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Monday, December 31, 2007

Mike Huckabee convinced by a prankster that the Canadian Capitol is made of Ice.

We Know that Mike Huckabee has some trouble with Pakistani geography
but did you know that a prankster convinced him that the Canadian capitol building is made of ice, that it is an igloo (explaining Canadian legislators concern about global warming)

h.t. my brother and my sister in law who gave me "Naked Republicans" for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Boycott Burgher King
I recently received a *.docx document. I did manage to download the patch as fast as my correspondent managed to get me a readable document. I hate microsoft. I strongly endorse the Ayres Edlin and Varian proposal that, next time microsoft gets nailed by the anti trust division, they be required to give away old software when they introduce new software.
More George Romney Blogging

Think Progress claims that George Romney was born in Mexico. He ran for the Republican nomination in 1968 on a civil rights and out of Vietnam platform. This would be impossible in today's Republican party (I mean he lost but people noticed his campaign). In fact, it seems to me that it would be impossible in 1968, since Romney was not born in the USA.

I think he must have been a foreign born US citizen (like my daughter Kathy who is, I believe, elegible for the Presidency). Since his parents (Mitt's grandparents) didn't live in the US for 14 years (or whatever I don't know how they swung that (and how did I prove that I had been in the USA for 14 years: still my greatest bureaucratic accomplishment). Still glad to have learned something useful from the whole just how wonderful was George Romney silliness.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Watching Hardball

I was just watching and listening to Harball on US TV. As a blogaddict, I have read many complaints about Hardball, but until now have never seen it.

It is worse than I imagined possible.

We have Did Romney see his father march with King. Romney guy got out the words "grosse pointe 1963" In spite of my spellling handicap I googled up this (why am I going to the UK for US news).

Mr Romney's claim appeared unfounded after a longtime Michigan civil rights activist told a Detroit newspaper that George Romney never marched with Dr King in the city in 1963. When Mr Romney joined a demonstration in Grosse Pointe days later, Dr King was not there.

This is a debate about what the word "saw" means and about difference measured in days between two protests in the same place advocating the same position on the same issue. This is the visiting Texas with James Lee Witt of 2008.

Matthews sternly interrogated the Romney flak for minutes on this. I turned off the sound. I hate Romney, but Matthews almost made me sympathize with him.

The the "cocaine" debate about who is trying to distract the cocaine addled voters from the issues by mentioning a candidate and "blow." A heated argument in which the claim that Matthews was the one forcing them to talk about cocaine was treated as a slimy cocain effort to evade the debate over the non cocaine issues.

The point, as has been explained to me by many on the web including Atrios and Yglesias, is to have dramatic conflict in which a tough journalist forces someone to answer questions he doesn't want to answer. The fact that they are not important issues is irrelevant.

update: It seems that, in addition to being obsessed with trivia, Matthews was wrong on the facts according to Eric Kleefeld at TPM

It's looking like Mitt Romney might have been judged too quickly on the Martin Luther King business. Two witnesses have now come forward to The Politico, insisting that they saw the late Gov. George Romney (R-MI) make a surprise appearance alongside King in 1963.

The campaign has also posted a collection of citations — including a contemporary account from the Detroit Free Press — attesting that it happened.

It is not clear if Romney senior marched or just walked normally. I'm sure that Matthews will be ruthlessly cross examining someone on the point tomorrow.

As Brad DeLong said of the Bush administration "worse than you imagine possible even when you take into account that they are worse than you imagine possible." n Quite literally this time.

Update II The claim that Romney Sr and Martin Luther King Jr were at a demonstration at the same time at Grosse Pointe has been contested via atrios. King evidently was in New Jersey at the time (although as yet I know of no one who has claimed he didn't demonstrate in Grosse Pointe at about the same time as Romney Sr).

This is crazy. We know that Mitt Romney is dishonest (his flip flopping could not be sincere) and we know his father was a solid supporter of the civil rights movement.

update II: This is what is not being debated by those arguing about whether George Romney marched with Martin Luther King Jr

These are just some of the powers which Romney -- and, among the respondents, Romney alone -- claimed the President possesses, either by explicitly claiming them or refusing to repudiate them when asked directly:

* to eavesdrop on Americans with no warrants, even if doing so is in violation of Congressional law (Question 1);

* to attack Iran without Congressional authorization, even in the absence of an imminent threat (Question 2);

* to disregard a congressional statute limiting the deployment of troops (Question 3);

* to issue a signing statement reserving a constitutional right to bypass laws enacted by Congress (Question 4);

* to disregard international human rights treaties that the US Senate has ratified where said treaties, in his view, "impinge upon the President's constitutional authority" (Question 8)

Update III

Same Hardball episode (I know because it is the only one I ever watched)
Chris Matthews said that Rudy Giuliani was slimed about how the security team for his trips to the Hamptons to see his then mistress was paid.

Josh Marshall notes that TPM reported everything Matthews considered news weeks ago, that Giuliani was cooking books and that he also had the NYPD walk her dog.

There may have been bits on that Hardball which were not both unrelated to important policy issues and factually dubious, but I must have missed them.
Better Living Through Chemistry II

Brad DeLonglinked to an old post of mine. Over at his blog, there is a debate over statins.

The fact that pharmaceuticals have side effects does not imply that such side effects are bad. For example, the most white bread garden variety pharmaceutical is aspirin. Decades after massive use began, it was discovered (and I mean proven in a genuine double blind experiment with 20,000 subjects) that ... causes reduced risk of heart attack.

On topic, there is epidemiological evidence that statin use is correlated with a reduced risk of dementia

. It is possible that the causation is that the demented are less likely to use statins, 5 minutes of googling did not yield a significant benefit found in a prospective study and one with a point estimate very close to zero effect.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Very interesting article with very interesting sourcing in the New York Times by

Mazzetti and Shane report that top lawyers in the White House were involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of the interrogations of Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. There is a fierce controversy over what they said.

Almost all sources demanded anonymity. It is clear that, in this case, it was reasonable to grant it as some are honest whistle blowers (others are being dishonest or at least evasive but no way to know who yet).

It does make it hard to keep the anonymous sources straight. One of the anonymous sources does stand out as he or she makes a strong claim.

One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes.

[big snip]

The current and former officials also provided new details about the role played in November 2005 by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the chief of the agency’s clandestine branch, who ultimately ordered the destruction of the tapes.

I would have liked some "offical A" "official B" to help me keep track (and not just to remind me of people about to be indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald).

I also seriously wish that reporters would at least tell who an anonymous source isn't. In particular, I would really like to be reassured that "One former senior intelligence official" isn't named "Jose A. Rodriguez Jr" so I would have liked to read "One former senior intelligence official who is not Jose A. Rodriguez Jr" if it could have been written honestly. Sad to say, I am fairly sure it couldn't be, that is the bombshell accusation is coming from Rodriguez who is trying to blame others for his possible obstruction of justice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Very important article by Dan Eggan and Walter Pincus actually made it to Page A1 of the Post.

FBI agents and former agents, including one Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman who is willing to be quoted by name, claim that Abu Zubaida was not an important leader of al Qaeda and didn't know much,
that CIA interrogators refused to face this fact and therefore waterboarded him
that he provided most of the useful information he provided before being waterboarded,
and that he made up a lot of nonsense while being waterboarded to make it stop.

The CIA contests these assertions but are very very vague.

I'd say that someone ought to pull up a witness chair for Mr Coleman

All of the claims made by Coleman and anonymous others have appeared on blogs, but a named source and a page A1 article in the Post change things.

Wing nuts and torture lovers will never be convinced, but I guess most people without a firm opinion about the effectiveness of torture will be convinced , because the vagueness of claims about useful information obtained via torture contrasts sharply with the precision of claims about the useful information obtained by questioning without torture (horrors I'm debating the effectiveness of torture).
Oh my Godd

5 and one half hours ago Tim Tageris e-mailed the Christopher Dodd for President to say that Senate Majority leader Reid pulled the FISA bill with retroactive immunity from the Senate floor, evidently because of Senator Dodd's filibuster.

Can it be that the good guys won one ? Nahh, still "Sent: Tue 12/18/07 2:22 AM" is a pretty impressive time stamp no ?

Dodd still has no chance, but I think I will spell Godd with two d's for a while.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fertilize the Oceans to fight global warming

People are worried about C02 in the atmosphere released by the burning of fossil fuels. Most of the carbon near the Earth's surface is not in the air, in plants or in fossil fuels. It is in limestone deposited at the Sea bed. More carbon is fixed on land than in the Sea, but carbon fixed on land ends up back in the atmosphere as plants are eaten and metabolized by animals, fungi and bacteria. Some of the Carbon fixed in the Sea goes away forever. Also even if it is swimming or floating around it is not in the atmosphere.

Increased carbon fixation in Oceans would reduce global warming.

The limiting factor for carbon fixation in Oceans is generally believed to be Phosphorus. Marine ecosystems are rich or poor based on the amount of minerals in the water, more photosynthesis occurs the sometimes frozen North and Far South Seas than near the equator, because the melting and freezing stirs up sediment from the bottom and rock powder from glaciers fertilizes the sea.

How about dumping phosphorus in mineral poor equatorial waters ?

44-46% phosphate fertilizer costs $ 418/ton see table 7. Phosphate is about one third phosphorus by Weight (P weighs about 31, 4 Oxygens each 16 plus two hydrogens so 31 out of 97 Phosphorus. The fertilizer is about 14% Phosphorus, so the Phosphorus costs about $ 2,972 per English ton or about $ 3,269.2 per metric ton or about 2,200 Euro per metric ton (ouch).

Phytoplankton contains roughly 106 times as much Carbon as Phosphorous (by number I'm afraid) so roughly 42 times as much be weight. Assuming the phosphorus is not wasted until it falls to the bottom with the carbon, the cost per pound of Carbon fixed would be about Euro 52 per ton of Carbon fixed.

OUCH. The current price of a Carbon emission credit is 20 Euros a Ton.

However, there is hope, because this guy says that the relevant limiting element is Nitrogen not Phosphorous.

Also a problem with pesciculture is that the food (digested and excreted or otherwise) for the fish in cages "enrich" the water around them excessively causing algae blooms. This would be a good thing if it happened in the open Ocean. This would not be economical given how storms would occasionally smash the cages and liberate the fish, but might work with a subsidy justified by the role of the waste in fixing Carbon.
Damning with Faint Praise

Former senator Robert Kerrey endorsed Clinton but offered Barak Obama some distinctly dubious praise such as

"He's got a whale of a lot more intellectual talent than I've got as well."

Coming from the guy who mistook Condoleeza Rice for Richard Clarke, that is a whale of an understatement.

Via Mark "Kumbaya" Kleiman

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You have Got to be kidding me.
I think that even BD will like this article by Jonathan FBD Weisman

key paragraph

Bush's steadfast stand against Democratic spending, coupled with his equally resolute opposition to tax increases, could raise the federal debt this fiscal year by nearly $240 billion. As Democrats struggle to meet his demands, they are jettisoning renewable-energy and conservation incentives that Bush championed, and they may ax some of his most cherished programs.

Republicans including Senator Grassley and anonymous others are mad as hell at Bush. Obviously the problem is that if they win all of the battles on capital hill, they will be responsible for the mess they are making.

Bush is, however, defended on the substance by uhm his spokesman Tony Fratto. Best line "Fratto called such proposals 'very typical of tax policy based on populism and class warfare, rather than sound economic policy.'" Readers of this blog will be familiar with my view that sound economic policy can be consistent with populism and class warfare. Basically, Fratto argues that the proposed tax increases will hit the rich and, therefore, are not sound economic policy. I am sure that there are Republicans, including Republican elected officials, we honestly believe that nothing which is relatively bad for the rich can be sound economic policy. I don't think that they will be re-elected officials for long.

Now I do think the Democrats should have put up a very public fight before caving (including working during Christmas which I am not about to do). A holiday season filibuster to protect hedge fund managers and private equity partners from paying regular income tax would have been painful to Republicans, but many would not have to fear a repeat come November. Delays to tax refunds following a Republican filibuster and/or Bush veto would not have hurt the Democrats.

Kevin Drum thinks that Thomas Mann (not the author of "Reflections of an Unpolitician" disagrees, but he is discussing getting bills passed and signed (or vetoes over ridden). The left blogosphere is talking about making it clear, even to those who are paying little attention, who is responsible for things not getting done and who is devoted to making the rich even richer.

update: I see that Matt Yglesias wrote this before I did.

update 2: Jonathan Zasloff too

Friday, December 14, 2007

Steve Waldman
is a very nice person, but I think that maybe he should consider buying a new pair of glasses.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Conflict of Interest

Greg Mankiw argues that a utilitarian should support a height tax. I haven't read the argument, but, like all excellent arguments it is obvious once stated. Height is correlated with income, therefore taxing the rich is more egalitarian that a poll tax. Taxing the rich and rebating the money lump sum is egalitarian. Utilitarians are egalitarian because we think that the marginal utility of consumption declines in consumption (I think it declines a lot so I am both a utilitarian and very egalitarian even if many philosophy majors (not including Matt Yglesias) think that is a contradiction in terms).

People can't change their height to avoid the tax. Or rather won't. One could cut ones feet off to reduce one's tax burden, but that is not likely to be a problem at all.

Thus the height tax is an egalitarian redistribution without distortions.

I like to think that I am as close to a vulgar add up the utils utilitarian as any sane intelligent person who has heard the standard arguments can be (that is not very very close). I wish I could argue in favor of the height tax, but I can't, because I passed through an over privilidged life accumulating only 5 feet and 7 inches if I stretch real hard. A rare exception which doesn't invalidate the rule, but which does palsey my fingers as I type.

Prof Mankiw has no such problem.
Felix Salmon linked to me.

I am honored, because he is very smart and because he linked to one of my posts on health care, which doesn't have much to do with your portfolio.

OK so more thoughts on health insurance mandates. It is noted that auto insurance is mandated and yet 15% of drivers are uninsured. This is a false analogy. It is much easier to enforce a universal mandate. Not everyone drives a car. There are people with licenses who don't drive, because they don't own a car. Now in the USA almost everyone between the age of 16 and 100 drives, but almost everyone is not everyone.
People who drive without liability insurance can claim that they don't drive unless they are caught behind the wheel (by the way traffic police could, you know check).

Also the US public sector can learn from La Repubblica Italiana (this is not a joke). In Italy, there is this little square of paper that is part of the insurance document and which has a date on it. This must be placed in a little pocket on the windshield

sector, there are many many mandates which are not enforced over here. If one watches TV, one has to pay a fixed license fee in exchange for public TV. It was decided that it would be unfair to finance public TV from taxes, since then even people who don't watch it would have to pay (this was back when there was no private TV in Italy). Some people actually do pay the fee (I met them in line at the post office while trying to figure out how to pay it).

I once heard of Big Brother and the BBC of how in the UK there are (or were) police officers with television set detectors (an echo type radio wave is generated when the TV signal is amplified) catching people who haven't paid for their BBC. George Orwell (who was so happy when he worked for the BBC) would be so proud.

This is silly. Almost everyone in Europe watches TV. In the ECHP household survey they don't even ask people if they own a TV, they ask if they own a color TV (for my younger readers there are also "black and white" TV's which have an image which is on a scale of greys not RGB and you can see what it looks like using say Adobe or looking at old movies except on the Turner old movie channel). 99% of respondents say yes. The survey covers all EU countries including Greece and Portugal.

However, the totally ineffective mandate is there to handle the remote possibility that a tax payer might be one of the few people who doesn't watch TV (I think I can name 2 both in the USA and both raising kids who are waay ahead of their classmates in everything for some strange reason).

Everyone has health, good or bad. A universal mandate is much easier to enforce than one which applies only to 99% of households plus those who watch black and white TV.

other stuff I edited out for space

Like just about everyone except for insurance company lobbyists, I would much prefer a single payer plan to a mandate that people buy insurance. Even if the new universal plan is used to supplement, not replace, private insurance, I think it should be funded with an increase in taxes plus an "I have my own health insurance" deduction (and yes that means high income people who have their own health insurance pay more).

But the powers that be (really the pollsters that be) have decided that the only thing that is politically possible is, either to offer insurance at a rate that does not depend on current health and that covers pre-existing conditions or to offer that and require people to buy it. The first (the Obama plan) is very vulnerable to free riders. Obama's real plan must be to introduce un-mandated no reason to buy it while you are healthy insurance, then wait till people are mad at the free riders.

Felix Salmon also commented on this post

Wait. 15% of *drivers* don't have insurance, or 15% of *people with driver's licenses* don't have insurance? It's a huge difference. I, for one, have a driver's license, but living as I do in Manhattan I don't have a car. I'm sure there are also many elderly people who don't drive any more but who still have their licenses. And I'm sure there are literally millions of couples who share a car between them -- I don't know how that would show up in the stats. So it might be worth running down this 15% number and finding out where it came from. Maybe Carl Bialik can help?

BTW, thanks for the kind words. I can assure your readers that you're much smarter than I am.
# posted by Blogger Felix : 5:12 PM

Thanks for the very kind words. I have no idea where the 15% number comes from.

update: I recently noticed (ok someone else noticed for me) that my insurance expired a week ago, so I am driving without insurance (counting on a 2 week grace period). Today I learned I can't pay for next calender years insurance with a credit card.
What [Democratic Primary] voters think is important

While bashing Brooks and Beinart, many of my favorite bloggers have noted that, while pundits who advocated invading eagerly say that Iraq is no longer an issue, ordinary people are much more likely to describe it as the number one issue than any other issue according to this CBS New York Times poll (*.pdf).

Let's see. Bush approval down to 28% check, Democrats strongly favored check. Hmm sounds like the American people have grown up.

OK likely Democratic primary voters (the cream) "what specifically is it about [andidate name] that makes you want to support him/her.
number 1 "16% experience"
number 2 "13% Is Married to Bill Clinton"

Huh wah ? Oh my. You've come a long way baby, but not quite as far as you thought (OK I know you have internal polling). Oh my that no good hound dog is a liability isn't he ?

Clinton is 17 points ahead of Obama, so she wins even among voters for whom being married to Bill Clinton is not the deal clincher.

Ah polls can't take politics seriously without them, can't take politics seriously with them.
The Distant Future

"Robot Heckles Campaigning Bill Clinton In Iowa"

via Yglesias

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Agree With Clinton on Mandates

Barack Obama has a health care plan in which people are not required to get health insurance, yet if they go without they can get health insurance after they are sick. This creates a huge free rider problem.

John Edwards has a health care plan in which health insurance is mandated and the IRS will check on people. This might actually work, but is close to political suicide. People hate the IRS already. The idea of making filing tax returns more complicated really irritates people.

Clinton has a mandate but describes no enforcement mechanism. Some people argue that both Obama and Edwards are at least honest about what they are proposing. Honesty is an over-rated virtue. A plan with a mandate that is not enforced is politically feasible. The explanation of the free rider problem should be enough to convince people that a mandate is reasonable. Even the free riders won't be to upset about a mandate that is not enforceable. However, once the principle that people have an obligation to insure themselves is in the law, the inevitable non compliance will make it possible to introduce an enforcement mechanism later. This will involve reports that the plan is failing as the promised universality has not been achieved, but it might be possible to actually get the job done in two steps.
Not What Digby Said

Digby wrote of Barack Obama "Running to the right on ... social security"


I comment.

I absolutely have no idea why you claim that Obama is "running to the right on social security". His proposal is to eliminate the payroll tax ceiling, that is to increase taxes on people who earn over (roughly) $100,000, that is, the top 6% of wage and salary earners. I never knew that proposing an increase in taxes of people at the upper end of the income distribution was running to the right.

The left blogosphere has become totally rigid [on this issue]*. Having argued that there is no social security funding crisis (Obama never said there is by the way) they find any proposal having anything to do with social security fudning to be right wing. Of course only conservatives don't absolutely oppose change on principle.

I ask Digby (and Atrios and Krugman and lots of others) "what did Obama say about social security which you think is false ?" (not overemphasized compared to health care costs or the general fund deficit but false as in not true) and "What is wrong with his policy proposal ?" (you know the policy reform he proposed not disagreeing with you on emphasis in description of predictions of future reality but what he proposed). Oh and, especially, "What is right wing about raising the FICA ceiling ?"

*added here

update: Mark Kleiman put it better than I did (big surprise huh). Also he didn't name nicknames

What Obama offers them, simply, is respect, and the only "trick" is his knack for making that respect seem genuine. Maybe I'm being fooled along with everyone else, but I think it probably is genuine: Obama seems to me to have both the philosophical humility and the Christian charity that allows him to encounter difference without feeling animus.

As to Matt's first puzzle — why this transparent trick, which disarms opposition without sacrificing principle, should be offensive to some progressives — the obvious answer is that some people, n both sides of the aisle would rather triumph over their enemies than achieve their policy goals.

Now I was talking about social security not health care. Obama's health care plan is vulnerable to free riding. I would make it more tempting for the young and healthy to go without insurance until they are sick, since it would require insurance companies to insure the sick for standard premiums and cover pre-existing conditions. Obama announced his plan when he was trying to be to the right of Edwards and to the left of Clinton. Clinton outflanked him to the left and now he is arguing against mandates for purely personal political advantage.

Monday, December 10, 2007

In Which I Attempt to Debate the Law with Marty Lederman

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse managed to get 3 bits of legal counsel from the OLC to the President declassified and described them on the floor of the Senate. He denounced the Bush administration for attempting to make Bush an absolute monarch.

Marty Lederman suggests that the Bush administration declassified those bits and not others, because they are not extreme.

The Administration has now permitted Whitehouse to talk about three aspects of the OLC Opinions, and that's what he did yesterday. He expressed incredulity about all three. But there's a reason the Administration gave him the green light on those three matters -- because the OLC statements in question are boilerplate, and fairly uncontroversial (with one possible, important exception, noted below).

A very plausible hypothesis. Also, even if he is right, Whitehouse's strategy might be a good one. His fellow Senators know that the Bush administration has made an extreme power grab. They may be reluctant to talk about leaks and rumors. However, they can interpret ambiguous official statements in the most alarming way, because they know, from other sources, what has been happening.

I like to blog recklessly, so I will argue that Lederman is wrong and that the "boilerplate" is, in fact, shockingly extreme. The first case

1. "The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority under Article II."

Lederman notes that the Clinton administration claimed some authority to challenge what it perceived to be congressional intrusions on Presidential prerogatives. However, the OLC quote as written, seems to me to imply "the President has absolute power unlimited by any law or statue whatsoever and enforced against terror" (to modernize Lenin for the GWOT). The reference to Article II doesn't limit the claim at all. It is equivalent to "The Presidentcan determine whether an action is ... lawful." That is "The President can over rule any law or the Constitution". What stronger claim could possibly be made ?

In particular, the key word is "determine". The OLC did not say "issue preliminary guidance for the executive branch which is valid until the matter is decided by the normal constitutional process" or "issue preliminary guidance for the executive branch which is valid until the matter is decided by the courts." I can't think of a stronger or more final word than "determine".

In contrast, the Clinton era opinions quoted by Lederman explicitly recognise the supreme court's authority to adjudicate disputes between the legislature and the executive over the separation of powers. Lederman's argument relies on an alleged fact

Senator Whitehouse has not (yet) quoted anything from the OLC opinions suggesting that President Bush would allow his own views to trump those of the Court, or that he would, for only the second time in our nation's history, actually disobey a judgment of the courts if he disagreed with its constitutional rationale. (As far as we know, notwithstanding the broad views of executive power in this Administration, they have not asserted any power to disregard judicial orders.)

First, it seems to me that the plain meaning of the quoted passage states that the President may, whenever he chooses, allow his own views to trump those of the Court. Second, even if Bush has not yet chosen to do so, this does not mean that he doesn't see himself as an absolute monarch. Augustus pretended to be a servant of the Republic. Finally, as Lederman notes, there is no way we can tell if the Bush administration is or is not disobeying a judgment of the courts. They didn't say that they were ignoring FISA. In fact, Bush explicitly said the opposite. The fact that they haven't been caught yet, doesn't mean that they are innocent.

Certainly, they ignore precedents. After the court found that the detention with no trial whatsoever of Hamdi was unconstitutional, they continued to hold Padilla. The fact that the Supreme Court refused to hear Padilla's case until it passed through what the Supreme Court found to be the proper trial and appellate court was enough for a US citizen to be kept in prison without trial or charges for months.

As the Courts can only decide specific cases, if the administration obeys only specific orders, the courts are powerless to protect us. What if, say, the Miranda ruling had been applied only to Miranda ?

Ignoring the obvious implication of the Court's decision may not be contempt of court, but it is enough to destroy our former constitutional order which may or may not be re-established on January 20 2009.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Marx explains how a political and ideological superstructure is built on the base of economic relations

Gary Marx, a top-level member on the Romney for President National Faith And Values Steering Committee, gets $8,000 a month.

Marx said in an interview Thursday that in addition to the Romney campaign, he has a number of other corporate and interest group clients. "I'm point person, liaison with economic and social conservative organizations." He said he "regularly meets with leaders of those organizations at the state and national levels" on behalf of the Romney campaign.

Karl was not so vulgar.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Lost a Battle in the Class War

Jonathan FBD Weisman and Jeffrye Birnbaum write in the Washington Post.

Eleven months after adopting stringent new rules aimed at reining in the federal deficit, the Senate last night shrugged off its pledge of fiscal rectitude and overwhelmingly approved a measure to spare millions of families from the growing reach of the alternative minimum tax without providing an offsetting tax increase.


"We want everyone to know we have tried every alternative possible," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said with a sigh after a House-passed AMT bill, to be paid for largely with tax increases on wealthy Wall Street titans, fell to a Republican filibuster. Just 46 senators, all Democrats, voted to cut off debate on the measure, 14 short of the 60 needed.

So Rangels rough riders have not yet stormed this hill

I don't see why the bill doesn't go to a conference committee which can put the tax increases on the titans back in then go to the Senate for an up or down vote. I must be unaware of some congressional rule.

Of course, 46 votes aren't enough even with no filibuster. However, the role call shows that the Democrats and independents (including Lieberman) were solid. The only no vote was cast by Reid, a traditional vote by the leader of the group that proposes a motion that does not pass, because only Senators who vote no can reintroduce the motion.

Four presidential candidates missed the vote (am I going to have to say I will support the nomination of whichever Senator most nearly takes his or her actual job seriously ?). They would not miss an up or down vote.

Republican hatred for balanced budgets is open.

With paygo breached, Republicans were almost gleeful. "They had painted themselves into a corner," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.). "That's a huge concession on their part, completely repudiating one of their core principles."

Republicans could have claimed that the Democrats forced them to allow an increase in the deficit, because the Democrats did not accept their proposals to cut waste fraud and abuse. They have decided to make it clear that they support deficits instead.

Now Pelosi has a chance to cave. She has promised not to allow a vote on an AMT patch which violates PayGo. I suspect she will eat her words.

I do not understand why the Democrats didn't make the Republicans actually filibuster this one. Delaying the AMT patch and the mailing out of refunds to protect the interests of a small number of hedge fund managers and private equity partners can't be popular can it ? The Democrats seem to have just decided that they will be blamed if the Republicans block them from doing what the public wants. Given the rules of the Senate, if the majority makes it clear that it is willing to cave to get things done on time, the minority can become more powerful than the majority. I really don't see why Reid caved so quickly on this one. A few days of denouncing the Republicans for blocking the AMT patch to serve the super rich who pay 15% of their income in taxes would have made the claim that "we have tried every alternative possible," a lot more convincing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I have been Corresponding with Kevin Drum

The question is whether poor US performance in international standardized tests doesn't prevent the US from excelling in some fields because it reflects the low scores of the least successful test taking students in the USA, while excelling depends on how much people near the top of the distribution know. Basically all of the international comparisons of student achievement suggest that this is partly true. The best students in the USA do OK (not as well as in some countries many of them in East Asia but OK).
The least successful at test taking (SATT) students in the US do much less well than the least SATT students in other industrialized countries.

For example, look at table 2.1a in the report on the PISA 2006 study

it gives numbers of students above more or less arbitrary thresholds. The fraction of US students in the top group is tenth best in the OECD. Not great but not horrible either. The fraction of US students in the bottom group is third from worst. The US outperforms Mexico and Turkey.

Our problem is that some schools in the US just don't work. Of course even George Bush knows that.
Did Cheney Cheney Himself ?

One sign that the Bush White House has long known about the Iran NIE according to various blog posts whose URLs I have forgotten is this post by Gareth Porter

November 9, 2007
Cheney Tried to Stifle Dissent in Iran NIE
by Gareth Porter

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and thus make the document more supportive of US Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts of the process provided by participants to two former Central Intelligence Agency officers.

I doubted Porter's sources since it seems to me that Cheney would have objected to the majority judgments not the dissenting judgments. Now I have a wonderful thought.

Maybe Cheney held up an NIE in which most agencies concluded that Iran was hell bent on making nuclear weapons because he didn't like a few dissents and, because of the delay, intelligence was collected which convinced the agencies which perviously agreed with Cheney that he was full of it ? Is that just too wonderful to be true ?

It seems not. In Wednesday's Washington Post David Ignatius wrote

The secret intelligence that produced this reversal came from multiple channels -- human sources as well as intercepted communications -- that arrived in June and July. At that time, a quite different draft of the Iran NIE was nearly finished.

or perhaps finished but held up by Cheney.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wish I'd said that

Mark Kleiman writes

I have a simple piece of advice to Hitchens, and his fellow fundamentalist nonbelievers:


When theocracy threatens, I'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to oppose it. But, unlike you and the Taliban and Mattathias, I don't regard it as a righteous act to smash other people's idols.
Clueless Huckabee (via TPM of course)

Jonathan Martin writes

My colleague David Paul Kuhn attended an on-the-record dinner with Mike Huckabee and a group of reporters tonight in Des Moines.

The transcript speaks for itself:

Kuhn: I don’t know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday ...

Huckabee: I’m sorry?

Kuhn: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it —

Huckabee: No.

Kuhn: Have you heard of the finding?

Huckabee: No.

Kuhn then summarized the NIE finding that Iran had stopped work on a clandestine nuclear program four years ago and asked if it “adjusts your view on Iran in any sense."

Kuhn: What is your concern on Iran as of now?

Huckabee: I’ve a serious concern if they were to be able to weaponize nuclear material, and I think we all should, mainly because the statements of Ahmadinejad are certainly not conducive to a peaceful purpose for his having it and the fear that he would in fact weaponize it and use it. (He pauses and thinks) I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says they have suspended the program or how credible that is versus the view that they actually are expanding it. … And I’ve heard, the last two weeks, supposed reports that they are accelerating it and it could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally been thought.

Huh ? The nuclear program in question is a centrifuge cascade for Uranium enrichment. A nuclear reactor has not been discussed in the context of nuclear proliferation concerns recently (reactor not graphite mediated and with safeguards and not alleged to be relevant by anyone, not even Cheney).

Huckabee didn't know about the NIE. His statement "I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says they have suspended the program or how credible that is versus the view that they actually are expanding it." suggests he is unfamiliar with the concept of an NIE (though it probably means he refuses to let the firm consensus of the intelligence community interfere with his standard line).

The claim that Ahmedinejad is the most powerful person in Iran is, of course, false, but par for the course.
Ah Something I actually know something about.

Kevin Drum has 2 questions

He notes

The average science score of U.S. 15-year-olds lagged that of students in 16 of 30 [industrialized] countries....U.S. students were further behind in math, trailing counterparts in 23 countries.

and asks

if that's the case, I asked, why does the American economy continue to do so well? ... If American kids are getting mediocre educations, and if they've been getting these mediocre educations for several decades now, shouldn't this have long since shown up in the business world, the tech world, and the financial world?

A very striking feature of the data reported in an earlier round of PISA and in similar studies is that, while average performance is fair to middling in the USA inequality across students of performance is enormous in the USA compared to other countries.

The top 10% of US students do very well on the tests. Sad to say, it might be that they are the ones relevant to "the business world, the tech world, and the financial world."

One would expect that the US has enormous income inequality too. Check. We are used to the idea that one should not choose a slightly higher average in exchange for much higher inequality.

However, the measure which would matter if we didn't care about inequality isn't necessarily the average. With formal education it could be the effect on the performance of professional, managerial and technical workers who were mostly top students in junior high. I am glad to say that this is not true outside of the range of basic education in OECD countries. Studies of a broader cross section of countries show that enrollment in primary and lower secondary school is strongly correlated with subsequent growth. In OECD countries enrollment rates are all at the maximum.

Also thinking about the cause of the immense inequality in US educational outcomes might help one understand why the effects on innovation and GNP growth are ambiguous.
The US has unequal education partly because of unequal funding and partly because of decentralised curriculum decisions. As George Bush and Ted Kennedy agree, this is very unfair to children victimized by the soft bigotry of low expectations (those gentlemen are experts on the subject although Kennedy is, at least, hard working).
However, a uniform national curriculum can reduce the variety of mental approaches to problems. I am often struck by the fact that Italians have read lots of books (compared to people in the USA) and that they are the same books. That there are things that everyone knows and everyone knows all reasonable people agree on which sound crazy to me (obviously this is partly culture shock).

Consider, for example, Japan. Excellent performance on standardized tests, but some decades ago (just before the fall) it seemed like everyone in Japan simultaneously become concerned that the love of consensus prevented original thinking in Japan. The claim might be nonsense, but the fact that many people made it at the same time (months after a wave of Japan is number 1 triumphalism) lead me to think that maybe they all had made a valid point simultaneously.

Of course it is also true that, while education is important for economic performance, it is not the only thing. Even US liberals who think they are open to regulation and redistribution and such would, if informed how things are done in Europe without being told that real countries are being discussed, probably imagine that the unfortunate economies would be in total collapse. Instead they are doing OK.

Also economic power and economic performance aren't the same thing. US leadership has something to do with people working very long hours in the USA. That is a choice not a result of greater ability or efficiency.

Finally, I have a wish of a hope of an explanation of why US students are not dumb but perform poorly on the tests. In the USA there are various tests which, like PISA , are used to follow general educational progress and not to rank students. Maybe kids in the USA are more aware of the fact that they have no material incentive to answer PISA questions correctly. That is maybe more students decide to not bother with a test which will have no effect on their grades.

As to my claim to know something, see Giorgina Brown, John Micklewright, Sylke V Schnepf, and Robert J. Waldmann (2007)"Cross National Surveys of Learning Achievement: How Robust are the Findings," The Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A vol 170, pp. 623-646.

also IZA wp 1652

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It appears that at a press conference George W Bush said

BUSH: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John — Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.

It appears that he would have us believe that he wasn't curious enough about the new information to ask what it was and that John Mike McConnell chose not to tell him that maybe WW III wasn't as imminent as he feared. I am 90% sure that he is lying. The remaining 10% possibility scares the shit out of me.

Also Bush said

" I have said Iran is dangerous, and the NIE doesn't do anything to change my opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world."

Here I am certain that he is telling the truth. Bush is a firm resolute leader who has never let facts affect his opinions. He doesn't seem to have noticed that the statement that an Iranian nuclear bomb project would make no difference in his "opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world" is roughly equivalent to the statement "I am batshit insane." That's how far gone he is.
Fact Check Check Checkered performance

In which I admit that I was totally scooped by Matthew Yglesias who notes that Rudy Giuliani claims to know that tax increases cause increased revenues and the Washington Posts alleged fact check falsely claims that "Giuliani's insistence that tax-cutting "produces more revenues" is ... a matter of fierce dispute among economists." This is false. Even right wing economists agree that Giuliani's claim is false.

I take my frustration out on a commenter and who I quote without permission

The thing about faith-based politics is that it's problematic all around. Reducing taxes can, and has, produced more revenue. It doesn't ALWAYS do so, as we have to ask which taxes, what kind of reductions, by how much, etc. But it's clearly not false to say that properly thought out tax reductions grow the economy and produce more revenue. It's happened too many times in too many places for any but the most partisan-blinkered to simply hold it to be false.

Posted by Robert Powell

Robert Powell I deduce that you are not an economist. Click the Washington Post link and note that Giuliani didn't cite any economists. Bush has not found a reputable economist who is willing to claim that tax cuts below current US tax rates cause increased revenues.

You seem to equate increasing the growth rate with increasing revenues. It is true that, other things equal, increased growth implies increased revenues. However, with tax cuts other things are, of course, not equal.

More importanly, there is no good reason to think that there is any tax currently imposed in the US with such large dead weight costs that tax cuts unaccompanied by spending cuts would cause increased growth. Growth is slow compared to tax cuts, budget deficits can reduce growth by crowding out investment. It is very possible that a combination of a tax cut and a budget cut would cause increased growth but a tax cut without a spending cut would cause decreased growth. In fact, this is a near consensus among economists.

Of course if the government spending is of a kind that contributes enough to growth, tax cuts combined with spending cuts are bad for growth. The far right wing economist Robert Barro likes to stress the importance of education to growth. He uses public spending on education as a proxy. It is possitively correlated with growth.

In contrast extremely extensive efforts to find a negative effect of taxes on growth using the standard data sets on growth in many countries since 1960 have been completely unsuccessful. Budget deficits, however, are strongly negatively correlated with subsequent economic growth. Of course it might be more interesting to look at growth over a longer period of time for the relatively few countries for which there are such data. Here the pattern is simple. Since WWII taxes are much higher than ever before and growth is much higher than ever before. Over the long time series the tax take as a fraction of GDP is strongly positively correlated with further growth, just as one would expect given the enormous contribution of government spending to universal education, health care (life expectency given per capita GDP is strongly positively correlated with subsequent growth) and basic research.

Your claim that tax cuts are followed by excellent growth is puzzling. Supply siders tend to pick growth since the trough of the last recession and give credit to their policies. The US pattern is simple.

20s low taxes high growth then a great depression followed by a large increase in federal spending which became huge during WWII. During this period economic growth was vastly more rapid than any other period in US history before or since.

In the 50s and 60s extremely high tax rates and rapid growth. In the 70s lower tax rates and lower growth. In the 80s lower tax rates and middling growht. In the 90s a huge tax increase and extraordinary growth, in the naughties a huge tax cut followed by growth much slower than in any high tax period except the 70s.
On Prostitution

I think that prostitution can not be eliminated and attempting to do so worsens conditions for prostitutes. Therefore, I think that it should be legalized and regulated. I live in Italy where it is legal to prostitute oneself and to solicit for prostitution but not to pimp or "sfruttare" (exploit) prostitutes. This seems to me a legal order infinitely superior to the US approach. Still I see people in dresses (many of them men) offering services on the street. This seems to me to be terribly dangerous.

Once when I was 22 I took a walk in Manhatten late one summer night. I saw 3 attractive young women wearing practically nothing. I almost went over to them to say that it was crazy to dress like that at night in New York (I am now 47 so this was pre Bill Bratten* when New York was more dangerous). Then I realized that they were prostitutes and weren't just standing around like that but were going to get into a car driven by a strange man alone and maybe provide sexual services for cash or maybe end up in a river. At least whore houses are safe for the sex workers.

However, if prostitution were just plain legal, it would be necessary to require clients to use condoms. I don't imagine that the female police officers who now catch men soliciting for prostitution would like to go undercover to check on that one.

So what seems to me to be needed is to require places of prostitutions to keep the used condoms. To have inspections in which the number is compared to the number of men who enter. To make sure that the used condoms have real live spermatazoa in them (not used a week ago that is) and to check that the genetic variety of the condoms matches the number of men (other wise Mr sexmachine megastud would have a very profitable career filling condoms so paying customers don't have to).

I think this is a great idea (although I am not volunteering to collect the used condoms)

*Bill Bratten is the police commissioner who introduced the reforms which helped cause the reduction in crime in New York for which someone else took credit. We can tell that the key guy was Bratten not the other guy, because Bratten has gone on to achieve stunning success in L.A. while the other guy had police officers walk his mistresses dog.
Fear of people who are different and evolutionary biology

It is an unkown but universally agreed fact that if you paint a monkey green the other monkeys will kill it. It is an actual fact that a chicken which is all strange looking because of folic acid deficiency* has to be kept away from other chickens who would peck it to death.

People don't peck, but they sure seem uncomfortable around eccentrics (believe me I know).

Why ?

I have a guess. One thing that might make one strange is an infective disease. Killing bearers of infective diseases is an extreme alternative to quarantine which is difficult to manage without hands to build walls and stuff.

I think the adversion many people feel for other people who act different is based on the fear that eccentricity is infectious.

* why am I thinking about folic acid ? see the post below. I got thinking about development and got as far as formation of the notachord which can go wrong causing spina bifida especially if the future mother has folic acid deficiency. This happens two weeks after conception, that is, before you know it, so the rule has to be along the lines of: your choice folic acid pills or the pill.
Alan I. Leshner and James A. Thomson hammer Krauthammer and the Bush administration.

Thomson is the leader of one of the teams that made the interesting scientific discovery which Bush modestly claimed was due to him.

Standing in the Way of Stem Cell Research

By Alan I. Leshner and James A. Thomson
Monday, December 3, 2007; Page A17

A new way to trick skin cells into acting like embryos changes both everything and nothing at all. Being able to reprogram skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos launches an exciting new line of research. It's important to remember, though, that we're at square one, uncertain at this early stage whether souped-up skin cells hold the same promise as their embryonic cousins do.

Far from vindicating the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds from many of those working to develop potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cells, recent papers in the journals Science and Cell described a breakthrough achieved despite political restrictions. In fact, work by both the U.S. and Japanese teams that reprogrammed skin cells depended entirely on previous embryonic stem cell research.

I would add more. The modification which makes adult cells act like stem cells involves adding genes with retrovirus vectors. Back before Bush decided to save blastocysts destined for the toilet, genetically modified cells in people were the big bioethical shibboleth. Frankly, even a rabid enthusiast like me would rather avoid combining gene therapy and stem cells.

Since stem cells differentiate (the point) it is hard to know if the insert will cause problems when the cell differentiates into this or that.

I have long supported putting herpes tK in along with added genes so that the resulting cells can be selectively destroyed with gancyclovir if necessary. More importantly so has my dad who was a member of a gene therapy advisory commission.
They ignored him and someone got a leukemia.

There is no need to add genes to make stem cells. The same result can be obtained by putting an adult cell's nucleus in a zygote whose nucleus has been zapped or removed (it's called cloning). This procedure can produce stem cells genetically identical to the patients cells with no added genes or virus vectors. I don't see any ethical difference.

Huh ! no difference ? Why ?

Well if the modified cells are really like embryonic stem cells it should be possible to grow a whole mouse out of them by grafting them on to a blastocyst* (it's been done check the latest Nobel prize). If it works in humans, the adult stem cells have the potential to develop into a human being. Since that is the absurd standard for calling blastocysts people, if the anti stem cell research fanatics were intellectually coherent and serious, they would denounce adult stem cell research as research on little baby people. And pigs would fly.

* update: Silly me, of course I meant to type morula not blastocyst. Got to work on my typing.
Nimby meets Big Shitpile

Atrios finds a cheap place to rent.

Heeyyyy we have a problem with homelessness and a problem with homes that people can't sell. With drug addicts who would benefit from living in suburbs and Housing bubble freaks who can't support their habit.

Do you think that people will get desperate enough for some housing demand to accept government purchases of foreclosed McMansions for halfway houses etc ?

I don't think so either and, until they do, I say the're not under enough preassure.
What's in a name ?

I clicked on this link, because I thought its title meant that the Bush Administration was eager to be cited for contempt of congress (fairly plausible given how crazy they are).

In fact Senator Whitehouse not The Whitehouse is Chaffeeing at the bit. I say we avoid such confusion by sending Whitehouse to the Whitehouse. Today Rhode Island, tomorrow the world !
Youthful Over Optimism Watch -- Matthew Yglesias

Um, seriously, the Clinton administration is attacking Barack Obama based on an essay he wrote in kindergarden.


UPDATE: That'd be the "Clinton campaign" -- it's not an administration yet!

This is actually good for Obama as it shows he was a loyal American when attending his Mosque affiliated kindergarten (or Madrassa if you are a Republican). Don't you think it says something if his oppo researchers can't find any slips he made after first grade*. He's so young that his first grade teacher is probably still at work. Wildly overambitious parents who want their sons to be President are probably desperately looking for that Christian elementary school in Indonesia (can't be too hard there aren't many of them).

I recently made a fool of myself claiming that super young Ezra Klein is over optimistic, since Democrats have campaigned competently in over 5 % of his lifetime.
The optimism was due to a co-blogger.

So I decided to pick on Matthew Yglesias (who recently actually linked to me but, being twice his age, I won't act like a flustered groupie and mention 3 times in two posts that Matthew Yglesias linked to me)

Also he claims that animals are joining the mighty progressive coalition

Now that is what I call a scab.

* yes I know he slipped again in third grade, but I want his fourth grade teacher for my Daughters so I tried to throw the other insanely ambitious parents off the scent.
A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy

By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; Page A01

President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.

Now that is what I call a lead*. The contrast couldn't be more sharp with Baker's recent effort to thoroughly inform all readers who get to paragraph 8 that Karl Rove is a liar about which I posted at the linked post.

Oddly the pointless post to which I link got a link from my absurdly generous friend Brad DeLong and, get this, my first ever link from Matthew** Yglesias ! I was amazed by its success but don't claim that it is the cause of Baker's sudden discovery of frank journalism.

* it is also what people who are or pretend to be journalists call a lede.
** I recently pissed off Ezra Klein teasing him for something written by someone else so I decided to pretend to be a mature adult and ignore the fact that mathew speled Waldmann "Waldman".
News You Can Use

Divorce Found to Harm The Environment With Higher Energy, Water Use

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; Page A02

Divorce is not just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study by two Michigan State University researchers.

The analysis found that cohabiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water.

An eternal mystery is how do people in the USA manage to consume so much. per capita income in the USA is huge, but US consumption is really huge. The US has low investment and low government consumption as a share of GNP yet runs a huge trade deficit. At the same time, people in the USA work long hours and are more likely to say they would like to work more for the same hourly pay than less.

I always thought the issue was mostly huge houses and huge cars, but the unusually high divorce rate must be part of it. Also high fertility, of course.
David Herszenhorn has an excellent article in the New York Times on Republican abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. The cannons of MSM journalism prevent him from pointing out that when he writes "Republicans" he means "liars" or naming said
Republicans, but he makes it very clear that whoever they are, they are lying.

Republicans, in turn, accuse the Democrats of carrying out such an uncompromising and politically tinged legislative agenda that they have no choice but to block many bills. They also say that filibusters are often needed to hold up legislation temporarily so they can achieve crucial changes that Democrats would otherwise be unwilling to consider.


Until that happens again, said Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, people can expect to see plenty of filibuster threats. “I think we can stipulate once again for the umpteenth time that matters that have any level of controversy about it in the Senate will require 60 votes,” he said.

OK so Mitch McConnell and some other Republicans claim that "any level of controversy" implies that Democrats have an "uncompromising and politically tinged legislative agenda."

They can filibuster, but they can't get their story straight.

I think Senator McConnell might be a bit too openly cynical for his own good. I hope he is too openly cynical to get re-elected.
Think Progress asks "What did Bush know and when did he know it?" about the intelligence communities unusually firm assessment that Iran's nuclear weapons program has been suspended since 2003.

I think they answer their own question.

First they quote Stephen Hadley

HADLEY: [W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October — August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.

So he is trying to give the impression that it may have been as late as October, but making sure that, if it was in August or September, his statement isn't demonstrably a lie. I interpret it as "definitely before October"

But the proof is Bush's strange new choice of words also quoted by Think Progress
In October, Bush told a reporter that Iran was trying to “build a nuclear weapon“:
Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. […]

So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.

he dodged the question on "building" and instead discussed developing capacity and knowledge. This was noted at the time. The NIE does not say that Iran is no longer developing capacity and knowledge. I think it is almost certain that the strangely weak phrasing was caused by knowledge of the NIE.

Bush decided to keep the NIE secret, then recently changed his mind (shows his IQ is out of single digits and he knew it was going to leak). Note that, without admitting that the intelligence committee has concluded that Iran's nuclear program was long since suspended, Bush tried to argue that, whether or not Iran was actually then attempting to build a nuclear weapon, urgent action against Iran was needed to prevent World War III.

The man has nerve, I'll give him that.
I have some explaining to do.

When the House passed Charles Rangel's full class war reform the alternative minimum tax by hammering hedge fund managers and private equity partners, I predicted ... well I don't want to check but I was excited.

Now Republicans in the Senate have managed to delay the customary push it back a year patch just so they can blame the Democrats for late tax refunds.

The issue of actual reform has totally vanished. Mainly this is what happens with the Senate, but I suspect that opinion leaders are eager to avoid discussion of tax progressivity as they are rich and corrupt (once typing that would have been anathema to me).

Also Krugman had an experience which supports his view on Obama's proposal to raise the FICA ceiling.

So I just spent a fairly unpleasant 15 minutes on right-wing talk radio. And the host said — this is rough, not a verified quote — “Look, everyone knows that Social Security is going bust, and we’d all be better off if we could put out money in 401(k)s. Even Barack Obama says so!”

All I can say is that ranters will rant and Republicans (and Democrats) will play political tricks at the public expense, but Democrats can fight back if they have good popular policy proposals like Rangel's and Obama's.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mark Kleiman too was worrying that Mike Huckabee might be elected President.

However, he now links to Max Brantley's witty and devastating account of Huckabees ethical problems. First, of course, he recommended parole for Wayne DuMond a convicted rapist who went on to rape and murder while out on parole. Also he lied about his involvement and claimed that DuMond was not convicted of murder (he was).

In his 1992 senatorial campaign he paid himself and his families baby sitter out of campaign funds. also

After he became governor in 1996, he raked in tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, including gifts from people he later appointed to prestigious state commissions.

In the governor's office, his grasp never exceeded his reach. Furniture he'd received to doll up his office was carted out with him when he left, after he'd crushed computer hard drives so nobody could ever get a peek behind the curtain of the Huckabee administration.

Until my paper, the Arkansas Times, blew the whistle, he converted a governor's mansion operating account into a personal expense account, claiming public money for a doghouse, dry-cleaning bills, panty hose and meals at Taco Bell. He tried to claim $70,000 in furnishings provided by a wealthy cotton grower for the private part of the residence as his own, until he learned ethics rules prevented it. When a disgruntled former employee disclosed memos revealing all this, the Huckabee camp shut her up by repeatedly suggesting she might be vulnerable to prosecution for theft because she'd shared documents generated by the state's highest official.

He ran the State Police airplane into the ground, many of the miles in pursuit of political ends. Inauguration funds were used to buy clothing for his wife. He once took control of the state Republican Party's campaign account -- then swore the account had been somebody else's responsibility when it ran afoul of federal election laws. He repeated the pattern when he claimed in a newspaper story that his staff controlled the account to stage his second inauguration. When I filed a formal ethics complaint over what appeared to be an improper appropriation of donated money, he told a different story, disavowing responsibility for the money. He thus avoided another punishment from an Ethics Commission, which had sanctioned him on five other occasions. He dodged nine other complaints (though none, despite his counter-complaints, was held to be frivolous). In one case, he was saved by the swing vote of a woman who left the chairmanship of the Ethics Commission days later to take a state job. She listed the governor as a reference on the job application. Finally, unbelievably, Huckabee once sued to overturn the ban on gifts to him.


Three decades after the Huckabees' wedding, his wife registered at department stores so their new home, post-governor's mansion, could be stocked with gifts of linens, toasters and other suitable furnishings. In early 2007, our reporting also prompted the former first lady to decline dozens of place settings of governor's mansion china and Irish crystal that had been purchased with tax-deductible contributions to the Governor's Mansion Association, nominally set up to improve the mansion, not to buy going-away presents for former occupants. (Huckabee's governorship ended on Jan. 9, 2007.)

Ouch. Looks like Huckabee is vulnerable. The case is frightening though as it shows how much national political reporters focus on who is fun to be around and how little research they do.
Win Some Lose Some

The Washington Post reports on Oil and Democracy

href="">Voters Deny Chávez Additional Authority

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 -- Venezuelan voters delivered a stinging defeat to President Hugo Chávez on Sunday, blocking proposed constitutional changes that would have given him political supremacy and accelerated the transformation of this oil-rich country into a socialist state.

Hours after the final ballots were cast, the National Electoral Council announced at 1:15 a.m. local time Monday that voters, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, had rejected 69 reforms to the 1999 constitution. The modifications would have permitted the president to stand for reelection indefinitely, appoint governors to provinces he would create and control Venezuela's sizable foreign reserves.

Chávez immediately went on national television and conceded before a roomful of government allies and other supporters. "I thank you and I congratulate you," Chávez said calmly, directing his comments to his foes. "I recognize the decision a people have made."

Putin Win Central to Ambitions

Russian president secures a convincing victory in parliamentary election and, allies say, "moral authority" to influence state after he steps down.

Frankly, I consider the end of Russian democracy a done deal.

However, I did almost forecast that Chavez would declare himself to have won the referendum. In any case, I did guess that Venezuelan (and Mexican, Indonesian and Nigerian) democracy are doomed.

I should have mentioned the key role of term limits in each case. I think the principle that no one should be President for more than x years is one of the many things we owe to Jefferson (Washington retired too but he was real real old).. Putin feels the need to smash heads not just from habit but because the fact that he won't technically be President forever makes it not totally clear that he will run Russia indefinetly.

Now as to Venezuela, I am impressed by the voters who did not vote for a 6 hour day and a permanent President. I am also impressed by Chavez's reaction. This is the first election he hasn't won, so there was no way to know how he would react. I am especially impressed by the integrity of an electoral system in which the President who is regularly accused of being a dictator (I even read tyrant recently) can lose by 51% to 49%.

Given my last post, I can't put this strictly in the third person, but they (we) who considered Chavez a dictator, because he is a loud mouth have some explaining to do.
Oil Vs Democracy

They voted today in Russia and Venezuela. In Russia it is clear that United Russia is crushing the opposition at the ballot boxes. Everyone knew this would happen. This makes it all the more alarming that Putin had opposition rallies broken up and opposition politicians temporarily arrested during the campaign. Clearly he is opposed to Democracy in principle and not just cheating, because otherwise his party might lose. No surprise given his background. No one can stop him partly because he is popular largely because the price of oil is high.

Over in Venezuela they voted on a referendum on a new constitution which will, among other things, eliminate Presidential term limits and give President Chavez control over local government and the central bank. No one knows how it will turn out and there are dueling exit polls. Chavez is likely to win because he is popular partly because of the high price of oil.

Is it possible for Democracy to survive in an oil exporting country ? The oil makes rents to be gained from holding power huge. Sometimes it makes the economy go so well that the person in charge can accept dictatorial authority from a grateful people.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Let us now praise infamous men.

Lee Iacocca showed American businessmen what had to be done.

No he is not infamous, but I am not praising him. I am praising Pillip Caldwell, the guy who replace Iacocca as President of Ford. Later he bacame the first non Ford to be CEO of Ford. He is not widely infamous I admit, but he was hated by very many people in Detroit (edited to delete insulting comment referring to the recently deceased).

Basically his main business decision was to lay off 30,000 employees of Ford headquarters in around 1979. The logic was that they weren't doing anything useful. To increase shareholder value, Caldwell disrupted the lives of almost 30,000 families (almost becasue in some both mom and dad lost jobs). He was universally hated (of course) by his remaining fellow employees. He made a lot of money from his ruthlessness (not as much as a 21st century CEO but lots). Then he retired.

Some time later, I read about the wonders worked by the wonderful Donald Peterson who replace Caldwell at Ford. Hailed a "Most Valuable Person" of 1988 by USA Today and "CEO of the Year" by Chief Executive magazine in 1989, Petersen transformed Ford with his inclusive, team-oriented management style.

My sense is that Peterson got credit for the reduction in cost achieved by the ruthless Caldwell. Peterson was praised because he was successful without being evil. I think he benefited from the cruel deeds of Caldwell.

Peterson's Wikipedia entry explains his genius

"Mr. Petersen was famously known for instructing the Ford design staff to design vehicles they would be proud to buy and park in their own driveways. This change in philosophy came about after he was answered in the negative as he inquired of a Ford designer whether he was proud of the design he was working on. This watershed event culminated in the groundbreaking and wildly successful design of the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable twins which pulled Ford out of its financial doldrums of the early 1980's and provided the motivation and profit which carried Ford for the next decade."

Caldwell's Wikipedia page explains who was boss at the time

"As Chairman of the Board and CEO Caldwell approved and oversaw the development and launch of the Ford Taurus (and its corporate sister the Mercury Sable) which were introduced to the media days before his retirement, thus allowing him to take public credit for the Taurus program, which became one of the biggest successes in automobile business history."

The public may have given the credit to the genuinely nice Peterson. However, it is clear that US CEOs really thought that the credit was due to downsizing by Caldwell as the decade from 85 on was characterized by ruthless downsizing not "inclusive, team-oriented management style." Of course sociologically inclined economists like Les Thurow, discovered the importance of teams and said they were the secret to the incredible success of Japan Inc at just about exactly the time that Japan Inc tanked and USA Darwinian Dystopia replaced it as the mature economy with a productivity miracle.

Now that the dirty deed is done, I think US business can stop being ruthless for a few decades (until Parkinson's law of bureacracies public and private makes another round of slashing necessary). My former student, Tilman Ehrbeck, the German born Mckinsey partner said that was why he wanted to work in the USA not Germany as he had arrived after downsizing at a time when it was possible to be both an honest consultant and a nice guy (he is very honest and very nice). I call that the Peterson principle of management.

I do really think that Caldwell is a rotten person, and I am glad to say that he is not even properly infamous. When I googled Caldwell AND Ford, I got the Caldwell Ford dealership. I even want to think that downsizing was welfare reducing in expected discounted happiness. But now that the suffering is over, we can ungratefully forget who gave the US its productivity miracle.
Try try again.

Matt Yglesias who is young and a sole blogger writes

I'm hoping someone's making a list of these new regulatory initiatives to make sure whoever secures the GOP nomination (though it looks increasingly like none of the candidates could possibly win) needs to take ownership of this sort of muck.

I think he is getting a bit overconfident. What about the dread Huckabee ? Charming, loved by the press, manages to present himself as a social conservative but egalitarian (with a tax proposal which would shift the burden down the income distribution beyond the wildest dreams of Reagan and Bush). Charming, loved by the press, never flip flopped.

How are we going to stop him ? Noting his main policy proposal is insane ? That's always true about Republicans and never works. Noting that he lobbied for the release of a rapist who went on to rape again and murder ? Hey IOKIYR. He talks to God on his cell phone and this cell phone detesting atheist thinks its witty. The man is dangerous.

Waaay back in 2006 people younger than about 50 couldn't believe that the Democrats were actually going to win one, since we had never seen such an event. Now I think that really young people such as yourself are underestimating the chance that the Democrats will find a way to lose this one. I said this about a post at Ezra's place only to be informed (by Ezra in person) that the post was by Stephen who is an actual father.
Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls it Tolls for Tollman

No man is an Island, no man is safe on an Island.

Turns out that Bush claims the authority to kidnap a friend of Baroness Thatcher

Legal experts confirmed this weekend that America viewed extradition as just one way of getting foreign suspects back to face trial. Rendition, or kidnapping, dates back to 19th-century bounty hunting and Washington believes it is still legitimate.

The US government’s view emerged during a hearing involving Stanley Tollman, a former director of Chelsea football club and a friend of Baroness Thatcher, and his wife Beatrice.

This is what happens when you abandon the rule of law and it couldn't have happened to a nicer baroness.

There's More about this man for all seasons

Glad to hear that Tollman and his wife are friends. Marital tension can add so much stress to an official kidnapping. The Times's copy editors got to understand that we yanks have trouble with the letter of the law but especially with those wiggly things that look like tadpoles that they put in the middle of sentences.

all Donne

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Art of the Headline

Rove's Version of 2002 War Vote Is Disputed

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 1, 2007; Page A06

Former White House aide Karl Rove said yesterday it was Congress, not President Bush, who wanted to rush a vote on the looming war in Iraq in the fall of 2002

Paragraph 8

News accounts and transcripts at the time show Bush arguing against delay. Asked on Sept. 13, 2002, about Democrats who did not want to vote until after the U.N. Security Council acted, Bush said, "If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people -- say, 'Vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.' "

While some Democrats urged delay, news accounts reported that some party leaders wanted a quick vote to move the issue off the front burner and leave several weeks before the election to focus on pocketbook issues that they felt would be more advantageous. Daschle said Sept. 17 on PBS that he expected a vote "sooner rather than later." Two days later, Bush sent a proposed resolution to Capitol Hill, saying: "We've got to move before the elections."

And the coup de Grace

Fleischer said. "It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress," he said. "I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong."

OK so at least Baker makes it clear that Rove is lying (and more dishonest than Ari Fleischer !). The headline is really at the "Shape of Earth: Opinions Differ" level (although not the level of the original Krugman line "Shape of Earth: Both Sides have a Point").

What is Rove doing ? He knows that being caught lying is not a problem for him. He has never been well known to the public and currently belongs to the past. No one is going to vote for the Democrats because they are shocked that Rove lied -- no one who could still be shocked is paying attention. Rove also knows that refuted claims have some influence on people as is proven here . Finally his motto is "don't attack their weaknesses attack their strengths."

The Democrats strongest point is that the Republicans got us in to Iraq. Rove's false claim wouldn't make a difference. Only he can argue that the Democrats (who were in the minority in the house) forced Bush to invade by authorizing him to do what he saw fit. However, by creating controversy over that incontrovertible point, Rove helps Republicans and he knows it.

update: The man himself provides the appropriate headline analogy

Krugman’s version of his appearance is disputed

I say I’m 6′4″, and thin as a rail. But this version is disputed by Republicans and even some Democrats, who say I’m 5′7″ and could stand to lose a few pounds.
I'm getting worried about Mike Huckabee the Arkansas governor who is gaining in polls for the Republican Presidential nomination. He is crazy and likable. Then I heard that at a Republican Governors association fund raiser he to a call on his cell phone from God. Looks like that would make it clear that he's nuts no ? He seemed pretty sure God was a Republican hmmm. Then I watched the film

Uh ohhhh. He said he had a phone call from God and he pulled it off. Had me laughing.
Now I could hope that people who take their God more seriously than I do will be offended, but, if my best shot is "sure I like Huckabee but I'm an atheist so that doesn't count," I'm really really scared now.
Mandates and the Kindness of Strangers

Recently a kind person who I did not recognize rang my doorbell and told me that a police officer seemed to be putting a ticket on my wife's car. This person, who also seems to be quite smart, recalled that the owner of the car lives in our apartment.

The police officer noted that the little square of paper indicating current car insurance had expired. I looked for the new one, then called my wife who was about half an hour away and learned that it was in her purse.

A hassle ? No. The officer said he could check "nel computer".

So I was thinking about health insurance mandates. Rather than hassling people when they file a 1040EZ, why not ask employers to report if their employees are insured alone with the W2. This is also a way to know what pay to garnishee if necessary. One would have to hassle the self employed and just give insurance to the unemployed.

Of course it means that my mandate is an employer mandate. What was so bad about that ? I mean awful compared to financing from general revenues as it is a grossly regressive tax, but at least the 1040EZ would still fit on one page.

I think the appeal of individual mandates to people less compulsively nerdy and honest than John Edwards is that you can claim you are making coverage universal, without actually making coverage universal, then blame the uninsured for their lack of insurance.
Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong are on the same wavelength

Paul Krugman 2007 explains why the US is falling behind in communications

I have a T-Mobile cell phone, which uses GSM technology; it works all over the world — and in parts of New Jersey. One of the parts of New Jersey where it doesn’t work happens to be my own home.

As a result, I’ve been acutely aware of the price America paid for not doing what Europe did, and settling on a single mobile standard.


Europe is also pulling ahead on broadband, again because of judicious regulation. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

Brad DeLong 2000 explains why the US surged ahead in communications

in a post prophetically entitled "The Coming End of American Triumphalism"
which really talked about the sources of US economic success including, you guessed it, standards for telephony

If there is a lesson from the success of America's telecommunications industries over the past generation, it is that government regulation by the Federal Communications Commission that required firms to build products that other firms' products could connect with was extraordinarily successful.

Looks like there was a lesson, but the US forgot it and Europe learned it.

To me the news I can use is that my gsm cell phone might work in parts of New Jersey. I don't plan to find them.