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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pssst Pass it On.

Totally devastating

Self Identified Republicans want Class War

US citizens strongly support the Democrats position on taxes. Self described Republicans agree with the Democrats message if they are not told that it is the Democrats message.

This amazing fact is on page 31 of this long *.pdf which Josh Kahn posted and discusses

The relevant excerpt from the *.pdf. A large part of the purpose of the poll was to see if people are just turned off by the word "Republican" or disagree with the Republican position on issues. The evidence is overwhelming that they disagree with the Republican position -- that residual support for Republicans is a matter of partisan loyalty and not support for their policy proposals.

I am interested in US public support for soaking the rich. This poll (like all polls I have seen) suggests that it is very very strong. The poll presents the message on the issue proposed by the parties and asks respondents to choose which is closer to their views.

Republicans/Some people say we must cut taxes on the middle class
and double the federal tax credit for dependents for every family in
America. We must permanently ban internet taxes and ban new cell
phone taxes. We must stop corporate welfare by removing the tax
loopholes that are costly and unfair. And, it is time to reduce the
pressure to raise taxes by once and for all ending the tens of billions
of dollars of our tax money that is squandered by Congress on useless
pork-barrel projects.

["Republicans" get 39% support
"Some people" get 34% support]

Democrats/Other people say with such financial pressure on
pressures on families, we need to focus completely on middle class tax
relief and making sure government works for them, not the special
interests. We should limit the influence of lobbyists and repeal the
special interest tax breaks for oil companies and repeal President
Bush's tax breaks for those earning over two hundred thousand
dollars so that we can really help the middle class. We should extend
tax credits for children, make college costs tax deductible and cut
taxes across the board for the middle class.

[Democrats get 54%
Other People get 56 %]

The amazing thing (reported on the next page) is that if the parties are not named, so the choice is between the messages of "some people" and "other people", then self identified Republicans prefer the Democratic message to the Republican message by 52% to 38%.

To my eyes, this seems mainly to indicate that self declared Republicans prefer "limit the influence of lobbyists and repeal the
special interest tax breaks for oil companies and repeal President
Bush's tax breaks for those earning over two hundred thousand
dollars " to "ending the tens of billions
of dollars of our tax money that is squandered by Congress on useless
pork-barrel projects."

It might not have been a good move for the Republicans to admit that (at most) only tens of billions are involved (clearly many fewer dollars for the middle class are there than in repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning over two hundred thousand dollars).

I'd say that this poll proves (again) that Americans (evidently including self identified Republicans) just can't wait to mount a counter-offensive in the class war.

It reminds me of the amazing polling event in 1992 when there was a focus group invited to push buttons marked agree disagree (or push neither) and self proclaimed Republicans pushed agree when Clinton said that under Reagan ande Bush Sr "only rich people have gotten tax cuts"

h/t Ezra Klein
They Just don't make Sex Scandals like the used to

TPMuckraker reports Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons is getting divorced

Dawn Gibbons argues that he is doing so because he has a relationship with one Kathy Karrasch.

The Reno Gazette-Journal offers more details about the relationship.

Karrasch lives a few blocks away from the Gibbonses' Reno home. ... Jim Gibbons was seen having dinner with Karrasch and three other people May 10 at the Atlantis Sky Terrace Oyster and Sushi Bar. He also attended the Galena High School play on May 1 to see Karrasch's daughter perform.

Although he attended the play alone, he spent the second half standing with Karrasch in the back of the room while she filmed her daughter, according to video footage provided to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Gibbons' spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said the governor attended the play at the invitation of an unnamed neighbor.


This is the governor featured on TPMuckraker arguing about why he grabbed a cocktail waitress in a parking lot (he said she slipped and was falling). I knew then that he was on the wrong path. Now -- gasp -- he is involved with filming a high school class play ?!?!?!
FactCheck Check

I haven't been keeping up with the Washington Post Fact Check, but this is too good to skip.

topay Michael Dobbs compared the McCain campaign to minitrue

But verb tenses matter, particularly in the case of Iraq, where it is very difficult to predict what is going to happen next week, let alone next month. By the Scheunemann standard of linguistic analysis, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Bush administration's claim of "Mission Accomplished" back in May 2003. As we now know, a few things happened after that date to make the claim somewhat premature.

Taking a decision to do something and actually implementing it are two very different matters. To claim the contrary reminds me of the motto from the Ministry of Information in George Orwell's 1984: "He who controls the past controls the future; and he who controls the present controls the past."

Ouch ! that's gotta hurt.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Rep. Jerry Moran gets a Brain

Scout Finch notes

President Bush is on the fundraising trail for unrepentent Republicans, with an appearance today in Bucyrus, Kansas - just south of Kansas City. He is raising cash for the Kansas GOP and State Rep. Nick Jordan, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore in KS-03. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Bush appearance is who isn't there. The KC Star notes who is absent and their list of * cough * previous commitments:


Rep. Jerry Moran, a Republican who represents western Kansas, will be at another event in the state, while Wichita-area Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt plans to spend time with his family, spokeswomen for the lawmakers said.

I deleted two senators but kept Todd Tiahrt because the "time with his family" is so excellent. Mainly, I just love this photo


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Samefacts Bug Wapo Disgrace

Comments over at the reality based community (Mark Kleiman mayor founder chairman and chief poobah) seem to be on the fritz again.

Kleiman notes the gross pro McCain bias of recent campaign coverage.

It's not that the press actually bought the silly Republican spin that Obama is "gaffe-prone;" but they let the RNC catch them up in the argument, distracting them from the Gramm story, which should have been devastating to McCain.

I wanted to add an extreme example.

First I discuss the front page of without clicking through to the article. The question is what impression will be left with people who don't click through. Also I am angry enough to be not at all eager to read the article (I wouldn't read it if I weren't posting about the headline)

The front page of addresses the question of whether a lobbyist is working for the Obama campaign. On the front page, there is no mention of the fact that many lobbyists are working for the McCain campaign. I think this is gross bias.

Obama's Lobbying Contradiction

High-profile staffer appears counter to campaign's rules, which forbid lobbyists from joining staff.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum | 6:55 p.m. ET

* The Trail Florida Voter's Lawsuit Dismissed
* McCain's Rebuke May Have Angered Evangelicals
* For McCain, a Switch on Telecom Immunity?

Treaty Bans Cluster Bombs

Now, a case can be made, that it is not news that lobbyists work for McCain (although as Kleiman notes,it is impossible to make the case that the news that Gramm was a registered lobbyists for UBS when he advised McCain on the banknig crisis is not news). Also that McCain never said he wouldn't rely on lobbyists to guide his campaign.

And finally, there is a dispute about whether a Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod is a lobbyist, because he isn't. He is an astroturfer (something different and not a registered lobbyist which means he has organized mass participation campaigns for clients other than Barack Obama including issue campaigns as well as electoral campaigns. I mean the [relatively serious (phrase added after I read the article)] case is that one of the leaders of Obama's campaign is a campaigner. Since it is possible to argue that Axelrod is sortof something like a lobbyist and it is impossible to doubt that the registered lobbyists who work for McCain are lobbyists, the McCain campaign can make newspapers spend as much ink on one non lobbyist as many lobbyists.

Now I'll click the link and read the story (my comment was on the placement on

Oh. My. God. The front page of article is about "The co-director of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Puerto Rico ... Francisco J. Pavía"

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. The article is about the Obama campaign in a free associated state which is not represented in the general election.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum goes on to write

Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have been trying to outdo each other in their repudiation of lobbyists and the "special interests" they represent.

This is absolutely utterly false. The McCain campaign is totally shameless and so they are trying to argue that McCain has repudiated lobbyists. Many of them are lobbyists temporarily on leave from lobbying (one was lobbying from the back of the straight talk express). McCain is quite obviously not trying to outdo anyone in the repudiation of lobbyists (he might be trying to outdo all previous major party candidates in his reliance on lobbyists). He is, claiming to be independent of special interests because he is lying.

Now I guess "repudiate" is an ambiguous word as a repudiation is a statement (it would have been even more clearly false to write "have been trying to outdo each other in their exclusion of lobbyists from their campaigns" but a repudiation is directed at the repudiated not wink wink nudge nudge at the rubes who don't know the facts because journalists like Birnbaum have chosen to hide them.

Birnbaum quotes "Obama has criticized McCain for enlisting 'some of the biggest lobbyists in Washington' to run his presidential campaign." in pure he says she says format. He does not note in his own voice that Obama's claim is accurate, thus it is presented as an accusation which might or might not be true. Worse he notes McCain's firing of 5 lobbyists which might lead the ignorant reader to assume that the accusation is no longer valid. An interest in simple accuracy would have required Birnbaum to note that the five didn't include the campaign manager and the chief strategist so Obama's criticism remains valid.

There is another case

Moses Mercado, a lobbyist for Ogilvy Government Relations in Washington, said in an interview that he was told by the Obama campaign that he must take an unpaid leave from his firm before working as a get-out-the-vote volunteer earlier this year.

"It was pretty clear," Mercado said. "It was so clear that I made sure I wrote a letter to our office manager saying that on these days I'm taking a leave of absence."

I am dumbstruck again. This time by the utter awesomeness of the Obama movement. Working as a get out the vote volunteer is a very very humble task and not a path to massive influence. Mercado is a lobbyist and thus a member of a profession not noted for public spirit or contempt for money. He was willing to give up money to work getting out the vote. This is huge.

After all, I'm glad I read the article. It is clearly an article criticizing Obama required for ballance. The fact that I find a smear piece inspiring because it shows that the Obama movement is an even more extraordinary and powerful explosion of public spirit and solidarity than I imagined is the strongest conceivable proof that something amazing is happening in the USA.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Obama Overwhelms Microsoft

How Sweet it is. Politico reports

A milestone of sorts was reached earlier this year, when Obama, the Illinois senator whose revolutionary online fundraising has overwhelmed Clinton, filed an electronic fundraising report so large it could not be processed by popular basic spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel 2003 and Lotus 1-2-3.

Of course it just means more money for Microsoft and less for integrity as goo-goo groups have to buy new software.

I have Microsoft excel 2002 (it came pre-installed) so I can't read Obama's latest fundraising report unless someone else saves it in some decent format like STATA *.dta (please don't bother and especially please please don't e-mail me the *.dta file).

via Taegan Goddard.

And yes, I know, Politico will do anything for a link, but accuracy is accuracy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mitch Mcconnell is in trouble

Rasmussen reports that the Senate Minority leader is behind in a poll for re-election

Election 2008: Kentucky Senate
Kentucky Senate: Lunsford (D) 49% McConnell (R) 44%
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
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The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of the Kentucky Senate race shows Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford with a five percentage point lead over long-time Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. The poll, conducted just two days after Lunsford won the Democratic nomination, shows the challenger with 49% of the vote while McConnell earns 44%.

I told you he was in trouble.

In Kentucky, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has "double digit leads over
both both Democratic primary frontrunner Bruce Lunsford and his nearest primary opponent in that race, Louisville businessman Greg Fischer...

Against Lunsford, McConnell garners 48 percent support among the 600 "likely voters" polled to 36 percent for the Democrat. In that contest, 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Against Fischer, the results are similar. McConnell grabs 47 percent to Fischer's 35 percent, with 18 percent undecided."

McConnell has less than 50% support even though the Democrats don't even have a candidate yet. This poll does not suggest that McConnell is the solid favorite.

Now it looks like the Democrats will nominate Obama and that Obama is unpopular in Kentucky. This might help McConnell. Still, I'm surprised I haven't heard more about the race (except from the always optimistic Kos).

The latest poll amounts to an unusually large nomination bounce for Lumsford, but it isn't all that extraordinary. I think the large number of possible Democratic pick-ups distracted attention from Kentucky.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Bush administration and North Korea

Glenn Kessler has a very interesting article in The Washington Post which is full of praise for Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, who, according to Kessler has achieved amazing things.

In the twilight of the Bush presidency, the nuclear agreement that Hill has tirelessly pursued over the past three years has emerged as Bush's best hope for a lasting foreign policy success.

To be specific

Under the agreements Hill has reached, Pyongyang has shut down its nuclear reactor, disabled key facilities and provided thousands of pages of records meant to verify the size of its stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium. Hill is traveling to Asia this week to prod North Korea to fully declare its nuclear programs. But the United States has backed off an earlier demand for detailed information about North Korean uranium enrichment or assistance to a clandestine Syrian reactor -- and is poised to remove key sanctions against North Korea.

Ah so the Bush administration has decided that North Korean efforts to enrich Uranium are unimportant and has managed to get Pyonyang to shut down Yongbon.

This means that the current Bush administration position is uhm the agreed framewrok negotiated by the Clinton administration which they abrogated because of ... alleged uranium enrichment related program activities.

Unfortunately to get back to where we were when Bush took office, the Bush administration will have to convince the North Koreans to surrender the plutonium which they extracted between the time the Bush administration decided that the agreement on plutonium was irrelevant because of the uranium enrichment efforts and the time that the Bush administration decided that the uranium enrichment efforts don't matter at all.

As Kessler notes, this is an outstandingly excellent result by the standards of the Bush administration.

Kessler buries some of the strongest evidence of Bushian incompetence and the most amazing accomplishment of Hill (bolded below)

In perhaps his biggest coup, Hill convinced Rice and Bush that the top priority is to get ahold of North Korea's stash of plutonium, and that other issues are secondary. In Bush's first term, the administration had accused North Korea of having an uranium-enrichment program, which led to the breakdown of a 1994 agreement that kept Pyongyang from separating plutonium to make nuclear warheads.

The uranium-enrichment issue has faded in importance because the original intelligence was overstated. In changing gears, the president has acknowledged that his previous approach was a mistake.

Leddy said that last fall, when China first proposed separating the plutonium issue from other concerns in North Korea's nuclear declaration, she saw a White House document describing the idea with the notation "President says No." But that is precisely the deal Hill struck last month.
Baseball Analogies

Democratic officials aligned with Clinton continued to say that the race is not over and that she has every right to remain in, despite the long odds.

"Most of the time when you're five runs behind going into the bottom of the ninth, you don't prevail, but I've never seen the Dodgers walk off the field," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said. He said he still hopes she will "load the bases, hit a grand slam and then load the bases," but that to do so would require taking the fight well past June.

Uh Congressman Sherman, I think you have seen the Dodgers walk off when trailing half way through the ninth inning in games when they batted first.

Oh and my interpretation of your analogy is more accurate than the other possibility, as Clinton's chances are more similar to those of a team which is trailing with no more chances to bat, than to the chance of hitting two grand slams in an inning.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Did Daniel Davies come up with the underpants gnomes' business plan ?


I was just wondering. It sounded logical enough for him, and, since everything he really needs to know he learned at a very expensive business school, he might write "business plan" without provocation.
Not a Taxi Driver But then I'm not a Serious Journalist Like Thomas Friedman

I just had a very interesting conversation with the desk guy at a hotel in Paris. He is from Mauritius and talking about relative weather quality in Mauritius and my home town (DC) was a bit humiliating. I was pleased that I remembered that Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean (he made clear that it is very far from the equator). The conversation
quickly shifted to talking about the US elections. Now I am used to Italians being obsessed with the USA, but I thought that people in Paris were too proud to care. So I said Obama has the nomination wrapped up, that I don't know if he or Clinton has (or repectively had) a better chance against McCain. I admitted that people in the USA are not necessarily all totally ready for a non-white President. The hotel guy mentioned that Obama is brilliant. I said yes, mentioned he went to Harvard law and explained what the law review is and that he was editor.

The guy said "yes. He was the first non White editor of that review".

I said ... huhhhhhh ... oh you know about that.

Someone is Paris just happened to know that Obama is the first non-white editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In which I argue about fairly recent history with Coline McEnroe

Coling McEnroe wrote

Reagan did everything BUT talk to Khomeini, and the result was a series of disasters. His first notion was -- tell me if this sounds familiar -- dumping arms into the hands of somebody who didn't like Khomeini. In this case, the somebody was Saddam Hussein.

I argue in a comment which might or might not be lost in cyberspace

I think your version of history is innacurate. Discussing Reagan you write "His first notion was -- tell me if this sounds familiar -- dumping arms into the hands of somebody who didn't like Khomeini. In this case, the somebody was Saddam Hussein. "

I do not believe that the US ever dumped arms into the hands of Saddam Hussein under Reagan or anyone else. According the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which, I think can no more be suspected of having any sympathy for Reagan than I can (that is not at all) less than 1% of weapons in Iraq (by value) in 1991 were constructed in the USA. The weapons in question were 8 Terril Bell Huey helicopters which were sold un-armed to Iraq which claimed they were for civilian search and rescue and then armed them.

I think that by "dumping arms" you are referring to three policies which are not dumping arms. As a result of the "tilt" towards Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration shared intelligence with Iraq. The Reagan administration also gave diplomatic support to Iraq, among other thinhgs, refraining from denouncing Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Finally, the Atlanta branch of the Banca Nazionale di Lavoro loaned money to Iraq ostensibly for food imports which money was, in fact, used to purchase arms.

If you have any reason to challenge my claim about US weapons in Iraq, I would be interested to learn about it. If you just assumed that, since Rumsfeld shook Saddam Huszein's hand, the USA must have dumped arms into Iraq, I would like to ask you to check your facts and write a correction if you find that your claim of fact is baseless.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Birthday present

According to Kos, Obama just reached his birth year.
MSNBC finds that Oregon Democratic Primary voters are not very Christian. 11 % are something else (of which only 1% Jewish9 28% have no religion. I was interested that 15% know they are Christian but don't identify as either Catholic or Protestant. It is also striking that Clinton almost exactly tied among Catholics and Protestants but lost "other Christian"

Category % Total Clinton Obama
Protestant 28 49 49
Catholic 16 48 49
Mormon / LDS 2 - -
Other Christian 15 36 61
Jewish 1 - -
Muslim 0 - -
Something else 10 28 70
None 28 39 60

Odd. Even odder is the fact that this pattern does not show up with church attendence (lots of the "other Christians" and maybe some "something elsers" seem to attend whatever church they attend pretty often).

How often do you attend religious services?
Category % Total Clinton Obama
Weekly 22 42 55
Occasionally 41 41 56
Never 33 42 57

Now let's see what horrors blogger creates with the tables.
The Other and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

A federal appeals court declared that US currency discriminates against the blind. US paper money is unique in my experience, because bills of different value are the same size. Other currencies have size increasing in value.

The US eccentricity has one saving grace. It was used by Jorge Luis Borges in his story "The Other" to remind readers that he was essentially blind at the time he wrote it.

In the story, Borges meets his younger self. The point is that he has changed so much that his younger self is like a different person. He explains the strange event convincing young Borges that he has been transported into the future (and to Cambridge Massachusetts where older Borges was to give a Norton lecture) by showing him one of the US bills which are stupidly all the same size.

Borges wonders why his younger self had no recollection of the meeting making it a surprise (a mild one from the tone -- it was hard to surprise Borges) to his aged self. He concludes that his younger self was dreaming and forgot the dream as is natural.

Then he trembles realizing that he now knows the exact date on the bill.

With the new reformed US currency, Borges would have to use some other hint to make sure that his readers know about his eyesight.
Friendly Bob Corker's Cloture Emporium
remains open for business.

The office of Senator Bob Corker has today echoed the statements of Barack Obama regarding the Tennessee GOP’s attack on Michelle Obama.

Senator Corker’s Chief of Todd Womack responded with the following statement:

“After what the Republican National Committee did to our campaign with their infamous ‘Call Me’ ad - which we immediately denounced - we have strongly encouraged the national party and state parties to absolutely refrain from getting involved in negative personal campaigning, and we have asked the state party to remove their You Tube ad from their Web site. Republicans will be in much better shape if we spend our time focused on issues like reducing federal spending, lowering the cost of health care and creating a coherent energy policy.”

I'd say it's pretty slimy for Corker to continue to complain about the evil ad which made him a senator, but politics is politics. Seems to have added energy policy into the deal.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ezra Klein argues that "The presidential candidates need to be freed from the gaffe-hunting, sound-bite-obsessed media."

He hopes the media wont be mediating for long.

I have one complaint about his op-ed. He is ballanced feeling the need to complain about one gotcha of a Republican and inaccurately describing the case.

I don't think that most people will do without the media. Most people don't even follow politics via the media. I wonder how campaign journalism could be improved.

The problems are clear. They don't report enough on the policy debate to inform voters. They report predictions of who will win rather than helping us decide who should be elected. They emphasize the trivial.

I think Ezra Klein captures the essence of the problem here "ake the debates, which began as substantive clashes, until the moderators grew bored by the same old policy disputes"

I think one systematic problem is that the boys on the bus are forced to ride the bus, to report on campaign events from the site of the campaign event. Since they hear the same speech again and again, they are bored by it and stop reporting its content before most voters know the outlines of candidates proposed program. On the bush they talk to each other too much creating group think. They fall in love with a candidate who makes the experience less excruciatingly boring. Why are they on the bus ? Why do they listen to the same stump speech hundreds of times. Is there any worse way to get them to report it as news so long as it is news to most voters (that is up until just before the election).

I propose four reforms.

1) The assignment desk assigns a policy topic for each article/broadcast. For tomorrow we will look at health care, then Iraq, then the deficit, then terrorism, then Guantanamo, then the rule of law vs Presidential power, then Afghanistan, then Israel (boooooring day) then agriculture, then global warming, then gas prices, then inflation, then the housing market, then what to do to head off (or end) the recession. Topics taken from polls of what regular people say is important to them (so easy a chimpanzee could probably do it).

2) Reporters better not get caught talking to campaign flaks or other reporters. They should talk to ordinary people.

3) Reporters are randomly quizzed on candidates policy proposals and facts which can be brought up to challenge to assumptions made in those proposals. They don't have to report for wonks, but they know or find another beat (I hear lapel pins are in fashion).

4) Fire Tim Russert and replace him with Ezra Klein.
"What could we do if we broke the power of money in politics?" Asks Mark Kleiman

Assume for the second that November goes well, with a big win for Obama and increased majorities in both Houses. Assume in addition that the Obama money machine can keep cranking even after he becomes President, and can substantially replace the usual big-money interests as a source of campaign funding for Congressional Democrats.

One implication of that ought to be that some popular (and in some cases populist) programs that Democrats have been shying away from since 1974 because they can't afford to lose the donors suddenly become possible.

So what's the list? What is it that the Democrats ought to do that they haven't been doing?

Here's my preliminary agenda. I'd be interested in suggested additions and subtractions. We're looking for stuff that (1) is good policy; (2) appeals to Democratic constituencies and (3) has been hard to do as result of donor power (as opposed to voter power).

Kevin Drum isn't convinced that the power of concentrated interests via campaign finance is going to be markedly reduced. Also Mark Kleiman's first item is
"1. Health care finance reform." making it hard to get to the second.

Oddly my main complaint with the list is that the proposals seem fairly small bore to me. Their characteristic seems to be that a sensible and popular reform is blocked by a very narrow special interest. The second item on my personal list would be very broad

rw1) Make the tax code more progressive.

Polls suggest overwhelming support for this reform (click and search for "thinking about taxes"). Kleiman might believe that it is blocked by concerns about incentive effects of high marginal tax rates, but I don't believe that (nor do I doubt that the reform would cause a huge increase in economic welfare).

I think it is blocked by the power of money. For one thing, large donations come from rich individuals as well as corporations. More importantly, the agents for concentrated interests have huge incomes. Lobbyists and top executives of corporations are rich. I'm sure lobbyists are greedy too (they didn't become lobbyists for the fun of it). They certainly act in their self interest as well as the interests of their principals.

Also what about subsidies to agribusiness. There seems to me to be no reason why farm subsidies are to be paid to people with income from farming up to $ 1.95 million except that they kick back some of the money to their (many) senators and (few) representatives. (*might* be reduced from 2.65 million) "Subsidies to rich farmers" have become McCains favorite proposed budget cut, since he found out that aid to Israel was an earmark.

Finally very narrow bore. Legally requiring expensing of options (gets extra stick it to Joe Lieberman points).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

US Senate Campaign Outlook

Can the Democrats get to 60.

Mainly I'm looking at the polls at which show two very likely Dem pick ups (Virginia and New Hampshire), 3 pretty likely pickups (Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico), two races which, by region, should be close but have the Republican ahead (Maine and Minnesota), two races which should be landslides but have the Republican incumbent in trouble (Texas and North Carolina) and only lonely incumbent Democrat with a possible (barely possible) loss in Louisiana. That gives Dem pickup of 1 to (very unlikely) 9 with 6 the posterior mode*.

However, there are two other races which aren't on the board at all, Oregon and Kentucky. They are both states in which the Democrats haven't had their primary yet, so Republican incumbents don't have a single oponent.

In Oregon a Republican cousin of the Udall cousins -- Gordon Smith -- will face Jeff Merkley or Steve Novick. In the only recent poll which I found Smith appears to be very vulnerable. Rasmussen reports

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Oregon voters finds Smith leading Jeff Merkley by just three percentage points, 45% to 42%. In late March, he enjoyed a thirteen point lead. In February, he was ahead of Merkley by eighteen points.

When matched against Steve Novick, Smith leads by six percentage points, 47% to 41%. In the March poll, Novick trailed by eleven. In February, the gap was thirteen points.

I have no idea why the Oregon senate race is rarely discussed. Smith is clearly vulnerable. He is well under 50% with small leads over two hopefuls. It is well known (and also true) that when a hopeful ties up the nomination his or her support increases.

In Kentucky, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has "double digit leads over
both both Democratic primary frontrunner Bruce Lunsford and his nearest primary opponent in that race, Louisville businessman Greg Fischer...

Against Lunsford, McConnell garners 48 percent support among the 600 "likely voters" polled to 36 percent for the Democrat. In that contest, 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Against Fischer, the results are similar. McConnell grabs 47 percent to Fischer's 35 percent, with 18 percent undecided."

McConnell has less than 50% support even though the Democrats don't even have a candidate yet. This poll does not suggest that McConnell is the solid favorite.

Now it looks like the Democrats will nominate Obama and that Obama is unpopular in Kentucky. This might help McConnell. Still, I'm surprised I haven't heard more about the race (except from the always optimistic Kos).

So I add two lean Republican seats bringing Democratic gains from 1 to 11 with a gain of at least 5 reasonably likely and 7 the posterior mode.

I am not cautious about giving probabilities (can't be refuted with one observation) so I will guess that the probability that the Democrats get to 60 (counting Lieberman) is around 1% (really I mean it).

My calculation to get to a pickup of 9 seats. Start with 2 (Virginia and NH which seem quite likely). Say chance somewhat less than 75% in Alaska, N.M. and Colorado and 25% in Minn, Maine, N.C, Texas, Oregon and Kentucky. This is generous to the Dems. Assume each race is independent. This markedly reduces the probability that the Democrats get to 60.

Hmm first chance to sweep AK,NM and CO is 27/64. chance to win at least 4 of the others is about 3.7%. Chance of winning 2 of 3 and 5 or 6 of 6 is 27/64 times .47 % chance of one of three then all 6 is 9/64 times two to the minus 12 (rougly zero). So I calculate around 1.8 % but I was being really optimistic about some of those states so I'll just round it down to about 1%.

*that's deliberately obscure as I don't want to make a comprehensible prediction.
MSM healing itself ?

ThinkProgress has really nailed Jonathan FBD Weisman.

In an online chat he provided a synecdote (really can't spell that one) for much of what is wrong with the US press

Jonathan Weisman: Oy, what’s with all the McCain questions? Anyone wondering about those Miley Cyrus photos anymore?

Basically, Weisman has a problem because the facts have an anti McCain bias and online chatters are trying to force him to admit it. The USA has a problem because he is a political correspondent for a leading newspaper.

Now I will defend and praise The Washington Post and, in particular, These online chats are absolutely wonderful. They are a major important innovation in journalism.

The fact that MSM critics often link to Washington Post online chats shows, I think, that whatever genius thought of them and whatever hero convinced the Post to implement them both deserve medals.

The fact that online chats subvert the norms and conventions which have damaged our democracy makes them a great contribution to our country.

They are strong medicine and they might cure the patient (the Post) and pull it out of its alleged death spiral.
Ludicrous Anonymity

Dan Froomkin writes

President Bush yesterday took the highly provocative rhetorical step of likening those who support negotiating with our enemies to Nazi appeasers. For most people following the presidential campaign, it was an obvious attack on Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, who has been particularly critical of Bush's refusal to talk with leaders who disagree with him.

On the record, White House officials issued disingenuous denials that Bush was talking about Obama. But on background, they admitted as much.

CNN's Ed Henry reported that "White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party."

Sasha Issenberg writes for the Boston Globe: "White House officials indicated that the criticism applied to Obama."

Brian Williams reported on the NBC Nightly News that "it was clear to those listening that it was in part to make a point about Barack Obama back home." NBC correspondent John Yang then added: "Privately, White House officials said the shoe fits the Democratic frontrunner."

When asked at yesterday's gaggle if Bush's remark was "in any way directed at Senator Obama," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino replied: "It is not." And not only that: She tried to blame Obama for such an interpretation. "I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you," she said. "That is not always true and it is not true in this case."

He doesn't mention the obvious fact that Yang, Williams, Issenberg, and Henry violated good journalistic practice by granting anonymity to the officials who were obviously dishing the official off the record line.

Granting anonymity in this case served no legitimate journalistic purpose. The journalists are complicit in the unusually clumsy charade.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Corker Dionne and Playboy

The excellent E.J. Dionne has a nice column about Republican panic. He notes, among other things, that the iron party discipline appears to be breaking. Mainly, he interviews Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn). Corker hints at something very important

And Corker said voters did not believe the Republicans were "solving the major problems," notably guaranteeing Americans health coverage. "We just haven't been responsible," Corker said. "We deserve to be where we are. I hope we right ourselves."

Oh my. That is a Republican senator who just said that he wants to guarantee Americans health coverage. Corker is saying that if the Democrats are looking for a few Republican votes for Cloture on health care reform in 2009, he is ready to deal.

However, I am going to focus on something very unimportant. Corker was the only Republican to win a close race for the Senate in 2006, so he is a natural person to ask what the other Republicans are doing wrong. However, Corker's version of the 2006 Tennessee senate race is totally false.

Yet the national party almost blew the race near the end, Corker said, by running an ad that many saw as racist. The commercial, aired without Corker's knowledge, included a young, blonde, white actress declaring that she had met Ford "at the Playboy party." It ended with her whispering the words: "Harold, call me."

Corker was furious, and not just because his six-point lead melted into a four-point deficit. The party eventually pulled the radioactive ad, and Corker won narrowly.

At the time, lefty bloggers argued that the ad would help Corker, then argued that it had helped Corker. I wasn't following it, but it seems that ABC news agreed with Corker's recent claim that the ad backfired

You can guess the rest.

Hard data, that is polls, show that lefty bloggers were right, that ABC news was clueless and that the excellent E.J. Dionne allowed Corker to lie mislead about recent history by cherry picking two polls, which, in contrast to the overall average of polls, suggest that his support fell when the ad aired.

The ad came out in late October 2006. In September and early October, the polls were almost exactly tied. At the time of the ad controversy, Corker pulled ahead. Then he won. I recall that, at the time, people argued that the shift occurred because Ford confronted Corker at a Corker campaign event and not because of the ad. No one denied the shift and the coincidence in timing. Two years later an agreed fact has made it down the memory hole.

Here is the report with a graph of polls from

E.J. Dionne should know better than to leave a Republican's fact claim unchecked.

update: tipo corrictid
Quick Work

Tonight the left blogosphere seems to be unusually careless. Must be the hangover from the huge Miss-01 victory celebration or something.

In the post below, I report on Charlie Black being a fool. I researched the topic because Josh Marshall incorrectly claimed that Black is still lobbying from the McCain campaign bus.

In the post below that, I laugh at Matthew Yglesias for typing Khatami when he meant to type Khameini (OK Yglesias's typing has never been reliable).

Now Satyam at think progress writes

To recap, during the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s, hostages were not released because of Iran’s fear of Reagan, as McCain suggested. In reality, Iran released them after Reagan administration officials infamously sold arms to the country, which were transfered to Ayatollah Khomeini. As a result, 11 Reagan officials were convicted of crimes.

Furthermore, Reagan did not have to “negotiate” with Iran during the hostage crisis of the 1970s because he wasn’t involved in it. The extensive negotiations with Iran were done before his presidency. In fact, Reagan’s inauguration occurred only minutes before the hostages were released.

Come on guys, be careful. You are (were?) my only source of credibly reliable information.

The claim, evidently, is that within minutes of the inauguration, Reagan administration officials sold arms to Iran. Of course, the Iran-Contra arms sales occured years after the hostages were released.

It has been rumored that Reagan campaign staff promised arms to Iran provided that Iran delayed the release until after the election (the October Surprise hypothesis). This hypothesis is generally, almost universally, believed to be false. Even under the hypothesis that the October suprise conspiracy were to have occured, it certainly did not lead to convictions or trials or, even, a formal investigation.
Black in the Back

Sad to say, Charlie Black is no longer lobbying from the back of the Straight Talk Express.

"Last week, BKSH & Associates chairman Charlie Black announced that he was quitting his lobbying firm to join Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign full-time, effective March 31. "

Pity. I was about to propose that The Daily Show supplement the "back in Black" feature with a "Black in the back" feature on straight talking lobbying.

Black does seem to be a very promising source of campaign hiliarity. In the same think progress post, Black is quoted as saying (to Lou Dobbs) "If you look at the senior staff, the top 12, 15, 20 people of the McCain campaign, there’s no one other than me who was a lobbyist — a currently active lobbyist. " He was trying to say something technically true but misleading, based on the distinction between "is" and "was". He slipped and used the word "was", making a false claim, which he had to correct, giving away his game. Or maybe not a false claim. I guess it depends on what the definition of "was" was.
Diplomatic Ice Breaker

Barack Obama has declared his willingness to sit down and talk face to face with Iranian supreme poobah Ali Husseini Khamenei. How to break the ice ? How about discussing the hassle of having a very inconvenient middle name, and the great advantage of the final i which, for all I know, makes a huge difference for people who want to run countries that hate the late Saddam Hussein.

Ok I cheated on my English spelling of Khameini's middle name which is transliterated as Hosaynî by wikipedia, but you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
House GOP attempts suicide. Distressed over the result in Miss-01 (evidently displeased that the Republican only lost by 8%) Republicans (temporarily) blocked funding of their war (and the war in Afghanistan) in order to protest the fact that democrats want to slightly raise taxes on people with incomes over $500,000 per year in order to fund an expanded GI bill.

Hand the mike (and the gavel for a few decades) over to Nancy Pelosi

"With today's vote, the Republicans have shown that they are confused and are in disarray," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "House Republicans refused to pay for a war they support, and by voting against the GI bill, they refused to support our veterans when they come home."

Now John Boehner who is doing the handing

"We're playing political games on the backs of our troops — you know it,"

And she gets paid like $150,000 a year to debate the Republicans. It's like getting paid to wrestle a lilly.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mark Thoma asks. I answer.

Mark Thoma notes

Most people know about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Under this program, payments to qualifying individuals are made once a year. There is also something called the Advance Earned Income Tax Credit (AEITC) that allows qualifying individuals to receive the credit with each paycheck. But even though this program exists, most of the payments are made under the EITC and come around the time tax returns are filed.

Quotes Andrew Goodman-Bacon and Leslie McGranahan who argue that this is a good result.

and asks

In some cases, there are market failure arguments that provide the foundation to force people to participate in particular programs (e.g. adverse selection in health care or insurance for drivers), and there are arguments that can be made here, but the particular argument ought to be made explicit. Why is it better to force people to save (we do this with Social Security)? Unless there's some good reason for the government to step in and make choices for people, I'd rather not have the government get in the habit of thinking it knows better than I do what is good for me:

I reply

There is a justfication for forced savings which is not at all based on market failure. It is based on dynamically inconsistent preferences. If people discount future rewards with any function other than the exponential, they may wish to deprive their near future selves of freedom of action in order to protect their more distant future selves. In particular, if a two period discount factor is greater than the square of a one period discount factor, people will want to force their one period future selves to save.

Given standard assumptions including individual rationality and dynamically consistent preferences, a public intervention is desirable only to deal with a market failure or to redistribute from the rich to the poor. The assumptions are standard not because they are plausible but because they make model building much easier. It is possible to gain some insight on whether people have dynamically inconsistent preferences by asking them their discount factors. It is not clear that people really have the answer to that question in their minds, but they do answer the question and generally on average claim to have dynamically inconsistent preferences.

Another way to test would be, say, to give people a choice between the EITC and the AEITC. If people have dynamically inconsistent preferences, they may rationally chose the EITC over the AEITC. Thus the fact that they do so is evidence (not proof given the red tape but evidence) that people are right when they claim to have dynamically inconsistent preferences.

Now, forcing people to save might be paternalistic, but giving people the option to force their future selves to save can't be. A program where people can choose between the EITC and the AEITC gives them more freedom and is less paternalistic than one in which they are forced to accept the AEITC.

More generally, the basic principle that we should have laissez faire (or laissez faire with redistribution) unless we can point to a market failure is based on theory which, in turn, is based on making assumptions that lead to nice simple results like ... we should have laissez faire (or laissez faire with redistribution) unless we can point to a market failure.
Ballanced adj.

false or grossly biased statements made by journalists to avoid the accusation of liberal bias. After Rep.(rehensible) Frank Ballance who was added to a corruption scorecard even though this was forbidden by the stated rules because the Republicans were like totally running up the score.

"Cillizza claimed that the "scorecard" was limited "to members of Congress and governors currently in office to keep the list manageable," but then said he was making a "small exception to the rule" for former Rep. Frank Ballance (D-NC)."

Cillizza claims that an editor did it after he filed the story.

Also applied to Football where the ballanced score subtracts 21 points from the Patriot's score because they still own video cameras.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Democrats are so Predictable

The anonymous Blogger Poblano predicted that Clinton would win West Virginia by 39 %. In fact she won by 41%.
Ruth Marcus catches McCain lying (again)

McCain's bill of particulars against activist judges was particularly unimpressive. He assailed one justice for stating "that he was basing a conclusion on 'my own experience.' " This was John Paul Stevens this year questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty -- and then, respecting the importance of precedent, voting with the majority to uphold lethal injection.

McCain quoted Stevens' confession that he has opinions as proof that Stevens is an activist. Judges are people. Stevens, however, ruled according to precedent and not his opinion proving that he is not an activist judge. McCain's claim is contradicted by Stevens' vote. It is not an exaggeration or a harsh judgment. It is a lie.

To remove the final conclusion following a line of reasoning is not just distorting the meaning of a statement by removing context. It is lying by removing context.
There are now 199 Republican representatives in Congress.

The result of the stunning victory of Travis Childers (D-Miss now) in Mississippi's 1st congressional district (which Bush won by 25% in 2004)

When was the last time a major party had so few representatives ? If I recall correctly, January 1995.

Oh my. I knew that Miss-1 was a strongly Republican district, but it turns out that it contains half of the white flight suburbs of Memphis Tennessee. So far this month the Republicans have been busted flat in Baton Rouge and stuck in side of Mobile with the Memphis blues.

The two districts that just shifted (Miss-1 and La-06) are deep South suburbs of two cities with African American majorities (OK Baton Rouge was only 50.02 % African American as of the 2000 census but a majority is a majority).

The strategy of linking Democrats to Obama didn't work there. This is huge.

update: So what can the Republicans do ? Were they to quick to rule out singing "The good ship lollipop" in the fetal position ?
Excellent Column by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post

Gerson writes to support the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Seven conservative Republican senators have put a hold on the bill unless a requirement that 55% of the funds are spent on AIDS treatment is added.

Gerson notes that part of the reason is general hostility to foreign aid.

The seven, led by Coburn, complain that the reauthorization is too costly. They object to "mission creep" -- the funding of "food, water, treatment of other infectious diseases, gender empowerment programs, poverty alleviation programs"-- as though people surviving on AIDS treatment do not need to eat, work or get their TB treated

He is very careful about discussing another motivation -- sexaphobic hostility to non abstinence only prevention programs, but he does make it clear that the seven are acting, in part, on the theory that the 55% restriction "on the theory that this will starve "feckless or morally dubious" prevention programs." Ah yes morally dubious condoms (we really do have to work on the morals of those condoms). Gerson himself is very clear on the relative moral merits of facilitating sex and of letting people die "Given that there are about 2.5 new HIV infections for every person starting on AIDS drugs, there is no way to control the pandemic through treatment alone."

Unsurprisingly, Gerson writes well (we knew that when Bush was speaking his words). He again gives the impression that he actually cares about people (more or less unique in the Bush administration).

More like this please.
Fafblog is Ba-aa-aack (again)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Zut Alors Turns out that Panchovillan is Luxembourgeois

via gmail

"Holà Mr. Waldmann,

...adored your article about Berlusconi...

I personnally don't agree with the way "Berli" is turning at the end politics into some kind of "boobs-and-legs-staring-show-business"...though I have to admit: it's true that beautiful legs can be "balsam for the eyes"...


Yes ideed, he got elected...
And still, Italy's a country that (in Europe) cannot be neglected...

I think that italians weren't per se dumb at all...
Main culprit, is the television that keeps their brains small...

The "old-new cabinet" (strange how it sounds like "Gabinet-to", no?) is now again back...
In order to "re-put" the economy (what economy? the shadow one?) on track...

With attractive women like Mrs? Carfagna...
Guess she'll probably govern her "subjects" like a young teacher/star at a "lavagna"...

"Why, oh why..."is what wise ole fella Delong uses to say...
"Cry, oh cry..."is an answer Pancho'd (link=working on it...) give him watching "Italy" today...

P.S.: A special "Thank You" for having been the very first person to have put a link on my blog...

Yours sincerely or "Cordialmente"

Pancho "El Villan" aka David de toffol


Monday, May 12, 2008

Why You Shouldn't Donate Your Money to Harvard

Matthew Yglesias links to an excellent post by Brad DeLong.

Now I understand that this is not news you can use as you no more thought of donating to Harvard than of donating to Bill Gates (who's wealth is much much lower). However, I had to pay my dues to the Harvard Alumni Bloggers' Club.
"IT HAS THE name Webster's on the cover, and the impressive binding
of a traditional dictionary, but there aren't any definitions inside -
only pages and pages of illustrations, detailed black-and-white
engravings of birds, plants, architectural elements, parts of the body,
geometric figures, heraldic devices."
Brad Delong quotes Bruce Bartlett with a strategic simulation of approval

Bartlett Prays for Fiscal Sanity from the GOP
He prays in vain: >The GOP's bait-and-switch tax strategy - Los Angeles Times: The rhetoric defies reality, when what the nation really needs is a permanent plan. It is an article of faith among Republicans that tax cuts are the cure for every problem the economy faces, and that tax increases are the equivalent of economic poison. Any hint by Democrats that the current administration's tax cuts should be revisited in light of changing economic or fiscal conditions is met with charges that they are proposing the largest tax increase in history. >The truth is that President Bush's tax cuts didn't do much good for the economy; they were mostly giveaways to GOP political constituencies and were little different conceptually from pork-barrel spending. Although there were some good elements to the tax cuts, such as the reduction in marginal tax rates, they were fatally undermined by their temporary nature. >The fact is that the massive tax increase Republicans claim the Democrats are proposing is entirely the result of the GOP's penny-wise and pound-foolish policies. Rather than expend the effort to make their tax cuts permanent in the first place, they attached expiration dates to every major provision. Most will expire automatically at the end of 2010. The alleged tax increase that would result is simply a consequence of the tax system returning to what it was before 2001, when the first tax cuts were implemented.... >Republicans respond that they had no choice; they didn't have the votes to enact permanent tax cuts, so it was temporary cuts or nothing. This is not true. They could have made them permanent, but that would have required bipartisanship and more political capital than Republicans were willing to spend. So they took the easy way out, figuring that Democrats wouldn't dare oppose extending the tax cuts when the time came, lest they be accused of favoring a vast tax increase.... >This sort of political game may be fun for Republicans who think that they have boxed Democrats into a corner. But this game has had real economic consequences. Because the tax cuts are not permanent, their economic impact has been severely diminished. All economists know that permanent tax changes have far more effect than temporary ones because people won't change their behavior significantly unless they have some assurance that the tax regime will be in effect for the long term...

Republicans denouncing Republicans are fun, but Bartlett is, as usual, full of it. Economists (including Douglas Holtz-Eakin heard of him ?) often argue that the effect of a temporary tax cut can be larger than the effect of a permanent tax cut. Anyone who knows anything about economic theory is familiar with the phrases "substitution effect" and "income effect." supply siders either don't know what an income effect is, assume that income effects must be small or, (most likely) are trying to trick people who don't know what income effects are. A very temporary tax cut has a small income effect. This means that the effect of a temporary tax cut can be much greater than the effect of a permanent tax cut. In fact, the model Holtz-Eakin could come up with in which incentive effects due to the Bush tax cuts paid for the largest fraction of the direct revenue loss was the one in which it was assumed that economic agents assumed that the tax cuts would be temporary, and, therefore, the tax cuts had a large effect on labor supply [citation needed].

The fact that incentive effects of temporary cuts can be greater than incentive effects of permanent cuts was also noted by Paul Krugman who called the bill the "throw momma from the train act of 2001" as heirs facing the sudden reappearance of the inheritance tax might resort to homicidal estate planning strategies [citation needed].

Why does this post on Bartlett contain a link to Brad DeLong ? [echo-chambering]

Echo chambering is better than linking to BB, but I do need citations. The throw momma from the train act was named here.

The observation that the way to get large supply side effects from the tax cuts was to assume that they were temporary (and ignore adjustments costs which BB has in mind is here

FOR THE HANDFUL of people who read the report in its entirety, there is another surprise. Of the nine different economic models used to analyze the president's plan, only two showed a large improvement in the deficit over the next decade as a result of "supply side" effects. Both those models got their results by assuming that after 2013, taxes would be raised to eliminate the remaining deficit. The theory is that people will work harder between 2004 and 2013 because they know that their taxes will be going up, and will want to earn more money before those tax increases take effect.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Republican Congressmen See no Good Options

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)

"I don't want to tap dance 'The Good Ship Lollipop,' " he said. "But I don't want to crawl into a fetal position."

I agree with Rep Hensarling. I don't think the Republicans are going to do well in November even if they sing "The Good Ship Lollipop," while in the fetal position, but, hey, it's worth a try. It's not like they are going to come up with policy proposals or anything.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Citation Needed

We've heard the arguments over and over again: Hezbollah is social service agency; Hezbollah wants to join the Lebanese political process; Hezbollah is not in fact dominated by murderous Jew-haters. And so on.

Jeffrey Goldberg is at it again. The post contains two links. The first is to a recent news story. The second link leads to a post by Michael Young which criticizes alleged apologists for Hezbollah.

I think there should be a rule that if you criticize an argument allegedly made by a vague group of people, your links should be plural (as "people" is) and point to those arguments and (if necessary which it isn't in this case) proof that they are wrong. The intellectual soulmate who got the goods on them can be credited with a "via x" link afterwards, but claims should be supported by evidence not other claims allegedly supported by other evidence.

Young's post has links of its own. The first links to Tony Bey who also criticizes alleged apologists for Hezbollah.

Thus to get to actual evidence I have to click on Goldberg's link to Young and then on Young's link to Bey. Bey links to and quotes Michael Kramer who wrote

"Assassinations of terrorists can boomerang, and so might this one. But it’s already had the one merit of exposing the core of Hezbollah that lies deep beneath the schools, the hospitals, and all the other gimmicks the party uses to get support and pass in polite company."

Ah so Kramer is one of those who notes that Hezbollah provides social services. But wait he is one of the critics of alleged apologists for Hezbollah. Obviously everyone who knows anything about Hezbollah agrees that Hezbollah provides social services. Goldberg's claim is that some say they are a "social service agency," that is that they do nothing other than provide social services. I don't think anyone has ever written or said that. Goldberg's claim made without evidence lead me (foolish me) to look to see if there is any evidence. I am in the garden of forking paths.

Bey goes on to quote various people noting that Hezbollah denies links to a know terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh, that this or that expert or journalist notes the denials and the absence of solid proof that it is false etc etc etc. Young links to Bey's post soon after with the observation that, when the terrorist was killed, Hezbollah "Aplaced him in a trinity of party heroes "martyred" at Israeli hands." In the linked post by Bey, I find no alleged apologists of whom I have ever heard and (honestly) no claims which are embarrassing given this event. Hezbollah denied that Mughniyeh was a member of Hezbollah. Various people noted the denials and noted that there wasn't categorical proof that it was false. I don't see the problem. The first alleged apologist quoted and denounced by Bey, Augustus Richard Norton, is also quoted *by Bey* in the **same** post as writing "there is no question that Hezbollah has engaged in acts that do, indeed, constitute terrorism in its more precise and generally understood sense." Yep sounds like a social service agency.

Back to Young. He writes "You know something has gone horribly wrong when the writer and academic Norman Finkelstein". I clicked the link and found that Finkelstein is currently an unemployed former academic. Why did you provide the link which demonstrates that his characterization is false ? Finkelstein age 54 is a former assistant professor who was denied tenure at DePaul University. An interesting case if one were aiming to prove that apologizing for Hezbollah is absolutely unaceptable in US academia, but hardly a case one would want to mention when attempting to prove that it is widespread.

Young also notes Noam Chomsky (of course). His contribution was to argue "Hizbullah's insistence on keeping its arms is justified," so, sure, he claimed that it was a social service agency (you wouldn't want to take away the Salvation Army's guns would you ?). The link is to a memri post. The link supporting the quote is dead. I assume the quotation was accurate, but no evidence on its accuracy is available on the memri site.

and he notes a post at Engage which describes and denounces an alleged petition signed by intellectuals in support of Hezbollah. He doesn't note that they almost all have arabic names. A few are alleged by Engage to be well known "Alex Callinicos, a leading academic in the British Socialist Workers Party, has signed this statement and is sending it around by e-mail. Tariq Ali, Virginia Tilley, Mona Baker, Omar Barghouti, Haim Breesheeth, Norman Finkelstein are other well known name on the list." I've heard Tariq Ali. The link provided by Engage is dead so there is no available evidence other than the claim on Engage that the petition actually was signed by anyone. I trust Engage (of which I had never heard before) but there is no proof.

I have found, of course, no cases of anyone claiming that Hezbollah is a social service agency (or anyone denying that they provide social services in addition to making war and committing acts of terrorism).

Time wasted confirming that Goldberg's writings are totally detached from reality.

I planned to write a post which consisted entirely of "citation needed" as the label of a link to Goldberg. I didn't feel confident enough to do that until I had followed every link. The links didn't lead to proof of Goldberg's claims but to other broad claims with other links and so on.

In the future I will write "citation needed" unless there is proof one link away, proof that someone said something being a link to something written by that person or a quotation in the MSM and not an alleged quotation on another blog.

The whole bunch Goldberg, Young and Bey seem to link only to people with whom they agree. The raw evidence is evidence because someone typed quotation marks, not because I have reason to trust the quote (as in quoted by a not clearly partisan source or something on the web actually written by the person in question). I trusted Bey and Memri and Engage because I had no choice.

I think that there should be a word for people who pretend they have proven claims of fact with links to other people who argue for the same conclusion instead of links to evidence. I will call it echochambering. It is a fact that I have not been able to get out of the group of denouncers of alleged Hezbollah apologists to independent evidence (except on the point that Dr Finkelstein is not, at the moment, an academic).

Friday, May 09, 2008

Today's Profile in Courage

n his long-awaited memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, former JFK aide Ted Sorensen admits he "collaborated" on Profiles in Courage with then Sen. John F. Kennedy.

Published just 51 years after "Profiles in Courage" won the Pulitzer.
Monumental Idiocy in Washington

Michael E. Ruane writes

A powerful federal arts commission is urging that the sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. proposed for a memorial on the Tidal Basin be reworked because it is too "confrontational" and reminiscent of political art in totalitarian states.

Ruane neglects to add that the commission objected that the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial is too bearded and that the lincoln memorial is reminiscent of a Greek temple.

Honoring a non confrontational King is like honoring a pacifist Lincoln or a dominionist Jefferson. Seriously this reminds me of the people who objected to the Vietnam veterans memorial because it was sad.

The irony of a statue of a man who spoke truth to power resembling the statues of states which spoke power to truth is not a weakness.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lad of Opportunity

I never had the impression that Silvio Berlusconi was restraining his impulses during the first 3 Berlusconi governments, but now I understand that only now has he let himself go. In Italy there is a ministry of equal opportunity understood principally as equal opportunity for men and women. Since 5 PM today (11 aM EST) the minister of equal opportunity has been the honorable Mara Carfagna. She is the woman in (or out) of the black skirt in this video clip

Note that I stressed the gender dimension of equal opportunity. I don't think that Carfagna got the nod because she gave an African Italian the opportunity to dance with her.

Just to show that Minister Carfagna believes in transparency and has nothing to hide, here is a slide show

I think that Silvio is envious of Sarkozy, sending the message that he will do just whatever he feels like, and wants cabinet meetings to present a pleasant view.

I thank my colleghe* Barbara Annicchiarico and Alessandra Pelloni for having brought the video's to my attention.

update: someone visited this page from war torn Beruit !

From sitemeter
Lebanon Beirut, Beyrouth
entry page

Don't let anyone tell you that Prime Minister Berlusconi hasn't increased the popularity of the Italian government and made it a beacon of hope for people suffering from sectarian strife and Islamic extremism.

update 2: In contrast this blog just got a visit from Italy from someone who googled GAETANO PECORELLA FORZA ITALIA. Dott. Pecorella is a legal scholar on the order of John Yoo, but he doesn't have legs as nice as On. Carafagna. Almeno c'è almeno un'italiano serio.

updated: grammar corrected
In it to Win it

I think it is clear that Barack Obama is willing to make huge sacrifices and endure immense unpleasantness to win the Presidency.
Why did Karen Tumulty Grant Harold Ickes anonymity for this one ?
Why did he ask for anonymity ?

Do they think that anyone won't guess that the Penn hating Clinton advisor who knows how Harold Ickes felt when Penn revealed his utter ignorance is Harold Ickes ?

There is another source whose anonymity is protected by the fact that so many Clinton staffers loath Mark Penn.

Karen Tumulty via David Kurtz

Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her, instead of their mastery of the game. That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year, according to two people who were there. As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state's 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. "How can it possibly be," Ickes asked, "that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?" And yet the strategy remained the same, with the campaign making its bet on big-state victories. Even now, it can seem as if they don't get it. Both Bill and Hillary have noted plaintively that if Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as Republicans, she'd be the nominee.

Doesn't look like the people picked for loyalty to Clinton were loyal either. Here I think there is a habitual miss-use of the word "loyalty." It is always presented as the one alternative attractive feature other than ability (or basic minimal competence or whatever). I think "loyalty to her" means "flattery of her" and "familiarity to her". Of course this misuse is more extreme in the case of "loyalty to Bush," but the horrifying thing about the paragraph is not that it shows (again) that Penn is a buffoon, but that it makes the Clintons sound like Bush, resolutely sticking with the strategy in spite of inconvenient facts which are known to all non idiots and most idiots.
Innumeracy On the Front Page of the Washington Post

Did Rush Limbaugh Tilt Result In Indiana?
Conservative Host Urged 'Chaos' Votes

By Alec MacGillis and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 8, 2008; Page A01

Even as Barack Obama's campaign celebrated Tuesday's primary results, aides charged yesterday that they would have had an even stronger showing were it not for meddling by an unlikely booster of Hillary Rodham Clinton: the popular conservative radio host and longtime Clinton family nemesis Rush Limbaugh.

It might be worth pointing out that according to exit polls, Clinton would have won in Indiana even if Republicans had not been allowed to vote in the Democratic primary.

Those looking for evidence of Limbaugh's influence pointed to Clinton's edge among Republicans in Indiana and North Carolina. In Indiana, 10 percent of Democratic primary voters described themselves as Republicans, a higher rate than in any state but Mississippi, and they went for Clinton by eight percentage points, according to exit polls.

OK using the fancy elite mathematical toll called multiplication, I conclude that, if the votes among Democrats and Independents had been equally divided between Clinton and Obama, Clinton would have won by 0.8%. Her actual winning margin was larger, so, according to exit polls, she would have won if the votes of Republicans had not been counted.

This seems relevant no ?

To argue that Rush won it for Clinton, one would have to argue that Obama would have won among Republicans by ten times (Clinton's margin of victory in percent - 8%) were it not for Limbaugh (I am using subtraction and my recollection of the margin, which Alec MacGillis and Peter Slevin helpfully give as an absolute number while they give self declared Republicans as a percent making it impossible to do the calculation without data not in the article such as the total number of voters, number of Republican voters or margin of victory as a percent of total voters). Certainly possible, but what is the reason to refrain from presenting the calculation (and maybe even compare the margin to Obama's overall average margin among Republicans before Limbaugh began his chaos campaign which Alec MacGillis and Peter Slevin helpfully describe without giving actual numbers (except for 7 and 8)

"By contrast, Obama won Republican voters, often by very large margins, in seven of the eight states where exit polls were able to report the group before the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4, when Limbaugh first coaxed listeners to vote for Clinton."

OK not trusting my memory I ask the Google for Clinton's margin of victory as a percent. I think I recalled correctly, but the very last precincts to report went for Obama, because the final margin was 1.1 % so Obama would have had to win Republicans by 3% to tie Clinton.

That does mean that Clinton won because Republican voting behavior is different from what it was pre March 4. This could be Limbaugh or Republicans who thought up his scheme on their own or it could be that Republicans sincerely hate the person who they think will be the Democratic nominee, but there is quite a bit there.
Larry Bartels sure makes Impressive Graphs.

This via Paul Krugman


To me the most striking thing was my personal ignorance about growth rates in election years. I have an effortless recollection of which presidencies had high and low growth, but no particular recollection about what the growth rate was in the 4th or 8th year of the presidency. I don't feel so bad, it appears that voters have little recollection of growth in the past. One might blame the past president for poor growth in year one of a presidency, but it makes no sense to let the party of a term limited president off because growth in year 5 or 6 was someone else's fault, yet take growth in year 8 very seriously.

Of course, the best criticisms of the voters is that Presidents don't have that much effect on economic growth and that per capita income in the USA would be amply high enough if it were more equally distributed.

Krugman is reconciling himself to Obama's candidacy (hurray) but worried about the few points which aren't on the regression line (has anyone ever seen a less scattered scatter which is not an identity).

I confront my ignorance looking at specific elections.

One of the things that horrified me and drove me almost insane in 2000 (OK most observers would contest the "almost" part) was that Gore lost in spite of the excellent economic performance when he was vice President.

I get some comfort from the fact that 2000 wasn't extraordinary. The outstanding record was of steady growth over 8 years and people don't care much about it (his vote share was about 5% below predicted, that is, the gap of up about 0.5% was about 10% below expected).

Amazingly Reagan in 1984 came in below the regression line ! My sense is that economic performance under Reagan was, on average, mediocre - better than under Ford, Carter or a Bush but nothing special. However, what counted according to Bartels and, more importantly the data, was just the one year 1984. Similarly Carter came in just slightly below the line. His problem, of course, was that he timed his recession wrong (that is he timed the oil shock wrong, that is he didn't manage to overcome the will of the people of Iran). No need to appeal to panicking during a malaise or helicopter crashes at desert 1.

Tricky Dick (Nixon for younguns) beat the line consistently ?must have been his charm and Charisma (speaking of which Kennedy only ran in one election and came in with a winning margin 7% lower than expected. Glamor, charisma, not sweating like a pig on TV all together worth -7% wow.

In fact, the one variable which would add most to the model is "Richard Nixon on the ticket" which is a huge huge plus for that ticket. When challenging for President in 68 there is one of the 2 most outstanding performances for challengers, the other was when he ran from opposition for vice President in 1952. He was an incumbent President or vice President running for President or Vice President in three of the 4 most outstanding performances for the party of the incumbents.

On reflection, the most amazing thing is that some political scientists and more pundits have managed to avoid recognizing a pattern which is so strong, or rather refused to admit that it is so strong. Election results which are almost exactly predicted by the Bartels equation are ascribed to ideological flux or, especially, the personality of candidates. Kennedy and Reagan are considered extraordinary candidates on the basis of rather less than nothing on average. Nominating Goldwater is considered to be suicidally extreme, but he managed to come close to Bartel's simple prediction. Carter's defeat is entirely explained by a recession. The outstanding politician, by far, is the charming Richard Nixon about whose character there can be no doubt whatsoever.
What to do For Burma ?

I have no useful insights. I just clicked on how to help at

I have some thoughts on the options.

First an acceptable ratio of actual assitance out of total spending including administration and fund raising is roughly 90%. In fact, if you check, you are likely to find the ratio of almost exactly 90%. I think it has become a norm that the minimum acceptable ratio is 90%, so fund raising spending is set at 0.9(funds raised - administrative expenses).

If the organisatio does not report this ratio prominently (say a pie chart on their main web page or one click away) I wouldn't fork money over to them with a ten foot pole.

Second, I'm not John Bolton, but I have worked for an international orgnanisation and I noted high untaxed salaries. A friend of mine who works at the World Bank says go NGO. I'm not sure this applies to disaster relief and I have no sense about the international red cross/red crescent.

Third, a lot of US based NGOs have discovered that it is much easier to raise money if some of it is spent helping the poor in the USA. I'm sure this is good strategy, but it is a compromise (a wise compromise). If you are not nationalistic, it shouldn't be needed to get you to open your wallet, so I tend to check that the NGO sends the money where it is needed most (out of the USA) before deciding to put off giving and think about it another day (see I just confessed).

But really I don't know anything.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Numberphobia and Bush's Brain

From a Washington Post Online Chat

via Think Progress

Columbus, Ohio: You boldy predicted that Bush’s approval ratings would rebound — instead he is, according to Gallup, the most unpopular presdient [sic] in history. Will you finally admit that your vision for this nation has been overwhelmingly rejected by the majority of the people?

Karl Rove: Get your facts right — there are at least three president who had worse approval ratings, Truman, Johnson and Nixon. I’m absolutely positive history will be kind to this president, who made the right decisions in a difficult time for this nation.

Looks like Rove has lost his grasp on all math but his own personal fantasy. It’s OK that te redefined the issue from highest disapproval to lowest approval. It’s a rhetorical trick but the person from Columbus didn’t specifically say he was talking about disapproval ratings. But where the hell did he get the idea that Johnson ever got an approval rating below Bush’s current approval rating ?

Johnson’s lowest approval rating was 35% approval (8/7-12/68, Gallup Poll) (first google search took 2 minutes total including scanning the wikipedia article). Now Rove clearly had access to the web, so why didn’t he google ?

According to Bush hasn’t gotten an approval rating that high in a poll of adult Americans (as opposed to registered voters or likely voters) since a Gallup poll December 6th through 9th 2007.

Or I dunno maybe Rove was thinking of Andrew Johnson.

I’d say he’s lost it.
Math Intollerance at The New York Times and The Atlantic.

To explain the rather brief post below, Matthew Yglesias has some typically ruthless snark "Surely the NYT has it within its powers to be aware of the results of its own polls and get its writers to characterize the trends accurately."

He is commenting on a totally dishonest op-ed by William Kristol. I quote all of it (fair use be damned).

Some Editing

Bill Kristol's column from Monday:

In a New York Times/CBS News poll in late February, Obama was defeating John McCain 50 to 38. Two months later, the Times/CBS poll had McCain and Obama tied. The poll that came out yesterday showed Obama reopening a lead over McCain — but clearly over this period a vulnerability for Obama was exposed.

As Noam Scheiber notes it's a bit curious of Kristol to have left out the precise numbers from the new poll. But what it says is that Obama hasa lead of 51 to 40 which is identical to Obama's previous lead. I'm hardly shocked to see Kristol playing some funny games, but shouldn't there be some kind of editing of the Times columnists? Surely the NYT has it within its powers to be aware of the results of its own polls and get its writers to characterize the trends accurately.

Brilliant except that, uh, 50-38=12>11=51-40. The post would be just as snarkily good but also, you know, arithmetically accurate if Yglesias had written "almost identical" or "within rounding error."

It would be far less snarkily good but, at least, accurate and full of his characteristic homonyms, if he had written "given the fact that results are rounded to the nearest percent, for all we no, Obama's lead in the latest CBS/New York Tiems pole could be slightly larger than his lead in the late February CBS/New York Times pole two witch crystal refers."

"Some Editing" poster edit thyself.
I actually suspect that Yglesias didn't decide that 1% is essentially 0 and then claim that it was 0, but rather he considered that we don't know which lead was larger before rounding and decided (wisely) not to bore readers with arithmetic. However, English is well equipped with words: "almost", "essentially", "basically" and Yglesias can think of dozens more I'm sure, which are well suited for avoiding the risk of boring his readers with arithmetic without writing something which is false.

However, my complaint about math intollerance at The Atlantic is due to the fact that I tried to post "11<12" as a comment and got an error message. Furthermore when I previewed my post to see the problem it had become "11." The Atlantic web server has stolen my < sign and I want it back. It's not just for computers, people sometimes use it too.

OK OK I admit the benefits of html and the web and stuff are > the cost of this minor irritation, but why did blogger accept my post when The Atlantic didn't accept it as a comment ?
Kevin Drum Demonstrates that Michael Gerson is Completely dishonest here.

Gerson wrote among other things "Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science.""

Drum notes, among other things,
"Yes, liberals and conservatives have different views about sex education and stem cells, but those aren't even close to being the core issues in the liberal critique of the Republican war on science. The core issues, rather, are global warming denialism; creationism and intelligent design; the Gingrich-era shutdown of OTA; the promotion of phony cost-benefit analysis; and politically motivated lying about things like Plan B, breast cancer links to abortion, and condoms and STDs."

That is devastating. I would like to argue one thing and then debate an improved Michael Gerson who corrected the glaring omissions noted by Drum.

An important aspect of the Republican war on science is the authority given to the OMB (hence political appointees) to make sure everything in government publications is true. The provision (slipped in the middle of a huge bill) gave non-expert political appointees the authority to over-rule the scientific conclusions of all US government employed scientists. The day, Bush signed the bill was the D-day of the Republican war on science.

OK now I will pretend that Gerson just wrote ""Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science."" and didn't claim that that (and stem cell research funding) were the main arguments of people claiming that Republicans are making war on science.

I think that in 2001 one could make the arguments made by supporters of abstinence only sex education without being anti-science (one would have to have weird priors but no one had any data). Now, they are still making the exact same arguments. That sameness is anti-science.

I think that the relationship between science and sex education has changed recently. Science tells us something different about sex education, because there is a lot of new information. In particular abstinence only sex education has been tried and the attempts have been, imperfectly no doubt, evaluated.

Before the experiment performed under the Bush administration, it was not anti-science to argue that abstinence only sex ed would cause lower levels of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. IIRC in 2001 that was a testable hypothesis in social science.
To continue to argue this is to contest a, by now, large body of data. This is still not necessarily anti-science, as there is often a scientific debate about how to interpret data.

To ignore the data completely and stick to the exact same position based on the exact same arguments that one had before large amounts of relevant data were collected is anti-science. I think that is a tautology no ?

The scientific method is so utterly alien to Gerson that he doesn't seem to understand that a position that was not anti-science 7 years ago might be anti science now. The body of scientific knowledge changes. I stress that the new knowledge is that people have seriously attempted to evaluate abstinence only sex education and estimate that it's benefits are definitely close to zero (hence less well than comprehensive sex ed is estimated to work). Neither I nor Gerson nor anyone really knows that they are right. But to ignore the research entirely is to be anti-science.

Note Gerson's use of the word "practical". Any practical concern would lead any rational person to attempt to measure effects of policies and take the measurements (imperfect as they must be) into account. Gerson simply doesn't accept that new data makes any difference. He wouldn't recognize the scientific method if he tripped over it.

On the other hand ethical views, however strange I or anyone might find them, can't be pro or anti-science.