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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Needs Citation

Matthew Yglesias asked for a few capsule biographies. I provide except for the bit about documenting my claims.

— Gulbiddin Hekmatyar
— Warren G Harding
— Jean Monney
— Ahmad Shah Massoud (he's found a biography)
— William Sherman

- Gulbiddin Hekmatyar

Former Prime Minister of Afghanistan. Notable as the prime minister whose militia did the most damage to his capital.

Head of the Hezb i Islami an extremist and fairly violent Islamic political organization that fought commmunist youths (and I believe shot bird shot at the legs of bare legged women) before the Afghan communists seised power.

Following the communist coup, the Hezb i Islami quickly switched to guerilla warfare. A US journalist in Peshawar Pakistan was allarmed that each Islamic leader answered "me" when asked who was the most effective Islamic anti communist and much more allarmed when all but Gulbiddin Hekmatyar answered Gulbiddin Hekmatyar when asked who was the second most effective.

There was another communist coup in which the "masses" faction of the party lead by Hafizulla Amin overthrough the "flag" faction (mocked as "the royal Afghan communist party) headed by Nur Muhamad Taraki. Then the USSR invaded, killed Amin and installed Bebrek Karmel (later replaced by Najib who changed his name back to Najibullah).

During the war with the USSR, G.H. became rather unpopular with the other 6 Peshawar based US funded Islamic groups. the Hesb i Islami fought the Peshawar other 6 from time to time. However, the USA just handed the money over to Pakistan and let the Pakistanis decide how to distribute it. Thus the radically anti western anti US G.H. got more money from the USA than any of the others.

Then the USSR left. After a while the Afghan communists were defeated basically when ethnic Uzbeck communist general Rashid Dostam switched sides. The Peshawar 7 formed a coalition government. The top position (President) was given to B. Rabani, the leader of the smallest and weakest group. G.H. was named Prime Minister. Ahmed Shah Massoud became defense minister.

The coalition did not get along and resorted to techniques more extreme than the filibuster or budget reconciliation. I blinked and when my attention was engaged again, prime minister G.H. and his army were beseiging his capital. One might notice on TV that Kabul is a wasteland. It was almost undamaged in the war with the USSR, not much damaged (because there wasn't all that much left to damage) by the Taliban when they seized power and not even much damaged by the USA/UK/Northern Alliance when the Taliban lost power. It was destroyed by the artillery of Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The Taliban emerged from their madrasses where, for some reason, they seem to have used tanks and didactic aids. In fact, they were clearly organized by the Pakistani ISI which had lost patience with the Peshawar 7. In their first act they crushed the Hezb i Islami. G.H. ceased to be a powerful person. His name briefly reappeared when Donald Rumsfeld incorrectly asserted that he was a member of the Taliban.

— Warren G Harding

was the first President of the USA elected in part by women. Elected in 1920. Nominated by the Republican party after an intense campaign and vetting consisting entirely of answering "no" when asked if he had ever done anything which might embarrass the party. His answer was false as he was conducting an extramarital affair which he continued in the White House.

The only aspect of his job at which he excelled was meeting and greeting. He admitted that he was usually convinced by the last advisor to talk to him. Of him it was said

"he is the worst speaker I have ever heard except for a few journalists and a dipsomaniacal professor (not me I wasn't even born yet)" H.L. Mencken

"It's not what he doesn't know that scares me. It's what he knows for sure that just aint so". -- that guy from Oklahoma with the rope tricks.

Presided over the famous teapot dome scandal. Was sent to Alaska where he
1) couldn't embarrass the party
2) could see Russia.

At an infected King crab and died.

William Tecumseh Sherman major general in the Union army. Lead an army which burned a swath 50 miles wide across Georgia and then burned Atlanta. In 1976 some wanted him to be President. He said "If nominated I will not campaign. If elected I will not serve." At around the same time he warned kids that, while they might think that war is all glory, in fact it is all hell.

His kid brother Senator Sherman, was less unwilling to get involved in politics. He was a populist Republican. No not like Rush Limbaugh. I mean he introduced a bill called the Sherman anti-trust act which is still relevant today, even though Altanta has been rebuilt.

Jean Monney

Son of famous eurocrat Jean Monnet and Jane Money.

Jean Monnet was an enthusiast for European unification who tirelessly fought hindbound nationalists (including especially Charles DeGaulle) and is now buried in the Pantheon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Richard Posner

There is no need for another criticism of Richard Posner's criticism of Christine Romer (too put it mildly) but I can't help myself.

The post below is not only pointless, it is long. I will try a brief summary. Posner accused Romer of intellectual dishonestly, because he was sure that a speech she gave on the effect so far of the stimulus was " "responsible academic analysis." He knows that Romer has worked in the field and is a top notch academic economist (Posner has been cited a lot and, perhaps coincidentally, judges intellectuals by their citation count so he must know that Romer has been cited a lot too). I think he has an idea of what top notch academic economists are like based the ones he knows at the economics department and business school of the University of Chicago. There is indeed a huge contrast between *their* academic work and Romer's speech. However, there is no contrast at all between Romer's academic work and her speech. The speech is clearly, among other things, the continuation of a decades long research progect.

I think that Posner can't get his head around the fact that work which is viewed with contempt at the U Chicago economics department is massively cited.

now long boring post.

Professor Judge Posner has made mistakes which should be totally humiliating but is not humbled in the slightest. Most notably he casually compared the annualized growth rate of quarterly GNP to annual GNP effectively making a factor of 16 arithmetic error.

I do think there is something still to be said. Posner is not only persistntly unable to handle the IS-LM model, unfamiliar with national income and products accounts terminology, unfamiliar with federal budgetary terminology and arithmetically challenged (just start here and follow the links).

He is also unfamiliar with the standards of academic research at Berkeley (and Harvard). Discussing Romer's speech on the stimulus, his basic claim is

Romer's speech argues that the disbursements of stimulus funds through the end of the second quarter of this year (that is, through June 30) have had a big effect on economic output and employment. I said this was unlikely as a matter of theory, and that she had no persuasive evidence to back up her claim. And I raised the question of the ethical responsibilities of an academic who takes a government job and then makes a speech that although it deals with a subject that she had studied and written about as an academic is not a responsible academic analysis.

I have a different impression. My impression of the speech was that I wish I'd written it and submitted it to a journal. I think that it is unreasonable to compare it to a "responsible academic analysis," because academics don't have access to the resources (data and staff) which made it possible. I think it is obvious that the speech could be published in the AER. The editor might demand stylistic modifications, but the analysis is top notch.

More to the point it is exactly the sort of thing that Romer wrote when she was a professor at Berkeley. It is clear to me, and many others, that, when Posner contrasts the speech to Romer's academic work, he displays his total ignorance of her academic work.

I think the problem is partly that the economics profession is divided into schools of thought -- roughly fresh water and salt water -- with profound contempt for each other (although salt water economists such as C. Romer, D. Romer and N.G. Mankiw tend
to be polite in public).

I think it very likely that Romer's speech and her academic work is considered to be not* "responsible academic analysis" by top economists working at the economics departments of the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota. My guess (and it is a wild guess) is that they don't consider it to be economics, because it has nothing to do with maximization under constraint. The number one top leader of the school (Prescott) condemns econometrics as such and, in effect, argues that one must assume his theories are true even if they are inconsistent with the data. Even among those who don't regect econometrics as such, there is a profound disagreement about methodology.

At Berkeley, Harvard and MIT simple calculations are demanded.

There is (or was when I was there) pretty much an absolute rule that one must start with summary statistics, then look at correlations and cross tabs or something, then work up to a multiple regression (OLS) then probably do something with instrumental variables with identifying assumptions comprehensible and convincing to the man on the street.

This is pretty much a description of Romer's speech.
The relatively fancy IV part would be the cross state and cross national comparisons which Romer Posner** ignored entirely in his critique. Basically his argument was that the speech did not include the sort of analysis required to get a paper published in say the AER if you ignore the sort of analysis required to get a paper published in say the AER which was contained in the speech but ignored completely in his critique of the speech.

Some (Thoma mostly) suggest that Posner is showing contempt for the economics profession assuming a lawyer, law professor, judge and top notch microeconomist can handle macro without brushing up on the terminology. My guess is nearly the opposite. I suspect that he is in contact with macro economists who share his view of Romer's speech and that this made him sure he is on safe ground.

Basically his view is that Romer's speech is not respectable academic economics, because it clearly involves taking the IS-LM model seriously and considering the concept of a multiplier and because the empirical work is a combination of simple reduced form calculations and simple easily comprehensible instrumental variables regressions such that no fancy economic theory or econometric technique is required.

I think Posner genuinely doesn't know that a large fraction of the economics profession agrees with Romer's approach.

The fact is that top fresh water economists think they are the only top notch economists and dismiss salt water economists including the ones with Nobel prizes and stuff.

*update: Major oops. I left the "not" out of my original post. Corrected thanks to a comment.

** update 2: another booboo corrected thanks to comments.

update 3: speling errror korrected.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Paul Krugman and Editor not up to "Challenge"

This is very unusual. Paul Krugman doesn't just think well, he usually writes well, very well. However his latest op-ed contains a sentence which just doesn't mean what he meant to mean.

"Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy."

This implies "on torture, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy."

Which implies "on torture, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to change Bush administration policy." Which is false, indeed libelous.

Krugman is trying to save ink. I'm sure he meant something like.

"Meanwhile, on the fraught question of indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to change Bush administration policy. Meanwhile, on the fraught question of torture n, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge Bush administration policy."

My rewrite is twice as long and stylistically unspeakable (I mean that literally no one would say something that ugly let alone write it and send it to the Op-ed editor).

However it does have the advantage of noting that Obama has ordered his subbordinates to cease torturing people -- and made the order clear enough to be effective by ordering them to obey the army field manual even if they are CIA employees or, shudder, contractors. Krugman's single sentence is relatively elegant but is inconsistent with that fact and therefore false.

However, my rewrite so far, while ugly and awkward, is not yet accurate and further rewriting is needed to make it correspond to reality and cease to be false (once I get going on ugly repetitiveness I find it hard to stop or cease).

"To challenge" is a fairly weak verb. Obama challenged Bush on torture before being elected and continues to challenge his subbordinates to cease to torture.

What is true and what Krugman had in mind before he began worrying about his 700 word limit is

""Meanwhile, on the fraught question of indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to change Bush administration policy, and on the fraught question of torture , the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to prosecute Bush administration policy makers and his willingness to abuse the state secrets doctrine in an attempt to prevent civil courts from hearing law suits against them."

Not at all what he wrote.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

11 dimensional chess

I am not a competent player of 2 dimensional chess, but I'll try 9 more.

First a bit of history. Health care reform is in trouble. Once it seemed easy, because the health insurance lobby said they'd support it provided there was universal health insurance. Oh my, universal coverage was their condition and the first concession made by Obama to Senator Max Baucus (D-insurance industry).

Since Obama wants universal coverage he was either very brilliant very lucky or both.

Unfortunately, Baucus has not delivered. Now there are more conditions including the bill must get 60 votes in the senate (no reconciliation), it must be bipartisan and there must be no public option.

I think it is time for Obama to say that, since he didn't get health reform in exchange, he's withdrawing his concession and going back to the proposal he made during the campaign -- oh and then some. Basically regulatory reform with no mandates or subsidies.

This has the feature that the Senate finance committee doesn't have to be involved at all (they are needed only because HELP can't expand medicaid). It also has the feature that regulatory reform is so popular that it can be filibustered only at great political risk. Finally it has the key feature that regulatory reform without a mandate would bankrupt the health insurance industry. The reason regulatory reform without a mandate would be terrible policy is that the reforms would make it optimal for healthy people to buy insurance only after they get sick. That is an argument which convinces me and sure convinces Ignani, but had no detectable effect on US voters.

Roughly the move is to say to Karen Ignani, you want mandates then give me a public option. Otherwise you can try to convince the American people that regulatory reform isn't really in their interests. Oh and remember how successful Clinton and McCain were.

I'd guess that Baucus and Conrad would discover that negotiating with Grassley is a waste of time roughly one day after Obama threatened to go back to his campaign's proposal.
About those revolting liberals

So what do I think of the liberals who are threatening to vote against health care reform if there is no public option ?

I think it is very very clear (as noted by Ezra Klein with whom I mostly agree) that it is not about the public option and not even entirely about health care reform.

Here the key point is that the big battle has already ended in liberal surrender. The appeal of the public option back in 2008 when it was proposed by the Edwardses was that it would amount to stealth single payer, but, it was assumed, that Republicans would be too embarrassed to explain why. Public health insurance is much much more efficient than private health insurance. We know this, because private companies can't compete with the medicare administration without huge gigantic immense subsidies.

Therefore, if a public option were allowed to compete on a level playing field with private insurers, they would wither away. Clever. Turns out that Republicans (and Ben Nelson) are not easily embarrassed and have made exactly this argument. Of course they claim that they are concerned that the playing field might not be level, but they can't come up with any way to make it level with a slope level enough to make it possible for private health insurance companies to compete.

The compromise which would preserve endangered health insurance companies from unfair competition is to restrict the public option to individuals and small firms buying health insurance on the exchanges. Obama declared his determination to avoid stealth single payer exactly in the announcement which raised false hopes among those who hope for stealth single payer. He said the exchanges must include a public option. That means he agrees that large firms be required to buy health insurance from private companies which means that they'll do fine.

Game over.

Revolting liberals have decided to ignore Klein's explanation that they have lost already and threaten to vote against health care reform over the not so important sliver of a public option which hasn't been ruled out already.

Why ?

Atrios *and* Paul Krugman have made it absolutely clear that this is no longer about health care reform. Reform without a public option is not unacceptable to revolting liberals because it will increase the profits of parasitic insurance companies. Reform with a public option only on the exchanges would do that too. Reform without a public option is unacceptable to many, because it is exactly what AHIP, the insurance industry lobby, proposed. Karen Ignani's very first offer would be accepted by the US government. The shame of liberal defeat would not even be covered by a fig leaf (hmmm current in the running option is more like an olive tree leaf).

The question is do powerful interest groups get exactly what they propose ? My answer is that if they propose universal health insurance with extensive regulatory reform then sure.

The revolting liberals are, to put it as rudely as possible, like blue dogs. They say no and require a last minute compromise to win their votes just to show that they can say no. The blue dogs accepted very minor changes and went back to their districts to brag about how they had held up health care reform. Then the revolting liberals demanded even more tiny changes so that they could prove that attention had to be paid to them too.

That's what it's about now.
In defence of Charles Grassley

In the post below, I blame Max Baucus (D-Montana)for wasting time with kabuki negotiations on a health care reform proposal with Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) when it is very clear that Grassley will say no to any bill no matter what the text. Grassley has made it very clear (for months) that his vote depends on the votes of Republicans from states other than Maine and they have made it clear that they want no reform at all.

Now when I note that Senator Grassley has not been bargaining in good faith,
I do not mean to suggest that Senator Grassley has been bargaining in bad faith. He has publically communicated his unwillingness to accept any compromise at all. I would guess that he has been even more frank (if possible) in private.

Basically Senator Baucus is harassing Senator Grassley. Grassley has said they have nothing to discuss. Baucus says "just talk to me" Grassley has talked for hours and hours and hours. Baucus just won't accept that Grassley just isn't all that into him.

It's sad really. In Washington nothing is sadder than unrequited policy wonking.

Below I criticized Ezra Klein. Now I have a proposal for something constructive he can do. How about he invites Baucus and Conrad over for a hot wonkathon threesome in which they design a plan for a non profit cooperative. He's not a senator, but he is young and certifiably hot and gives much better wonk than Grassley.
Ezra Klein writes

The Liberal Revolt

Monday was the day of the liberal revolt on health-care reform. If you want a nice round-up of the commentary, see Mike Allen. What's been striking, however, is the implicit argument that this is somehow a simple failure of liberal will. Rachel Maddow called it "a collapse of political ambition." The problem, she said, is that "Democrats are too scared of their own shadow to use the majority the American people elected them to in November to actually pass something they said they favored.” The question, writes Chris Bowers, is whether Obama is "more willing and able to pressure the Progressive Block in the House or the Conservadem Block in the Senate." Ed Schultz said the president needs to "start doing some arm-twisting with some folks that aren’t listening to him.”

The unifying idea here is that someone can just go into a back room and torture Max Baucus and Kent Conrad. But how? Rahm Emanuel isn't a shrinking violet. Neither was Clinton or Carter or Nixon or Truman or FDR. But none of them managed to get health-care reform past the Congress. There's not really a record of presidents being able to bend committee chairmen and wavering centrists to their will. Even LBJ, the master of this stuff, decided to go for Medicare rather than full reform. He thought the latter too ambitious. The history of health-care reform is the history of health-care reform failing. If there was some workable presidential strategy, or foolproof negotiating lever, presumably someone would have used it by now, or at least mentioned it in public.

The problem, I think, is that there is a tendency to understand heath-care reform as an equal negotiation in which all sides want a deal, and you can game out various bargaining stratagems. But health-care reform is not a negotiation. It's a campaign. Reformers wants a deal, even as some differ on its precise shape. The opposition wants to kill the deal entirely. And that gives the opponents a lot more power to say "no." "No" isn't their fallback position. It's their position. The supporters -- if they're not sociopaths of some sort -- actually do want to extend health-care coverage to 40 million people and regulate the insurance industry and create out-of-pocket caps and make life better for millions and millions of people. That makes it hard to say "no." Being a decent person turns out to be a terrible weakness. And the pressure is even greater because the history of this stuff is that you don't get a deal at the end of the day. Failure isn't an unlikely outcome. It's the default.

The reason, crudely speaking, is that time runs out. With every week, and every month, that drags by, health-care reform becomes a bit less popular. At this point, disapproval of the president's plan -- if not of his plan's ideas -- outpolls approval. That's a function of the legislative process. Of stories about congressional infighting and of anti-change campaigns mounted by the opposition and of the risk aversion of members of Congress. Almost all major domestic legislation follows the same path of public approval giving way to public disapproval.

That makes it even easier for conservative Democrats and the mythical moderate Republicans to abandon the effort. And thus the effort gets abandoned. What usually happens next is that the opposition wins the following election and reformers spend the next 15 years lamenting all the deals they didn't take, and the country ends up with 10 million more uninsured, and 100,000 more needlessly dead, and so on.

That's not to say people shouldn't push on the public option. They should! But the strategy needs to be appropriate to the context. This is a campaign for the public option, not a negotiation. Winning it will require persuading the key votes to change their mind, either by offering them other inducements in the bill or applying direct and aggressive political pressure (identifying a lot of viable primary challengers and creating a credible promise of funds, for instance). Trying to say "no" for longer than they can will simply result in reformers losing everything they want, and opponents getting exactly what they demanded.

I mostly agree with Klein, but his argument is based on an equivocation.

He claims that Obama can't bend Conrad, Baucus, Nelson, Lieberman, Landrieu, Lincoln, Snowe, Collins and the blue dogs to his will, because the non Mainer Republicans want to block all reform and make health care Obama's Waterloo. The people with whom Obama is bargaining are different people than the people against whom he is campaigning.

Klein effectively assumes that there are only two federal elected officials so the one which is not Obama is either a supporter of modest reform or an opponent of all reform.

If there is a blocking coalition which wants no reform, there will be no reform. If there are 60 senators and 218 representatives who want some reform then, depending on how much they want it, Obama can bend those who want modest reform to his will by threatening them with no reform at all.

I think it is clear that Obama can bend the senior blue dogs to his will. They are vulnerable if and only if there is a Republican wave so they are the ones whose personal job prospects depend most on there being some reform.

The senators are not vulnerable and are senators which means they are used to being approached on bended knee. However, they definitely want there to be some health care reform.

Rachel Maddow et al are not proposing a refusal to compromise with Grassley and Boehner. They are proposing a refusal to compromise with Baucus, Conrad and Snowe about whether to try to compromise with Grassley.

Klein's position is, roughly, the revolting liberals are wrong, because they don't understand that time is not on their side. However, a large part of the liberal revolt is the argument that Democrats should stop trying to compromise with Republicans from states other than Maine.

Basically Klein is blaming Rachel Maddow for the fact that Max Baucus let Charles Grassley play him for a fool.

Klein's proposal as that the Democrats take what they can get (presumably reform without a public option) now. To implement that proposal he would have to be able to take Max Baucus and Kent Conrad to a back room and torture them. Their disagreement with Maddow et al is not just over the public option, it is over whether to pretend to believe Grassley is negotiating in good faith.

Rachel Maddow is not the reason that Baucus has not brought a proposal with no public option up in the finance committee. Baucus could have done that and liberals didn't stop him. He chose to waste months searching for mythical moderate Republicans. Blaming Rachel Maddow, who, technically, is not even a senator, for the fact that senators have wasted months is not reasonable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Uh I don't think that phrase means what Mark Kleiman thinks it means.

The phrase is "reasonably persuasive answer"

The question

Is there a Second Amendment right to bring a loaded firearm to a place where the President of the United States is in your line of fire?

Apparently, the Secret Service enforces a weapons ban, and the area around a President protected by the Secret Service is considered Federal territory. But it's hard to see how, if there's a Constitutional right to carry weapons, that right can constitutionally be abrogated just because the President happens to be around.

The "reasonably persuasive answer" is

The President isn't in a gun-free zone; he's in a zone where there are lots of people with guns, all of whom are loyal to him.

That's the key point; most of us, most of the time, don't get that as a possibility. So the rights line is a second-best, as most protected rights are. Since we can't be assured that there will be people with guns who are on our side all the time, we get to carry a gun.

Professor Kleiman's correspondent has presented a reasonably convincing argument for the constitutionality of the law which forbids the President of the USA to bear fire arms. Fine no problem, he has secret service agents so he doesn't have the right to bear arms (also he has a press secretary so he can be impeached and sent to jail if he dares to speak in spite of the first amendment, plus he gets to stay in the White House for free so soldiers can be quartered in the White House whether he wants it or not in spite of the third amendment).

The question was why I can't carry a gun anywhere near the president, not if it could be ok to forbid Mr Obama from bearing arms (at least if your interpretation of the constitution is not in any way constrained by, you know, the text).

I wonder what Prof Kleiman would consider to be an unpersuasive answer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm Incredible.

Sen Johnny Isaakson denounced the claim that the end of life counseling provision of health care reform amounts to euthanasia. The Johnny Isaakson denounced the claim that Sen Johnny Isaakson denounced the claim that the end of life counseling provision of health care reform amounts to euthanasia.

Politician lies, dog bites man.

But I'm incredible that the dishonest denial wasn't written in correct English. I can believe that senate staffers have no integrity but I thought they had a decent command of English grammar (one of the many reasons I have never tried to get a job in a Senate office, so I find it incredulous that they ghost write a senator saying

"I categorically oppose the House bill and find it incredulous that the White House and others would use my amendment as a scapegoat for their misguided policies,”

this is incredulous it strains credibility and lacks credulity.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who is a Senior Citizen ?

Looks like that didn't turn out the way he planned

Roger "hope I die before I get old" Daltry is a senior citizen. He turned 65 on March 1 2009.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Just Pick a Number at Random.

Just pick the only random number.

John Mauldin explains that to believe in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis one needs to believe 6 impossible things before breakfast.

He provides an illustration of a game in one does not win by playing the unique Nash equilibrium strategy. Rather the way to win is to say 17.

This game can be easily replicated by asking people to pick a number between 0 and 100, and telling them the winner will be the person who picks the number closest to two-thirds the average number picked. The chart below shows the results from the largest incidence of the game that I have played - in fact the third largest game ever played, and the only one played purely among professional investors.

The highest possible correct answer is 67. To go for 67 you have to believe that every other muppet in the known universe has just gone for 100. The fact we got a whole raft of responses above 67 is more than slightly alarming.

[click the same old link for the figure]

You can see spikes which represent various levels of thinking. The spike at fifty reflects what we (somewhat rudely) call level zero thinkers. They are the investment equivalent of Homer Simpson, 0, 100, duh 50! Not a vast amount of cognitive effort expended here!

There is a spike at 33 - of those who expect everyone else in the world to be Homer. There’s a spike at 22, again those who obviously think everyone else is at 33. As you can see there is also a spike at zero. Here we find all the economists, game theorists and mathematicians of the world. They are the only people trained to solve these problems backwards. And indeed the only stable Nash equilibrium is zero (two-thirds of zero is still zero). However, it is only the ‘correct’ answer when everyone chooses zero.

The final noticeable spike is at one. These are economists who have (mistakenly…) been invited to one dinner party (economists only ever get invited to one dinner party). They have gone out into the world and realised the rest of the world doesn’t think like them. So they try to estimate the scale of irrationality. However, they end up suffering the curse of knowledge (once you know the true answer, you tend to anchor to it). In this game, which is fairly typical, the average number picked was 26, giving a two-thirds average of 17. Just three people out of more than 1000 picked the number 17.

This fact made my spine tingle. It was a blast from the past. I attended the
Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics (HCSSiM) in which a running joke was the claim that 17 is the only random number.

Although the entire student body changes every year, HCSSiM has a number of well-established traditions. Some of the oldest of these traditions deal with the repeated use, in mathematical problems, jokes, and lectures, of the number 17 (and its multiples) and the Yellow Pig. These two traditions were started by Professor Kelly, who collects objects with yellow pigs on them and examples of the number 17 in print.
Lane Violation
Balllance at the Washington Post

Chuck Lane manages to out do "Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ: Both Sides Have a Point"

Lane and I went to the same progressive alternative elementary and middle school Green Acres School. He has become rather famous. This makes me envious.

update: Oh nooo not only did I harshly criticize a fellow Green Acres alumnus, but I got a link from someone from dread hated rival Sidwell Friends (I mean we considered them rivals, they didn't even notice us).

Also, although I tried to tone my post down, it still seems to me to be shriller than Somerby's which is alarming.

He discusses Section 1233 of the House reform bill which provides for funding for end of life counseling. The Section has become notorious because the notorious Betsey McCaughey claimed that medicare recipients will be required to undergo such counseling every 5 years whether they want it or not -- that it will be mandatory for medicare recipients.

This is simply a lie. It is very hard to find two sides to the question. The section says that medicare recipients may obtain such counseling as part of medicare at most once every five years.

end update.

It would have seemed to me impossible to write a "Opinions on shape of earth differ -- both sides have a point" column on this debate, but Lane writes "Though not mandatory, as some on the right have claimed, the consultations envisioned in Section 1233 aren't quite "purely voluntary," as Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) asserts. To me, "purely voluntary" means "not unless the patient requests one." Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive -- money -- to do so. Indeed, that's an incentive to insist."

Does he apply the same standard to all things doctors might want to bring up for which they are paid ? Does he consider it a violation of patients rights for a doctor to suggest a treatment based on a physical and not wait for the patient to ask for it ?

Lane's view seems to be that doctors can get something for nothing if they are paid for the consultation. That would be the incentive. This shows that Lane has no clue about quality medical care or existing distortions in payments. All doctors I know agree that the problem with medicare is that it pays too much for "doing something" and too little for "talking to patients." It is just not true that if you offer someone positive money to do something you are giving them an incentive to do it (consider jury duty). MD's time is very valuable. Their economic incentive is to make money as fast as they can. In particular Lane does not discuss the duration of the counseling or the fee (I assume neither is in the bill). Evidently he would consider the bill to improperly influence MDs even if it offered to pay them $10 per hour for the counseling.

Paying someone for their time is not giving them an incentive unless you pay them over their reservation wage. I think it is very safe to say that medicare pays physicians less than their reservation wage to talk to patients (and Waaaaaaay less to listen to patients who are typically interrupted within seconds of beginning to describe their symptoms). Physicians have to choose between maximizing their income by not talking to patients and performing procedures or doing the right thing by talking to their patients. Unless there is some other change somewhere that Lane didn't bother to mention, this applies to end of life counseling (except for the compensating differential that it is very unpleasant which means it implies twice over to end of life counseling).

Or maybe Lane thinks it is improper for doctors to be paid for their time at all.

Strangely he asserts that where there is smoke there is fire *after* noting that the far right is telling total lies

Still, I was not reassured to read in an Aug. 1 Post article that "Democratic strategists" are "hesitant to give extra attention to the issue by refuting the inaccuracies, but they worry that it will further agitate already-skeptical seniors."

If Section 1233 is innocuous, why would "strategists" want to tip-toe around the subject?

Lane claims that people don't worry about attracting attention to an issue if they are right. He's 1 year younger than me, so I don't know if he remembers LBJ, but surely he's heard "but we can make that son of a bitch deny it?" Has he managed not to notice Karl Rove's strategy ?

So we appear to have
1) Ignorance of an almost universal criticism of current rules for MD compensation.
2) No sign of any grasp of economics or the value of time (except he doesn't seem to have wasted much of his time on research)
3) Ignorance of the way political debate actually works.
4) Ignorance of psychology.

And all in one column.
I know he's not stupid. He's just bound and determined to write a balllanced column about whether a blatant lie is a lie.

Balllance just means going beyond Ballance.

"Lane Violation" is a quote of someone (not me I swear) at Green Acres who liked to shout "lane violation" whenever Chuck touched a basketball.

Mark Kleiman has a much better critique of the column and notes that one of Lane's few claims of fact is false.

Lane continues:

Section 1233, however, addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones. Supporters protest that they're just trying to facilitate choice - even if patients opt for expensive life-prolonging care. I think they protest too much: If it's all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what's it doing in a measure to "bend the curve" on health-care costs?

That's an interesting question. Rather, it would be an interesting question if its factual predicate were accurate. In fact, section 1233 is in Title II of the bill, labeled "Medicare Beneficiary Improvements," No part of Title II has anything to do with cost containment;
Blue Dog Days of Summer

Not to put to fine a point on it, I think the Blue Dogs' main aims are 2) to get attention and 1) to get money. They made a deal with Waxman in which they provided the necessary vote (plus one more) for a compromise including a public option under one key condition -- no floor vote before the recess.

Why would they want the question to remain open during the recess ? Do they enjoy being verbally abused by wingnut teapartiers ? I'd say it's because the flood of cash from special interests in August will much more than pay for the bother.

See Blue Dogs rake in the cash and
a Blue Dog declares delay to be the key victory.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) said she believes the Blue Dogs have scored a major victory by getting leaders to back away from their goal of having the House vote on a healthcare bill before members return home for the month of August.

“We’ve achieved the victory of not having a vote on the House floor that will give every member a chance to digest what’s in the bill, whether it’s in a markup that occurs in Energy and Commerce or whether it’s as the bill exists right now,” she said. “It is because of the Blue Dog Coalition that there is no floor vote before the August break.”

Notably Herseth Sandlin is not meeting her constituents, just not the ones who ought to have a chance to fork over the cash express their concerns.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Signs of Hope for the Universe

feeling nostalgic I decided to do this search on youtube Beatles

and the first hit was

As far as Canadian musicians go I rate him somewhere between the editors and Joni Mitchell (I don't appreciate Glenn Gould and Neil Young can sign fine but he's a jerk).

As far as folk singers named Zimmerman go ... I won't go there.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Lack of Balance at the Washington Post

in a column prominently displayed on the front page of
Steven Pearlstein writes that Republican leaders and their fellow travelers have become "political terrorists." Such rhetoric is excessive. Republican leaders are dispicable liars, but their lies are legal and, indeed, protected from the first amendment.

Aside from that the column is magnificent.
Kinda pathetic how everyone is doing this

Views from Across the Atlantic

Like James Wimberley I live East of the Atlantic and want to talk about Kent Conrad and health care reform. Wimberley is very smart, but I disagree with this post. In it he proposes regional health insurance cooperatives as a compromise between public option and no public option (very much more along the lines of Sent Conrad's proposed compromise than Wimberley seems to think).

I have two specific objections to the post and, more importantly, I don't find any convincing case for federalism at all.

Again James Wimberley is an extraordinarily well informed genius who writes real well and is a pleasure to read. I've learned a lot from him.

1. As mentioned above, Wimberley seems confused about Conrad's proposal. Wimberley writes "The co-op idea is of course just wimping out and progressives have to fight this "compromise". Universal coverage requires compulsion through law - on employers, citizens, and taxpayers."

update rude sentence deleted:

Conrad definitely supports compulsion through law on citizens (individual mandate) and taxpayers. The Baucus caucus has talked about watering down but not eliminating the employer mandate. The Conrad proposal or even a proposal with no public option and no co-operative would have health insurance exchanges. The only difference I see between Conrad's proposal and Wimbereley's is that Wimberley has a map of the regions which he proposes.

2. He makes an uconvincing (rude word deleted) argument comparing apples and typewriters

"There clearly are diseconomies of scale that count against giant national structures in the USA. The VA is generally thought to work better than the much bigger Medicare and Medicaid;" This argument is total utter nonsense. The VA does not differ from Medicare in scale only. The VA provides health care via its employees, Medicare is just a health insurance program.

To find evidence of diseconomies of scale one would have to compare medicare to small health insurance programs not to a health care institution and to compare the VA to a larger health care provider. Medicare is much more efficient than medicare advantage private subsidized competitors of medicare. The VA is much larger than and rated higher than any other health care providing entity in the USA.

Winning NCQA's seal of approval is the gold standard in the health-care industry. And who do you suppose this year's winner is: Johns Hopkins? Mayo Clinic? Massachusetts General? Nope. In every single category, the VHA system outperforms the highest rated non-VHA hospitals.

Comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges the examples chosen by Wimberley provide very strong evidence of economies of scale at the US national level.

Comparing the VA to medicare is like comparing the reality based community to the defence department. The DOD is much larger and their writings are, on average, less interesting. This blog is smaller than the RBC so, by Wimberley's logic it is probably better.

Also Wimberley has a problem with his guess of "25% market share". The public option as in the House bills would only be available to employees of small firms and the unemployed who don't get medicare and would be an option. If one argues that the VA is about the right size then argues that the public option would be about 10 times to big, one really ought to claim that enrollment in the public option would be larger than the VA patient population currently about 5.2 million patients under care (not policy holders such that the VHA mails checks to the people who actually provide health care).

Sticking to the identification of health care provision and health insurance, Wimberley suggests a good number for his cooperatives would be 3 million enrollees. He assumes that 25% of the population of his regions would be enrolled. This means he doesn't know about the agreed no longer debated restrictions on eligibility for the public option. No one over 65 (medicare). No poor people (medicaid) no one who works for a firm with a payroll over 500,000 (employer mandate and employers are not offered the public option)

update: an estimate of enrollment in the plan which Conrad considers too big

The House plan envisions only about 10 million people joining the public option at the outset because access to the exchange would at least initially be limited to about 30 million uninsured and small-business employees to prevent the unraveling of employer-based insurance.

Finally, Wimberley says that lefty Europeans like federalism. So what ? Do they have any good reason to like federalism ?

1. the Federal Republic of Germany is federal.
The idea was to keep Germany weak. The concerns of Germans were not the only factor. Everyone else had concerns about the German nation for reasons which aren't related to alleged medicare diseconomies of scale.

2. Tony Blair supports federalism. That should convince everyone who thinks that Tony Blair can do no wrong, a group which notably does not include James Wimberley or for that matter and very much to his credit Tony Blair.

3. People complain about the UK NHS which is just incomparably bigger and more centralized than any health care provider anyone is imagining in the USA and delivers decent health care at half of the US cost. The public plan which is a bit too far for the Baucus caucus is a health insurance plan not a health care provider.

finally there are 50 existing US states not 51.

If one decides to count Washington DC as a sortof state, why not count Puerto Rico which has a much larger population ?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Google fail effort in progress

John Cole has a question

From today’s WaPo chat:

Oklahoma City, OK: In yesterday’s politics chat one of the posters wondered why it was “legal” for vocal critics of the administration to show up at congressional town halls and sometimes shout and yell. Does no one on the left recall eight years under George W. Bush when everywhere he went there were shrieking leftist protestors shouting “Hitler!” and hanging him in effigy? Some folks act like amngry fringe types are uniqie to the right.

I don’t recall George Bush being hanged in effigy by amngry fringe types. Does anyone else? Did this actually happen or is it just some new winger talking point?

so I tried to google Bush burned effigy and "bush burned in effigy" and so forth and so on. Google kept sending me to recent claims that Bush was regularly burned in effigy and to Iraqis burning Bush in effigy. I did get two events involving Bush and shoes in Washington DC.

The I thought I had an honest to God hit.

Now that is my kind of protest (except for the 60% required to end the filibuster part).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Silent Majority

supports health care reform.

First 50% support "Barack Obama's plan to reform health care."

Second solid majorities support every component of the House plans
(including soaking the rich to pay for reform). The difference between the solid majority for each and every component of reform and the not so solid majority for the reform plan is clearly based on uncertainty or misinformation about the plan. It is not just the usual pattern that people oppose public spending but support spending on each and every program. This is clear, because there is solid support for one of the funding options, in response to a question which definitely stresses the cost side of the cost benefit calculation.

The vast majority of US citizens support universal health insurance *and* support the taxes and mandates which will be required to achieve it.

However, a very noisy minority has been shouting down reform supporting congressmen when they try to talk to their constituents.

Clearly this is a case in which the silent majority is on one side and the noisy minority on another.

So far I haven't detected another liberal using the phrase "silent majority." It is entirely accurate appropriate and (I suspect) effective. However, it takes more than that to make most liberals quote Richard Nixon.

Am I the first to overcome this crippling atavistic revulsion ? If not provide a link with your comment.

Also I have nothing against dogs named checkers.

update: not the first. No more mister nice blog was not nice to me.

"we'll be the peaceful Silent Majority this time."
Mouthpiece Theater Explained

There has been a little web to do about "Mouthpiece Theater" starring Dana Milbank (who is no longer a member of the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and Chris Cilizza (whose byline is on the original ballanced article for which he blames an anonymous editor).

They had a stupid skit on the stupid beer summit in which the told a very stupid sexist joke involving the words "Hillary", "Clinton" and bitch."

Everyone who is even a tiny bit cool, thinks this video mocking them is awesome (I agree).

and their followup video is lame.

Uh Oh I'm in trouble now. I laughed out loud at the Milbank and Cilizza video. Does this mean I'm a square (or whatever you kids these days call us laimos).

I can explain the logic of their humor which is very logical.

1) they are claiming that they got in trouble for profanity not for stupidity and sexism. They are invoking "blowjob" from Marcy Wheeler ... I mean that they got in trouble as she did for using a forbidden word and not for being irritating unfunny nasty sexist idiots (IUNSI).

This is very logical. I personally would much prefer to be classified as "like Marcy Wheeler -- the person who shows that excellent journalism is still possible in the USA" than as an IUNSI.

The Milbank ditties are meant to show that he is not allowed to say anything. The electric shock reflects the fact that there are two limericks which begin "There once was a man from Nantucket ..." one of which is naughty.

Worked for me.
A Republican's health care proposal


Via myleftnutmeg and americablog

Update from Firedoglake
: Christine Stuart of CT News Junkie identifies the guy (via email) as the one she spoke to for this article:

There were several anti-Dodd signs in the crowd and at one point James Bancroft led the crowd in a “Hey Chris Dodd, Swim to Cuba” chant.

His name is James Bancroft. More video of him here:

Jim Bancroft, one of the protesters who is part of the Dump Dodd and Tea Party movements, said Dodd asked if he wanted to talk to him and he declined. Bancroft, who is currently uninsured and on disability for a back injury, said if he needs medical attention he will pay for it himself.

He seems also to be
James Bancroft Media Coordinator GATHERING OF EAGLES,

Also seems to have been at a Tea Party April 15 "James Bancroft led the crowd in a “Hey Chris Dodd, Swim to Cuba”"

Also, I think

A very active citizen. Pity he's disabled, can't work and has to live on a government pension.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Rifarsi una verginita (it) means to remake ones verginity in Italian.

The humor (such as it is) is based on the idea that this is impossible.

Oddly it is used to refer to people who have done something wrong and wish to redeem themselves (really honestly Italians do Not think there is anything wrong with ceasing to be a virgin).

Keith Olberman l'ha fatto (did it). It is clear that Murdoch and Imelt agreed to muzzle O'Reilly and Olberman. It is also clear that Mr Olberman was effectively muzzled for a while. Then a heroic defender of truth journalism and the American way reported the story (getting rated "worse" by Olberman) and Olberman had to choose whether to rifarsi una verginita or to be known as a whore.

I don't know what this is like. I have never had the opportunity to be a whore as no one has ever offered to pay for it.

He made the wise choice and denounced O'Reilly and Murdoch. Welcome back Mr Olberman.

Aesthetics, Ethics, Epistemology, Truthers and Birthers
Nate Silver finds some interest in a comparison of a poll on "are you a birther" and a poll on "are you a truther." He is reasonable and to the point (as always). Don't you hate that ? I sure do.

Over at Real Clear Politics, David Paul Kuhn has a pretty good take on the recent Research 2000 / Daily Kos survey revealing that 58 percent of Repulicans either don't believe or aren't certain that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Kuhn points out that in a Rasmussen Reports poll in 2007, 61 percent of Democrats either believed that George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or weren't certain that he didn't.

I think that David Paul Kuhn is doing a bit of a truther bait and switch. A full metal truther believes that 9/11 was a US government operation. To believe that "Bush knew" one doesn't have to go that far. One must only have a vague knowledge of the August 6th presidential daily brief and forget the details (or confuse tourists with profound problems with aesthetics who think the Suffolk county courthouse is a nice background and terrorists with profound problems with ethics who feel duty bound to kill thousands of innocent people).

Trutherism as defined by David Paul Kuhn is epistemologically quite different from birtherism as one might answer yes based on demonstrated facts, an unwillingness to believe in speculation and a really really tendentious and partisan reading of "Bush Knew" which equates "Bin Laden determined to strike ..." with "Planes flying into the world trade center on 11/9/2001." On the other hand, no degree of partisanship can make people interpret "Hawaii" to mean "Kenya."

(in case you didn't notice once I had typed "aesthetics" and "ethics" I was bound determined and totally too illiterate to type epistemologically).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Vulcan Mind Weld

Attempting to deduce the intention of The Creator from His creation, I have long been convinced that His aim was to find the utter abyss of idiocy. This causes me great concern, since, I fear that once we accomplish our Purpose and actually achieve said utter idiocy, He will have no further use for us and we will vanish.

I now realize that I am not the only person to reach this conclusion, since Brad DeLong regularly discusses the Stupidoclypse

"one of the Four Horsemen of the Stupidoclypse unleashed upon the world by Marty Peretz and Michael Kinsley in that dreadful laboratory 'accident.'"

The four are Charles Krauthammer, Mickey Kaus, Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes.

I now realize the one true sign of the last daze the Stupidoclypse.

It will come when all four of them make the same dishonest, stupid specious argument independently.

This is a most alarming thought as we have already gotten half way to the utter abyss of idiocy. in November 2006 both Mickey Kaus and Charles Krauthammer argued that the Democrats had done poorly (Charles claiming to be pleased and Mickey pretending to be disappointed and frustrated by the knowledge that if we had listened to him we would have done much better). They noted that the Democrats had won the narrowest possible senate majority only by winning two elections (Virginia and Montana) by microscopic margins. Both neglected to mention the fact that 40 incumbent Republican senators were not up for re-election making it almost (but not quite) impossible for the Republicans to end up with a delegation of only 49 senators (when was the last time the senate seats won by a major party in a regular election were in single digits ?).

Ahiii due to the mercy (and appalled fascination) of the One who Is the universe was not even half destroyed by the half Stupidoclypse, but, really, how long can it be until all four independently come up with the same idiocy ?

I personally am not making any plans for any date later then next Wednesday.
Sammy at Angry Bear has a fascinating post on a (warning pdf) paper by Ohsfeldt and Schneider

Read the post.

My comment.

Fascinating. I am especially impressed by the corrected life expectancy. The health care spending regressions seem to me to be of the sort that could benefit from more work. They provide strong evidence of Baumol's disease which suggests that, at least, a linear correction for per capita GDP is needed.

However, I do not find the non linear (semilog) estimate convincing. The problem is that the USA is a double outlier with high per capita GDP and high health care spending. This means that it is an extremely influential observation. I would want to see the fitted values from a regression from which the USA is dropped. In particular of countries 2-10 in per capita GDP the regression line (curve on the graph) lies above 7 passes through one (as far as I can see) and passes below only 1. This is strong evidence that the USA is taking control of the regression forcing the USA residual to be near zero. I have, of course, picked the nuimber 10 to make the case as extreme as possible.

Also the poorest 4 countries lie below the regression line (curve on the graph). There is very strong (I'd guess statistically significant) evidence that the log linear specification forces excessive convexity on the estimated relationship (and vice versa but les so for the linear specification which suggests that US spending is much higher than expected given per capita GDP)