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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump says AHCA is "Mean"

One source said Trump called the House bill “mean, mean, mean” and said, “We need to be more generous, more kind.” The other source said Trump used a vulgar phrase to describe the House bill and told the senators, “We need to be more generous.”
I think this "vulgar phrase" baryard metaphor is slang-term-for-reproductive-act-ing idiotic. But I do think the unsurprising news about Trumps constancy is of some relevance. The Senators at the meeting were forcibly reminded that, if they vote for the modified AHCA, Trump will stab them in the back. It will be even more horribly unpopular when its effects are felt than it is now (it's polling 17-25% approval). Trump will denounce the bill if he ever signs it. If a bill passes, his line will be that it was a horrible horrible bill written by "mean" idiots in Congress, but he had to sign it because Obamacare was collapsing. This will make the cost of voting yes even higher than it otherwise would be (and do nothing for Trump who won't convince anyone but his fanatic fans and isn't up for election in 2018 anyway). Of course it is obvious that Trump throws people under the bus carrying the wolves after stabbing them in the back. But a vivid reminder at a critical moment can't hurt.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Boring Comment on Kabaservice

Have I come up with a title less attractive than "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative" ? I certainly don't expect anyone to read this post. Also I advixe against reading it -- it is a waste of time.

I am commenting on this op-ed "The Great Performance of Our Failing President". My first thoughts are that it is too kind to Trump and displays shocking ignorance of history (Kabaservice is a historian who's op-ed harshly condemns Trump). My later thoughts are about me, myself, Robert Waldmann and my reactions to the conventions of the essay (or more exactly the op-ed).

I got stuck for many minutes objecting to this sentence

President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

I think it is both appallingly vague and clearly false. Before typing on, I want to start with myself. I understand that the passage is a to be sure passage

1) it's role in the essay is to avoid monotony.

2) The denunciation of Trump is made more interesting by suggesting that promise was betrayed.

3) Kabaservice is trying to prove that he isn't a knee jerk Trumpaphobic by noting some appeal of Trump.

4) Exactly because Kabaservice is conceding a tiny bit to Trump supporters here, he doesn't feel any need to be careful in the claim. It is a concession. It isn't really an assertion he is making in his voice.

As often, I find myself fiercely objecting to a "to be sure" passage. I fear that this would give the impression that I am a rigid doctrinaire extremist (but only if anyone reads my blog posts -- so I'm OK). But I do object. In particular, I object to the convention that assertinos in "to be sure" passages don't have to be both meaningful and accurate. I see no reason to allow meaningless or false claims to be made in any context. To be sure, it may be useful to note invalid arguments before refuting them. However, in that case, I think it is necessary to find and quote someone else making the invalid argument. In any case, one can use the subjunctive. One might argue "one might argue that ..." before knocking down the straw man.

OK back to Kabaservice. I object to the vague words "few" and "address". I think they are used in order to write words which appear to amount to a claim, but which don't actually assert anything. I would really like to ask "how few ? Do you mean fewer than 10 ? How about fewer than 10,000 ? OK I guess the set of "politicians" is not defined (candidates for office ? so not Reince Priebus but including candidates for shcool boards) so do you mean fewer than 1% ? fewer than 10% ? I am quite sure that Kbaservice doesn't mean any of these things. I am quite sure he doesn't mean anything. He wishes to assert that there is something notable about Trump's choice "to address" those problems without making any quantitative claim precise or vague. No number of examples of other policians doing the same refutes the claim, because "few" has no firm meaning.

Now how about "address". What does this mean ? A narrow definition would be to describe with some accuracy and propose a solution or, at lease, a melioration. By that definition, Trump did not address the issues. I'm not even sure he mentioned opiates at all, except for noting the smuggling of opiates over the border. As far as I know, he didn't mention the role of prescription opiates in the crisis. It is central. I don't think he showed any sign of knowing what areas are hardest hit by the drug epidemic. In contrast he, falsely, claimed that the crime rate was at an unprecedentely high level. Of course he didn't propose any plausible solution.

In contrast, Clinton specifically discussed the opiate crisis (noting that she kept hearing about it -- she listened to ordinary people as Trump did not). I'm reasonable confident that her issues page includes reasonable proposals to deal with the problem (and totally sure that I won't check and that almost no one else did).

Clearly Sanders addressed the problem of health care costs. Clinton supported the ACA which actually did a lot about it. As noted in the next paragraph, when elected, Trump supported the AHCA which reduces funding for dealing with drug addiction and massively shifts the burden of health care costs to the non-wealthy.

So how would I rewrite the offending sentence ? I feel the need to try to explain how Trump got elected (I can't help it). I'd note a few things. One is Trump's extreme dishonesty and arrogance helped him. He just promised that he would solve the problems. Honest people feel the need to give some hint of an explanation of how they would fulfil a promise. I think it is clear that a lot of voters are willing to believe promises based on no argument or explanation. I think also that Trump's anger helped him appeal to angry people. Finally, angry people want a change. Only once since 1948 has a party won 3 presidential elections in a row. But I don't think it has anything to do with Trump addressing the issues (he didn't if the word is defined narrowly enough that anyone didn't address the issues) or with Democratic politicians failing to address the issues.

I also object to this ahistorical bullshit.

Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them,

Bill clinton never compelled Congress. He tried to compel congress to reform health care and failed. Part of the problem is that he was unpopular. At this point of his presidency Clinton was about as unpopular as Trump is. Later he signed bills which dramatically changed things. But he didn't compel Congress -- they were right wing Republican initiatives. Clinton reluctantly went along with them. After 1994, Congress was leading and Clinton was following. Finally, after failing to compel congress then bending to Congress's will, Clinton became very popular. Claims about Clinton in the passage are all false. Kabaservice is a historian. I am 100% sure he knows they are false. I think he has chosen to repeat the conventional wisdom which he knows to be false.

Reagan did compel congress to cut taxes and increase defence spending. However, that's about it. He also later bent to Congress's will and signed a huge tax increase. He also followed Kemp and Bradley and accepted the 1986 tax reform (after demonstrating that he had no clue about the contents of the draft bill). It is true that he pushed things through congress (with a Democratic majority in the House) during his first years. So the claims about Reagan aren't all false. However, he wasn't especially popular then ( his approval rating declined unusually quickly and Republicans were hammered in the 1982 mid terms). I am old enough to remember. The popularity came later (mostly long after he left office).

The passage is ahistorical conventional wisdom. It is shocking that a historian wrote it.

But aside from that, I think the op-ed is an excellent essay.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

My Sources Tell me that in the Closed Session Comey Said he has proof Trump is a Russian agent and a Lizard person

COTTON: “Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”

COMEY: “It’s a question I don’t think I should answer in open session.”

Sen Cotton has a degree from Harvard Law, where they didn't teach him to never ask a question unless he knows how the witness will answer.

I don't think Comey is going to tell the committee in closed session that he knows of no evidence that Trump colluded.

I am confident enough that if I were a reporter I would be tempted to fudge a scoop with a made up source.

But you aren't supposed to report that something was said in closed session before the closed session starts.

I know, that's why I am waiting to hit the publish key.

Damnit I flinched.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I jest McCain't stand all this Sasse talk

I was already worried that I'g starting to like Ben Sasse more than I want anyone to like a conservative Republican when I saw this tweet
Then Josh Marshall wrote this one "I'd almost vote for him just for this tweet" I am genuinely worried. That boy's gonna be dangerous when he grows up.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Totally twitty Chait hate

I admire Jonathan Chait. In particular, I admire his denunciation of those (e.g. Barack Obama) who criticize "some in my party" without naming names. His rule is that if one criticizes an argument, position or view, one should name and quote someone. Otherwise the temptation to debate straw men is irresistable. This fits Chait's general (confessed) inclination to be mean -- he doesn't mind criticizing people by name.

I often think of Chait's rule and, when attemting to enforce it use the phrase "two minutes Chait" (rhymes with "two minutes hate").

His recent post "This Won't end Well for House Republicans" caused me to advocate (in comments) a much more extreme rule. I argue that commentators should never paraphrase or quote indirectly. I think a good rule would be that all references to anything written or said by anyone must be of the form of a direct quotation followed (if necessary) by an argument that the person really means something other that what they apparently just said.

I think that allowing paraphrases and indirect quotations makes the temptation to, say, claim that Al Gore said he invented the internet, irresistable.

My example is Chait himself. He wrote

Nancy Pelosi once said that Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it. Republican demagogues pretended Pelosi was confessing to having hidden the details of her bill until its passage, but, as anybody who read the context of her remarks could see, that is not what she meant. Pelosi was dismissing the bill’s bad polling as an artifact of public ignorance. The law’s individual provisions were highly popular, and she believed the law, once functioning, would gain public support, because it would help far more people than it harmed.

I commented

Often I bore myself. Here by grinding a very old ax. You are right to criticize Republican demagogues for misleading people about what Pelosi meant. But you misquoted her. According to Matt Yglesias (who I trust because he presents a direct quote with, you know, quotation marks) she said "“We have to pass the bill, so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.” She was not confessing that she belonged to a group which didn't know what was in it. She was saying that other people (who were attending the " National Association of Counties’ 2010 legislative conference" didn't know what was in it.

Your paraphrase "Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it." is materially false. You assert that she asserted that Congress didn't know what was in it. She did no such thing. I am honestly disappointed that, when your point is that her meaning was distorted, you used a false indirect quotation which is consistent with the misleading interpretation (and not with your interpretation).

You have a rule that, when you criticize, you name names (and quote quotes). This is a very good rule. I think you should have another rule. When you claim someone said "that" something is true, you should rewrite -- use a direct quotation. The case of Nancy Pelosi who didn't say that Congress had to pass the bill to know what was in it (like the case of Al Gore who didn't claim to have invented the internet) demonstrates to me that indirect quotations and paraphrases have no legitimate useful role in the political debate.

They are often used to mislead (or to lie as in the cases of Pelosi and Gore). Pixels will be killed if you stick to quoting and then interpreting rather than suppressing the exact words and paraphrasing. But I think that you can't be trusted to paraphrase again. I recommend that all political commentators (including you) stick to direct quotations only from now on.

here I add that Pelosi isn't entirely an innocent victim. She was too polite to be accurate. The word "can" implies that her audience couldn't find out what was in the bill even with diligence. I am sure that what she believed was "since you can't be bothered to read the bill (it's only 2000 pages long) and believe Republican lies about it, we will have to pass the bill to force you to find out what is in it". But she is a politician, so she automatically assured people that they weren't at all to blame for their ignorance. Her statement was false. At the time people could find out what was in the bill. It just would require a totally disproportionate effort. The claim that they couldn't (implied by the "can") was a claim that the contents of the bill were hidden, not just long and boring.

That Republicans and "dozens of political journalists who should have known better" argued that she had confessed that the contents of the bill were hidden is outrageous. It is a demonstrable fact that the bill wasn't hidden. The debate over the bill was public and extremely detailed. Only people to lazy to check could believe that the details were hidden. The case demonstrates that "dozens of political journalists" are too lazy to do their jobs.

Similarly, Al Gore's claim "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." was 100% accurate. It does not imply he claimed he invented anything (the word doesn't appear). It does imply that he claims that the internet was originally a US government project funded by Congress & that he was a congressman who took the initiative of pushing for funding. Also that the transition to a new sector of the private economy was managed by a committee chaired by Al Gore.

Now what could possibly be gained by allowing people to paraphrase to, for a hypothetical example, [Al Gore claimed he invented the internet] ? Very few pixels are saved. The meaning is completely distorted. Paraphrases are very useful to dishonest people.

I really think that a direct quotes only (in political debate and commentary) rule would be an improvement.

To Chait I say: "context" my ass, text would have been good enough.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Behind Blue Eyes after the Bill was Killed.

update: OK the bill came back from the dead and has now been approved by 217 representatives. At the moment Ryan isn't the sad man (although he still is fated to be telling only lies). end update.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Comments on Macroeconmics 1

This is a very closed thread for my students to comment on my course while it is in course. Comments may be posted as anonymous.