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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Picking on Matt Yglesias to take revenge for him scooping me on picking on Jonathan Weisman (see below).

Yglesias writes "Grassley Wants To Do What?

Chuck Grassley, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is charged with pushing some kind of Social Security bill through the world's second greatest deliberative body. He's also got some sort of grand plans:" Ooops we are mixing up our great deliberative bodies here. "Chuck Grassley" should have been replaced with "Bill Thomas" or maybe "Billy Thomas" to maintain the familiar tone. Thomas in the no longer ethics free zone not Grassley at nuclear option ground zero.

Also Yglesias seems to have a tin ear for Republican euphemisms being puzzled about ""won't just be a Social Security bill," but would deal more broadly with retirement security, including new ways to encourage savings and provisions on long-term care." back to Weisman for a longer summary of Thomas's grand plans

In a news conference, Thomas stressed that any bill out of his committee would address far more issues confronting an aging nation than just Social Security and private investment accounts. The committee would probably bolster private pension plans, provide tax incentives for retirement savings and long-term health care, and clamp down on Medicaid coverage for those who are not truly indigent.

This clearly can be translated into plain English as

Thomas tried to keep it from being too clear that any bill out of his committee would address far more issues confronting an aging nation than just cutting Social Security benefits and setting up private investment accounts. The committee would probably subsidize large corporations who have been cheating on their obligations to fund private pension plans, enlarge tax loopholes for capital income in the form of more generous rules for IRAs and Health Savings Accounts (as purchased in 1995 from the ethics free zone) and cut Medicaid for rich people with family incomes of $20,000 or so.

Simple isn't it. He is advocating cuts in health care for the poor, gifts to big business and bigger tax breaks for unearned income. Hell you barely have to read either paper to guess that the Republican head of the House Ways and Means committee (Thomas not Grassely) is advocating such things.

Yglesias seems to imagine that Thomas was thinking of reducing the budget deficit or helping people who have trouble paying for health care writing "The idea of dealing with long-term care could mean two diametrically opposed things. One option is that this means long-term care is putting an intolerable strain on Medicare and Medicaid so we need to find a way to shift costs onto patients. Another option is that this means long-term care is putting an intolerable strain on families so we need to find a way to shift costs onto the government." How naive. There is little chance that Thomas would think of either of those two aims. It is especially naive to assume thtat he could only be hinting at those two things.

The rule of interpretation is simple. He is a top House Republican so he is talking about cutting rick peoples taxes and increasing profits of (in this case health financial service) firms who contribute to his re-election campaign.
Getting closer but not close enough to satisfy Brad DeLong

The Press is rapidly de-bamboozling itself on press conference day plus 2. The Washington Post has a graphic showing how super rich you have to be to get your benefits cut under the Bush plan here

Jonathan Weisman has an article reporting a generally negative reception for the Bush plan on capital hill. He seems to have access to someone with access to a spread sheet
(I should have been careful what I wished for here). However, he has a bit of trouble with logic writing "Workers earning as little as $35,000 a year would lose a quarter of their promised benefits by 2065, although their benefit under progressive indexing would be 11 percent larger than the check Social Security could afford to issue by then." Hmm so how is Bush going to have the SSA pay a check larger than it can afford to pay ? He is not suggesting tax increases (after a brief flirt with raising the $ 90,000 ceiling) and concedes that private/personal/modernized/new age accounts would not reduce the shortfall (which they would increase by about a trillion). Weisman is assuming that the do nothing till the fund is exhausted plan must be followed by proportional reduction in benefits rather than progressive cuts (just as I suggested for a moment there again) Also, of course, he is using the social security administration trustees cooked projections.

Now the last time I predicted that Brad would have to be satisfied now with Weisman I got a link so I am tempted to entitle this one "Brad *must* be satisfied now." Sadly, I am not satisfied myself.

Update: Matt Yglesias scooped me by 4 full hours.
Oh My Gosh. I mean Goss's Gosh:

Ken Silverstein reports in the LA Times
Last week, the CIA sent an executive jet here to ferry the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency to Washington [big Snip] Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh , who otherwise declined comment for this article, told The Times: "We have a strong partnership with the CIA. The information we have provided has been very useful to the United States."

The paradox of a U.S.-Sudanese intelligence partnership is personified by Gosh.

Members of Congress accused him and other senior Sudanese officials of directing military attacks against civilians in Darfur. During the 1990s, the Mukhabarat assigned Gosh to be its Al Qaeda minder. In that role he had regular contacts with Bin Laden, a former Mukhabarat official confirmed.

Today, Gosh is keeping in contact with the office of CIA Director Porter J. Goss and senior agency officials.

Gosh and Goss are Gross.

I recall that right wing bloggers accused liberals of hypocricy for non denouncing mass murder in Darfur (although liberals did denounce mass murder in Darfour). Now it seems that Bush and Rice have decided that murder is OK so long as the murderers cooperate in the war on terror. This reminds me that the Bush administration only got all idealistic about Iraq when all arguments that the invasion directly served US interests turned out to be based on illusions or lies.

The article does have a very serious fault already pointed out by Island of Balta (via Kevin Drum) Silverstein quotes anonymous Sudanese officials repeated a debunked claim "Sudanese officials said their government, alarmed by the frayed ties, tried repeatedly without success to regain favor by turning over Bin Laden to either the Saudis or the U.S." but does not note that the bipartisan 9/11 commission concluded that the claim is false. Instead Silverstein quotes a denial by a Clinton administration official John Prendergast "Their promises of cooperation were totally opportunistic and were designed to get sanctions removed," making it a he said/he said not a he said/he said and non partisan investigators agree. There was no need to talk about Sudanese relations with the Clinton administration, but if the issue is raised, the very highly relevant conclusion of the 9/11 commission staff (headed by a friend and co-author of Rice) really must be noted.
Tax rich survivors to pay poor survivors.

I am gettting a little tired of advocating saving Social Securty by eliminating the ceiling on FICA and doing nothing else. I have a new idea. How about keeping the estate tax on estates over $ 1 million and committing it to paying social security survivors benifits. Thus the argument agains taxing poor rich kids who lost a parent is countered by the argument that it is needed to keep poor non-rich kids who lost a parent from becoming destitute.

Earmiarking revenues for social security clearly does not have much effect on Republican's enthusiasm for deficit spending, but it is a political winner with a small slightly good effect on policy decisions.
Conservative Craziness quoted by the Boston Globe.

OK I know it is cheating, since Nina J. Easton probably chose the dumbest things conservatives said, but she found some beauties.

''The Republicans have lost the first round of the battle, but they're winning the war," Moore insisted. ''You have to have candidates run on it. You have to win races on it."

Stephen Moore supports a claim that Republicans are winning the war by saying what they have to do, not what they have done. And what do they have to do (and surely will) ? Win elections by advocating a wildly unpopular reform. The man clearly has lost the distinction between what "wish" and "predict".

"Bush succeeded in the past three elections, including the midterm, demonstrating that Republicans could bring up Social Security and survive," said Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal,

A clear case of pre hoc ergo propter hoc logic. Bush won elections and then attacked social security therefore attacking social security will not cause Republicans to lose elections.

The frustration of social security escaping when they thought they had it in their sites has clearly driven these poor guys crazy.
Richard Stevenson has an excellent article in the NYTimes on Social Security and Bush.

Within the limits of hesaid/he said Furman manages to explain the debate over whether Bush is trying to save social security of phase it out. Like Brad DeLong he hands the mike to Jason Furman who he gives the last word.

The end result would be a system in which many workers would rely more on the proceeds of their investment accounts and less on the government-paid benefit, and one in which upper-income people would have less of a stake in traditional Social Security, potentially undermining political support for it.

"This would represent a major change in the philosophy of Social Security," said Jason Furman, an economist at New York University and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group. "If you combine progressive indexing with private accounts, you could threaten to unravel the entire Social Security system."

Exactly. Bush, the defender of the poor has to explain why he is also trying to slash medicaid. He is because the poor are weak and by making Social Security a program for the poor, he will make it vulnerable.

I have a criticism of this sentence. "White House officials said the right point of comparison is not what current law promises but what the Social Security system can afford to pay down the road; under current projections, the system can pay full benefits for the next 36 years, and afterward just under 75 percent." The structure is basically sound, Stevenson quotes White House officials who want people to compare the Bush plan to the fictional bankrupt social security administration which pays 0. He then points out that the future banrkupt social security administration will pay a lot more than zero. However there is something wrong with the attempt at calculating the numbers 36 and 75% under projectionS. There are many projections, so they do not imply one pair of values. The SSA trustees are clearly cheating to give low forecasts and their low cost forecast has outperformed their middle cost forecast (which Stevenson uses). I would use CBO forecasts. To be correct, the sentence would have to say "according to one of three forecasts by the SSA trustees."

On the other hand the proportion 75% is simply incorrect (and over optimistic given the forecast). That is the proportion in the first year after exhaustion. According the to the trustees the proportion that could be paid would decline over time. Thus the correct comparisons are too many for a newspaper article. It is Bush plan vs do nothing plan as a complex function of time of retirement and income.

If he had time and a spreadsheet (or help from a blogger with time and a spreadsheet) Stevenson could have made the comparison exact comparing the Bush plan to the non plan of paying promised benefits times 1 until the trust fund is empty then times the ratio of payroll tax revenues to promised benefits. This comparison, advocated by the White house, would imply that 45 year olds would be much better off under the do nothing plan and that all but the poorest 25 year olds would be much better off. One would have to calculate the fraction of 25 year olds who would count as lower income under the Bush plan. This fraction should decline to zero over time.

Uh Oh I am a blogger and I have a spread sheet. Maybe instead of complaining I should run the numbers [sudden scared end of post].

Update: Even without running numbers, I can compare the Presidents plan to the do nothing until the trust fund is empty then pay full promised benefits to people with income under 20,000 2005 dollars and pay to people earning over 20,000 promised benefits times what's left of revenues divided by promised benefits to people earning over 20,000. This would clearly be better for every currently living person except for very young people who will have high incomes and who should (and do) care hardly at all about their social security pensions. Bush says cut benefits but protect the poor. OK let's do nothing till the trust fund is exhausted then when (and if) it is exhausted cut benefits but protect the poor.

I'm not going to run the numbers because I am lazy and ignorant. I would have to learn more about how the system works and there are plenty of people who know already.
Jack Abramoff can think of something worse than this ?

WASHINGTON, April 28 - The government of a United States territory in the Pacific said Thursday that it had been unable to determine what work was performed for a $1.2 million contract awarded to a close associate of a Washington lobbyist at the center of a growing corruption scandal here.

The no-bid contract to promote "ethics in government" was awarded in 1996 to David Lapin, a rabbi whom the lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, later hired to run a private Jewish school, now defunct, near Washington.

Ethics corruption. Of course. Why didn't I think of that ? Also David Lapin has a very appropriate way to avoid pesky reporters "A woman answering the phone at Strategic Business Ethics in California, where Mr. Lapin is chief executive, said Mr. Lapin could not be reached for comment because of the Passover holidays." And can you think of a better name than "Strategic Business Ethics."

OK what's the next scandal ? Conflict of interest by taking money to pray for two rival firms bidding for funding for a faith based initiative ? Providing prostitutes services to influence the award of a contract for store front abstinence centers ?

I give up. I just don't have Abramoff's imagination.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Unspinning the Press Conference ?

Todd Perdum's analysis of Bush' Press conference is very harsh.

A normal essay is designed to support a conclusion which is stated at the end. There seems to be a rule of "News Analysis" that the last sentence should cast doubt on the analysis which preceeds it. Perdum's last sentence notes that Bush has been in trouble before and was re-elecyted. I think this is a concious strategy to make the news analyst appear un-opinionated and I suspect that I am one of the last newspaper readers to notice.

More seriously the analysis includes one major element of bamboozlement. Perdum appears to accept the definition of wealthy as referring to anyone with income over 20,000 a year (I don't know if he accepted the definition of middle class as including struggling millionaires) "He pronounced himself to be "moving the process along" on Social Security by proposing that future benefits grow faster for people who are less affluent than for those who are better off (a delicate way of suggesting benefits cuts for the wealthy)." I would say "benefit cuts for the wealthy" is a delicate way of describing benefit cuts for all but the extremely poor.

See Keving Drum's useful figure here
Based on the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.

Of course Atrios pointed this out already as did Think Progress.
George Orwell Might Say

Remember when Mao Zedong and Chaing Kai Shek called each other bandit traitors, running dogs and even pigs ?

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"The Creatures Outside Looked from Pig to Man and from Man to Pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
Conclusion of "Animal Farm"
I just read the legal advice of Lord Goldsmith to Tony Blair concerning invading Iraq

The leak then defensive release of this document must have been very painful for Blair. I doubt it will change the outcome of the election, but it shows that he has been lying. My reading of the advice is that lord Goldsmith concludes that, if George and Tony were on trial for military aggressiion, a smart lawyer *might* be able to get them off.

30. In reaching my conclusions, I have taken account of the fact that on a number of previous occasions, including in relation to Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 and Kosovo in 1999, UK forces have participated in military action on the basis of advice from my predecessors that the legality of the action under international law was no more than reasonably arguable. But a "reasonable case" does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court I would be confident that the court would agree with this view.

I judge that, having regard to the arguments on both sides, and considering the resolution as a whole in the light of the statements made on adoption and subsequently, a court might well conclude that OPs 4 and 12 do require a further Council decision in order to revive the authorisation in resolution 678. But equally I consider that the counter view can be reasonably maintained. However, it must be recognised that on previous occasions when military action was taken on the basis of a reasonably arguable case, the degree of public and Parliamentary scrutiny of the legal issue was nothing like as great as it is today.

Recall the advice was given before the war and implicitely assumes that Iraq had hidden WMD. There is no doubt that, knowing what he knows now, Lord Goldsmith would have to conclude that the invasion was illegal or eat his 13 pages of legal advice.

Very briefly the argument that the invasion was legal seems to be as follows
UN resolution 678 authorised the use of force to evict the Iraqi army from Kuwait. The ceasefire became UN resolution 687 which suspended that authorisation with conditions including WMD disarmament and inspections. The US and UK argue that violation of the terms of the ceasefire would revive the original authorisation to use force under 678. Lord Goldsmith acknowledges that this view is controversial and apparently not shared by most academic legal scholars. UN resolution 1441 asserted taht Iraq was in material breach of the cease fire (as it was since it had interfered with inspections and only invited inspectors back soon before 1441). This couldn not revive 678, since 1441 goes on to offer Iraq one last chance. The Bush administration claimed the authority to decide if Saddam Hussein had availed himself of that last chance. Of course the Bush administration force was authorised before 1441 passed.

1441 provided that, if Iraq were found to have lied about WMD and if the inspectors found violations of the cease fire including interference with them, then the Security council would meet "in order to consider the situation and the need for compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security". It might seem obvious that this implies that a further decision had to be made on whether to authorise an invasion. However, the Bush administration argued that this is not true, that the authorisation is automatic . They seem to have argued that to "consider" means to talk (as the security council had) or maybe that the security council might consider a new resolution revoking the authorisation to invade in 678 and/or 1441.

Goldsmith notes that international law generally requires that responses be proportional to offenses and 1441 appeals to the mission of the security council "peace and security" and hence appeals to the judgement of the security council.

A key argument made by Bush administration officials to Goldsmith is that the US insisted on the word "consider" instead of "decide." Goldsmith notes that immediately after passage of 1441 "Many delegations welcomed the fact that there was "no automaticity" in the resolution with regard to the use of force."

He then abandons his effort to maintain the appearence of reasonable argument by claiming that the word "automaticity" does not mean automaticity but means "immediacy"

But it is not clear what they meant by this. It could indicate that they did not consider that the resolution authorised the use of force in any circumstances by means of the revival argument. On the other hand there is some evidence from the negotiating history that their main concern was that the resolution should not authorise force immediately following its adoption (last four words underlined) on the basis of "material breach" in OP1 plus "serious consequences" in OP13. The UK and US indicated that "no automaticity" meant that there would be a Council discussion before force was used.

It is painful to see an eminent English Jurist reduced to pretending that he does not understand the English language.

Aside from that, Goldsmith does not seem to endorse any of the arguments of the Bush administration. The most he says is that their claims are reasonable. More often he seems to consider them meerly arguable.

I don't know anything, but the Bush administration position seems to me to be completely absurd. It is possible that I am the first to think of the argument that "consideration" means consideration of a resolution which removed the authorisation. This argument is crazy, since it would have the Security Council considering whether to forbid an invasion of Iraq only if Iraq was found to have lied about WMD and/or obstructed inspections. The equally crazy argument that the council decided to have a pointless discussion of what to do with all options included invasion already open to all UN members is equally crazy.

All of this is based on the difference between "consider" and "decide". A dictionary suggest that, if 1441 had used "decide" then the UN Security Council would have committed to doing something, while, since it used "consider" the UN Security Council could perfectly well do nothing without backing down from 1441. Recall that Bush argued that the UN Security Council was backing down, since it didn't decide anything.

My general reading of the document, is that Lord Goldsmith is trying every way he can think to argue that the invasion would be legal and the most he can say is that many things are controversial and that it has been argued that it would be legal.

IIRC Lord Goldsmith revised his advice just before the invasion and, in the end, advised that the invasion was legal. IIRC that document was very brief. I imagine it was very painful to write and would be painful to read.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dennis Hastert is a genius (in reverse)

The Post reports that Hastert has decided to reverse controversial changes (elimination) of House ethics rules. "A congressional aide said that changing the rules will mean "a couple of great days for Democrats" but that Republicans have calculated this will deny them long-term use of the ethics issue heading into next year's midterm elections."

But wait, Hastert has not decided to completely reverse all of the changes. Instead he seems willing to partially reverse only the automatic dismissal rule.

A House Republican leadership aide said that the automatic-dismissal rule is "the rule that is most commonly believed to be designed to protect Tom DeLay" and that it was "impossible to win the communications battle" on it.

Leaving his office last night, Hastert would not say what form his recommended changes will take and suggested that one option might be to lengthen the time before the automatic dismissal occurs, to perhaps 90 or 120 days.

This means that the Democrats will have a couple of great days followed by great weeks while Hastert insists on keeping, say, the rule that allegations can not be investigated unless a majority of the committee agrees followed by a couple of great days when he concedes. Hastert has guaranteed that efforts by House Republicans to protect DeLay will stay in the news along with any possible reports of newly uncovered ethical lapses of Rep DeLay (if he has a habit of ignoring ethics and wasn't just careless about a credit card number, the job description for his wife and some champagne in a hot tub).

Obviously the Democrats are not accepting a compromise, since they know they are right and that debate on the issue helps them politically.

The ethics committee's top Democrat, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.), said that if the Republicans rescind all three rules changes made in January, Democrats would vote to let the ethics committee operate. "That would return you to rules that were fashioned in a bipartisan way," he said. Without a full reversal, Democrats will demand creation of a bipartisan ethics task force, he said.

Now Hastert might just be dumb, but I think he also has to get DeLay's permission and DeLay cares more about delay than the Republican party.

update: In the event the Repubs rolled all the way over. Too bad.
More Senate Terminology

The Nuclear Option is Lott's term for changing Senate rule by claiming that the change is no change. I read somewhere the tinfoil hat idea that Lott deliberately tricked Frist into promising to go nuclear in an effort to get his old job back. Inventing the term would fit that scheme wouldn't it.

I proposed the thermonuclear option for the Democrats threat to respond by obstrucing everything.

Now they have discovered a much more precise weapon which will have less fallout. By ignoring an unwritten rule of the Senate they can force votes on populist amendments looking good and hurting Republicans at the same time. This clearly is the neutron bomb option.
Brad DeLong has criticised Jonathan Weisman from time to time for excessive Bush friendliness. I expect that Brad is satisfied with this column. I personally have no complaints about the headline (for a change).

The news from the Senate Finance committee seems to be
1) Kent (chainsaw) Conrad still has his finger in the wind (isn't it cold up there Kent).

I used to be a big fan of his. When he was first elected to the senate he said he wouldn't run for re-election if the deficit wasn't eliminated ... and he didn't.
I'm not so thrilled now, but I do think that if Wesley Clark gets the nomination in 2008, he should look to the far North for geographic balance. A Clark-Kent bumper sticker would be worth ignoring timidity on private/personal/modernised/Jazzy/Rockin' accounts.

2) Snowe seens solidly against personal accounts. I'd say this means game over. My guess is that it is becoming safe for Republican moderates to break with Bush and it is never safe to be against social security. Bush (and Frist) seem to have managed to create a coalition of Democrats and Republican Moderates. Pure political genius in a way.

3) This guy Ferrara is totally crazy. I wonder why Grassley invited him. Does this mean Grassley is inclined to abandon ppmjr accounts and wants a wild eyed advocate to make them look bad ?

Weisman will earn no turkee for quoting Ferrara at length. Also, I suspect that Senator Thomas was arguing against Ferrara more than Bush. Since the difference is only in degree of fiscal and mental imbalance, that is tough, but I think his comments could have been spun to seem to be a defence of only the twice as crazy proposal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ok a bit stuck on the Washington Post
I just want to note two things. Two front page articles by reporters named "Dana". When waws the last time that happened ? Second who the hell is writing the headlines
on the Web page ? The article "Report Finds No Evidence Syria Hid Iraqi Arms" is given the new web headline "Report: No Proof Syria Hid Arms." "No evidence" is a bit stronger than "no proof" no ? The article with a buried lede about hwo the Republicans are caving on the new ethics rules has the web headline "Lawmakers Tidy Up Records" as if the problem were typos, smudges and coffee stains. Finally the aticle about how the chance this congress will cut out private/personal/modern/jazzy accounts is entitled "Personal Accounts Not Certainty" rather than the more nearly reasonable "Personal Accounts: Certainly not" which would be just a bit strong.
Republicans Cut and Run

Another nice article with a wimpy headline in the Washington Post.

House Republican aides said yesterday for the first time that they believe they will have to reverse or modify the ethics rules that were passed on a party-line vote in January and have caused Democrats to refuse to allow the ethics committee to organize. Republican leaders had been trying to avoid a new floor vote over the rules, but aides said they now are convinced that they need to get the committee going so that Democrats cannot accuse them of squelching an investigation of DeLay.

Aren't they supposed to announce these things on Fridays ?

What are they going to announce on Friday "Republican aids requesting anonymity suggest that the Republican caucus will replace Delay with Pelosi","Republican congressional aids requesting that no one mention their gender, propose removing Tom DeLay's feeding tube", "Republican aids requesting that no one mention their species, suggest that the Republican Caucus will declare Al Gore to have been elected in 2000" ?
Grassley to Bush: Shut Up

This is stunning. It appears that Charles Grassley has already given up on private/personal/modernized accounts. The headline however, is, shall we say, a bit understated.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee signaled that they will not insist that personal accounts be part of the legislation and that they will not seek further details from President Bush about his plans for the government-run retirement program.

I love the part about not seeking further details from Bush.

I like part of one of the 4 proposals under discussion

Today's hearing will examine four plans that would keep the program solvent through 2080 in a variety of ways. Only one does not include personal accounts; it calls for an increase in the wage cap, an increase in the payroll tax and a reduction in certain payouts.

I think the Democrats should say "We are delighted by the excellent proposal by our estemed colleague and chairman Senator Charles Grassley. However, we do propose two small modifications. We see no need for the payroll tax increase or the benefit cuts, since eliminating the ceiling will make Social Security solvent."

Of course, I've said that a few times already.
Hmm must say I never thought of linking to The Daily Jimbo either
(because I didn't know it existed). The Daily Jimbo linked to this blog, and I believe in reciprocity. The link was from a long post about Hayek, but I think this post about Spock is much cooler.
I never imagined I would link to National Review on Linebut this is important.

“Before boarding his flight to Crawford to meet with President Bush Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah presided over the arrest of 40 Pakistani Christians on Friday. Their crime? The Pakistanis were caught praying in a private home in the capital Riyadh in violation of the state’s strictly enforced religious law that bans all non-Muslim worship.”

I am also amazed that ThinkProgress linked to the NRO. The ThinkProgress post could be seriously damaging to Bush if anyone whose world view was exclusively centered on Christianity visited the site.
I disagree with point 4 of Harry Reid's Agenda

4. Relief at the Pump (S. 847). Democrats plan to halt the diversion of oil from the markets to the strategic petroleum reserve. By releasing oil from the reserve through a swap program, the plan will bring down prices at the pump.

That is absurd. US gas prices are way too low. A reasonable proposal would be to increase the tax on gasoline. Of course I understand that the proposals are pure politics and will never be enacted. It is very exciting that the Democrats are threatening to bring them directly to the floor (they have refrained to follow one of the Senates unwritten rules). Although wasn't Kos supposed to be spending time with his son ?

This is brilliant as it will scare Republicans into voting against the nuclear option. For this statesmanlike purpose, the threatened amendments should be red meat populism preferably as unstatesmanlike as possible (as point 4 is). Still, I think that convincing Americans that they have to pay more for gas is important.

Before someone says "yeah well how would you like to pay $5 a gallon for gas" I point out that I live in Italy and I do. Before someone says "You're just jealous" I will post and run.
Why Wasn't the Firing of Cherif Bassiouni reported in the Newspapers listed below.

Nick Meo reports in The Independent

The UN's top human rights investigator in Afghanistan has been forced out under American pressure just days after he presented a report criticising the US military for detaining suspects without trial and holding them in secret prisons.

via Americablog

Taking a page from Anne Coulter's book I searched the web sites of The New York Times, The Washington Post,, and The onion for "Bassiouni" and found no reference to his dismisal which is neither secret nor routine.

LA Times has it here

I'm kind of disappointed about The Onion.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Wow I got the first comment in on a post by Matthew Yglesias.
Culture of Life Reaches Outer Limit of Idiocy

via Atrios

First they came to protect the embryos, then they came to protect the glastrulas then they came to protect the blastocysts, then they came to protect individual isolated human genes.

I confess. I am a murderer. I have killed millions of human cells even as I type this post, but you are no better.

There appear to be real live human beings who are able to argue that eating rice which has been modified by the addition of a human CPY2B6 gene "will smack of cannibalism."
The Independent cites un named environmentalists who, I assume, don't want to make total fools of themselves. However they do have an attibuted quote "Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, said yesterday: 'I don't think that anyone will want to buy this rice. People have already expressed disgust about using human genes, and already feel that their concerns are being ignored by the biotech industry. This will just undermine their confidence even more.'"

What's next ? people objecting to eating atoms which have been in other people. Hate to ruin you appetite, but the only alternative is starvation.
Real Judicial Activism

Many have noted the hypocrisy demonstrated by Bush who claims to support democracy but has no problem with efforts to keep Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador off the Mexican Presidential ballot.

Fewer have noted that this is an extreme case of judicial activism. The way to keep Lopez Obrador from running was to remove his immunity from prosecution so that he could be indicted for a minor infraction. The infraction was, when acting as mayor of Mexico city, ordering the construction of a road to a hospital. This was an infraction, because Lopez Obrador ignored a judges injunction. Now think of how many politicians in Washington would love it if whenever they disobeyed a judge they could be kept from running for office.
Thermonuclear option

One of the signs of serious blog addiction is that I am interested in the Republicans' efforts to claim that they never called the nuclear option "the nuclear option". One of the more clever efforts (won't bother finding the link) is the suggestion that it is only called the nuclear option because of the fierceness of the Democrats' possible response. This is a problem. I think the Democrats' option of full court obstructioninsm needs its own name. How about the thermonuclear option.

The Republicans want to call the nuclear option "the constitutional option." Clearly aside from trying the press to adapt to their change in spin (again) they are pushing for a totally biased phrase. In fact, the nuclear option is close to unconstitutional. The rules of the Senate are supposed to be made by the Senate and the Senate has decided that they can only be changed by a super majority. The nuclear option consists of making a huge change in the rules by claiming that it is not a change. The plan is (or was if they are chickening out) for Cheney to declare that filibusters are currently not allowed in debates on approval of judicial nominations and for a simple marjority to confirm (dishonestly) that his (dishonest) reading of the current rules is accurate.

It is worth noting that a ban on filibusters would require a definition of a filibuster, which is impossible, since any minute of a good filibuster is indistinguishable from normal debate.
Berlusconi's new cabinet was announced today (in record time)

La Repubblica doesn't even pretend that this story is comparable in importance to Pope Benedict XVI. One key addition is Giulio Tremonti formerly economics minister, then spending more time with his family, now deputy prime minister. To me this seems to be a deliberate slap in the face (sgara) for the two parties UDC and AN whose doubts about Berlusconi caused the crisis. Their one political accomplishment in the first Berlusconi government was getting rid of Tremonti. Note the extreme enthusiasm shown by Gianfraco Fini (deputy prime minister, foreign minister and top guy in AN).

The other big theme is more subsidies for the South. The Lega Nord is a powerful member of the coalition and their main theme is that hard working northerners should not be subsidies to pay for corruption in Southern Italy. Berlusconi has tended to agree with them (he's scared of them since they brought down his first government in 1994). This lead to some remarkable results in the recent regional elections including the election of Nichi Vendola (still communist and openly gay) as presidente of deep South Puglia (the heel of the Italian boot). I'm not holding my breath until say Louisiana follows the lead of Puglia.

Thus Tremonti, who was a relatively consistent advocate of market oriented reforms and fiscal rigor, is now enthusing for more subsidies for the South.

Also there is a new minister without portolio with the portfolio of "Sviluppo e la coesione territoriale" that is "developement and territorial cohesion" both of which words unambiguously "mean more subsidies for the South" in the Italian political context. I have clearly not managed to translate the Italian "dicastero senza portafoglio" since the closest I can come is "portfolio without portfolio" but you understand there is a political crisis, compromises must be made, and hairs (in particular lana caprina) must be split. Clearly the aim of this new portfolio without portfolio is economic stimulus and so it is appropriate that it will belong Gianfranco Micciché who had a stimulant (cocaine) delivered to his office in the economics ministry.

note that I write this in Italy where libel and slander "calunia" are crimes.

Clearly when he claimed that John Bolton is a diplomat, Bush was challenging Berlusconi's title as king of political comedy. Pathetic. Bush isn't in the same league.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The real origin of intelligence failures is shown here.

"I explained to Christian that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data, and the I.C. should do as we asked and sanitize my language as long as sources and methods are not compromised," Mr. Fleitz wrote to Mr. Bolton, referring to the intelligence community.

In fact "it was a political judgement as to how to interpret this data" could be the slogan of the Bush administration. I won't nitpick and point out that, while there is only one internets, data are plural. I will note that the Bush administration is clearly convinced that the interpretation of data is and should be a political matter. They don't make this so clear in their public announcements.

Finally I wonder if Mr Fleitz is still employed by the U.S. government and, if so, why ?

Friday, April 22, 2005

In Rome (you know the city where they had the conclave) up on a hill the sideshow is underway.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned because he wants to keep the job. The cabinet ministers of one party in his coalition (the UDC a fragment of the Christian Democrats also known as the White Whale) had all resigned indicating some dissatisfaction with Berlusconi. However the UDC promised to continue voting confidence in parliament. Once I thought in a parliamentary system coalition partners gave votes in exchange for ministries. By now the UDC's choice seems almost sane.
Another party (AN ex fascist and they are still trying to figure out what they are instead) threatened to do the same. The ex fascists are clearly positioned, along with the UDC, as the moderate pro social welfare wing of the current majority.

Now The president of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has to try to find a candidate prime minister who can win the support of parliament. Since the current majority has all declared their continued confidence in Berlusconi, it would take willful blindness not to see that Berlusconi is the one.

Hmmm willful blindness. There has been a lot of that around here in the past 4 years. The majority has refused to see the clearly proven guilt of some if it's more criminal leaders. For years they neglected to act on the Constitutional courts declaration that the current TV duopoly is an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of expression, then acted by reinforcing it in response to the courts complaints (also by the way expropriating frequencies the right to broadcast over which the highest administrative court had concluded belong to someone else but which are and will be used by mdiaset/Berlusconi). They have reformed every law violated by Berlusconi so that his actions are no longer crimes or so that the statute of limitations has run out.

My current political fantasy is that Ciampi dara pane per focaccia (will play tit for tat) and pretend not to notice that Berlusconi has the support of a parliamentary majority. Won't happen, but I am enjoying the idea. He will announce his decision today, so I have to type fast.
I am reading Neither Dismal nor a Science

I teach economics for a living, so I had better try to learn how. I consider Angelica's suggestions here.
Wow two comments and an e-mail in one day.
This is new for me.

In the comment to the post below Mike Shupp explains to me that the famous victory was in "The battle was Blenheim, one of four major victories of the Duke of Marlborough in the war between England and Holland (one side) against France and her allies (the other side) around 1700."

I actually remember hearing about that on a masterpiece theater miniseries on Marlborough entitled "The First Churchill." I claim that, if forced to guess, I would have guessed that the Duke was the victorious general of the famous victory.

Go and read the comment, which argues that the victory really was important. One quibble there is a typo the XVI should be an XIV (one msut be caerful to get hte lteters in the rihgt order with roman numerals).

Angelica remains strangely courteous to me and suggests that I mosey over to her post here. On his blog, Brad made the same suggestion. I have actually been to battlepanda but didn't read the post so off I go. her comment argues against giving up on economics. Since I dialed up to e-mail a co-author about standard errors in oe regression and the correlation of disturbances in the two equations of a SUR, I guess I haven't given up. Since I got distracted and surfed blogs, I fear I am getting close.

reading all the great posts at I actually got to the one which linked to me (thanks again) but mainly wish I were the ethical werewolf and had invented the word "mathalicious."

I will comment on the actual post "Neither Dismal nor a Science" above.

Finally I got an e-mail
which I really enjoyed, through what you mean by policy remained a bit
fuzzzy, it seems as if you mean some change in the institutional
structure away from a perfect market is that right?

Alas the original purpose of this email was to ask you if you
remembered what the source of the quote is? since I was pondering on
putting it in a paper (which is due tomorow).

thank you very much for your time,

Uh oh tomorrow you say (name witheld). Uhm well (name withheld) I heard Robert Barro say that, but I don't think it is written down anywhere. I never worried about my responsibilities as a blogger, but deadlines make me very nervous.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Recalling a famous victory

When the nomination of Robert Bork was rejected by the senate the London Economist wrote one of their brilliant snarky articles which included the phrase "but it was a famous victory." The point of the article was that Democrats had expended much effort on character assassination for nothing, since Reagan would just appoint another conservative justice. The criticism of the Democrats arguments was actually pretty mild (and some attacks on Bork were unfair). The point was that there is no point in rejecting a nomination, since any economist who knows game theory knows that the player who proposes has all the bargaining power.

The reference to the famous victory shows that the economist's correspondent remembers history better than I. Some pointless battle was a famous victory, but not quite famous enough for me to know exactly which pointless battle or who said (ironically I hope) "but it was a famous victory).

As I said I found the article brilliant. It reminded me why Brad DeLong proposed enlarging a quote of a book review by Rudiger Dornbush which began "Fans of the snotty style of the economist" and tacking it to the bulliten board above the desk we shared at the NBER.(I shared a desk with Brad DeLong I shared a desk with Brad DeLong)

It also reminded me of something Michael Kinsley wrote which I will attempt to quote from memory "I love the snappy way in which the Economist writes 'There are three things that the governement should do about this problem, even though I am not always sure that they have always decided exactly which three things before writing that "there are three things that the governement should do about this problem". In fact, I am not sure they have always decided exactly which problem." The Economist immediately recognised a kindred spirit (and you thought that newspapers didn't have spirits) and invited Kinsley over as a visiting columnist.

I think often of that brilliant article in the Economist. It came to mind when I learned that Americans have the right to commit sodomy because of William Kennedy
(O'Conner was in the majority on Lawrence vs Texas but she argued on the basis of discrimmination which would not imply that gender neutral anti sodomy statutes are unconstitutional).

I thought of it again when I read this
""Absolutely. We've got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That's just outrageous," DeLay told Fox News Radio."

Ah yes, there is this problem with boldness. Sometimes one makes a total fool of oneself. I also recall the time that the economist confidently predicted that Japanese firms would take over the production of microprocessors as they had taken over memories after some Japanese firm made a not quite patent infringing copy of the intel 8088 (this was after the introduction of the 80386).

In fact, while I wouldn't say that the Economist is totally utterly and humliatingly wrong more often than other journals of news and opinion, I would say that it is, from time to ttime, able to be absurdly self assured and self satisfied when it is inexplicably wrong and the truth is obvious. Often I think this is sincere ignorance not fake ignorance as in the conflation of a flat tax and a simple tax.

Yes the pattern of this post is deliberate following this outline.

p.s. The post is about the non-confirmation of Robert Bork and in no way implies any sort of prediction about the possible confirmation of anyone else whose last name begins with a B, nor is it a prediction about the survival of a government of anyone else whose name begins with a B. Such predictions would portare scalogna (invite misfortune) and expose this humble blogger to the risk of exemplifying that which he humbly mocks.

p.p.s. nor is it a prediction about the outcome of a vote of confidence on anyone else named B. I am not making any predictions here.
Shocking news. The CDC cuts its estimate of deaths caused by obesity in the USA by a factor of 14. And just below I was getting all obsequious in genuflecting before the superior scientific status of biology compared to economics.

I guess part of the lesson is that things people care about (people) are hard to study compared to bacteria and fruit flys. I'm not really amazed by the new estimate. The explanation seems to be that over weight (but not severely obese) people can protect themselves from the risks of obesity by controlling blood preassure, cholesterol and blood glucose with pills.

To me the most interesting thing about the article (and the reason I am blogging it) is that it covers a controversy on a very important scientific issue, and all four of the scientists named in the article are women. That's news too.
RJ waldmann hears RJ

this DeLong clipping spooked me because an economis friend of mine (Andrei Shleifer) calls me RJW or RJ for short and we used to have discussions like the one Angelica had with RJ all the time. Now we don't, because we live in different continents and he is very busy.

I am going to quote a lot. Then my comments will make it clear why I found reading this post a spooky experience. I should confess that I "earn" my living "working" as an economics professor. The second set of scare quotes reflects the fact that I personally am lazy. I know many economists (like Brad and Andrei) who work very hard.

RJ was not impressed. In fact, he coolly let me know that he regards economics as a quackish science, somewhere in between sociology and astrology in respectability. In other words, bullshit. Of course, I couldn't let that pass unchallanged.


But this conversation haunted me. How is it possible for a guy like RJ to, for all intents and purposes, not believe in economics? He certainly is intelligent, and more importantly intellectually curious. He was even curious enough about economics at one point to take an intro to Econ class at college. Amherst College, which is among the best schools in this country, if I may say so myself. Yet despite the fact that he's a bright guy ready and willing to learn more about economics in one of the country's elite institutions, the class did not nurture his nascent interest. In fact, this introduction turned him against the whole subject so decisively that his has closed his mind.


And the larger question is this: Why is economics, the intellectual discipline most closely tied to the prosperity in our society, so ignored and misunderstood? And what are the consequences of this state of being?

(Watch this space for some further rumination on these questions. Where did Econ 11 go wrong? What eventually caused me to change my mind? What can we do right in the future to encourage greater interest and understanding rather than derisiveness and dismissal?)

posted by Angelica

Angelica must have had an interesting discussion with RJ, but in her post she doesn't share it with us. The whole post is predicated on the assumption that RJ is wrong.

When she asks
"How is it possible for a guy like RJ to, for all intents and purposes, not believe in economics?" she assumes that it must not be because RJ is right. Maybe it's something wrong with him ? No "He certainly is intelligent, and more importantly intellectually curious. " Notice Angelica does not have similar respect for sociology, so it's not that she thinks it is obvious that if a lot of smart people have worked on something they must have accomplished a lot.

I personally have asked how the scientific standing of real business cycle theory differs from that of astrology, and I have not yet heard a halfway convincing answer.

She notes that "economics [is] the intellectual discipline most closely tied to the prosperity in our society" but does not seem to recognise that the importance of the object of the study does not imply that people have studied it successfully. Medicine is important too, but an intelligent and curious person should have had no respect for existing medical science in say 1700. Doctors were asking important questions, but they didn't have the answers yet.

She contrasts "understanding" and "derisiveness and dismissal." It is not true that people never deride and dismiss thought that they understand (see e.g. Brad on the labor theory of value).

This is the first time I have read battlepanda, so I don't have a clue as to the context of Angelica's post. I suppose the battlepanda readership has already demonstrated that they think that we economists have accomplished something already so she feels no need to counter RJ's arguments. Still it is disturbing to find no engagement whatsoever with the arguments of an intelligent friend who approached an issue with an open mind. I wonder why Angelica did not choose to present one scientific accomplishment of an economist. I don't think it is because she can't think of any.

I suspect that the distress she felt speaking to RJ is based on the fear of losing faith in economics. Biologists do not fear loss of faith, when they talk to creation scientists. I don't know, but I suspect that creation scientists feel it all the time.

I myself have a great deal of respect for a small fraction of economic research. Typically it is the research which has least to do with economic theory. It is all empirical research in which identifying assumptions are based on common sense and comprehensible and convincing to non-economists.

I personally am working on several pure economic theory projects. I would never claim that they are science or a more useful activity than blogging (which is why I never finish them).

I wonder how intelligent, curious, *serious* people can participate in the academic economics research effort.
Blogging Bolton for Brad. Back to blogging clippings that Brad doesn't have time to discuss.

I dawdled and this is seriously out of date. It reports new proof that John Bolton should not be our UN ambassador and answers the insincere questions of nervous Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations committee of whether the cases of fighting for intelligence failure by abusing intelligence analysts form a pattern. Of course they knew they do, but now they can't pretend that they don't know.

Today's news, which was certainly news to Sonni Efron, L.A. Times Staff Writer too, is that the Republican who broke ranks was not Hagel or Chafee but Voinovich. When he spoke in favor of a delay (which hints he might have voted no if forced to vote) Sen Lugar agreed to a 3 week delay. This is very costly to Bolton, since new proof of his unfitness is emerging daily. The Republicans are humiliated because after extreme measures (shutting down the Senate) taken to force a vote today (yesterday in Italy) they had to back down.

The people in the worst position are those like Hagel and Chafee who insist that they are willing to consider the merits of the accusations against Bolton but that, so far, they are planning to vote yes. The merits of the case against Bolton grow so much stronger every day that their mommas would not be able to believe that they were sincerely concerned a week ago and still intend to vote yes today. Imagine what it will be like in 3 weeks.

Senator Hagel has a fairly good reputation and is generally believed to be fairly honest. He can not be pleased to have to claim that he never discussed his aid Rexon Ryu's experience with Bolton until journalists found out about it. "Hagel learned Thursday of the incident involving Rexon Ryu, a State Department nonproliferation analyst on temporary assignment to Hagel's staff. Although Hagel serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and questioned Bolton during the hearings, Ryu did not tell his boss about his problems with Bolton until Ryu learned that the incident would appear in news reports." and that pigs fly. Pathetic.

Journalists who have to pretend that they believe that Chafee and Hagel are being honest are also in a tricky position. The UN amabasador nominee has no clothes and people have mentioned it.

It is also interesting that even anonymous supporters of Bolton can't think of an argument for approving the nomination except that Bush nominated him.

Other former officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, offered differing views about whether the reports of Bolton's treatment of intelligence analysts or other employees was germane to his job performance at the United Nations.

"[snip] U.S. envoys to the U.N. can be creative and problem-solving — or can be creative and problem-creating."


But another former Washington insider, who dislikes Bolton, nevertheless argued that the hearings had not produced sufficient evidence against Bolton to justify rejecting the president's choice of an envoy.

If every official who was unpleasant to staff was barred from high office, "Washington would be depopulated," the source said.

he said/he said is he said Bolton is a bad nominee but he said Bolton is a nominee. Some debate.

I am fairly confident that the Bush administration will not back down. Not their style. I think they are going to subject themselves and Bolton to more humiliation, and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Steve Clemons scoops the msm on the web by, as far as I can tell 22 minutes on a breaking story.

24 minutes ago Steve Clemons posted the news that the vote on sending the Bolton nomination to the floor of the senate had been delayed for 3 weeks. He seems to have assumed that interested readers would know the basic facts from TV (I live in Italy and don't get US TV). Trying to understand/get confirmation. I looke at the New York Times, CNN, the AP wire and the Washington Post. Finally 3 minutes ago the news appeared on

The one minute time inconsistency is because it took me a minute to type and get permalinks and stuff.
* Bob Kerrey makes me think of the guy who said

"non dimenticate la vostra sememza. Fate non foste per vivere come bruti ma per seguire virtute e cononscenza"

Remember your heritage. You were not made to live like beasts but to seek virtue and wisdom.

update: The guy is Ulysses as quoted by Dante. He was in hell for murdering a prisoner of war.
Weak Energy Proposal

This very good editorial denounces the House energy bill and, more generally, the absence of seriousness about energy policy. However, it also quotes with praise a rather unconvincing alternative proposal.

all three reports also call for major tax subsidies and loan guarantees to help Detroit develop a new generation of vehicles, as well as an aggressive bio-fuels program to develop substitutes for gasoline.

Been there, done that. IIRC the Clinton administration gave $ 300 million to US automakers to develope a prototype hybrid car (which they did). Yet all the hybrids for sale come from Japan. The US couldn't compete even by cheating. As to bio-fuels, I seem to recall a certain ethonol subsidy. The proposal can only be based on the assumption that any reform which does not add to the deficit is politically impossible. Obviously the easy way to promote conservation is to tax energy. Using some of the revenues to increase the earned income tax would cancel the regressiveness of such a tax. This is a political nonstarter because the American people are not serious about energy policy. Instead the only politically conceivable alternative to totally pointless subsidies are subsidies which have been tried which failed.

Every time I fill my tank with Euro a liter gas I am moved by admiration for the relative seriousness of Italians. I find the sensation disconcerting and I hope my fellow Americans do to.

update: I am way behind on my effort to coment on things brad doesn't have time for, but, by coincidence, I already commented on this.
Well they have a Pope: Benedict 16 formerly known as
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger

I did indeed know that a pope had been elected, because I heard the bells of the local church ringing for joy at 6 pm. I basically guessed given the speed of the conclave that Ratzinger was elected.

I didn't know that a half hour or so passes from the white smoke until the announcement.

On Italian RAI channel 2 (channel 1 is traditionally the most Catholic channel) the reporters basically did not pretend not to know. They reported that cardinals had told them that they had counted at least 35 votes for Ratzinger before the conclave, meaning no one else would be elected so quickly (4th ballot).

Still I waited hoping against hope until the announcement.

By mistake I made a prediction yesterday. I predicted that this [would] will be the best thing for atheism since Darwin. I am an atheist and I am not at all pleased.

he just said "Cari Fratelli e Sorelle"

update: It is not clear to me that Josef Ratzinger is the Pope. IIRC the Pope is *nominated* by the college of cardinals but must be acclaimed by the people of Rome to be elected. The International Herald Tribune seems to have found only one Roman (Rocco Buttiglione) who acclaimed Ratzinger. Now this is silly, but I find arguing about the applausometer more interesting than arguing about pregnant chads.
Brad Delong is so busy he can't comment on his web clippins or, it seems, even remember which clippings he has commented on.

Common sense tells us that a comment on this post at which Brad doesn't have time to write, would be similar to the comment on Max Sawicky's paen to the income tax.

I don't intend to subscribe to the economist to check how they manage to avoid mentioning that eliminating deductions has nothing to do with eliminating progressivity. Brad's bit of borderline copywrite infringement is devastating even without his previously posted outsourced comment

The revolt of 44 Republicans is great news. We should sing the praises of Heather Wilson many times, but it isn't necessary to do so twice in two days.

I think Brad meant to mention (again) the story of the spokesman who refused to speak reminds me of Italy. Election nightBerlusconi refused to comment on the hammering his coalition got in the latest regional elections, but anonymous sources linked to his party said that he was focusing on the upcoming parliamentary elections. Anonymous piffle here, silent spokesmen there. Whatever the world is coming to I am enjoying it.
The Senate foreign relations committee will vote on Bolton today.

I won't make a prediction (my Kerry wins by 1.6% prediction will be my last for a while). I think it is clear that all the semi sane Republicans on the committe and especially Hagel and Chafee are trying very hard to hide the fact that they are so loyal to Bush (read afraid of Rove) that they would seriously consider approving the nomination of Osama Bin Laden. Thus they feel they must claim that they are seriously concerned by the proof that Bolton sabotaged Bush administration policy, hid intelligence from his superiors, tried to fire his subordinates who told him he was wrong, committed a major felony last week and has a funny mustache.

If they are determined to vote for him, they should have learned by now to give no hostages to fortune. It would be highly unwise to describe any possible world in which they would vote against, because with Bolton anything is possible.

It is not a good idea to say "well yes he did commit perjury, but he didn't get a blow job .. from a martian ... who was underage ... here in the committee chamber... while I was looking ... as far as I recall."

No matter how low you set the bar, this guy can get under it.

Linc, Chuch I'm your friend. Listen to me. Keep your mouths shut or just say no.
Bubbles bursting via Brad DeLong

or is it bills coming due or chickens coming home to roost ?
The timing halfway through Bush's 60 stops in 60 days for social security privatisation is delightful.

However I am really exited by a great discovery of a way to make tons and tons of money (via Atrios of course who thanks reader k). I should keep this a secret, but I am a fool. Daniel Luskin's trading strategy is announced in advance. It is a perfect indicator. On Arpil 15 he bet all his remaining chips on leveraged Nasdaq. You know I am going to be checking his picks from now on.

If this works, I owe it all to the guy who found the stupidest man alive for me (and reader k who found the site).
I promised to comment on all the web clippings that Brad Delong
doesn't have time for. Ooops ended a sentence a prepostion with. I meant "that Brad DeLong doesn't have time to comment on" damn

I was to careless to think that this is about economics, that is work, ugh. If I was willing to write about economics I wouldn't be blogging.

Oh well a bet's a bet (although I am already 2 hours late doing this).

Mark Thoma ??? writes " I’ve been asking how the Fed should respond in a hard landing."
He has some reasonable sounding arguments for loose monetary policy in the case of a hard landing. I have no patience for trying to pretend to take inflation hawks seriously. I don't see why 2 to 3 % inflation is noticibly better than 10 % inflation.

I know that the American public overwhelmingly disagrees with me (in the 70s polls showed that 12% inflation was rated by far the most serious problem faced by the USA). I think that economists all understand that people thought this, because they think inflation is price increases not wage and price increases. That is they imagined that inflation somehow inflation could have been reduced without reducing the growth of nominal wages or employment. That is they imagined that somehow with less inflation real wage growth would be much higher at no cost to anyone.

Now I understand the reasons why it may be useful to have a FED chairman who is irrationally against moderate inflation, and I agree that one should try (hopelessly) to over rule this irrationality when there is a recession, but I find it undignified to pretend to believe that this inflation is different and, so, should be temporarily accepted when I really believe that moderate inflation is no big deal, in fact a tiny deal.
This Poll result noted by Kevin Drum is fascinating

via Brad DeLong

"here are the percentages of Americans who say they are "fairly or very satisfied" with their own health system:

Poor: 45%

Elderly: 61%

Everyone else: 34%"

Drum interprets this as showing that private health insurance implies so much worry and hassle that even the poor are less displeased than Americans who don't get public health insurance.

I guess that is part of the story. Mainly, I think, it shows that poor Americans just don't complain, because they don't feel entitled.

Now a question arises, oh I'm linked to Kevin Drum so I should say
This begs the question of why Clinton's health care reform drive failed, since not only does single payer work better, but Americans recognise this when they experience it.

I don't want to go back there (for long). I blame Ira Magaziner and the Clintons for listening to him (of course Bill was the Clinton who really called the shots on health care reform). A huge ad campaign can convince people to ignore their personal experience when forecasting the future. Most of all, the Clinton Clinton and Magaziner plan tried to make coverage universal and impose cost controls at the same time. The evidence suggests that single payer health care alone would reduce costs both because of lower administrative costs and because the single payer could internalise the cost reduction due to preventive medicine (google this site for Glastris and Cutler yourself).

The point is that the American people weren't offered medicare or medicaid. They were offered some system that was supposed to cost less. The people who sank the plan were people who didn't want anyone to touch their medicare. Then the Republicans tried to cut costs and Clinton was re-elected.

I'd say the way to go is for the government to pay for universal catastrophic with a tax on credit cards (since that would reduce bankruptcies) and to pay for universal screening for high blod pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity and to pay for universal treatment with payment higher (non zero) only if the problem is controlled. This would more than pay for itself in reduced/delayed medicare spending. (google this site for Glastris and Cutler or you are a lazy as I am).

Then, if that is accepted sneak socialised medicine in by gradual reform. Then sneak it socialism, gay marriage, gun control and mandatory public readings of "The Origen of Species" in evangelical churches.
Mel Martinez might make a great contribution to America
by helping Democrats win elections. The Carpetbagger notes that Republicans are talking to reporters about his outrageous lies.

via Brad DeLong

Recall this gem crafted by Jim Defede in the Miami Herald.

As Antonello Solinas said. Losing is always painful, but to lose to those buffoons is humiliating.
Is Bush in Deep DooDoo ?
Harris Interactive has some bad news for Junior.

via Brad DeLong

The last month has not been a good one for President Bush and the Republicans. Most people have opposed the President’s proposals for reforming Social Security and most were unhappy with the positions taken by Republicans in the Terri Schiavo case. The result is that the president’s job ratings have fallen to 44 percent positive, 56 percent negative, the worst numbers of his presidency, and a drop from 48 percent positive, 51 percent negative in February (and 50% positive, 49% negative last November).

It should be stressed that, in this poll, "fair" is lumped with "poor" so the percent "positive" according to this method is normally lower than the percent who answer yes if asked if the approve of the job that x is doing.

Surprisingly, most people seem to have an opinion on both Frist and Hastert. Unsurprisingly it is not favorable. One weird thing is that "Democrats in Congress" rate even lower than "Republicans in Congress."

I wonder if HarrisDirect also asked people who is in control of congress, and then looked at the views of people who know that the Republicans are. Many people think the Democrats are in the majority and so blame them if they disapprove of Congressional actions (as most people do).
Brad Delong is busy so I will try to blog for him while he sleeps. He has blogged from this very computer Image hosted by
This is ridiculous

Aren't they supposed to pretend that they care about the deficit ? Aren't they at least supposed to pretend that their votes are not for sale ?
Medicaid recipients should thank Jack Abramoff.

I think that Abramoff's appeals to Tom DeLays worst appetites have made America a better place, because DeLay's gross corruption has become public knowledge and reduced his ability to make Republican congresspeople hammer the poor "44 House Republicans broke with their leaders to demand that as much as $20 billion in Medicaid savings be stricken from the budget." I don't believe for a second that it is a coincidence they did this after the weekend devoted to DeLay scandals on TV.

I know that might sound cynical so I will consider the explanations for the change in mind provided by two of the 44

Of the 44 Republican signatories, 43 had voted for the estate-tax repeal. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), one of the 43, said he sees no contradiction in his stands.

"Poor people need health care, and this is an important program," he said of Medicaid.

Hmm must have been that he had never thought of the possibility that poor people need health care.

Now, dozens of House members who initially agreed to the cuts say House negotiators should accede to the Senate's position.

"This is a program that is in significant need of reform, and we believe the policy should drive the budget, not the other way around," said Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), who is leading the effort.

Sounds coherant to me.

As 7 times prime minister Senator Giuio Andreotti said "when you think badly of people you inevitably sin but you very rarely make a mistake" that is "cynicims is always a sin but it is rarely an error." Since he was both prime minister and an ally of the Mafia, he would know.

Well I say hurray for Heather Wilson. I apologise for all the times I nodded my head reading Josh Marshall's criticisms of Wilson. Dear Ms Wilson, as far as I'm conserned you can bend with the wind like a willow from now on. Hell you can spin like a windmill.
I disagree with Atrios and Matthew Yglesias

They agree that a 27.5% tariff on Chinese goods would be strictly better for the USA than a devaluation of the Yuan (although they do not agree on the corrrect spellling of Tarrrifff).

This position is based on an utter dismissal of the common view of trade policy that views it as a strange mirror image of trade in which countries exchange removal of trade barriers. Yhis common view is seriously silly, but it is has a powerful effect on the world economy. Convincing the Chinese to revalue by threatening tariffs would differ from tariffs in two ways. Directly it would be strictly worse for the USA as noted by Atrios.
Second it would disguise the US violation of free trade norms.

This second effect is likely to be very important, and both Black and Yglesias know that it is. They are strategically omitting discussion of WTO penalties and the possible collapse of the WTO system, if the USA openly imposes tariffs and does not even allow other countries to pretend to believe that the USA it is pretending to play by the rules. Dingbat kabuki indeed, but dingbat kabuki which is very important for world prosperity.

Aside from this minor rhetorical sleight of hand, the two are brilliant as usual.

Now Matt I think it's time for a serious talk. It is clear that you know you are (among other things) an economist. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but you are going to have to decide something -- When are you going to tell your parents ?
First amendment follies at Agape press (via Americablog)

Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America says O'Connor has trashed critics of the judiciary "She actually, in her public statement, linked criticism from extremists to the serious threats that she and other judges receive -- and I think that is very unfair," she says. "It's baseless." LaRue says Justice O'Connor's comments also fly in the face of the First Amendment free-speech rights of all Americans. O'Connor is one of what critics call the "un-American six" who have ignored the Constitution's claim that it -- not foreign law -- is the final authority in the high court's rulings.

Takes one to know one. If O'Conners criticism of extremists' critcism of judges flies in the face of the first amendment then so does LaRue's criticism of O'Conner's criticism of extremeists' criticism.

Is it possible to be a Christian conservative and to serve both God and logic ?

I assume it is impossible to understand that the interpretation of the single word "unusual" in the constitution is difficult and that the Constitution made no explicit distinction between U.S. and other customs when it banned unusual punishment. Or is LaRue in agape upset with Lawrence vs Texas and not asserting that the culture of life requires us to accept the death penalty for children ? If so, I might point out that the passionate praise of agape (and Christian ethics generally) is due to a couple of guys called Socrates and Plato who might have found it difficult to express a disinterested opinion on the issues addressed in Lawrence vs. Texas.

Back to LaRue: She reminds me of nothing so much as pomos and deconstructivists who seem to feel it is their intellectual duty to explore the outer limits of the bad faith that they ascribe to others. Not to mention her name. Personally I think that the French, having lost the intellectual debate, have decided to sabotage the USA by sending moles who attempt to recreate their parodies in reality. They were not sublt. At least LaRue and DeLay could have changed their names.

p.s. I did not steal this from Americablog. I found the example so wonderful that I chose to pay them which is about the first time I have bought anything on the web ( doesn't count).
I am lost in cyberspace.

I am following the debate on confirmation of John Bolton (not imporant) more than the debates going on in my home town (OK I live in a suburb of Rome but it's not Velletri so it's OK).

Of the two, it is clear that the conclave is very very important, while the long overdue political crisis is not.

I don't have much to say about the conclave. Cardinal Ratzinger should be pleased that he has made me regret my atheism, at least to the extent that I wish I could pray to got that he never becomes Pope.

I note that this proves that, while I am atheist, I am not hostile to Religion and do not think it would be better if other people lost their faith (in general as it would be a fine thing if Osama lost his). A Ratzinger papacy would be the best thing that has happened for atheism since Darwin.

Monday, April 18, 2005

This is brilliant and, as far as I can tell, perfect.
The Iraqis have clearly learned from Bush.

The rumor of hundreds of Shi'ites kidnapped by Sunnis is progress in a way. Just two years ago we were reading about how no weapons of mass destruction had been found and how some officials (like the President) were still insisting that they would be found soon. Now we are reading about how no hostages are found and "On Sunday evening, a few political leaders were still insisting that some hostages might yet be found".

It seems that Iraqi statesmen have learned to use the key tool of democracy -- the intelligence failure. It is also heartening that they seem to have cleared matters up in about 1% of the time required by the coalition (assisted by Judith Miller).

It seems this intelligence failure was about as disinterested as the last "Some of the early reports about the Madaen kidnappings on Friday night came from Shiite political figures who are bitterly angry at the departing government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. In the past, some Shiites have been quick to emphasize any hints that his government may be losing control." Yep sounds like they have caught on very quickly as to how democracy works -- having trouble figuring out what to do ? no problem just invent some facts.

The Times had a tiny bit of a lapse too. The headline changed in the past 6 hours and this was added "The rumors in Madaen did not grow from nothing. A group of traveling Shiites was kidnapped last week near the town, 10 miles south of Baghdad, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said Sunday. That generated a retaliatory kidnapping of a group of Sunnis by Shiites a few days later." (sorry no screen shots).

The events also show that Ayatollah Sistani is not going to be able to restrain himself in order to apply his view that clerics, such as Sistani, should stay out of politics "Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called government officials and urged them to solve the crisis in Madaen peacefully, said a spokesman." Note he is arguing against using force against Sunnis who have kidnapped Shiites. I personally am not allarmed, since I am now solidly back in the Sistani fan club where I will remain until he and his protegès start rewriting family law (should be about 1 week). I am again proud that I resolved his doubts as to whether sturgeon have scales.

Also note that Zarqawi got (part of) one right. "Even Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who is Iraq's most wanted man, offered a version of the Madaen developments. His network issued a statement on Islamist Web sites saying that the kidnappings were a fabrication by Iraqi and American authorities." It's not good when you have to admit that an astoundingly depraved terrorist murderer has a point there. Still there is one thing you can count on. Zarqawi will always go to far
"The statement went on to say that it was the Iraqi Army and the police who had rounded people up in Madaen, and that the victims were Sunnis, not Shiites." One bit of certainty in this confusing world.

Anyway it is a very allarming sign that such rumors are spreading but it is a very great relief that, so far, they are 99% rumor.
Is Tom DeLay French ?

from Talking Points Memo a link to The Dallas News (registration required)

Tom DeLay: "It is unfortunate in our electoral system, exacerbated by our adversarial media culture, that political discourse has to get so overheated that it's not just arguments, but motives are questioned."

OK I was willing to give him a pass on the capital L in the middle of his name because one of my best friends has a capital L in the middle of his name, but since when do Texans use the word "discourse" instead of "debate" or "discussion". I know it is technically an English word, but really what is DeLay going to deconstruct next ? I admit one of the best frinds of one of my best friends has a blog called, but his first language is French (with a Belgian accent because he learned it partly from a Haitian baby sitter) and he sure ain't from Texas.
Tyler Cowan thinks about Global Warming and I think about Cowan's thoughts.
One difference is that Cowan seems to know what he is talking about and I haven't really kept up with data and thought on the issue, but that never stopped me before.

First of all, I certainly agre with Brad DeLong that Cowen's post should be entitled
"Tyler Cowen Speaks Sense on Global Warming" not "The Right speaks sense on global warming" as it is. My impression is the right uses any argument at hand to justify their refusal to deal with the issue. Some conservatives talk sense occasionally, but few consistently talk sense as Cowen does.

Cowen has an interesting argument which starts from two premises. First, as is agreed by everyone who is willing to look at the data, human activities are causing global warming. That debate is over except for paid shills of the energy lobby some of whom do not even have advanced science degrees (as I don't). Second the total money metric costs of preventing global warming are less than the costs of global warming plus the costs of dealing with problems caused by global warming minus the benefits of global warming. I don't know enough to know if this is true, and I strongly doubt that it is true, but I will assume it for 4 paragraphs for the sake of argument.

Cowen makes the very important argument that even if the money metric costs of allowing global warming are greater than the money metric costs of preventing it, it is very unlikely that everyone will end up better off in a warmed world than in an unwarmed world. He is admirably able to supress jargon and I am not even trying. The position (straw man?) he is criticising is that the best thing to do is to warm the world and compensate the people who are harmed. The money metric claim means that this will cost less than reducing greenhouse gas emissions would. This sort of argument is very dear to economists especially economists who favor free markets. It is also deeply silly, since there is no chance that the people who are harmed are actually going to be compensated by the people who cause global warming.

Cowen notes that the costs of moderate global warming are likely to be born by people near the equator, while global warming will actually be kind of nice for people in temperate zones. As I said, I haven't kept up but I think this is a reasonable view for the reasons Cowen briefly mentions so I assume it for the sake of argument too.

Cowen's fourth factual premise is that there is no chance that people who live near the equator will be compensated. I think this is certainly true. Aid will flow, but the amount will have nothing (or very little) to do with global warming. I think the claim I just made is stronger than Cowen's claim "some system whereby industrialized nations would compensate or indemnify less-developed nations. No such system exists -- nor is it likely that existing international institutions could implement such a system." He seems to think it is unlikely that such transfers would, in practice, compensate the harmed. I think that such transfers would be almost identical with or without the Kyoto treaty and so it is silly to even think about the chose between more warming with more transfers and less warming with less transfers. I think Cowen argues that a very common argument made by economists is invalid, but can't believe that it is almost always a red herring. In any case we agree, people harmed by global warming will not be fully compensated.

Cowen argues that the likely outcome in a warm world is unjust, because the people who are most responsible for global warming will benefit and the people who are less responsible will suffer. I find, to my complete unsurprise, that I have different beliefs on ethics than Cowen. I am roughly a utilitarian and I am dismayed that the people who suffer small money metric losses are very poor already so the losses correspond to immense human suffering, while the people who might benefit from global warming and will have to pay to reduce greenhouse gas admissions are relatively rich, so a few trillion dollars lost by us is a relatively minor problem. In any case, the two very different ethical views lead to the same conclusion. Again Cowen seems a bit surprised that people who share his policy views don't seem to have given any thought to defending the property rights of people in the third world. I am sincerely surprised by his surprise

My bottom line guess is that Tyler Cowen is not leaving the order of the shrill any time soon (he is the first person formally inducted by Brad DeLong).

Now as to the money metric costs and benefits of global warming and prevention of global warming. I am very ignorant and thus unsurprisingly unconvinced by the claim that the benefits of global warming plus the costs of preventing it are greater than the costs of global warming. First, while moderate global warming might benefit people in temperate zones, it will require immense effort to obtain moderate global warming. As noted by Cowen, the Kyoto treaty does not go far enough to achieve a goal of moderate warming let alone of no warming. Thus a case that moderate warming is good is a case for much greater efforts. That is, I am quite sure that even optimists only forecast moderate warming in the near future with ice cap melting warming in the forseeable future (barring fusion energy breakthroughs or something).
The paired arguments that current policy is no where near enough to prevent global warming and that moderate warming would be OK if only the losers were compensated refute each other.

I would also argue that there is another term missing. Benefits of efforts to prevent global warming. I will just assume that such efforts will be in the form of a tax on energy consumption (a BTU tax). There is no compelling reason to believe that, global warming aside, the optimal BTU tax is zero. Assume that there is no such thing as global warming (or sulfur dioxide or any pollution due to the burning of fossile fuels). The optimal BTU tax would be zero if the real return on fossile fuels in the ground is equal to the real interest rate. This is a well known condition. If the real return is higher, then efficiency is obtained by raising the price. World money metric welfare maximizing choices are privately optimal for consumers only if the price is right in this sense. If the price is so low that the real return on fuel in the ground is greater than the real return on other assets, then a BTU tax has negative social cost even aside from global warming.

There is reason to believe that this is currently true. Consider Petroleum. Its price is determined by the decisions of governments who do not seem to be rational present value maximisers. I doubt that even Robert Lucas would argue that Moamar Qadaffi has rational expectations. Even a rational guy like say Vladimir Putin has a rationally short planning horizon. It is natural for people to consider OPEC a market failure (although the market has generally had the better of OPEC). However, it is very hard to argue that the current price of oil is so low that, in the long run, the real return on oil in the ground will be as low as the real return on capital.

The case for natural gas is, perhaps, even stronger. From orbit the britest area on earth is lit by natural gas flares in the Persian gulf. Even if it is not now feasible and profitable to build pipelines, it is hard to believe that leaving it in the ground until the price rises enough to pay for a profitable pipeline is a bad investment.

Of course the main fossile fuel and global warmer is coal. The case for silly underpricing is weaker than for oil and natural gas, but it is not weak. Most coal is publically owned and mined in large part to protect miners' employment. This does not imply present value maximizing pricing. Even in the USA coal companies demand a high return on coal in the ground because it is a risky investment and rational managers who fear bankruptcy are not risk averse. The risk that coal would be cheap in the future and we have conserved energy too fiercely would not scare us if this risk were shared. For the average person it is not a risk at all but a windfall. This means that the price of coal is almost certainly less than socially optimal. Producers are willing to sell coal at a price below the efficient price because the alternative is to hold a highly leveraged position of debt and coal which would make bankruptcy likely.

I would guess that the costs of controlling global warming are negative. That we should tax energy to conserve exhaustible fossile fuels as well as to reduce global warming.