Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Horn of Winter

This is another guess about George R R Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" The books contain several references to the horn of Joramun also known as the horn of winter. In the book characters say that it is said that Joramun blew it and woke giants from the earth. spoiler alert -- those who have not read the 5 published books might learn some of their contents after the jump

Friday, December 19, 2014

TARP Bottom Line

TARP Books Closed (give or not give less than $ 1 billion).
According to Lew, the total profit for American taxpayers on TARP investments stands at $15.35 billion. The NYT report added, “Less than $1 billion in taxpayer funds remain scattered in about 35 community banks around the country, but with the sale on Thursday of the government’s last 54.9 million shares of Ally Financial … the Treasury declared the bailouts done.”
For some years now, I have been writing that estimates of the cost of TARP were probably over-estimates (I didn't speculate wether it would actually be profitable). I told you so. It is true that TARP was small beens compared to the much huger Fed bailout efforts. Also TARP profits are tiny compared to the huge immense gigantic profits from the Fed's efforts and the separate huge immense gigantic profits from the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddi Mac. In those cases, we are discussing extremely high profits which are, at the least, among to the highest profits ever reported in human history.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Feeling Good is Easy When Barry's solid Blue

I was thinking about the newly liberated Obama here the villagers seem to have decided that Obama was passive, bored and uninterested in his job back when he was laying low to avoid making trouble for Democratic senators seeking re-election in red states. The fact that he had explicitly been asked to to not make too much news seems to have escaped the notice of people whose main problem is that they have litte DC political news to talk about (and heaven forfend that they report on what is happening to ordinary people who, for example, finally have health insurance). I decided to explain to no particular very serious person, that Obama had chosen to focus on not displeasing the median voter in mid term elections in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky. So I thought that he was thinking of at a Kentucky coal mine not a California shore. Busted Flat in Baton Rouge awaiting a renoff ... Feeling good is easy when Barry's solid blue ... from the Kentucky Coal mines to the California Shore I need help. Probably professional help. ..

the same percentage of US adults have a favorable view of the ACA as say it does not establish death panels.

From the Kaiser Family Foundtion Obamacare Tracking Poll for December 2014 Nearly 5 years after passage and a year after the coverage expansions under the ACA took effect, overall opinion on the law remains stable with 46 percent of the public reporting an unfavorable view of the law and 41 percent a favorable view. FIGURE 10: Misperceptions About ACA Continue To the best of your knowledge, would you say the health reform law does or does not do each of the following? CORRECT INCORRECT No Yes Don’t Know/Refused Allow undocumented immigrants to receive financial help from the government to buy health insurance No Yes Don’t Know/Refused 38% 43% 19% Establish a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare No Yes Don’t Know/Refused 41% 41% 19% I note that fraction who have a favorable view of the law is identical to the fraction who answer no if asked if it establishes death panels.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kaili Celebrates Chanukah

In any case, as is traditional on this blessed holiday, Rick Perry, the Simple Child, will now ask the Four questions, and if he can actually remember at least three of them, it will have been sufficient. Dyaneu.
*Quote of that other day

Monday, December 15, 2014

Random Opinions

All Kossacks work for the Kzar, but some Kossacks are more random than others
Yellow pigs forever. Also the bill of rewrites is excellent

Friday, December 12, 2014

sharp as a pin tight as a Drum

Kevin Drum asks an even more than usually interesting question here

He lists Democratic victories in the cromnibus (aside from that keeping the government open thing) then asks

shouldn't someone have been in charge of quietly making the progressive case for this bill? It wouldn't have convinced everyone, but it might have reduced the grumbling within the base a little bit. Why was that not worth doing?
In comments I speculate wildly about 11 dimensional chess (remember the good old days of 11 dimensional chess?).

One hypothesis is a grumbling, indeed rebellious, base is useful to the Democrats who deal with the Republicans. It sure seems that Republicans have gotten rather a lot (especially during the debt ceiling crisis negotiations) based on the argument that they need these concessions to fight off the crazy tea partier base.

I have long thought that leftist attacks on Obama, Reid and Hoyer are useful to them. It helps Democratic negotiators to be able to say they have given up all they can and almost too much. A non grumbling base makes this impossible. It helps most Democrats to be attacked from the left on some issues (although most definitely not for being too nice to bankers).

The huge publicity given to Republican victories which the vast majority of ordinary voters (including tea partiers) hate is also useful to Democrats.

Frankly I think a victory which is perceived as a defeat is the best outcome for Obama. It isn't as if he has to worry about being primaried.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

For those with strong stomachs

Pseudo doctor James Mitchell (the man who designed the CIA torture methods and became the first person to commit torture with the approval of, at least, the US National Security Advisor) set up and knocked down a straw man in an interview (which I will not watch because I feel sick and filthy enough after reading the SSCi executive summary).
But Mitchell is largely responsive to Larsen's questions, and perhaps the most striking moment is when he reacts to the intelligence committee's findings that torture had not yielded actionable intelligence. It wasn't supposed to, he says. It was supposed to make detainees more responsive to other questioning. "It's almost like a good cop, bad cop kind of set-up," he says, "with a really bad cop." The point, he says, "was to facilitate getting actionable intelligence by making a bad cop that was bad enough that the person was engage with the good cop," Mitchell continues. "I would be stunned if they found any kind of evidence that EITs, as they were being applied, yielded actionable intelligence."
Mitchell did not respond honestly to the evidence that his torture was ineffective or counter productive. Throughout the executive summary of the SSCI torture report, information obtained before the torture was compared to information obtained during and after the torture. Consider a claim only slightly more absurd, dishonest and irrelevant than Mitchell's. He could just have well have argued that, yes, people didn't give useful answers while being waterboarded, because they could speak no more than they could breath. He absolutely does not address the evidence and made a totally irrelevant argument assuming that viewers would not have read the executive summary. I have read it. There is no evidence that torture caused people to be more cooperative when interrogated *after* the torture. In fact essentially all of the valuable information obtained from Al Qaeda prisoners was obtained before they were tortured, certainly the information most often cited by defenders of the torture program was (this is documented in repetitive meticulous detail in page after page after page of the executive summary). In particular, Rasul Ghul provided key information relevent to finding Osama Bin Laden in the first two days he was interrogated (notably without "enhanced" techniques) then nothing even noted by defenders of the torture program after he was tortured. Mitchell set up and knocked down a straw man. Unsurprisingly he is completely dishonest and pretends to respond to the evidence which he ignores counting on listeners' ignorance. Also his crimes must be prosecuted. Torture of prisoners is almost unique in that the Geneva conventions (which are ratified and therefore US law) do not allow prosecutorial discretion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sensible Redactions

The redactions in the Senate Torture Report seem reasonable. They are concentrated in sections where the report explains how valuable intel was gathered and important terrorists captured. The section on the capture of khalid Sheik Mohammad is wonderfully terse as redacted. So that is how history is made, with the text message "I M W KSM". OMG

Ali Soufan Vindicated

Ali Soufan is an FBI agent who claims that he and his partner obtained intelligence from Abu Zubaydah before the CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah. He claims they obtained this information by building raport and that claims about the effectiveness of high value detainee interrogation which are used to justify torture are based on the effectiveness of his opposite approach. Google reminds me, that I have posted on this quite often These claims are contested by vague assertions made often by anonymous sources which imply that those who have full access to classified information know Ali Soufan exaggerated. The Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report strongly confirms Ali Soufan's claims based on access to CIA cables -- Cia intelligence and analysis staff communicating with each other and not CIA employees communicating with the press, congress or the White House.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Senate Torture Report (executive summary)

I am starting at page 192 III "Intelligence Acquired and CIA Representations on the Effectiveness of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Multiple Constituencies"

Because I assume many others are starting on page 1 and because reading about the torture techniques is very painful.

update: Talk about burying the lead. Only on page 226 does the Senate Report describe the Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot in detail

This is the plot which allegedly made it necessary for the US to completely abaondon the 5th amendment and authorize the President to hold anyone held incommunicado forever on his say so.

An issue key to the assessment of the effectiveness of techniques (which are criminal and unacceptable in any case) is when information was obtained from people the CIA tortured. FBI agent Ali Soufan claims that he and his partner obtained valuable information from Abu Zubaydah *before* he was tortured and that Abu Zubaydah stopped providing information when the "enhanced" interrogation began. I will not how many times CIA representations say something about who talked and what they revealed but avoid any hint about when.

Not in the report, the Washington Post presents both sides of the debate

CIA Director John Brennan on Monday rebutted ...

“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” Brennan said in the statement. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”

Note no hint as whether the interrogation which produced intelligence was "enhanced" or on whether it occured before the "enhanced" interrogation techniques were used on that detainee. His alleged rebutal is consistent with Soufan's claim.

The Senate report stresses this issue and claims it is the first official report to address it.

From the report page 206

I think the "time off for a break and to attend to personal matters" tells me much more than I want to know about how seriously Abu Zubaydah's interrogators worried about the morality of torture. Also notice the torture started *after* the discussion of the end game, that is after someone at least raised the question of whether there was any need for further questioning whether "enhanced" or legal.

The report continues

Abu Zubaydah's inability to provide information

So they tortured Abu Zubaydah because they thought he knew things which he did not reveal after being tortured, and which there is no reason to believe he knew. I don't think there is proof that there were Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States at the time.

The not at all shocking at this point fact is that, as the report notes on page 503, long after the water boarding CIA employees repeated the claim that Abu Zubaydah ceased to cooperate before being water boarded and that he then revealed valuable information. Those thoughts moved from hypothesis to history without ever being reported as current events. Or to put it another way, people guessed wrong, authorized torture based on their guesses, and then lied.

Ah this is still shocking. Before torturing Abu Zubaydah the interrogation team wrote in a cable "assumption is that the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [Abu Zubaydah] is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States beyond that which [Abu Zubahdah] has already provided"

The standard isn't torture if you know it is necessary but torture if you have only a moderate but not a high degree of confidence that it must be useless, because all actionable intelligence has already been obtained by legal means.

This is cute. According to the report the CIA's representations about the interrogation of both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Muhammad bpth contain the unsupported claim that the terrorist "believed the general US population was 'weak' lacked resilience and was unwilling to 'do what was necessary." (I am quoting p210-11 on KSM, but the exact same quote (except missing the period) is on page 205 on AZ). So CIA torture advocates asserted that AZ and KSM believed the US was too weak to support torture and the CIA. Bit of rather obvious reverse psychology there no ?

udate: minor discussion removed for space.

Catch 22. Janat Gul was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" because Source Y said he had vital information related to an imminent atach in 2004. Gul denied everything. When confronted, source Y admitted he lied. So the enhanced interrogation provied the useful information that Source Y was a liar. The vital information Gul revealed was that Gul had no vital information to reveal. Heads they win, tails the Geneva Conventions lose.

Are they even trying ? On page 366

Finding Bin Laden: This is the final and very extensive section on the effectivness of torture. The report makes an absolutely convincing case that "enhanced interrogation" played no useful role in the finding of Bin Laden. They key to finding Bin Laden was determining that Habib al-Rahman was his courier and used the pseudonym Abu-Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. The courier's true name was guessed based interrogation of someone detained by a country other than the USA (such countries are never named in the report). The report also notes the huge amount of valuable information provided by top terroris Hassan Ghul during the two days he was detained at Cobolt (I think NY Times has figured out that is code for Bagram) *before* he was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" and the absense of significant useful information obtained after he was subjected to enhanced interrogation. In contrast KSM denied that Al-Kuwaiti was a courier and said he was retired from al Qaeda. This section is very long. I understand that the debate about whether "enhanced interrogation" was useful in the search for Bin Laden is still very open. I think it is worth reading in full (the report has a table of contents). I can just say that the report is extremely convincing on this point.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Ouch. that's going to leave a mark

It is not safe to debate Chait

I edit down a Jon Chait post

Quin Hillyer @QuinHillyer

Follow Obama: racism 'deeply rooted' in U.S. I disagree. Rather than "deeply rooted," it's "mostly buried." As in near-dead.

Hillyer, who is quoted above, participated last year in an unpleasant exchange with yours truly, in which he concluded, “We’re not oblivious to racism; we just want to transcend it by leaving it out of discussions where it doesn’t belong.” Apparently the places it doesn’t belong include an interview about race with BET — which is to say, it doesn’t belong anywhere

Saturday, December 06, 2014

On Chait on Klein on Chait on TNR

I don't want to waste anyone's time (even my own) on an inside journalism debate, but I can't help myself. I am just going to cut and past with one or two snarky comments.

Jon Chait feels obliged to write about something Klein wrote about what Chait wrote about The New Republic.

"The New Republic and the Imperfect Media Market

A reply to Ezra Klein, FWIW."

The subtitle is extraordinarily modest "FWIW" for what that's worth, and makes it clear that Chait felt obliged to comment on Klein and felt that "I agree with Ezra" was not an acceptable comment. I think there is something odd and very characteristic of Chait wrong with his reply -- basically Chait is so drawn to polemic that can't resist attacking people, with whom he agrees. I fear that the reason my only other complaint about Chait is that he doesn't blog enough is that I enjoy attacks on the people he usually attacks. Of course Chait's extremely intense feelings about TNR must affect his judgment.

update: the post below is a total waste of pixels. But there is someting so odd about Chait's post, that I want to add a bit which might be interesting. Chait begins "Many journalists, myself included, are currently mourning the meltdown of The New Republic, a century-old liberal magazine currently abandoning its historic mission. But Ezra Klein has a contrary take." I too find Klein's take to be "contrary," because he much more nearly agrees with Chait than anyone else I regularly read. So why did Chait comment on Klein and not the many people who totally disagree with Chait ? I'm sure a large part of it is that Chait wrote he reply before these other people wrote their attacks on TNR, but I suspect that he does not consider them worth his time and attention -- maybe he doesn't read them or maybe he reads but doesn't feel that they are important enough for a reply. Unlike Klein, many writers write that nothing much will be lost as TNR fundamentally changes. Brad DeLong in reply to Klein

The Washington Monthly and The American Prospect at their peak and in their prime may have been better at thinking than today's digital successors. But I am wracking my brains trying to think of examples in which the Martin Peretz-era New Republic was better at thinking.
Max Fisher (at VOX edited by one Ezra Klein) Atrios Atrios again Booman Charles Pierce John Cole Billmon Chait begins

Many journalists, myself included, are currently mourning the meltdown of The New Republic, a century-old liberal magazine currently abandoning its historic mission. But Ezra Klein has a contrary take, summarized in his headline “Even the liberal New Republic Needs to Change.”
Now the fact that Chait makes his claim that Klein's take is contrary after quoting nothing but the title. This does not prove that Chait made the irreversible decision that he and Klein disagree after reading only the title of Klein's post. However, I think the quotations below prove that Chait must have done that -- that there was nothing Klein write after the title to shake Chait's conviction.

Chait himself explicitly notes only one substantive disagrement with Klein.

"Having read through Klein’s story, my substantive disagreements are actually small. He describes TNR as a “policy magazine,” a description he qualifies by noting its tremendous culture section, but doesn’t qualify enough. " -Chait

Not quite a confession that he began writing his reply and maybe typed the word "contrarian" before reading Klein's post, but damn close to one. Of course one can erase typed pixels (I just did when I found I was about to make incorrect claim about Chait's piece based on an incorrect memory of the bit I just quoted).

I quote from Klein "The New Republic, in particular, had an amazing culture section."

I wonder if "tremendous, spectacular, amazing, wonderful, amazing cultural section which consisted of no fewer pages than the policy focused part" would have been sufficient qualification.

Chait describes this as his main substantive disagreement. I think after typing that, he should have realized that there was no good reason for him to write a reply to Klein, and just refrain from posting (as I should just not post this crap).

It is possible that Chait considers the following bit a further substantive disagreement.

TNR has never been a policy magazine. It is and always has been a magazine of politics and culture pitched at a high intellectual level, which necessarily limits its appeal to a slice of the public too small to be financially viable.

Crucially, nothing has changed to make the magazine less financially viable. It has required subsidy for its entire existence.

Now if Klein's claim had been that the New Republic needs to change because it has ceased to be profitable and magazines need to be profitable, the fact that it has always required subsidy would be be substantive and even crucial.

Again I quote Klein

"the TNR of yore, even if it lost money indefinitely (as it has in the past)"

I guess "in the past" doesn't imply "every year since it was founded," but there is no hint anywhere in Klein's post that he thought TNR needed to change because it was losing money in the past. No sensible person would imagine for an instant that Klein doesn't understand the economics of high brow publications (he is editing one). Yet, in spite of the fact that the post contains evidence (not amounting to proof beyond reasonable doubt) that Klein knows all about this, Chait insists that Klein wrote, in effect, "publications always are and should be required to be profitable, so the TNR needs to change".

Am I really claiming that Chait ascribed such a crazy view to Klein ? I quote

The odd thing about Klein’s column is that, other than this small disagreement about TNR’s character, I cannot find anything in it with which I disagree. He straightforwardly described the problem of highbrow magazines that serve a public-interest function and have always lost money. He proceeds from that accurate description straight to the conclusion in his headline — TNR must change — without explaining why. One could just as easily conclude that TNR will always lose money, and its value should be assessed in non-market terms and subsidized accordingly by a willing donor. That unacknowledged leap of logic contains nearly all our disagreement. It seems to be rooted in a deep faith in the power of the free market when it comes to media.
First I note that the disagreement about TNR's character is whether "amazing culture section" is a strong enough assertion. Second I note that when one writes "seems" one should reconsider. Chait should ask if he really thinks media should be judged in market terms (so VOX would rate way behind Hustler). He should (and did) look for evidence. When the best evidence he can find is that Klein defends The Huffington Post's "What Time is the Superbowl" articles as follows
People always bring up that Huffington Post article. What I think is missed in that discussion is that that article is super useful. Every year I need to know when the Super Bowl is. I always forget. I often find that article. It tells me exactly what time the Super Bowl is.
Note nothing about markets or profits. He says he finds "that article" useful. Chait concludes that therefore Klein thinks that the market is a perfect judge of media. Evidently Chait considers it unacceptable for any media to transmit the time the Super Bowl starts and that this is an offense serious enough to outweigh everything else except profit, so any defence of a web journal which reports when the Super Bowl starts is proof that the defender considers profit the be all and end all of journalism. I think this is an entirely fair summary of Chait's argument. And this after (just after) Chait said he had no substantive disagreements with Klein except for the "amazing culture section" stuff.

Ah but Chait notes that Klein's conclusion is inconsistent with the wish that TNR might continue as it was losing money. I quote the last words in Klein's post "something is being lost in the transition from policy magazines to policy web sites, and it's still an open question how much of it can be regained."

Yep sure sounds as if Klein is celebrating the change. No hint that he thinks there could be anything wrong there.

I think most of what went wrong with Chait's post is that he drew a conclusion based only on reading Klein's headline and the wouldn't allow any evidence to make him question Chait's conclusion. Note "the conclusion in his headline". This doesn't necessarily imply that Chait's final guess as to what conclusion Klein reached was based entirely on the headline, but it is a bit more evidence.

Chait entirely ignores Klein's discussion of the influence of TNR

That's why it was believable that The New Republic was the "in-flight reading on Air Force One." President Bill Clinton was a policy wonk. What else was he going to read? But they're no longer the center of the policy conversation in Washington. That conversation has spilled online, beyond their pages, outside their borders. The in-flight reading on Air Force One is probably saved to President Obama's iPad.
Now if one is writing a policy oriented (front half of a) magazine, influence on policy makers is a central concern. This is a "non-market" issue (unless the policy makers are corrupt bribe takers).

In fact, one might even imagine that Klein cares about policy, so he cares about in flight reading on Air Force One because he cares about what that reader will do and not because he cares about the writers. The fact that Chait completely overlooks a discussion of what the President of the USA reads makes me wonder what motivates Chait.

Chait seems to interpret "a viable web publication, in a world where viability — and, arguably, influence — requires web traffic" as Klein saying policy journals *should* be required to have high web traffic. But the full sentence is "Hughes believes his charge is to make it a viable web publication, in a world where viability — and, arguably, influence — requires web traffic." The sentece does not state Kleins view but rather the view which he ascribes to Hughes.

I note that the title is ambiguous. Words all have multiple meanings. Extremely brief statements are often ambiguous with context necessary to disambiguate. In particular "needs" is abiguous. "Needs to Change" might mean "is being compelled to change" or "is morally obliged to change". The literal meaning of "TNR needs to change" and "TNR must change" are the same, but the second is more amenable to Chait's interpretation. The last sentence of Klein's piece is consistent only with "is being compelled to change" and definitely not with "Is morally obliged to change".

My conclusion is that one should read the post before beginning to write a reply to it (this is a do what I say don't do what I do conclusion as I usually comment before finishing posts)

Friday, December 05, 2014


I will try to explain what I was trying to write here 1. Many polls show that a solid majority of US adults are economic populists -- they think the rich and corporations pay less than their fair share of taxes.

2. Democrats keep asking each other how they can appeal to the White working class.

3. I think that Democrats can propose raising taxes on high incomes and cutting taxes on the middle and working class. This proposal has been made by Democrats in political campaigns for example by Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008. It seems to have worked. But I don't hear any such proposal. I wonder why.

Almost all Democrats don't propose middle class tax cuts (financed by increased taxes on high incomes, capital gains, and corporate income. Why ?

4. I also wonder how Republicans got their majorities in congress and Governorships in purple and blue states (include the two saphire blue states in which I have ever been resident). I am fairly confident that a large part of the reason is point 3.

5. I also can't help believing that if other people knew as much as I know, they would vote the way I vote (that is to say I am human). So I am attracted to the idea that they are misinformed and inclined to blame the mass media. In particular, I don't think they are informed about the effect of the policy platforms of the two major parties on their personal pocket books. Here I guess the most dramatic example is the absurd delusional median guess that the foreign aid budget is about 10% of the US Federal budget. I blame the mass media for not reporting the basic bread and butter facts again and again and again until voters are informed.

6. Elite commentators hate #SocialSecurityAndMedicare. Why ? Many villagers consider the budget deficit the biggest problem the US has. This is a view shared by the extremely rich. Why ?

7. All the elite behavior which seems odd can be understood as the result of a combination of the financial self interes and peer pressure.

the financial interest is obvious -- major contributors to campaigns are rich. Top commentators are rich (which I will define as income over 250000/ year not as income over $150,000/yr -- the median threshold from a poll). Publishers and CEOs of corporations which own networks are rich. There are rich reactionaries eager to pay people to argue against economic populism but no super rich financers of economic populism (I think the rich who care about the non rich and support higher taxes on rich people (Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates) try to help directly not by influencing politicians and commentators).

But I think the peer pressure is very strong -- that people fear that they will be called demogogues if they are populists (hell "demogogue" is Greek for "populist" and "popolares" is Latin for "demogogue").

Uh oh it almost sounds as I am saying that politics and the discussion of politics and policy is based on elite class interest. Importantly class interest not just narrow personal interest. A commentator can get very famous arguing for egalitarianism (see Krugman, Paul). Politicians can get elected president by promising to increase taxes on the rich and cut taxes on the non rich (Clinton, Obama). But such things aren't done often.

Oh nooooo I agree with Marx.

I hate Marx. I hate the Republicans, conservatives, conservadems, villagers, very serious people, third wayer, DLC and Pete Peterson for making me agree on anything with Marx.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Housekeeping Note

I was thinking of setting up a new blog entitled "An Arrogant Jerk's Stochastic Thoughts" so I could let it all hang out and yet preserve deniability. but I decided that I already post as an arrogant jerk here and besides almost no one reads this blog. The assumption that almost no one reads this blog has caused some trouble when I got very drunk and wrote something rude about something Felix Salmon wrote based on unkind paraphrases, and without reading what he actually wrote. Somehow he found out, and I had to apologise. I was very drunk. I wish that I could claim that the typing of offending statement ".... I recalled taht Salmon had said ... " suggests anything unusual about my blood ethanol concentration.

Vulgar Marxism

To explain, this is not a post about vulgar marxism it is a post which consists of vulgar Marxism.

update: Illustration of vulgar Marx added (clearly aligned left not centered)

I have always been extremely hostile to Marx (this was due to my pathological nationalism -- Marx was less influential in the USA than other countries (back when he had any influence anywhere) -- for the same reason I also said that good cooking is not important).

But even I must be fair to him, and note that he would not ever have written something as simplistic as this post.

I am thinking about US politics. People keep asking what Democrats can do to convince white working and middle class Americans that the Democratic party is on their side. I keep writing that they can propose increasing the progressivity of the US tax code (a proposal also known as class war). A solid majority of US adults support increased progressivity. The Republican party is almost entirely focused on reducing taxes on the rich and on corporations. They also have acquired an interest in raising taxes on the working poor, the working class and the middle class. This is a shift. Reagan was an enthusiastic supporter of the Earned Income Tax Credit. George w Bush Jr (the evil one) signed a bill cutting taxes for the rich and also expandint the child tax credit.

The child tax credit benefits the middle class.

Limitations - The credit is limited if your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount. The amount at which this phase-out begins varies depending on your filing status. For married taxpayers filing a joint return, the phase-out begins at $110,000. For married taxpayers filing a separate return, it begins at $55,000. For all other taxpayers, the phase-out begins at $75,000. In addition, the Child Tax Credit is generally limited by the amount of the income tax you owe as well as any alternative minimum tax you owe.
Median household income was around $60,000 per year. people with much higher than median income get the full $1000/child. The credit is non refundable so I sure can't be called "welfare".

Republicans (and Reid and Schumer) were working on a bipartisan bill to make corporate tax breaks permanent without making the child tax credit expansions permanent. They are totally cruising for a bruising. Attempting to reach agreement on this bill was just one of many Democratic attempts at political suicide. Obama intervened with a veto threat (I do not consider this an adequate intervention given the gravity of the behavioral disorger -- I think that Reid and Schumer are also in urgent need of psychological care possible including major tranquilizers as they were clearly delusional -- but a veto threat is better than nothing).

OK Schumer, who said the ACA didn't do enough for the middle class while negotiation a bill whihc would eliminate all incentives for the Republicans to extend the 2009 expansions of the child tax credit also would need treatment for sociopathy, but unfortunately the only known treatment is the so called "primary" which is not available at the moment.

This leaves two questions. The first is why the hell to people in the lower 99% ever vote for Republicans and the second is why don't Democrats propose further expansion of the child tax credit financed by closing corporate tax loopholes and the carried interest loophole and higher taxes on incomes over $ 2 million a year ?

I think it is clear that Republican politicians don't know the answers to these questions. I won't bother finding links to quotes, but they express fear that the USA is nearing a tipping point when the takers outnumber the makers. I think they discuss the possibility that Democrats will begin to fight in a class war, because they know Democrats would crush them in that war if they fought it.

At the moment I can't resist writing that one explanation is that there might be extraordinary bourgeois class conciousness and solidarity. The strange pattern could be explained if almost all members of the upper 5% work together, sometimes sacrificing their personal interests, for the greater good of the upper 5%

Thus politicians refrain from recommending that the middle class fight back in the class war, because their respect for the subcultures norms that this must not be done is even stronger than their desire to win elections. Also, and very importantlly, journalists do not inform the public about current US tax policy, proposed reforms (and where the parties stand) or about where the US Federal budget is spent (hint not foreign aid). I think most of them are generally inclined to inform the public, but I wonder if their fear of unleashing the raging lower 95% (which would hurt the 96-99 percentiles while aiming for the top 1%) is stronger than their desire to do their job (and really I don't doubt that most journalists would, in general and if class interests are involved, prefer that the public be informed). I also think most of them vote for Democrats, but their desire that the Democratic party win is weakened by their fear of the raging red lower 95% of the US public which might raise the taxes they owe by say $500/yr (I am saying top tax rate up 5% times income $10,000 over the top bracket).

I hate to admit that Marx might have had a point there. I hate the vulgarity of my involuntary lapses into Marxism. But I just can't fully convince myself that there is, that there must be, any other hypothsis which is consistent with the available data. I certainly can't come up with one.

p.s. It is not easy for me to write the word "bourgeois" for at least 3 reasons.

1) I hate to admit that the USA is not a classless society.

2) I hate to admit that Marx might have had a point.

3) I don't know how to spell "bourgeois"

I am not typing it -- I am pasting after copying it to my clipboard. (well actually I copied "bourgeoi" by mistake so I'm typing in the s(. To spell [cntrl-v]s uh I mean "bourgeois", I googled a misspelling (I don't remember what exactly) waited for google to ask me if I meant to google "bourgeois" and then copied bourgeois to my clip board. I think this demonstrates not only my general contempt for spelling but also my particular hatred of Marxism.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bang the Drum repeatedly

Kevin Drum notes that Obama did stuff for the middle class. Later in the same post, he asks what Democrats could possibly do to convince the middle class that Democrats are on their side. He notes that he keeps asking this question. In comments I note that I keep answering it and he keeps ignoring me me meeee.

Drum (my bold)

In broad terms, I agree with Schumer's critique. Democrats need to do more to appeal [to] the working and middle classes, not just the poor. But Schumer is maddeningly vague about just what that means. And as it relates to 2009, in particular, he's full of hot air. In the first few months of the year, Obama passed a big stimulus. He rescued the auto industry. He cut everyone's payroll taxes
. Then he changes the issue from winning politics to effective policymaking and asks

"what big ticket items are left that would buy the loyalty of the middle class for another generation?"

(how about permanenly reducing the payroll tax (say cut it in half) and replacing the lost revenue with higher taxes on corporate income, capital income and capital gains ? That big ticket enough)

I'm all in favor of using the power of government to help the middle classes. But what does that mean in terms of concrete political programs that (a) the middle class will associate with Democrats and help win them loyalty and votes, and (b) have even a snowball's chance of getting passed by Congress?
Hey wait how did "getting passed by Congress" get added ? Earlier the issue was "appeal the working and middle class" now it has become actually helping them, rather than just getting their votes. Drum is too public spirited and high minded to be willing to talk about political strategy without slipping into a discussion of practical effective policy making. That means that he is not interested in proposals which aren't enacted.

Of course you have to actually deliver in order to win the votes of socially conservative working class voters who don't give a damn that Republicans claim to be pro-life since they haven't managed to reverse Roe V Wade. Oh and who also don't care at all about prayer in school or teaching the kids to respect tradition and their elders. Oh and Republicans gained nothing from trying to block the ACA, because they failed. I think that purely political calculation doesn't have a snow ball's chance in hell for occupying Kevin Drum's brain for an entire blog post.

The world would be a better place if we were all like Drum in this way. But it would be a worse place if all Democrats were like that yet in that imaginary world as in this real one most Republican politicians are mainly interested in political strategy.

my comment at his blog.

You keep asking the same question and I keep giving the same answer. To appeal to the working and middle classes, Democrats should propose raising taxes on the rich and cutting taxes on the working and middle classes. You note that they have done this "He cut everyone's payroll taxes."

Now I'm not claiming that a proposal to increase tax progressivity has a chance in hell of being passed by this congress, or even by this senate with a thermonuclear option eliminating the filibuster -- it would be blocked by conservadems even if there were no house and no filibuster.

But the original question was about using policy proposals as a political strategy. In general, people judge parties by results and a proposal which isn't enacted doesn't have much effect. However, tax progressivity is a very simple issue where Republicans and the vast majority of US adults have strong diametrically opposite views.

I think that proposing tax increases for the rich and tax cuts for the middle class works even before the policies are enacted. The reason I think this is that two democrats have done this. They are Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. They are also the only non-incumbent Democrats elected at a time when the income tax was constitutional and the top marginal tax rate was less than 69%. They are also the only non incumbent Democratic presidential candidates who promised such direct and clear class war. Obama even delivered on his promise.

This is a long long sad story in the comment section of this blog. I recall (with pleasure) how you and Felix Salmon say people in the USA oppose higher taxes on the rich. Then I pointed you to the Gallup polls starting in 1992 all of which show solid to huge majorities think the rich pay less than their fair share of taxes. Being a classy guy, you noted this and even quoted me and said you had been wrong. Being a classless guy, I keep reminding you and also keep reminding you that there might be a whole lot of political support for soak the rich class warfare.

The Democrats have tried it before, and it has ever failed them yet.

Oh it would also be good policy if enacted, but that's not so relevant, since that won't happen.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Orwell Meets Google

A match made in Oceania. I decided to check which Orwell phrases had the most google hits who remembers "memory hole" ? About 424,000 results (0.31 seconds) Is he watching you or the boob tube ? "Big Brother" About 95,500,000 results (0.31 seconds) damn telescreen. Orwell would be soooo pleased. "ignorance is strength" About 311,000 results (0.23 seconds) "freedom is slavery" About 340,000 results (0.25 seconds) "war is peace" About 379,000 results (0.39 seconds) "Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia" About 131,000 results (0.57 seconds) "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia"About 6,430 results (0.30 seconds) hmm I guess Oceania really has always been at war with Eurasia. doubleplusgood About 150,000 results (0.30 seconds) doubleplusungood About 47,200 results (0.32 seconds) new google slogan "don't be doubleplusungood" newspeak About 508,000 results (0.37 seconds) OK let's see how 1984 stands up to the Princess Bride's Spinal Tap etc "goes up to 11" About 282,000 results (0.30 seconds) "goes uo to eleven" About 43,100 results (0.32 seconds) "I don't think that word means what you think it means" About 36,200 results (0.33 seconds) "lucy and the football" About 1,320,000 results (0.47 seconds) Good Grief ! "McLuhan" "Annie Hall" About 25,100 results (0.31 seconds) huh it seems that a lot of people know nothing of Woody Allen's work. "clap harder" About 15,700 results (0.33 seconds) "I do believe in faries" About 227,000 results (0.27 seconds) "Kardashian ass" About 557,000 results (0.28 seconds) (beats all Orwell quotes but "big brother") Just kill me now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Game of Thrones

Spoiler Alert I have read the 5 published volumes of "A Song of Ice and Fire" Heptology. In this post, I will not try to avoid spoilers. I will discuss the books not the TV series. I think that when they differ, the plot of the series is not inferior, but I know the books. OK this is no longer a spoiler, since it has been widely discussed on the web. Who is Jon Snow's Mother? What did Eddard Stark promise Lyanna Stark as she was dying ? In volume 1 "The Game of Thrones" these two questions are often asked but never answered. I guess that the answer is that Lyanna Stark made Eddard Stark promise to tell no one that she was Jon Snow's mother. So Jon is Eddard's nephew not his son and Rhaegar Targaryen was Jon Snow's father. Rereading I note Eddard thinks of promises (plural9. I guess the second is that she ran off with Rhaegar voluntarily and was not kidnapped and raped. Among other things, this resolves two incongruencies. Rhaegar is highly praised by all who knew him (except Robert Baratheon who regrets killing him only once). Rape just doesn't fit. Also Eddard Stark is very honorable (even a bit rigid). Breeding bastards may be consistent with Medieval or Westerosi ideas of honor, but it doesn't fit the character. Another problem is that there are 3 dragons and only one known dragon rider. There is a shortage of Targaryons (semi spoiler there are two living Targaryons at the end of book 5). Whatever happened to Jacquen Higuar ? I am fairly confident that he is the guy who is teaching Ary to be a faceless person. The reply to her question is always "there is no one who goes by that name here" which is not "the man you knew by that name is not here." What with the one eared black tom cat ? Arya is chasing this cat when she finds Dragon skulls and Varys conspiring with Illirio Mopatis. Tommen complains about this cat thousands of pages later. A bit of local color (although colorless ?). I note on re-reading that Rhaenys Targaryon had a little black kitten which she called Balerion. The cat doesn't seem to like Lannisters. We will know (there being greenseers and wargs about). Robert Arryn being fostered. There is a hint about the true killer of Jon Arryn based on the fact that he proposed sending his son to be not over-protected on Dragonstone by Stannis Baretheon (a bit throwing the kid in the deep end I'd say). Lysa Arynn's reaction to her sisters' proposal to take Robert Arryn to Winterfell is another hint. Mormont's

Restoring Coral Reefs

I am not sure that I should be, but I am very excited by recent work on restoring coral reefs. The science is simple, very small fragments of coral with just a few polyps grow quickly. So it is possible to quickly produce a large number of small but not tiny colonies in acquarium and then put them on dead reefs. The living polyps spread over the dead coral and, maybe, the reef can be restored. The reason I am excited is partly that a huge amount of carbon is sequestered in coral reefs. With global warming, coral may have to move away from the equator. Coral is beautiful but stuck in the ground. Now acidification might kill coral (etc etc etc) everywhere and then we are cooked. But I like it. This is in addition to my longstanding enthusiasm for restoring oysters to Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In which a nerd gropes for the concept of "social intelligence"

It is widely agreed that, in addition to the sort of smartness correlated with IQ scores there is such a thing as "social intelligence". I must accept the claim that it exists even though I have no personal experience of the phenomenon (that is I my social intelligence somewhere is somewhere between that of a high functional autistic person and that of a slime mold).

So I was thinking about how some people have different personalities than others. To be honest about my nerditude I was thinking about extremely smart people I have known and how their ways of thinking are completely different But anyway I thought of a very geek question. You know two people. They are quite different. Now imagine a Science Fiction novel where the characters were aliens. Would a reasonable science fiction author choose to make those two characters members of two different intelligent species ?

I am reminded of a not very good Sci Fi movie Sphere (which I think was an Ishtar level waste of talent). It starred Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel Jackson who are stuck on a spaceship from the future which contains a strange sphere (you guessed that) which spoiler alerts them.

The Jackson character is interesting. An un-naturally calm math genius who doesn't relate with other people in a normal way (the millionth Spock in science fiction) . He shaved his head for the role. Now it just so happens that Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone are almost exactly the same height and Jackson is a head taller. Oh also you know he is African American. I noted that he looked about as physically different from his crew mates as Spock ever did.

The role was Spock who might or might not be Spock with a beard. I think the film is worth 5 minutes of your time (scroll past the boring beginning) for a bit of his performance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Phrase of the Day: Fournier Transform

Fournier Transform: This phrase is a technical term which describes the process through which an urgently needed excellent moderate proposal supported by all very serious centrist pundits changes into a partisan extreme one sided bill when Obama proposes it and Republicans reject it. the Fornier transform is somewhat similar to transubstatiation, as unbelievers are not able to detect any difference at all between the text of the needed proposal and the text of the partisan bill. It is also the same as similar to the change of the word in the Nicene creed from Homoosian to Homoiosian (which lead to many deaths back when the stupid was even stronger, hard as that is to believe). (for those who know as little Greek as I do, Homoosian means "of the same substance" and Homoiosian means "of similar substance").

Read this post for free (shrimp not included)

David Scholnick wins the internet

It seems that Forbes, the AARP and Mike Huckabee object to his research which involved a shrimp running on a treadmill. He confessed at the Chronicle of Higher Education

My name is David, and I am the marine biologist who put a shrimp on a treadmill—a burden I will forever carry. To be clear, the treadmill did not cost millions of taxpayer dollars, the goal of the research was not to exercise shrimp, and the government did not pay me—or anyone else—to work out shrimp on treadmills.

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. (All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.)

In an effort to put an end to the erroneous media reports of wasteful government sponsored shrimp-treadmill research, I am willing to put my infamous treadmill up for sale. All profits will go toward supporting marine-biology research so that grandmothers across the country will no longer be denied medication, our heroic soldiers fighting abroad might be able to get the military equipment they need, and the House science committee can rest easy knowing that they can once again eat fat juicy shrimp—free of bacteria—without using up government funds. For the bargain price of $1-million (shrimp not included)—that’s 67 percent off the price listed by—a lucky individual, perhaps Rep. Lamar Smith (the Texas Republican and chairman of the House science committee), can literally put their money and their shrimp where their mouth is.

He got links from Wonkette and Mike the Mad Biologist (but isn't in the Fournier league)

The merchandise

The Fournier Transform

Near Stupidoclypse Alert

Major meme


It looks as if Ron Fournier may sweep the left blogosphere.

I read this by Joan McCarter at DailyKos

The nation's most stubborn and willfully ignorant pundit, Ron "why won't Obama lead and make Republicans like him" Fournier, strikes again.

On health care, we needed a market-driven plan that decreases the percentage of uninsured Americans without convoluting the U.S. health care system. Just such a plan sprang out of conservative think tanks and was tested by a GOP governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
Honestly. He wrote that. In November, 2014. Four and a half years after the Affordable Care Act—modeled after a Heritage Foundation proposal and Mitt Romney's Massachusetts law—passed. After a presidential election in 2012 that featured Mitt Romney going through insane contortions trying to differentiate between Romneycare and Obamacare because they are almost exactly the same.
I thought it would be absurd for this blog (traffic about zero) to link to DailyKos (daily traffic much less than the population of China). McCarter goes on to quote Fournier again
Instead of a bipartisan agreement to bring that plan to scale, we got more partisan warfare. The GOP resisted, Obama surrendered his mantle of bipartisanship, and Democrats muscled through a one-sided law that has never been popular with a majority of the public.
So a bill to bring that plan to scale became a one-sided muscled through law that essentially brought that plan to scale (the main difference is that the Federal Government funded both, as the USA can't send the bill to the One World Government (yet)). So how did bringing RomneyCare to scale become "a one-sided law" ? That would be the famous Fournier transform, in which Ballance beats reality if reality is embarrassing to Republicans. I also note that Jon Gruber has become an un-person. It is very likely that, before his "stupidity" leaked, McCarter would have quoted RomneyCare architect Jon Gruber saying that it's the same damn plan. Jon Gruber, the wonk who must not be named (even though it is reasonably likely that you or someone you care about will owe him your, his or her life some day). Now I see that Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias are on the case. Yglesias even brought up Jon Gruber, reminding me that Yglesias is doubleplusungood at being a hack. Last I checked Chait hadn't checked in (he does have a genuinely great post on ObamaCare Uber Ales which you really ought to read) Update: Jim Newell too "DC pundit takes troll game to new level: Ron Fournier’s strange history of Obamacare" Aaron Carroll (via Jonathan Bernstein) Gary Legum at Wonkette (that hit is going to leave a snark)
Ron Fournier has written many dumb columns in his career. In fact, Ron Fournier has written only dumb columns in his career. But today he has outdone himself by gracing our political centrists, yearning as they are for some bipartisanship, with the dumbest column of his, nay, of any pundit’s career.
Steve Benen too

Monday, November 17, 2014

Waldmann V Waldman goes up past eleven

Ah I have a very minor disagreement with my fellow Waldman[n]. My usual complaint is that he, KagroX and Michael Waldman are more famous than I am (if you are asking "Who is Michael Waldman" then you just learned how obscure I am). It is a quibble with a surprisingly excellent post on why the extraordinarily successful health care reform remains unpopular. I write surprisingly, because this issue has been discussed so much that it is impossible to say anything really new, yet the post is written so well that I strongly advise clicking this link. Paul Waldman wrote "Add the success (so far) of open enrollment for next year to all the other good news about the ACA. We’ve had 10 million formerly uninsured Americans with coverage," The link leeds to a story reporting the Gallup study which estimated that there were about 10 million Americans *over the age of 18* newly insured due to the ACA *during 2014*. The Gallup estimate, therefore, didn't include people agend 18-26 who already had health insurance on December 31 2013, because the ACA required insurance companies to allow their parents to keep them on their parents' plans. Estimates of the effects this aspect of the ACA on the number insured range from one to three million. Also Gallup did not look at insurance of children. There are more people aged 18-64 than 0-17 and Medicaid and SCHIP caused the rate of non-insurance among children to be 10%: horribly high, but lower than the rate for non-elderly adults. Still the ACA probably has caused at least a million more children to have health insurance. So the correct estimate would be that the Gallup study suggests that 12-14 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured have coverage. In any case, "over 10 million" is a safe statement which is almost certainly accurate, while "10 million" is innaccurate.

Fear Factor

Atrios writes

Everything Is Horrible - Let's Stay The Course

So weird.

David Cameron has issued a stark message that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” in the same way as when the financial crash brought the world to its knees six years ago. ... Politically, Conservatives believe an emphasis on the risks still facing the UK will make anxious voters recoil from handing stewardship of a fragile economy to a relatively untried Labour team.
I comment

Both you and the Guardian's correspondent* are attempting to explain the strategy with a model in which voters decide how to vote based on their views of the consequences of their votes -- an attempt rational or otherwise to reason.

I suspect that Cameron's strategy is based on the fact that fear makes people conservative. Psychologists have published experimental results which I will paraphrase from memory (make up on the spot) in which showing people a photo of the mouth of a great white shark causes them to oppose gay marriage (that is in their is less support for gay marriage in the shown a shark subsample than in the shown a flower sub sample -- recall I am working from memory of what I remember from reading abstracts -- that is bullshitting) Here is the abstract I vaguely remembered (thank you Google). I don't know exactly what the "a mortality salience threat" was or what way of being "staunchly unsupportive of homosexuals" it induced.

I doubt Cameron knows this literature even as well as I do. I do not doubt that his message has been tested on focus groups and that it works, and that it works through fear. My guess is that ISIS and Ebola would do just as well as red lights flashing on the economic dashboard.

*I admit I just read the URL and didn't click.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In which I compare, Rand Paul, Jay Ackroyd, and David Dayan

Jay Ackroyd notes DDay's excellent policy proposals. I comment That is indeed an excellent list. I especially like point 3 (I think it is useful to ask people how much money Medicare Advantage saved the government if they object). It is petty picky and silly to quibble and I am that petty picky silly quibbler. In point 4 you followed acqua buddha. "Adding good jobs with proper pensions in the public sector — which employs the fewest workers since 1966 — could help. " The claim "the public sector — which employs the fewest workers since 1966" is absolutely false. The link evidence is an observation about the Federal Government. Federal Government employment is a small fraction of public sector employment (about one sixth of it). I invoke acqua buddha from the watery shallows, because this is exactly the dodge used by Rand Paul to hide his ignorance In an interview, he was visibly astounded by Paul Krugman's claim that government employment had declined during a period when it had in fact declined (hint the period was not "since 1966"). After the data were shown to him or, more likely, an aid -- he claimed he thought that Krugman had made a claim about Federal Government employment.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kevin Drum and the White Working Class

I agree a bit less than usual with Kevin Drum who writes on the problem of Democrats and the White Working Class (which is defined as whites without 4 year college degrees including, as John Quiggin noted, the horny handed sons and daughters of toil, such as Bill Gates and Paris Hilton).

I quote bits here and cut and paste my comment

"white working class, which voted Republican by a 30-point margin last week:"

"As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin observed this summer, 54 percent of the white working class born after 1980 think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, according to data assembled from the 2012 election." -- Kevin Drum quoting Noam Scheiber quoting Teixeira and Halpin

"But if that's the case, why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. "

"So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor."

"That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars."

"Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope."

"So sure: full-throated economic populism? That might work, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. But here's one thing it better mean: policies that are aimed at the working and middle classes and that actually appeal to them. That is, policies that are simple, concrete, and offer benefits which are clear and compelling."

I comment

When Teixeira and John Halpin write "the white working class born after 1980 " they are basically not at all talking about the same "white working class, which voted Republican by a 30-point margin last week:"

Last week 12% of voters were under 30 and 37% over 60. The election told us what older people (such as myself -- age 54). You basically don't discuss age at all. This really makes no sense when discussing 2014, 2012 and how they are different.

OK what is to be done ? Look it's simple. There is a difference between not paying much income tax and paying less than zero. the number 47% horrifies Republicans for a reason. They fear that if the fraction whose income tax liabilities are less than 0 gets enough over 50% to make up for lower turnout of the less rich, then the "takers" will take over. I think they have a point, except that I think that would be a good thing (given the large numbers of takers who work full time year round and pay much more in payroll taxes than they receive in EITC).

I think that Democrats can win elections by promising higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes for everyone else. I think that few voters buy the Republican line that Republicans cut taxes for the non rich. I use the word "think" but I think that these claims are about as weak as the claim that the climate is getting warmer.

First try to name a Democrat with the following features

1. He was elected President

2. He was not an incumbant at the time

3. the top marginal income tax rate was under 69%

4. the income tax was constitutional

and 5 he didn't propose higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes on everyone else.

Hint, this is a trick question -- those 5 conditions have never ever been met. In contrast both Clinton and Obama were elected after promising higher taxes on the rich and a middle class tax cut (and Obama actually delivered).

I also recall a TV discussion of a focus group which watched a Bush senior Clinton debate with the dials. The group included declared undecided voters, declared Clinton supporters and declared Bush supporters. Clinton said something like " only the rich have received tax cuts" and the average declared Bush supporter twisted the dial to agree. Rage at the Republiscam of promising tax cuts for all and giving them only to the rich was strong in 1992 *among rank and file Republicans*.

Since then Gallup has polled again and againa and always gets solid majorities who support higher taxes on the rich (as I very much enjoy reminding you, long ago I pointed out these polls to you and you were very surprised). In 2005 polls showed that the only social security reform with majority support was raising the payroll tax ceiling. In 2009 and 2010 polls showed that the only provision of the ACA which reduced the deficit and had majority support was and is the surtax on high incomes.

People in the USA want to soak the rich and spread it out thin. This is a feasible policy (Obama did it -- mild on the soaking -- but he did it). I am sure it would be good policy. The popular populist policy and the practical way to address income inequality is to make the income tax more progressive.

This would, of course, creaate problems such as .... I mean we might return to the dread economic growth rates of the 50s when the top rate was 91% and the 60s when the top rate was 70%. I absolutely promise you that there is less than no evidence that a higher top marginal income tax rate would be bad for growth


. OK enough policy proposals, I want to whine about how unfair it is,

I note that the WWC includes a lot of people on food stamps and/or receiving EITC. I also note that the ACA has done a lot for a lot of white working class people including those under 4/3 the poverty line (who may be poor not working class by the original definition of the phrase but the few who vote are included in the numbers you quote), those who don't get insurance from their employers and those who might lose their job with benefits. That is almost all of them.

You note but do not focus on the deep deep irrationality of welfare hatred. The only huge means tested program is Medicaid which is almost as popular as Medicare. Many hard working people benefit from food stamps and the EITC. The people getting checks without working are over 65 (and that program is super popular) disabled (and that program is not hated) or very few and getting tiny checks. I am sure that welfare hatred is not based on knowing people who are actually living on welfare.

Also you don't note foreign aid hatred. On this issue, the delusions of the overwhelming majority of US citizens are so extreme that they are not discussed in polite debate. In polls The median US respondent guesses foreign aid is 10% to 28% of the Federal budget (I have a total of 2 polls in mind but the numbers are all in that range). This is absolutely not based on living next door to a foreigner who receives aid. This is pure fantasy (foreign aid is less than 0.7% of the US Federal budget). Foreign aid is a tiny program. But the vast majority of US voters think it is a huge program. That means that hatred of foreign aid is a big issue.

pulled back from comments: The counties in North Carolina that had the highest percentage of slaves to whites in 1860 are the same counties where more than 90% of whites voted for Mitt Romney. Links to follow at my blog. Thornton Hall Which reminds me that "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Do I really have to wade through that Stephanie Schmidt-Grohe and Martin Uribe paper too, and reverse-engineer their result as well? I'm too old for this. Don't any of you young whippersnappers have an economic intuition? Do you all get snowed by every fancy-mathy paper that comes along?
I expect I will have to. Pray for me.
--Nick Rowe Who earns a bonus victory lap for keeping an extremely elaborate metaphor un-mixed and out of the ditch.

I had to click the link to find out that "the Scandanavian flick" was related to driving cars and not Swedish monetary policy.

If you had asked me to describe a Scandanavian flick I would have said there is this knight by the sea who meets death and they decide to play chess (actually I thought of another Ingmar Bergman film "Monica," which I have heard described on PBS as "an escapist skin flick" -- the sea is featured in "Monica" too, but Monica is much better looking than death).

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Grey Power and Rational Self Interest

The extraordinarily smart and well informed Richard Mayhew presents amazing data on voter turnout by age in presidential elections and mid terms. He also attempts to make sense of yesterday's vote. I think this attempt fails.

He concludes "we have an off-cycle electorate that assumes that they’ll be dead in 15 years, so let the good times roll."

I comment.

The argument makes sense, but the votes of US adults over 60 don’t. The Republican policy stance (except during campaigns) is the opposite of “let the good times role”. They fight for reduced deficits and, in particular, demand entitlement reform.

In particular, Arkansans over 60 voted for Tom Cotton who voted to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 70. This is a “death bet” only if to death they say “you betcha”.

Cotton’s vote is on a roll call and the Republican Study Group budget is public, so I think it is OK to link to a partisan source

“Cotton Was the Only Member Of The Arkansas Delegation To Vote for Republican Study Committee Budget That Transformed Medicare Into Voucher System, Raised the Eligibility Age For Medicare To 70 And Cut Social Security Benefits.”

One can not use rational self interest to explain why people aged over 60 vote for Republicans who demand that Democrats accept entitlement reform and then denounce the Democrats for accepting some of the Republican demands.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Orwell wasn't good at arithmetic

He wrote 1984 when he meant 2014. QOTD "a program called SAFe, Students Against Fear"
Orwell himself couldn’t have come up with a more ironic title for this spy program than “Students Against Fear,” although I suspect the idiosyncratic capitalization would’ve killed him if he weren’t already dead.

Being There: Colorado and Jerzy *

Lie imitates art (with a twist). Am I the first to note that, as predicted by Jersey Kosinski, C. Gardner is strangely politically successful, because people here what they want to hear in his contentless statements ? In fiction C. Gardner is a sincere idiot. In real life C Garnder is very smart, smart enough to know that he can't win if he reveals his true views, but has a very good chance if he asserts, for example, that personhood isn't personhood. I fear that Colorado will go red, because voters aren't paying attention. I blame marijuana. * The spelling of thr title was corrected thanks to malcolm

Stupidoclypse allert

Today could be the day. I am thinking again of the four horsemen of the stupidoclypse: Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondrake, Mickey Kaus and Fred Barnes. The end of daze will come when the four of them make the same stupid argument at the same time. So far there have been two Hemistupidoclypses. The first came in 2006 when Krauthammers and Kaus argued that the 2006 Democratic wave showed that the Democrats were weak as they obtained only the smallest possible margin in the Senate through two very narrow victories (both due to Markos Moulitsas by the way -- senators Tester and Webb said so). Neither mentioned that 40 Republican senators were not up for election, so the Republican Senate victories just had to reach double digits for them to keep the majority. This argument was profoundly dumb, they were insulting the intelligence of their readers and managed to underestimate the intelligence of the US public. However, 2<4 and it was only halfway to the ultimate abyss of idiocy. Similarly two of the four argued that it was good strategy to nominate Paul Ryan for vice president. How did that work out fellas ? But I really think 2014 could be the year. The stupid chum is in the water. There is a temptation to say that the US has rejected Obama after re-electing him because association with him is political poison in Lousiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana and Alaska -- states where he lost in 2008 and 2012. There is the temptation to argue that the election of the ernest Ernst and the shows how Republicans can win in purple states by not nominating extremists (when they might win because the press thinks that reporting their views on policy would reveal liberal bias (as Colbert noted the facts have a liberal bias)). I will try to avoid noticing the elections which I don't expect to enjoy, but I will keep a look out for the possibly imminant stupidoclypse.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Remain Calm About Ebola -- Bethesda !?! Did Just read Bethesda ???

I think we should all take a deep breath and remind ourselves that Ebola isn't coming to take our children. Oh Nina Pham (first person to catch Ebola while in the USA) looks OK as she is about to be transfered to Bethesda Whahhhh Did I just read "Bethesda" ?!? My dad works in Bethesda . Let me check more hmm tne NIH -- wait that's where my dad works. "National Institutes of Health clinical center" omigod that's the building where my dad works. Panic. Look I'm not a hypocrite. I said don't panic abut Ebola coming to take your children. I didn't say anything against panicking about Ebola coming to take your parents.

What TPM Reader JM Said

Read it Quote of the day "we’ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nail Biters

There are some close races for Governor in the USA. They are especially close according the the Huffington Post Pollster aggregation In fact as of October 15 2014 11:54 AM EST, the two candidates are separated by exacly one point in the Governor's races featured by the Huffintong post. That is each and every featured Gubernatorial race all 6 of them. averaging over the 6, Democrats lead by 0% yes Zero.

I Just Voted by E-Mail

Amazing but true, Massachusetts allows voting by e-mail. You don't get much more 21st century than that. Well now that I think of it, maybe by 2016 they will have an iPhone app for that. I had to sign something waving my right to a secret ballot as humans will deal with the attachments (that form, an affidavit and 2 pages of ballot) I noted 3 things about the ballot First there is no glass ceiling in MA politics. The Democratic candidates for Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer and auditor are women. Second I now vote in the 5th congressional district. Ah how time passes. This means this is the end of the biennial tradition of being asked if I want to vote for Michael Capuano -- I don't think he has ever had an opponent. Now I am asked if I want to vote for Katharine M Clark. Another woman. Republicans are Abt to avoid the embarrassment of getting hammered in a distric which is mostly Cambridge MA (by population). That is an inside joke, the most recent (actually the only) Republican candidate who I can remember was named Abt. Oh there was also a Communist candiate on the ballot in 1980. In my district we have a Soviet approach with only one candidate for each of Representative in Congress, Senator in General Court, Representative in General Court, and District Attorney.The sole candidates for all of those offices but Senator in General Court are women, as is the Democratic candidate for Register of Probate. Again, no glass ceiling in the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts, although with all due respect I'm not sure that one has to break a glass ceiling to be Register of Probate (in fact I have no idea what the Register of Probate does). All so very progressive. Third and finally, on the back of the ballot (a separate file attached to the e-mails) I find Question 4 -- "A YES VOTE would entitle employees in Massachusetts to earn and use sick time according to certain conditions" . Yes super modern ultra progressive Massachusetts might establish a legal right to sick leave. I wish I could say that's so 20th century, but I strongly suspect that Bismarck might have done that in the 19th century. With the web the world may be flat, but it is also totally twisted.

A Comment on StrawKrugman

I am going to critique something Krugman didn't quite say about Tirole. What he really said is here. can't resist jumping in the deep end and discussing what Nobel memorial prize winner appreciates about another. I think the best title is "calculated silliness was a Trojan horse". In a parody of your version (StrawKrugman's view) consideration of imperfect competition was made possible if examples were allowed as theory, and this was good. But then things went too far and a smart graduate student could provide and example of everything and the opposite of everything. My reply to StrawKrugman is that there is no legitimate way in which this was is going too far. The examples of everything and the opposite of everything existed in the world of math (hyper-Urania). Ignorance is strength but time is stronger. In fact, I think the reason economists insisted (and some still insist) on assuming perfect competition is that it was easy to guess that there were no results out there -- no implications of imperfect competion by itself -- that anything could happen. I think the useful role of Tirole et al was to give the impression that there were interesting general results following from imperfect competition and/or asymmetric information. Once the approach was accepted, the pretense that theory without evidence tells us something about the world can't survive the onslaught of smart graduate students who need PhD topics. I don't think the intent was destructive, but I bet it was as if you, he and MIT played a trick on the profession,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The usual comment on Wren-Lewis

Simon Wren-Lewis has a very thoughtful post on what went wrong in Macroeconomics. I wrote the same thing I always do (see below). I also tried to answer his questions.

I will write a second comment. I will try to respond to your questions. I wasn't an economist in the 70s so (as usual) I don't know what I am talking about.

"So why didn’t this happen? Why did we have a revolution which overturned an existing methodology and temporarily banished Keynesian theory, rather than an adaptation and augmentation of what was then mainstream?"

"Was the attraction of overturning orthodoxy too strong, as it is for a minority of heterodox economists today? "

I think this attraction was very strong. There is something else. A couple of Economists from U Minnesota mentioned Harvard for no clear reason -- I think there was and is an element of Midwestern pride (neither of the economists is originally from the USA). In particular a distasteful aspect of appeals to common sense or judgment is that they are and must be assertions of intellectual authority. Math has the appealing feature that a proof is a proof and does not rely on the authority of the person stating it.

" Did an ideological imperative of dismissing Keynesian ideas play a role?" I think it definitely did. Friedman, Lucas, Prescott and Barro are very ideological. The models change but the policy proposals remain the same. Views on methodology change (Sargent asserted that Lucas and Prescott were all in favor of testing models as null hypothesis until he rejected their favored models).

"To what extent was the hostile reaction of many in the macroeconomic establishment to eminently sensible ideas like rational expectations responsible? "

I think the extremely hostile reaction played an important role (of course, I don't think that rational expectations is a sensible idea).

"Was the attraction of a methodology where at least you could be sure you were consistent too enticing, ? "

Here I would say that mathematics was enticing. Writing papers that look like Physics except the variables have different meanings is enticing.

"perhaps encouraged by increasing segmentation between theoretical and empirical macro? "

I'm quite sure this came later. In the 70s and early 80s new Classicals developed new empirical tools and did a lot of empirical work. I think theoretical macro separated from empirical macro when the data kept saying that new Classical models were not good approximations to reality.

So far, I have made no progress towards understanding how a few departments were so influential. Here I think that hard work and the passion due to fanaticism were important. The general rightward political shift also must have mattered. I think that the loony left managed to cast discredit on Republican Keynesians somehow. But I really don't understand how and why it happened.

I have two other thoughts.

If macro theory (or non theory or ad hoc models or whatever) were about as good as it is would ever be in 1973, PhD candidates and junior faculty would still have to present something new. In fields which aren't progressing a new and crazy original contribution is preferable to an unoriginal contribution. Here I think the trouble is that some questions in macro are too simple and have for decades been answered well enough to serve. I think it is very easy to fit consumption and investment without theory -- 1960s equations fit well out of sample.

If aggregates depend on expectations which are not rational nor adaptive nor anything which can feasibly be modelled, then the problems of stabilizing output and even of forecasting can't be solved. If so the only reasonble thing to do is to try something and if it fails badly try something completely different.

I think many of the questions are too easy and have been answered (but young researchers can't afford to accept this) and the unanswered questions are too hard (I fear unanswerable).

Now my usual boring pointless comment

Here I am again more certain than ever that this comment serves no useful purpose. You support an eclectic approach and not the utter rejection of all of the past 40 years of theoretical macroeconomics. I guess this must seem obviously reasonable to you and to basically everyone. However, while you have very often stated this view, I don't recall much in the way of argument, evidence or even examples.

"Microfounded models could have shown the kind of errors that can arise in more empirically based models when theory is ignored or only applied piecemeal, "

for example ? To be sure such errors can arise, one should point to examples of such errors arising. The classic example is the 1960s era Keynesian ad hoc assumption that the Phillips curve is a structural relationship. This error never happened. It may well be that going to the data armed only with common sense and verbal arguments leads to errors which would have been avoided if one used formal theory. But to claim that such errors occured, one should cite them with authors, dates, titles, Journal titles volume and page numbers.

"However I also think the new ideas that came with that revolution were progressive. I have defended rational expectations, I think intertemporal theory is the right place to start in thinking about consumption, and exploring the implications of time inconsistency is very important to macro policy, as well as many other areas of economics. I also think, along with nearly all macroeconomists, that the microfoundations approach to macro (DSGE models) is a progressive research strategy."

I note that the word "progressive" appears twice. I think it is very useful, too useful. To argue that something is progressive, one need not point to achievements. The word is consistent with the claim that the approach will in the future yield valuable fruits. I recall reading in 1982 Sargent expressing the hope that realistic micro founded models which could be taken seriously and confronted with the data would be developed in the following 30 years. I say time is up.

I also note "to start". Now the claim that something is the right place to start can't be disproven. The claim is that something good will happen. I know of no evidence against the view "(6) Changes in expectations of the relation between the present and the future level of income. — We must catalogue this factor for the sake of formal completeness. But, whilst it may affect considerably a particular individual’s propensity to consume, it is likely to average out for the community as a whole. Moreover, it is a matter about which there is, as a rule, too much uncertainty for it to exert much influence." Keynes 1936 chapter 8 section II.

I have 2 3 final questions.

1. What evidence could possibly convince you that intertemporal theory is not the right place to start in thinking about consumption ?

2. What evidence could possibly convince you that DSGE isn't a prgressive research program ?

3. What could the data do which they have failed to do in the past 40 years ?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ballance at Vox ?

Ezra Klein has an excellent post on the closed feedback loop conservabubble where the obamacare is failing. One aside illustrates a few things. The first is that I find it much easier to criticize than to praise -- I can't help myself. The second is that the rule that an essay should include a "to be sure" and a "both sides" is very strong. The third is related to Drum's rule -- if you have to search comment threads for evidence that people of type X have crazy opinion Y, you have really found evidence against your conclusion.

the aside is

(Of course, information loops can go the other way, too: a lot of liberals probably don't know that of the much-discussed 8 million enrollees in Obamacare's insurance exchanges, new data suggests only about 7.3 million stuck around as paying members.)
It is, of course, true that a lot of liberals don't know about the 7.3 million as it is true that a (smaller) lot of liberals never heard about the 8 million -- political junkies can't imagine how little normal people know about public affairs.

That said, Klein's argument is so weak that, if I didn't trust his integrity, I would suspect that he was trying to convince people that all loopy information loops loop right. 7.3/8 >90% . The fraction is at the upper end of predictions. political junky liberals have been reading forecasts that the ratio will be about 90% for months from, for example, Charles Gaba .

The 7.3 million number was trumpeted at liberal sites

Trusting Klein's integrity as I do, I think the aside really does provide strong evidence for the opposite of its apparent claim.

First the news for the ACA has to be very good indeed for "only about 7.3 million" to be the example of not as good as the rest of it news for the ACA.

Second, the hack gap is huge. New liberal alternatives to the MSM (shuch as Talking Points Memo and VOX) play it straight. In fact, liberals like Klein feel the need to add a bit of Ballance.

Well at least I sincerely honestly believe this. Klein's critique of Klein and people like him is so feeble and his obvious interest in convincing people of the opposite of his stated claim means that my confidence that he didn't make an invalid argument on purpose indicates my absolute faith in his integrity.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Might" make right II -- a comment on Chait.

"Might" makes right. You can take almost any indefensible claim P and make it the defensible claim "P might be true". "Might" is the ultimate weasel word. It should be obvious that it appears in a conclusory sentence only when the writer knows perfectly well that he (or she) doesn't have a case. Yet it appears very often.

Jonathan Chait recently criticised "Tom Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas?" . The post was devastating (as Chait's critiques often are I mean talmost always are I mean hey I can't think of an exception).

More recently he chose to write about Kansas. Obviously he felt the need to refer to "What's the Matter with Kansas" and "The Wizard of Oz." He had a problem. He sumarized his actual views on recent events in Kansas and "What's the Matter with Kansas" perfectly with the (brilliant as usual) paragraph

Brownback’s biggest mistake was to forget a lesson Frank made well: Even in Kansas, tea-party populism requires the maintenance of a ruse. One needs cultural elites and other enemies to bash in broad daylight while doing the dark work of plutocracy behind the scenes. Openly conducting class warfare on behalf of the rich is no way for a pseudo populist to get ahead.
Now I haven't read "What's the Matter with Kansas" but all of the dozens of summaries of it which I have read present that as the central theme of the book. Recent polling data do as much as so few data points possibly could to suggest that Frank was totally right.

But Chait doesn't want to just agree with Frank. So he focuses on a separate issue and recent data from Kansas provides essentially no evidence one way or the other "Frank audaciously proposed that Democrats address their catastrophic standing in Kansas, and places like it, not by moving toward the center but away from it, by embracing populist economics. "

Chait correctly notes that the Democrats in Kansas didn't do this. Thus he should conclude that data from Kansas provides no evidence one way or the other about what would happen if they did do this. But having brought up the argument, he chose not to conclude that he had nothing new to say and so rather dressed up the nothing he had to say as something.

Chait wrote a sentence which is as vapid as most of his writing is incisive. "In fact, as much as Kansas provides liberals a happy story line in an otherwise difficult campaign season, it also offers a lesson that might give progressive Democrats pause."

This is, as usual, brilliant prose. But in this case the skill is used to obfuscate. We have the "might" which makes right watering down a "give ... pause". I risk nothing when I write that something should give someone who made an argument pause. It almost always is perfectly safe to propose that someone pause and think some more. If the person is standing in front of a speeding car, it is unsound to propose a pause for further reflection. Otherwise it is a proposal so mild that it is safe to make.

But Chait knows that he doesn't have new evidence for a case against populism, so he waters down the water with a "might".

Aside from picking on prose, I do have an actual argument. Chait relies on the magic word "center" without defining it. He is hinting at the argument that elections are won by racing to the center. The problem is that the word has two completely different definitions, even when used as a term of art by political scientists. It sometimes means a point midway between Republicans in Congress and Democrats in congress (as in DW-Nominate scores) or halfway between voting for Democrats and voting for Republicans (this is red district vs blue district scores). Here by construction the center is between the two parties, so for Democrats moving left is moving away from the center.

In contrast the center towards which it is good strategy to race is the position held by the median voter. Frank's point (as summarized in the quoted Chait paragraph) is that Republicans can win lots of elections, even if their positions on bread and butter populist v plutocrat issues are far to the right of the median positions of US adults. The logic is partly that they can obfuscate, partly that they can lie, and mostly that ideology is multi dimensional, and that people also vote based on the "social issues" (really the pelvic issues).

This means that a move from the current Democratic main stream towards more populism might be a move towards the views of the median voter, hence a move towards the center by this second definition. In fact a solid majority of US adults support higher taxes on high incomes, while the offical Democratic main stream position is that the ACA surtax and the expiry of Bush cuts for incomes over $400,000 for an individual $450,000 for a household are enough. Most US adults and the left fringe of elected Democrats supported increased social security pensions and increased Medicare and Medicaid spending. Basically the median US adult is markedly more populist than the median elected Democrat. I challenge Chait to find a poll and a roll call vote which don't fit this pattern.

So Frank makes the audacious proposal that Democrats would win more elections if their policy proposals were closer to the policies supported by the median voter.