Symbol' Quote

By Jonathan Weisman
House Democratic aides are pushing back hard on a quote reported from Barack Obama's meeting on Capitol Hill last night, saying that when the presumptive Democratic nominee said, "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America," he was actually trying to deflect attention from himself.

No tape of the event exists and no one is denying the quote. But one leadership aide said the full quote put it into a different context. According to that aide, Obama said, "It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign -- that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol."

OK let me now excerpt

from the older post

"I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," he said, according to the source.

from the newer post

no one is denying the quote. [snip] "I have just become a symbol."

Now if the older quote had been "I have ... become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," he said, according to the source." then Weisman could claim that no one is contesting the quote. However it wasn't. The e-mail alleges that the quote published by Weisman is innaccurate, not just distorted by removal of context (as the removal of the word "just" would have been if there had been an ellipses it its place) but innaccurate.

Weisman is so utterly indifferent to the basic rules of journalism and English punctuation that he doesn't see that eliding words without an ellipses is misquoting not just removing context. It's all right there two inconsistent quotes and the claim that the first quote is not contested by anyone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fire up the Barbie STAT

Obviously the McCain campaign is counting on their base in the press. They believe that they benefit from a double standard. I know it because at least one of them said so to Mark Ambinder.

a senior McCain campaign adviser told me last week. [snip]

Concerns about whether McCain is coming off too mean, they say, are irrelevant. The media, they believe, has created double standard that allows them to view Obama's contempt for McCain as in-bounds and McCain's attempts to draw contrasts with Obama as out-of-bounds.

I think that they are going too far. My evidence ? That I know that at least one of them told Ambinder that they were counting on a double standard. Clearly that was meant to be on background (as in our little secret) and the senior campaign ad never imagined that Ambinder would quote him.

Ambinder has been bending over backwards for ballance. He just made it clear that he is not willing to bend over forwards and ... if you get my drift.

Ambinder is just one journalist, but they move in packs. I don't think many want to be known as one of the few who could be counted on to be loyal to McCain in spite of the facts and evidence.

via Matt Yglesias.
The Early Bird gets the Worm

As my anti computer virus strategy, I am always late posting. In particular I want to post about the USA OK Gallup outlier poll which shows McCain ahead for the likely voter sample (and not for the registered voter sample).

The left blogosphere is dumping on Gallup. I would like to defend them. Yes the likely voter number is unconvincing. I note that Gallup insists that it is not the number of interest and is not to blame. Very much to Gallup's credit they say exactly what their likely voter filter is, so it is clear why it works well in October and not at all in July.

As e.g. Steve Soto notes, as regular as the seasons, there is a gallup anomaly every 4 years . Clearly the most likely explanation is the likely voter filter which differs across pollsters. Here the internals basically prove that it must be the likely voter filter (no calculations but given the overlap the difference between the results with the two samples is clearly significant).

So what is it about the Gallup likely voter filter ? Well *as Gallup insists* it is useless in July.

Back when they were a near monopoly they didn't even release the numbers. Now they told people that the number to look at was support among registered voters (absolutely explicitly and no one listened). The reason that the crazy number is crazy is, I think, due to the integrity of the Gallup organization.

Let me explain. IIRC they use the same filter they have used for decades. This is honest. It means they aren't fiddling the numbers. It means that old Gallup performance is relevant (and their last polls before election day do very very well). It means the filter is transparent, publicly described and can be implemented by hand without a computer. It also means that it is much worse than worthless in July (as they have been saying for decades).

Oooops they are fiddling the numbers. I was trying to find the 7 Gallup likely voter questions and I discovered that they used only 3 this time. My point (which is totally invalid) was that one of the seven questions is "where is your polling place". Not knowing that in late October is a sign that the registered voter is not likely to vote. It doesn't mean much of anything in July and Gallup didn't even ask.

Looking at Gallup performance in past elections based on their last poll and the outcome is a total waste of time if one wants to decide if they or the other pollsters have good estimates now (or in the regular interval when they have numbers which are better for the Republican presidential candidate). They are using a different filter now. The full 7 question filter (which works very well near election day) makes no sense now.

Gallup does have the integrity to publish the likely voter filter which they are using* . Click the link for details but the 3 questions are
At this point, the USA Today/Gallup poll is using a set of three questions to determine likely voters:

"1. How much thought have you given to the upcoming election for president -- quite a lot, or only a little?

2. How often would you say you vote -- always, nearly always, part of the time, or seldom?

3. Do you, yourself, plan to vote in the presidential election this November, or not?"

My guess is that to be a likely voter one has to answer very much, always and yes. Importantly question 2 refers to past elections. Participation is low and rises sharply with age roughly up to age 30. Question 2 thus excessively screens out young voters (even compared to their low turnout). It also can't pick up the unusual enthusiasm for a young Black charismatic super star world historic candidate (if any).

*ought to be required by news organizations as in "if you want us to ever name you on the air, send us your raw data and your numbers and if we can reproduce your likely voter numbers we will call you a pollster and if we can't we will have a long investigative series about whether or not you are a total fraud. But hell, before they do that, they might point out when candidates say things which are demonstrably false, and, if they did that, we wouldn't have to worry about polls this time, because McCain clearly can't help himself.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Candidate who learned how to debate from Marx

Chico Marx.

John McCain doesn't seem to have learned much beyond "who are you going to believe -- me or your lying eyes ?" (OK also your lying ears). The genuinely strange thing is that he gets sincerely indignant when people believe what they see on video and not what he claims.

On Saturday July 26 he falsely denied that he said "timetable" on CNN Friday July 27 (maybe it was early Sunday morning).

I don't know if he is a meglomaniacal psychopath who thinks that the authority of his word is greater than the authority of the plain facts (he is debating what he said on CNN which is on video) or if he is a total idiot who can't remember what he said a few days ago. I don't think it matters much.

His final position is that he likes timetables except for the ones which schedule events as a function of time (I like Republican candidates for President so long as they are Barack Obama).

McCain has been spoiled by an adoring press corps which never reports his bloopers. He gives the impression that he is honest, because he makes simple brief definite claims without weasel words or qualifications so if he were to lie he could be nailed. Many of these definite claims are definitely false, and concern his own words and deeds (lies or errors due to shocking memory lapses). He speaks simply and directly because he has for years and hasn't been nailed because his base, the press, has chosen not to nail him.

update: McCain has been widely denounced for his ad which "blasts Obama for not visiting wounded troops during his visit to Germany." Here, to me, a key issue was the politicization of the US military which said that Obama couldn't visit with his campaign staff (to be neutral as in the order to US diplomats in Germany to not attend Obama's speech although the US ambassador to Canada attended McCain's speech there). Now I see that the total shameless dishonesty of the McCain campaign is demonstrated again (as if it were necessary).

The theory they present is that Obama didn't go, because he couldn't bring TV cameras "'Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras,' the ad insinuates." Sen. Jack Reed points out that

"Senator Hagel, Senator Obama and I visited the combat support hospital in Baghdad to thank those nurses, those doctors, to see patients that were there, to bring a bit of greetings from home and profound thanks, ... That should be in the ad that Senator McCain is running.


"But when we were in Baghdad, we made a point, at the end of a very exhausting day, to go in and see these magnificent young Americans and those doctors and nurses that give such tremendous care - without a lot of fanfare, just to say 'Thanks.'

"We went to Jalalabad to see the soldiers of the 173rd. We stopped in Basra to see our soldiers down there. We went into Anbar province to see soldiers there.

"That is a completely distorted and, I think, inappropriate advertisement."

So the rule is that McCain can deny that he said something even if he is on video saying it. In contrast Obama can't refute the claim that he only visits hospitals when there are video cameras around, because, for some strange reason, there is no video of him visiting hospitals without video cameras around. That's catch 22 for the 21st century.

update: Josh Marshall beat me to the punchline.

update 2: McCain's campaign called on the lie. There position is that if it's not on video it doesn't exist so the fact that Obama visited injured soldiers when there weren't TV cameras around doesn't prove that Obama would visit injured soldiers without TV cameras around.

factcheck calls them on it.

Andrea Mitchell calls him on it

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Begin to get some inkling as to why the hell Italian voters re-re-elected Berlusconi

This has been very hard for me to determine because he has little support among the over-educated middle class Italians with whom I mostly interact and because even people who vote for Berlusconi don't say that they voted for Berlusconi (I have never heard praise of Berlusconi except on Berlusconi controlled TV and I have talked at some length to someone who is now a cabinet minister).

Even though my body is in Italy my mind is generally in the US left blogosphere (please don't tell my colleagues ... my students have guessed already).

This is, to the very small extent that I can make a contribution, bad for the US left blogosphere which might benefit from an Italian reporter and certainly doesn't need a marginally larger echo chamber. I know this. My only response so far is to make my firefox starting page (one of Italy's 2 highest circulation papers, generally center left for Italy (pretty far left for the USA) but motivated by intense passionate hatred for Silvio Berlusconi, since he had a judge bribed in his attempt to take the paper over and fire its then staff).

generally I open it for a second, go to gmail, click on hotmail then go to
Atrios (I never ever check sitemeter and firefox is just teasing me when it proposes extending www to whenever I type www.

Today, I think I may have learned something. I would roughly translate it as "crime in the streets"

Un'indagine rivela una sindrome dell'insicurezza senza precedenti
Si invocano più controllo sul territorio e misure straordinarie per l'immigrazione
Criminalità e paura del futuro
in cima ai pensieri degli italiani

Criminalità e paura del futuro in cima ai pensieri degli italiani
ROMA - Italiani preoccupati per la sicurezza a livelli senza precedenti nel passato.

A poll reveals a fear of street crime sindrome without precedent. People ask for more control over the territory and extraordinary measures concerning immigration.

Crime and fear of the future top the worries of Italians.


Italians worried about street crime at unprecedented levels.

Note that I have made a free translation "sicurezza" literally means "security". Here it is used to mean roughly "being safe walking alone in cities at night" (a concept which is so alien to the US experience that it is very hard to translate). It sure doesn't mean "social security" (stato sociale) or "job security" (non- precariatà job security was the norm for Italians lucky enough to be employed. Being fire-able not at will but at the end of a 3 year contract is the innovation).

Italians are very afraid of being mugged by immigrati extracommunitari (immigrants from outside of the EU) such as myself. In particular they are afraid of undocumented aliens.

Now I really really didn't get this. I assume I am always relatively safe when alone at any hour in any place in Italy (I'm the guy who walked down Huntington ave. Boston alone at 1 am until 2 kids with a knife took the $8 I have in my wallet).

Thus over here we, fairly suddenly, have the working class righties whose fear and anger is now directed down not up.

(an egocentric aside: my worthlessness as a blogospheric Italian correspondent is proven by the fact that you could have read this months ago at not to mention that Josh Marshall is (with Giuseppe D'Avanzo and Carlo Bonino) my main source of news about what is really happening in Rome where I live.)

Now it would be very odd if anger at criminals caused Italians to vote for Berlusconi, since he is undeniably a criminal. He was convicted of a crime but not punished because of the statute of limitations. he could have appealed (a second time he was convicted twice) to clear his name without risk of prison if he lost (a third time) but chose not to. He has been found to be a criminal and chose not to contest that finding in the cassazione (highest criminal court of appeal) because he was nailed down to law. He also changed the law on false accounting as he was being investigated for "losing track" of roughly $250,000,000 and just had parliament pass a law which says he can't be prosecuted so long as he is prime minister (parliament was racing the court which was hearing the case Italian people against Berlusconi for subborning perjury in the investigation of the $ 250 million oversight).

But the key thing is that Italians have accepted the distinction between "people who break the law" and "criminals". This should be familiar to my US readers where the GOP is the tough on crime party and totally corrupt. The desire for "sicurezza" is not at all the same as a desire for "legalità" (legality). The word was introduced into the political vocabulary by Berlusoni (well he actually introduced "sicurity" because he likes to pretend he is American). Its purpose is to distinguish the crimes which must be punished (crimes by poor people) and the violations of the criminal code which everyone does and who cares and to distinguish between criminals (undocumented alien burglers, muggers and drug pushers) and perfectly respectable people who are being persecuted by politicized prosecutors because they did things which are (for the moment) classified as felonies by the criminal code but no one is rude enough to say that they are criminals (except for me causing my wife to comment that its weird that she is married to a US citizen who people assume is probably not a lefty and he is totally further out into lefty craziness than anyone else she knows).

The decision that "law and order" matters more than law, the rule of law or the division of power was crucial to the rise of the Republicans in the US. I now guess that the same thing is happening in Italy.
Matthew Yglesias hypothesizes that Obama's post Berlin Bounce is due to "normal fluctuation in a statistical sample"

I try to test this hypothesis

Is the increase in Obama's lead from 2% to 7% consistent with fluctuations due to sampling ?

I just calculated. When calculating the standard deviation of the change due to sampling I assumed that there are no undecided voters (so I overestimate that standard error). Nonetheless I calculate that the change was 2.21 times the standard error.

Calc goes. The two polls overlap on one day, so the change from the (july 21 + july 22)/2 to (July 24+July 25)/2 is (3/2)5 = 7.5%. The sample sizes were about (2/3)2600. with the no undecideds assumption the variance of Obama-McCain is 1 for each respondent. The variance in the fraction obama-fraction McCain is 3/(5200). The variance of the change in this difference from 21-22 to 24-25 is the sum of the variances of each difference (they must be independent if change due to sampling) so is 3/(2600)
The standard deviation is 3.40% so change/sd is 2.21 rejecting your null with a p-level of 1.36%

Now If I hadn't picked the points ex ante, this would refute your null hypothesis. The probability that there would be such a large ratio of the change to it's standard error over any of N intervals is N(1.36%) so your null would survive my efforts only if we are convinced that I searched over at least 4 different intervals to find the one I liked. Since I eyeballed the graph, this is very possible.

But Rasmussen also showed a big bounce for Obama. I'm going to use the same time interval as for Gallup. Rasmussen has an even larger sample but a smaller bounce. from 7/21 report to 7/26 Rasmussen bounced up 5 which rejects the null (if one considers the undecided when calculating standard deviations as I have numbers not including leaners ignoring that change in diff over overestimated sd is 1.94) . Those are really really the only polls I know about. The chance that 2 out of 2 reject at the 5% level due to samping is 25/10,000 that is really low. Now I have made another choice (both of two tests not say either of two and so on) so that the amount of insta-data-dredging is increased. Still I just don't believe that the apparent bounce is due to sampling

So what is going on ? If anyone is still reading, I am wasting your time. My point (if any) is that two things are confused. Normal fluctuations which tell us nothing about who will win the election and fluctuations that may well be due to sampling.

Pollsters generally choose sample sizes so that the two are similar. Gallup has a very large sample. If one averages over many polls one reduces variance due to sampling. The large Gallup sample and the large pooled samples are confusing to people who identify statistically insignificant and politically unimportant. Ordinary boring unimportant fluctuations and fluctuations due to sampling are not similar at all. I'd say Matt Yglesias meant to say "tells us little about November" when he wrote "normal fluctuation in a statistical sample."

update: The average over July 24-26 is Obama 49 McCain 40. The increase in Obama's lead from July 21-23 is 7 % compared to the increase from 21-22 to 24-25 of 7.5% so no news to within rounding error. The test statistic for no change from 21-23 to 24-26 is over 0.07(1300)^2 is 2.52 (basically now full three day samples not 2 day samples so the s.d. due to sampling is smaller). P-level 0.58% so one would have to believe that I mined at least 9 different intervals to insist that the Yglesias hypothesis has not been rejected by the data.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ezra Klein writes about smart cost sharing.

He wants a committee to decide reimbursement rates.

Oddly, I had another idea about smart cost sharing. Make the doctors pay for the care and pay the doctors based on outcomes.

update: I should have mentioned that I am working on an idea I got from Mark Thoma

...preventative care ... ought to be encouraged, and one way to help with this is ... to forge an unbreakable lifetime relationship between the insurance company and the consumer so that expected lifetime costs are important to the insurance carrier.

I strongly suspect (with no evidence) that Thoma's thoughts were influenced by
an empirical result that very small financial incentives to doctors based on their patients' blood glucose caused big changes in those outcomes (pdf warning).
which will save huge amounts of money for medicare but small amounts of money for the HMO's that introduced the incentives.

One politically unfeasible approach to this would be to assign people randomly to HMO's and pay the HMO's based on their health but have the HMO's pay for their health care. Then the HMO decides incentives. You have to decide how much a life is worth (and eyesight and all that) but it doesn't depend on individual income and the decisions are made by an orgnaisation with tons of data.

Now no way are Americans going to give up all choice (even in Italy I got to choose my GP). So there would be a huge huge cherry picking problem. One could try to deal with it by charging the managed competitive insurance plans (that's not English it's Magazinerish) based on costs per patient minus predicted costs given region and patient characteristics and rewarding based on outcomes minus predicted outcomes.

Obviously it would never work.

I think the best we can do is to charge medical costs not just to the current insurance plan but also, in part, to the one that covered the patients in the past (to give the an incentive to keep their clients healthy). That has the effect of partially funding medicare with a tax on health insurers which would be OK since it is insolvent. Plus paying insurance plans based on documented improvement in well the 3 blood things say.

If insurance companies saw obese people with horrible eating habits who watch TV all day as a profit opportunity, the USA would be a healthier place.

Just think, sleazy insurance agent tells his boss (hey I just found someone with an LDL level of 300, we got to move fast before our competitors sign him).

To try to explain better

My plan is the Edwards plan plus insurance companies pay for care of former clients based on alpha(cost of the treatment)*(years with that company)/(age at time of care) where alpha is well below one and for the care of current clients minus the part paid by former insurers. They get paid a constant which depends only on the region where they are located times the same alpha factors.

Thus they have an incentive to keep their clients healthy (which they can pass on to doctors).

Plus they get paid based on progress on preventive measures (patients who quit smoking, got blood pressure from x down to y, lost weight from obese to not obese etch)funded with a tax on insurance companies per patient so on average they get zero.

This means they would be more willing to sign fat lazy smokers as there is lots of room for improvement compared to things as they are.

Update: Mark Thoma linked to an older version of this post. Following the link back to him, I was reminded that I am talking about how to implement his idea. Also, since some people are actually reading this post, I looked up the cite on the effectiveness of incentives.

Now having stolen Thoma's idea I will steal his comment thread too.

More Expensive says...

Taxing insurance is probably the wrong way to go. More expensive insurance means fewer people/employers will buy it. Finding a way to lower insurance costs is the way to go if we want more people covered. Of course, lowering insurance cost means lowering health care cost in general..

Cost all comes down to can we trust paying customers (patients) to make the right choice. If not, the free market approach won't work. Customer choice means no more competition stifling licenses or prescriptions. The customer must be in complete charge, free to choose an unlicensed Wal Mart trained doctor if she wants to, and buy her meds OTC from Amazon.

All other advanced nations have decided that the customer can't be trusted, so they use a paternalistic state run system. Our system is dysfunctional because we don't empower the customer with true choice (competition), but still expect market forces to work normally.

Posted by: More Expensive | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 03:21 AM

My proposal began with "start with the Edwards plan" which mandates coverage.

save_the_rustbelt says...

"Oddly, I had another idea about smart cost sharing. Make the doctors pay for the care and pay the doctors based on outcomes."

That sounds fine, until you meet a "non-compliant" patient.

The diabetic who loves cupcakes, patients allergic to exercise, those who cannot quit smoking, etc.

Next idea?

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 04:55 AM
ken melvin says...

This is a really interesting comment. I wrote hundreds of words in reply back at economistsview then I surfed away without posting them (Robert Waldmann's other idea make sure that Robert Waldmann has nothing to do with managing health care).

I know that there are non-compliant patients. My sister treats the homeless. My mother treats HIV positive people without insurance (by now most are intravenous drug addicts the nice polite gay men have learned to use condoms). They tell me about their patients using nicknames to preserve confidentiality. I have heard a lot about "Eeyore" (a very gloomy patient such that I recognised that my mom was talkinga bout Eeyore when she just said "a patient") and "Rage" (primary complaint on first contact was "rage" he said it first).

There is a huge literature on optimal incentive schemes when outcomes are not completely under the control of the agent. If agents (here doctors) are risk averse it is not optimal to pass all costs on to them, since then they demand high expected payments to make up for the risk. That is why I proposed incentives at the level of the insurance company. According to standard economic theory they, as rational profit maximizing agents, will decide what incentives to pass on to the doctors. They can just take the hit for poor patient outcomes (note the fraction of non-compliant patients for a whole company has very low variance. It's like the point of insurance). Or they can pass them on to doctors *and* raise expected compensation so doctors accept their patients. According to standard theory, they will design the optimal incentive scheme (and CEO compensation is optimal for shareholders). I admit that I don't care at all what standard theory says as I don't believe in it.

I think part of the issue is that we have a strong sense that we must never punish the innocent. This means that making a doctor pay for having a non-compliant patient is unfair and unjust. If this logic were applied consistently, we would the market system which provides incentives which depend in part on individual choices and in part on luck (I'm not sure Mr Rustbelt would disapprove of such an approach). Somehow it's different if the government is involved. I once heard someone angrily opposing a gas tax (in the 70s) arguing that some people need to drive to get to work -- so it would punish people who weren't doing anything wrong. Look I'm not talking about throwing people into jail. I'm talking about an MD getting $50 less in a year, because he didn't manage to convince a non-compliant patient (note MDs can subcontract the nagging to nurses).

First, how best provide healthcare. I see no reason to believe insurance companies will ever provide the answer. If they were somehow the answer, responsibility would have to be continuous.

Posted by: ken melvin | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 06:34 AM

Nor do I. I was playing by the rule "you can't get single payer through the Senate," which is standard in the wonkosphere.

Ninja Zombie says...

"If insurance companies saw obese people with horrible eating habits who watch TV all day..."

Therein lies the problem with american health care. But what can insurance companies, socialized medicine or any other *medical care* payment scheme do about this? Send out "Dear Fatass, please exercise to save us money" letters?

The only thing that has any reasonable chance of success here is creating incentives for diet and exercise. One possibility: everyone buys their own insurance, and Chubby McLazy pays higher premiums...

Public ridicule might also work.

Posted by: Ninja Zombie | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 06:53 AM

Your hypothesis has been tested and rejected by the data (see big pdf). To fantasize, the insurance companies can pass incentives on to the MDs who pass them on to patients. If the doc gets $50 when the obese patient becomes non-obese, he or she can offer a prize to the patient who loses the most weight (biggest loser). That works (just watch it on TV). In any case, patient's behavior can be influenced. It can be done. It has been done.

GK says...

I guess that I have to bring this discussion back to reality.

My insurance company loved me when I was healthy, after my battle with cancer they just keep raising my rates every year, even though I am considered "cured" from the type of cancer I had.

Insurance companies are "For Profit" corporations that hate sick people.

Fuck the insurance companies, let the Feds take over Health Care like Medicare.

The rest of this discussion is just ivory tower babble

Absolutely true. The departure from reality was explicit when I wrote "Start with the Edward's plan". The idea is to completely change incentives to insurance companies so that they make profits by keeping people healthy. It is theoretically possible. I know it aint gonna happen.

Posted by: GK | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 07:54 AM
Holly W. says...

How do you have competing insurance companies and an "unbreakable" lifetime relationship between the insurer and insured?

Posted by: Holly W. | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 08:04 AM

Good question (which almost hints that I added something to Thoma's idea)
That's what the alpha is for. Costs and income are shared between the current and the past insurer. An insurance company still gains by getting a client from another (alpha is less than one). The old one gains if the patient stays healthy (alpha is greater than zero). Look friendship can last a lifetime, but people still try to "win friends and influence people". There are numbers between 0 and 1.

save_the_rustbelt says...

I jsut received an e-mail newsletter from my health care insurance company, with a nice column written by a doc about why eating healthy is good for me. I guess I head for the gym and give the M&Ms to my wife.

People can be influenced. The claim that it can be done is proven by the fact that it has been done. Click the (warning pdf) link which I irresponsibly didn't have in my first post. Also see (ivory tower babble)^2 about MDs offering prizes to patients.

Gk: sorry about your experience, but Medicare IS an insurer, and doesn't cover everything

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Link to comment | July 25, 2008 at 08:15 AM

It is way better than private insurance companies. This is mainly because seniors are politically powerful and congress throws public money around (see prescription drug benefit no bargaining over price $1.8 billion/yr or so plus medicare advantage $6 billion per year or so.

However, it is also true that medicaid is stuck with its clients and itself saves nine for a stitch in time. It's generosity would support my arguments if it were a profit making company (and simultaneously my grandmother with wheels).

ken melvin says...

Guide dogs assist the blind. Dogma makes one blind.

did you ever notice that "Dogma" spelled backwards is "A.M. God" ?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

McCain's Disrespect for General Petraeus

When claiming that the surge is everything good that happened in Iraq McCain miss-characterized Petraeus's sworn testimony (which is on video)

on 9/11/07 McCain pressed Petraeus to say that it is absurd to suggest that the Anbar awakening was separate from the surge. Petraeus says that "Well -- the success in Anbar province, correctly, is a political success" and goes on to discuss it without any mention of the surge. This is a man being grilled under oath in front of a senate committee. That's as close to "you're full of it senator" as witnesses are usually willing to go, but McCain had the strategic vision to understand when it it time to stubbornly press on, interrupt a witness and insist.

McCain "Could it have happened without the surge ?"

Petraeus: "It would not have happened as quickly without the surge."

That is as close to "you're totally full of it senator" as witnesses ever go. Ever. In plain English Petreaus responded "You are interrupting me to object to my answer to your question. If you insist on making things clear, I'll make it clear. Yes it would have happened without the surge."

Now McCain has just decided to lie about what Petreaus said (or claim that testimony under oath counts for less than some other conversation).

McCAIN: [snip] And Gen. Petraeus has said that the surge would not have worked and the Anbar Awakening would not have taken place -- successfully -- if they hadn't had an increase in the number of troops.

My post is a watered down text only version of the last seconds of a TPMTV episode (from 4:17 on).

I think that John McCain is doing a fine job of making himself look like a dishonest fool. The best response is probably just to quote him and laugh. But I can't resist debating.

He now has two positions

1) John McCain advocated a surge before the surge, and deserves credit for the results of the surge, while Barack Obama opposed the surge.

2) "the surge" doesn't mean what everyone else means when they say "the surge" it means "the surge and the shift to following the counterinsurgency field manual when trying to counter an insurgency plus making a deal with the people we were fighting in which they get money without accepting the Iraqi central government and well just everything that changed within a year of the improvement in the security situation."

Claim 2 alone is enough to show he is dishonest and grasping at straws, but the debate point winning response is to note the equivocation.

Only if "the surge" means the increase in troop levels is it true that McCain advocated it and Obama opposed it. Obama never argued against the counterinsurgency field manual. I don't think McCain proposed offering a super sweet deal to most of our adversaries in Iraq. If the surge is everything that the US tried since Sept 2006, then Obama did *not* oppose all of the surge and McCain did not advocate it. The point of disagreement between the two was US troop levels. If that is not key to "the surge" then McCain's whole campaign is based on a bait and switch equivocation.

update: This post was originally a comment here. As usual, I posted my comment and then began reading the comment thread (don't you hate it when people comment without reading the thread. I sure do). I see that badmoodman made a vastly superior version of my comment

Badmoodman Says:

McCain’s policy:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

OK to find a better phrasing of my argument in an ultra-centenarian book for children puts me in a bad mood, but I am *not* badmoodman.

I would have edited the last line to

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master [President] — that’s all [that I care about].”

What a badcommentman I am.

update II: Great minds think alike. Smarter ones know how to make the point succinctly. (oooh that smarts he just writes better). Actually Yglesias made the point succinctly twice (does that mean double succinctness of half succinctness)

In fact, McCain has shown an extraordinary unwillingness to accept or understand the US choices which helped awaken the Iraqi Sunnis. Hell then and now he was pretending that we were and are fighting mostly al Qaeda in Iraq (to the point of claiming 3 times in 2 days the third in response to a challenge to the second that Iran is providing training to AQI terrorists). The key strategic insight behind the Sunni awakening is that we could separate the Iraqi controlled Sunni insurgents from the foreigner commanded (mostly Iraqi born) AQI fighters. Now this was not a new idea, the US had been negotiating with the Sunni insurgents for years, but it is one that McCain still can't grasp and refuses to recognize.
In which I take a comment thread debate at Angrybear and front page it here mainly to check my html coding (haloscan is much less idiot proof user friendly than blogger).

Since 1990 tax federal receipts as a percent of GDP have averaged around 18.9 percent. During the Bush years this number fell below 18 percent and during the Clinton years it went over 20 percent. Looking at this number going backwards in time I think setting a target rate at 19 percent seems reasonable.
Aaron | 07.24.08 - 8:52 am |

This 19% of GNP number, it seems to be pure true conservativism. The average in the past must be optimal, because ... it is in the past. I think decisions about optimal G/Y should be made based on uhm you know costs and benefits. In particular, Baumol's disease implies that the relative price of health care and education is increasing compared to the price of goods. I think that this means that optimal G/Y is increasing. Also an aging population means that TR/Y will naturally increase. I note that the vast majority of our fellow citizens understand that and want it to happen They want to make the social security trust fund actuarily sound by increasing taxes on rich people and not by cutting benefits

"Currently, people pay Social Security taxes only on the first $90,000 of their annual income. If it were necessary to keep the Social Security program paying benefits as it does now, would you favor or oppose increasing the amount of income that is subject to Social Security taxes?"

Favor 63
Oppose 30
Unsure 7

, that is, they agree with Obama (except the majority supports a much more extreme reform). The argument that people don't know what they want, because they don't know that the US has changed since 1950 is absurd. The argument that people shouldn't get what they want, because they want higher taxes on the rich (search for upper-income) is undemocratic. The claim that economists know that the people are wrong is not based on the data.
Tax Policy Center calls McCain campaign out for cheating.

Brad DeLong has a hot tip from Jason Furman

I quote a bit of Brad's quote of Furman

Today, the Tax Policy Center released a new analysis of the McCain and Obama tax plans, which provides a comparison between what each of the candidates says on taxes (their actual plans) and what their campaign advisors claim. It finds that the true cost [over 10 years] of Senator McCain’s tax proposals is $2.8 trillion larger than what his advisors have acknowledged. And most of that $2.8 trillion is the cost of yet more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. The plan still offers very little for ordinary Americans.

I think the key bit of the tax policy center report (here warning pdf) is (emphasis mine)

In several important ways, the candidates’ speeches and web sites differ from the plans as we’ve outlined them above, and, in several cases, descriptions of proposals provided by campaign advisors strike us as implausible. Senator McCain has said repeatedly that he would repeal the
individual AMT, allow businesses to expense all investments in equipment immediately, double the deduction for dependents, and give individuals the option to pay tax under a simplified alternative tax system. The campaign advisers say that the AMT will be patched but not eliminated except under the simplified alternative system, that only short-lived investments (for which expensing is not worth much) would qualify for immediate deduction, that the larger deduction for dependents would phase in slowly (and never equal twice the current-law deduction), and that the simplified alternative tax system would be revenue neutral. The last assertion is particularly questionable: few taxpayers will choose to pay an alternative tax if it does not reduce their tax bill, so an optional alternative is only revenue neutral if almost nobody elects it, which is probably not what the candidate has in mind. We estimated the cost of Senator McCain’s plan as described on the stump, assuming that all the provisions are fully effective immediately and that the optional alternative tax system is similar to the one proposed by the Republican Study Committee. Under those assumptions, the revenue loss attributable to the Senator’s plan increases to almost $7 trillion over the 10-year budget window.

Senator Obama’s proposal to exempt seniors with income below $50,000 from income tax but continue full taxation starting at $50,001 also strikes us as impractical and undesirable. Any actual legislation would have some kind of phaseout to avoid a “cliff” at $50,000. Also, Senator Obama has spoken often about subjecting high-income taxpayers to additional taxes to help shore up Social Security, although his campaign advisers insist that there is no specific proposal. We estimated the cost of Senator Obama’s proposals assuming all of the provisions are fully effective immediately, that the seniors’ exemption would phase out over a $10,000 income range, and that the Social Security proposal would impose a 2 percent income tax surtax on adjusted gross incomes over $250,000 and a 2 percent payroll tax paid by employers on employees’ earnings above that threshold. Under those assumptions, the Senator’s proposals would reduce revenues by $2.4 trillion over 10 years, or about $367 billion less than the proposals as described by his campaign advisers.

Many people (starting of course with the Tax Policy Center) noted that the older tax policy center analysis (which was actually discussed on CNN) omitted aspects of the campaigns proposed tax reforms.

In particular, I complained that they didn't discuss the Obama donut payroll tax plan. On that point, I have to admit that the Obama campaign is responsible as Furman more or less complained that they considered it this time*. Considering this the Obama proposal would add $ 400 billion less to the deficit compared to current law (with Bush tax cuts expiring and no AMT fix). Also the TPC was right to wait for details. I was prepared to assume that the new tax on labor income over 250,000 would be 6.2% (plus 6.2% from employers) like the payroll tax for regular people, but Obama has since made it clear that he won't do anything as radical as that. He has also talked about a 4% tax so the revenues might be almost twice the amount estimated by the TPC (twice according to a pure accounting model less given the increased increase in payroll tax avoidance). That would actually still roughly fits my guess that it covers the making work pay tax cut (click here and search for me).

The important part is the contrast between the goodies that McCain has been promising on the stump and the relative fiscal sanity that his aids tried to convince the TPC was what he really meant. He has repeatedly promised to eliminate the AMT but they, more or less, denied this in a claim which is no longer operative. Also he proposes an alternative minimum tax claiming that calculating two tax bills is simpler than calculating one (I am not joking). Obviously it is a flatter tax so allowing rich people to pay it is another huge tax cut.

The difference between McCain's promises to taxpayers and his aids' promises to the TPC are huge, twice the difference between the cost of the tax cuts as described by the aids and the tax cuts proposed by Obama.

* For reasons which I can not understand, Furman seems irritated that the TPC noted another Obama tax increase on the super rich. He wrote "In contrast, the Tax Policy Center found little difference between what they described as Obama's statesd positions and his campaign advisors description of his tax plan. The only substantive change the Tax Policy Center made was to add a specific payroll tax inrease than neither Senator Obama nor his campaign have ever endorsed in speeches, on the web, or in consultations with the Tax Policy Center" I don't get it. I would guess that this is one tax increase that would actually be popular. I don't know why the Obama campaign is would try to keep it a secret (or why they tell people about it regularly if they are).

update: Now I get it. Obama claims that his plan is a "net tax cut". Including the doughnut plan implies that it would yield increased revenues. We can't have that.
Now you might ask why the Obama campaign didn't sell the plan as "tax cuts for over ninety * % of families" (* filled in so that 9*% is definitely an underestimate) or tax cuts for at least x million people or something that people care about and is true. But you won't be able to think of an answer. I can't believe that the usually brilliant Obama spin team ever conceded that the total tax take is a measure of any tax burden of interest to the vast majority of voters. In fact, I suspect that they cut the doughnut rate to 2-4% from 6.2% to avoid the risk of reducing the deficit (horrors).

Based on the polls I cite repeatedly, I would guess that the public would love the doughnut payroll tax if Obama admitted that he planned it. Instead he has bought into the absolutely central Republican scam of the past 28 years and talked about total revenues as if they are relevant to the median voter (or the voter in the 90th percentile of the income distribution).

I mean just look at what happened. The TPC said that the deficit would be lower by about 400 billion over 10 years than the Obama campaign claimed and the Obama campaign said they were being unfair. Beats claiming that there is an Iraq Pakistan border but not by much.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Video of Olberman denouncing McCain and CBS (stands for complete BS) repectivly for claiming teleological causation of the Anbar awakening and for splicing Couric's question with McCain's answer to another question (in which answer he miraculously managed to avoid confusion about time and space)

update: CBS has posted the un-edited video online

I don't know when they posted the video (might have beaten all youtubers)
The Health Care Debate

has entered a new phase -- a funky phase. Health Care for America Now has joined forces with Josh Funk et al

Almos as awesome as the contribution approved by Senator Ron Wyden

New Robert's Stochastic Thoughts feature.

Stock tip

Sell insurance company shares.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obamania Self Diagnosis

5 questions for now

1. I have long found Obama's life story appealing Y/N
2. I have long found Obama's policy positions appealing Y/N
3: I have long found Obama's voice appealing Y/N
4: I have long found Obama's ears appealing Y/N
5: I have recently found Nouri al-Maliki appealing Y/N

scoring: Add up yes answers and score

0 : You are a cynical bastard
1 or 2: You are a sane person
3: You are a sane person with normal hearing
4: You should be concerned about inevitable disappointment
5: It's hopeless you're as far gone as I am.

update: JimV is a sane person with normal hearing

Monday, July 21, 2008

Excellent organization. Odd slogan

I admit that I have not donated to the "strange Bedfellows" save the constitution (Glenzilla joins Bob Barr for the Mothra of all political struggles) coalition.

I think this is an important organization, but their slogan "Lust for freedom can lead to some pretty strange bedfellows" makes me think "so can freedom for lust."
It's Published

Testing for country heterogeneity in growth models using a finite mixture approach
Marco Alfò 1, Giovanni Trovato 2 *, Robert J. Waldmann 2
1Dipartimento di Statistica, Probabilità e Statistiche Applicate, Sapienza Università di Roma, Rome, Italy
2Dipartimento di Economia e Istituzioni, Università di Roma Tor Vergata, Rome Italy
email: Giovanni Trovato (

*Correspondence to Giovanni Trovato, Dipartimento di Economia e Istituzioni, Università di Roma Tor Vergata, via Columbia 2, 00133, Rome Italy.

We define a bivariate mixture model to test whether economic growth can be considered exogenous in the Solovian sense. For this purpose, the multivariate mixture approach proposed by Alfò and Trovato is applied to the Bernanke and Gürkaynak extension of the Solow model. We find that the explanatory power of the Solow growth model is enhanced, since growth rates are not statistically significantly associated with investment rates, when cross-country heterogeneity is considered. Moreover, no sign of convergence to a single equilibrium is found. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Journal of Applied Econometrics
Volume 23 Issue 4, Pages 487 - 514

Published Online: 2 Jun 2008

Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

full text pdf subscription required

Sunday, July 20, 2008

McCain Campaign Responds To Al-Maliki

Mark Ambinder reports

"'His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out,' said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity"

I really hope that the anonymous senior McCain campaign official is only keeping his or her job because of the anonymity. The view seems to be that Iraqi politics is irrelevant, one of the things that serious people with determination and integrity ignore.

In fact, of course, it is the only reason to stay (if there is one). If Iraqi domestic politics says the Prime Minister must advocate US withdrawal, then the US better withdraw. We are there to support the elected government whose head just asked us to leave (and no I don't believe the weasel worded semi retraction made on schedule as predicted by Josh Marshall). We are there to prevent civil war and the only thing the possible parties to that war agree on is that we should leave. Most of all Maliki has to appear to be for US withdrawal or he won't win elections, because the Iraqi people want us to leave.

To dismiss that as irrelevant is to say that we don't care about Iraqi Freedom (where have I heard that phrase) or democracy. Mr (or Ms hah that's likely) anonymous went on to argue that Maliki agrees with McCain and not Obama (a real challenge given his use of the words "Obama" and "McCain". This is the current official McCain campaign line.

Now I wonder how Ali Al Dabbagh can claim that der Speigel mistranslated "Obama" and "McCain." I assume der Speigel has it on tape so the translation can be checked. and who is this guy ? Looks like time for a google. OK he is the main spokesman for the Prime Minister.
Also former spokesman for al-Sistani. Not one to oppose a timetable for withdrawal. I guess al-Maliki ordered him to eat al-Maliki's words. Of course they weren't mistranslated.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Don't ask me ask Fox News (yes that Fox News)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a German magazine that he supports Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

“U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes,” al-Maliki told Der Spiegel. He said he wants U.S. troops to leave “as soon as possible.”

The apparent endorsement of a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy is a big boost for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee ahead of his scheduled meeting with al-Maliki. Obama, who is touring both Afghanistan and Iraq for the first time since becoming a presidential candidate, arrived Saturday in Afghanistan, where he is meeting with U.S. troops.

[snipped quote from team Obama]

Al-Maliki said for the first time earlier this month that the U.S. military should work toward a timetable for withdrawal — something President Bush and Obama’s rival John McCain oppose. The White House also reported Friday that Iraq and the United States are discussing a “general time horizon” for reductions in troop levels.

Both developments gave Obama fuel in his argument that U.S. involvement in Iraq soon must draw to a close. But al-Maliki’s comments to Der Spiegel seemingly were the deepest the foreign leader has waded into the tense foreign policy debate between the two major presidential candidates.

Al-Maliki told the magazine that his comments were “by no means an election endorsement.”

But he seemed to refer disparagingly to McCain when he said “short time periods” in Iraq are more “realistic,” while “artificially prolonging the tenure of U.S. troops in Iraq would cause problems.”

[snipped a quote of McCain for balance but that is just standard Ballance not Faux balance]


Hmm is this a coincidence "BAGHDAD —Iraqi lawmakers cleared an important hurdle on Saturday by approving the appointment of six Sunni cabinet ministers after a yearlong boycott by the Sunni political bloc." Iraqi Sunnis have been calling for a schedule for withdrawal for years now.
Rdan Sez Tax Cuts Lose Revenue

and links to an excellent *.pdf.

In a sensible country (Utopia ?) that would settle it.
Shorter Haiku

Be aware of all
internet traditions
understand "shorter"
Clarke part LII

How can it be that the US military is strained to the breaking point occupying (sorry assisting) two medium sized countries when we spend about half of total world military spending ? I'm not sure this post is in regular readers' comfort zone, but one reason is that US elected officials have allowed the services to form a budget request cartel such that increased spending on the Army and Marines must be balanced by increased spending on the Air Force and Navy which is needed so they can protect us from the Soviet Union.

I am moved to type this by Ezra Klein's post "Clarke on Obama"

I'm at a panel featuring a conversation between Rand Beers and Richard Clarke, both of whom are supporting, and advising, Barack Obama. Clarke was just detailing the absurdity of buying weaponry to fight the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, despite the fact that neither exists any longer, and arguing the defense budget needs to be downsized. Then he cocked his head, and said, "you know, both presidential candidates support expanding the size of the armed forces. I support Barack Obama, but that doesn't mean I support everything he does. And I want to ask, 'what the hell do we need to expand the armed forces for?'"

I was particularly struck by a comment.

IIRC, Obama is talking about expanding the number of "men under arms" and shifting a bit from expensive metal stuff to a more "labor intensive" military.

While McCain wants more soldiers AND more expensive metal stuff.

Posted by: joe from Lowell | July 18, 2008 3:41 PM

I agree with Joe from Lowell's version of Obama that the problem is the rigid rule that "Until now, the Pentagon has largely divvied up the services' shares of the defense budget the same way every year: the Army receives 24 percent, the Air Force 29 percent, and the Navy and Marines a combined 31 percent. It is a delicate balance that has kept the services from moving aggressively to raid each other's accounts to pay for their additional needs."

leading to absurdities like emergency borrowing by the Army

That's no way to run a republic, it also no way to run an empire. While the candidates debate empire vs republic maybe they can also debate Army vs Navy (not the football game). No prize for guessing which side McCain will be on. This is an issue where he probably actually cares and where his likely position is clearly absurd.

The one key step is to ask former secretary of the Navy Senator Jim Webb if he is uhn on board for the anti Navy plan before attempting take off (from the Air Force too).

update: New frontiers is spam targeting. Soon after posting this I received the following e-mail with subject line "Army" and alleged recipient ""

From: [Name Deleted] ([name.deleted2]
Medium riskYou may not know this sender.Mark as safe|Mark as unsafe
Sent: Sun 7/20/08 11:04 PM
Reply-to: [Name Suppressed] ([Name8.Deletedz]
To a beautiful future [] No script req'd

[Name Deleted]

caleb accost lars populist republican denial crisis cambrian honeymoon diddle speedup pope bidden gilbertson anticipatory contour desert nazareth responsible benight awake heretofore standstill roommate outrageous different cain decennial gogh threefold chairlady antiquary dysplasia stunk heat schizophrenic presidential elegant granule brakeman ouvre conspicuous eulogy muskegon carcinogen pollen carpenter slingshot snafu erickson animosity deposition allegheny editor inimical stephanotis barclay infestation copernican butte chum .

Notice the nonsense stream of words which are not say "male", "enhancement", "Nigeria" or "free" which enabled the spam to successfully evade the excellent google spam filter. Notice that the 'bot, which certainly has nothing to do with [Name Deleted], had access to the information that I had expressed some interest in the Army and the Air Force. The only comfort [capsule] is that the 'bot didn't figure out that I had not expressed sympathy for the Air Force.
Is the Overton Window of Vulnerability closing ?

For the past 6 years and 312 days (including Feb 29 2008) the US Constitution has been vulnerable to the risk of becoming just the skins of 3 dead sheep. This is due to the expansion of the Overton window to the point where ignoring it completely has become one extreme and taking it seriously the other, while moderates debate how many memos can stomp on the head of an amendment.

While no-one informed the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals it seems to me that the constitutions Overton window of vulnerability is about to close.

(hey did you click that last link. That's about the most pathetic wikipedia entry I've ever found. Back when I was 20, the window of vulnerability was all the rage among policy wonks. I bet you kids didn't even get the joke in my title. I feel old).

Friday, July 18, 2008 reports on interesting results from Pew

Pollster quotes pew

Pollsters are continuing to monitor changes in telephone use by the U.S. public, since most surveys are still conducted using only landline telephones. Growing numbers of Americans are reachable only by cell phone, and an even larger number who have both a landline and a cell phone may be "functionally cell-only" because of their phone use habits. The latest Pew Research Center national survey, conducted June 18-29 with a sample of 2,004 adults including 503 on a cell phone, finds that the overall estimate of voter presidential preference is modestly affected by whether or not the cell phone respondents are included. Obama holds a 48% to 40% lead in the sample that includes cell phones, and a 46% to 41% advantage in the landline sample. Estimates of congressional vote are the same in the landline and combined samples.

The numbers noted above are based on interviews with registered voters. When they narrow the universe to more likely voters, however, the difference disappears:

Narrowing the analysis to voters who are certain about their vote choice, there is almost no difference between the landline and combined samples: Obama has a 38%-28% advantage in the combined sample, while the margin is 38%-30% in the landline sample.

I analyse the bit on registered voters.

Am I interpreting the phrase "the sample that includes cell phones" correctly to mean the sample of 2,004 only 503 of whom were contacted by cell phone ? If so, backing out from the rounded results presented by Pew suggests that 54% of those contacted by cell phone support Obama and 37% support McCain from whole sample average equals landline + (cell phone - landline)503/2,004.

Now the variance of obama-mcain in the landline sample is less than 1/1,501 and the variance in the cell phone sample is less than 1/503(some people are undecided so for Obama and for McCain aren't perfectly negatively correlated). Bit more rounding up and the variance of the difference in the two differences is less than 4/1,503 so the standard error of the difference is less than
0.2/root(15) which is less than 5%.

The difference in the difference (using rounded numbers) is about 17% or 3.4 times the overestimated standard error. Now clearly one shouldn't round to two figures then do the calculations, but that is a very large ratio and makes me think that the results by cell phone are strongly statistically significantly more favorablet to Obama.

As far as I can tell from the snippet you quote, the 503 are not cell phone only customers or functional cell phone only customers. I should read the report (should have before posting this) but it seems that they are just people contacted by cell phone. Thus if one were to assume that the only difference between results with people contacted by cell phone and people contacted by land line is due to the fairly small estimated number of people who can't be contacted by a land line, such contactable only by cell phone people would have to be even more overwhelmingly for Obama than the 503 people contacted by cell phone in the sample.

I'd say that Pew is determined to conclude that they don't have to worry about cell phones which are a hassle.

I actually think the different result with "likely voters" which is, I would guess more than calculate given rounding, not statistically significant tends to re-enforce the view that using land lines causes pollsters to miss a group of the population which is very pro-Obama. The reason is that "cell phone only" like "not likely voter" stands for young and (maybe) poor.

I think an even larger study of cell phone vs landline should be done once. Call a cell phone number -- ask if the owner has a land line, ask what is the chance that the owner would be reached by landline at the same hour on a weekday, on a weekend, ask what is the probability that the owner would be reached by cell phone at that
hour on a weekday (weekend).

The ask age, race, gender, party affiliation, and likely voter questions. This would make it possible to calculate correction factors to apply to results from landline only polls. In particular, the party affiliation proportions in the population may be changing but don't bounce around as much as candidate support. Getting a correct party affiliation estimate once is therefore useful for a long time.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gene Variation May Increase Vulnerability to H.I.V

Interesting possible important possible fact reported in The NY Times

The genetic variation has been studied in U.S. Air Force personnel whose H.I.V. infections have been followed for 25 years. African-Americans who carry it were 50 percent more likely to acquire H.I.V. than African-Americans who do not carry the variation, although their disease progressed more slowly, say researchers led by Sunil K. Ahuja, director of the Veterans Administration HIV/AIDS Center, San Antonio, , and Matthew J. Dolan of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md.

The genetic variation, called a SNP (“snip”), involves a change in a single unit of DNA. This particular snip has a far-reaching consequence, that of preventing red blood cells from inserting a certain protein on their surface. The protein is called a receptor because it receives signals from a hormone known as CCL5, which is part of the immune system’s regulatory system.

Dr. Weiss said the red blood cell receptor was similar to another receptor, CCR5, which occurs on the surface of the white blood cells that are H.I.V.’s major target. A few percent of Europeans have a mutation that prevents the CCR5 receptor from being displayed on the surface of white blood cells, and they are protected against H.I.V.

It is somewhat puzzling that absence of the two receptors has the opposite effect — vulnerability to H.I.V. when the red cell receptor is missing, protection when the white cell receptor is withdrawn.

NICHOLAS WADE goes on to warn that the statistical result is very preliminary and might not amount to anything.

My guess of a possible explanation is that the red blood cell CCL5 receptor binds HIV and causes them to infect the red cell where they can't reproduce, because HIV incorporates a reverse transcript of its genome in host cell chromosomes and red blood cells do not contain chromosomes.

If so, this could potentially be exploited. HIV infection of other cells could be reduced with a bifunctional antibody to a red blood cell surface protein (you know as in blood types) and to HIV.

Maybe maybe it would be possible to make an antigen which combines part of an HIV surface protein and a blood surface protein and which then induces a magic antibody which makes HIV infect red blood cells instead of white blood cells.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In Which I give unsolicited advice.

Rasmussen weights responses to make the shares of Democrats, Republicans and independents in their tracking poll equal to a long run average (3 month average it seems). This reduces noise due to sampling. I think it also makes for numbers which are less useful to

Mark Blumenthal discusses the issue here.

I put in my 0.2 cents worth in comments.

I believe two things. First that by weighting by party Rasmussen achieves better estimates of the true state of public opinion. Second that you should use the unweighted results to estimate your smoothed summary of polls (the trend line).

No contradiction. Party weighting reduces variance due to sampling. It also introduces bias when the true population distribution of party affiliation changes. For plausible rates of true change in party affiliation and a sample size of around 3,000 I (like the Rasmussen team) would guess that weighting by party reduces mean squared error.

However, when you average over a bunch of polls, you reduce the effect of sampling error. If all polls were party weighted the same way, the average would have the same bias as each poll. A larger sample makes avoiding bias more important relative to achieving precision. You at effectively have a very large sample, since you average over many polls.

I think for your purposes, Rasmussen's party weighting creates more problems than it solves, that is increases the MSE of your trend forecast. I really would suggest that you use the raw unweighted data if you can get them. I'd also guess that you can. I don't think that pollsters can afford to quarrel with you.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Adin Steinsaltz claims to define Atheism in the Washington Post.

His qualification, as described by the post is as follows "For more than 40 years, “On Faith” panelist Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has devoted himself to the monumental undertaking of translating and reinterpreting the Talmud, the vast collection of rabbinic writings that constitute Jewish civil and religious laws." Does this mean that the Post would publish my explanation to him of what it means to be a Jew ? Why does the take an absolute position on an issue where people disagree ? Jews can define atheism for the poor misguided people who say that they are atheists because no Talmudic scholar has used his expertise on the topic to explain to them what atheism is.

Now Rabbi Steinsaltz makes a valid point. Atheism is not proven to be valid by available evidence so it requires something like faith -- faith in the non-existence of God in this case.

"As for the emotional element of atheism – one may observe, rationally, that he doesn’t see or perceive a certain thing, but to deny its existence, at any level of vehemence, goes beyond rational thinking and into the realm of an emotional"

Yes, the difference between an agnostic and an atheist is, like the difference between an agnostic and a religious person. In each case, without proof, the agnostic doesn't have a firm opinion and atheists and religious people do. However Rabbi Steinsaltz abandons manners, toleration, fairplay and the English language when he goes on to describe the emotion that he just knows atheists feel (I guess he is a telepath too) "an emotional – sometimes very emotional – anti-belief."

I would say "belief in the non-existence of gods" or in plain English disbelief.

The totally innovative neologism "anti-belief" hints that atheists are necessarily hostile towards beliefs which we do not share and, at least, eager to convert religious people. Thus he claims there is a choice between saying "maybe there is a God" with agnostics or being hostile, anti against. This is a very common view. It is also gross sectarian bigotry. It asserts (well in the case of Rabbi Steinsaltz just hints using an ugly and un-necessary neologism) that it is impossible to be certain there is no God unless one is hostile to religion.

Rabbi Steinsaltz's valid point that atheists certainty that there is no God is a strong unproven belief as is the faith that their is a God of the religious is astrong unproven belief. He could have made that point writing "disbelief" or "belief that no God exists". There was no need to make up a new ugly and offensive word.

I would like to try to explain why its "on faith" section does not publish Jews criticizing Christianity or Christians criticizing Judaism but does publish the thoughts of an extremely devout person about what I must feel.

update: The Rabbi also doesn't provide a link to the data. I appealed to the great google and found out that some atheists sure are confused. It seems that 21% of US atheists believe in God. Huh ?

I am not surprised that
only 83% of self described Jews believe in God. Some of my best friends are Jewish atheists. In fact, most of my best friends are Jewish atheists.

update II: OK now I get to the actual survey and find the number so high that it shocked Rabbi Steinsaltz 1.6% of people in the USA say that they are atheists. He thinks that 1.6% is high !?!?!?! wow. compare that to the number of people who think they have seen a UFO.

update III while I am making a silly complaint about a silly neologism, serious discrimination is alleged to be occurring in the US Army

A woman holding a sign that says McCain=Bush was ticketed for trespassing (on public property at an event open to the public. A police officer made it very explicit that if she insisted on holding the sign, she would be ticketed for trespassing while if she didn't she wouldn't.

Wow. I guess the idea is that "Bush" is a four letter word that can't be displayed in public.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Economics Makes for Strange Sick-Bed Fellows

Obama ready to cave in to insurance industry


'Her Way'; Obama Health Plan Could Go In Clinton's Direction
Teddy Davis, John Santucci and Gregory Wallace | ABC News | 06.29.2008

Obama's surrogate [Dr. Kavita Patel] made her comments Wednesday while representing him at a National Journal health-policy forum moderated by Ron Brownstein, the political director of Atlantic Media.

Patel's individual mandate remarks were made in response to an insurance industry leader suggesting at the same forum that insurers will oppose Obama's plan as currently structured. Insurers are worried that the Illinois Democrat has not tied an individual mandate to "guaranteed issue," the industry's term for requiring patients to be covered without regard to pre-existing conditions.

"We've had the conversation about . . . guaranteed issue," said Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans. "But we are prepared to have that conversation in the insurance industry if the politicians are ready to stand up and say we are going to get everyone in."

Ignagni's words are watched closely because the organization she heads emerged from the Health Insurance Association of America, sponsors of the "Harry and Louise" ads which played a critical role in killing Clinton's effort to reform health-care in the 1990s

I didn't see that coming, but I should have. Obama's plan has the part consumers like but has the problem that it would bankrupt the health insurance industry. Hmmm what if his plan was to terrify them into accepting universal health insurance with he public sector allowed to compete ? Current proposal sounds lovely. It would make it advantageous to the young and healthy to wait till they get sick to get insurance. The problem is that it could cause the industry to enter a death spiral.

But it sounds lovely. Do you want to bet your industry on your ability to stop the 46 year old African American major party nominee whose middle name is Hussein and who beat the police and the newly elected Democratic governor in a *unanimous* Illinois senate vote ? Better to deal I'd say. Maybe, just maybe, Ignagni really agrees with me that opposing Obama on a superficially appealing plan whose only fault is that it will destroy her industry is not a bright move.

And look at the headline from We have Obama caving to the health insurance industry by accepting 100% universal health insurance (sort of like the time that he adopted Republican talking points by proposing his donut social security funding huge progressive tax increase, class war, soak the rich and spread it out thin plan).

I don't know if his is just brilliant or is also blessed.

Monday, July 07, 2008

As I have long suspected (believed with certainty actually) Paul Krugman is a very honest and honorable person -- even when he thinks most US residents are being too hard on George Bush

But is the public right to be so disgusted with Mr. Bush’s economic leadership? Not exactly.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

I attempt to translate this post into English.

The post analyses a variety of super standard neoclassical models in which the government is not allowed to tax wealth or consumption and must decide between a distortionary tax on capital income (which can't be over 100% as part of the not tax on wealth rule) and just not doing stuff. It confirms the general result that the optimal tax rate goes to zero as t goes to infinity. I think this mathematical result has some effect on the writings of economists who have some effect on tax policy. However, they tend to assume that t has gone to infinity already.

I prove that the result can be characterised further. In the models I consider, for the special case of logarithmic utility, it is that it is optimal to tax capital income with a rate of 100% so long as there is any reason to tax at all. Then stop (as noted in the literature) so the government should tax as much as it can so long as it has any reason to tax. For a more plausible utility function, the same result holds so long as the government can't precommit to a tax policy which it will want to change later. If the utlity function is CES and remotely similar to empirical estiamtes and the government can precommit it should tax even more -- that is tax at the maximum rate possible so long as there is any reason to tax then tax more even when it has no remaining reason to tax (and woulnd't if it couldn't precommit).

Huh ? Whah ? What's going on ? I try to explain in English. Two words will do.

Public endowement.

That is negative public debt. The optimal policy involves tax revenues which are, at early times, far above spending and a huge public endowment. This is how it can be otimal to make the tax on capital income zero at later times even if some government spending is very desireable (or absolutely necessary) and there is no other way to tax. It also means that the best way to deal with distortions due to taxation of capital income is with more taxation of capital income.

A tax on capital income discourages saving. One would wish to have a higher savings rate. We know how to make a low savings rate. We have discovered that deficit spending does this wonderfully well. IN the model the way to have high savings is to do the opposite -- have a budget surplus, public saving, build an endowment. This works in the model with perfectly rational infinitely lived savers, because the revenue is given to the poor or spent on public consumption and never returns to the taxpayers.

Basically, the result is that, if one wishes to promote savings, in the model, it is definitely always better to cut the deficit than to reduce taxes on capital income. This works for the model which is taken seriously when only its implications for what will be to be done as t goes to infinity are considered.

Now the idea of a public endowment is very strange and no one talks about its effect on savings. However, the idea is implicit in the now standard result that the tax on capital income should go to zero. It is not made explicit, because the analysis focuses on an Eurler equation (temporal first order condition) and not on the level of public debt or the totally non-existant constraint that the public debt must be positive (which is not assumed and has no role in any of the analysis anywhere in the literature).

The fact that people translate "taxes on capital income should be zero once the government has built up a huge enough endowment that the interest on that endowment will pay for whatever it wants to do" as "taxes on capital income should be zero starting now with an endowment of negative trillions" is really no more absurd than "let's assume t has gone to infinity," since nothing could be more absurd.

Friday, July 04, 2008

"Krueg Intentions" and the "Heathers"

Krueg adj. Characteristic of statements which are both unacceptably crude and direct *and* unacceptably cruel and harsh for the MSM.

word apparently derived from two feeble attempts at a pun and an effort to reproduce the first syllable of Krugman in English (krug no kruge no krughe maybe but I wouldn't want people to think it means being too tough on gheckos).


Elvis Presley crooning "Don't be Krueg" to his dietologist.

Paul Krugman writing

"Now we know what a McCain administration would represent: namely, a third term for Karl Rove."

Ouch That's gotta leave a mark.

On the other hand

Hostages to Fortune

Newspaper columns are published with a lag. Paul Krugman is smart enough that this isn't usually much of a problem for him, since he is typically one to four years ahead of other commentators.

However, the excitement of the election campaign led him to make an almost prediction about his semi colleagues in the press

Furthermore, my sense, though it’s hard to prove, is that the press is feeling a bit ashamed about the way it piled on General Clark. If so, news organizations may think twice before buying into the next fake scandal.

If so, the campaign has just taken a major turn in Mr. Obama’s favor. After all, if this campaign isn’t dominated by faux outrage over fake scandals, it will have to be about things that really did happen,

Published on the 4th of July 2008. A day in which Obama held a press conference (which I didn't watch) causing Matt Yglesias to write

The Catch-22

03 Jul 2008 05:57 pm

I caught Obama's Iraq press conference, and I have to say that the media really earned itself an invitation to John McCain's next BBQ with their performance. Basically, unless Obama comes out and says something like "I'm a totally unreasonable person whose views on Iraq will in no way be influenced by anyone's advice or any possible factual developments" he's now a flip-flopper. Meanwhile, John McCain's views on Iraq receive no scrutiny whatsoever.

For the sake of the US (and the world) I hope Paul Krugman's prediction isn't refuted again tomorrow.
What arms do US residents have the right to bear ?

After a couple of centuries of ambiguity, the Supreme Court just decided that the 2nd amendment protects the right of US residents to bear arms.
Note that the amendment contains no limit or qualification on what arms.

One might (as the majority did) concluded that, therefore people in DC have the right to bear pistols. How can they then also conclude that people in DC don't have the right to carry nuclear warheads ? Both are arms.

In practice, it is generally agreed that the 2nd amendment couldn't possibly apply to arms that the founders couldn't even imagine. Such as, for example, an automatic pistol.

Fine by me to agree that people have the right to bear arms of the sort that existed when the 2nd amendment was ratified. No problem with people being free to own mussel loading muskets, rifles and pistols. Hell they can have 18th century cannon for all I care.

The line between a musket and an H-bomb is arbitrary. Deciding that an semi-automatic rifle is on the same side as a musket while an automatic rifle is on the same side as an H-bomb is clearly a matter for legislation not constitutional analysis based on telepathic reading of the founders clairvoyant planning for the nuclear age.