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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Liveblogging the House Health Care Roll Out

Someone was just explaining how the changes in Medicare are good for seniors.

Now there is a congressman from Virginia talking about how the plan is good for small businesses. At least he isn't sliding over hudreds of billions in "savings."
My main impression is that this Virginia representative has a Northern accent. I knew Democrats were electable in Virginia, but I had no idea they were voting for yankee carpet baggers. Wow.

At the moment his accent is techno gorilla as I don't have the band width to do this.

Oh the techno garble was an actual small businessman. I am not watching the video and didn't notice any change in the audio.

This is pointless. I blame the Washington Post. Please don't click this link and use even more band width

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Robert Waldmann

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that he’d back a GOP filibuster of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health care reform bill.

Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and is positioning himself as a fiscal hawk on the issue, said he opposes any health care bill that includes a government-run insurance program — even if it includes a provision allowing states to opt out of the program, as Reid has said the Senate bill will.

Sorry for the link to Manu Raju at Politico who thinks that to support increased spending and deficits makes one a fiscal hawk.

Recently, a Lieberman aid publicly said he would vote for cloture. This is a stab in the back. Readers please use this link to share your views with the Senator.
Could you also copy your message to Sen Lieberman and post it as a comment here ? Don't bother if it is any bother, but I'd like a lower bound for the number of e-mails to Lieiberman

Also some economic news Lieberman climbs Mt Aetna

For those who think Lieberman is a puppet of the insurance industry I say

final ?

And to those who think that they can claim to be fiscal hawks while demanding that more public money be sent to the insurance companies I recall Gary Larson's warning as posted on Doug Elmendorf's office door 20 years ago.

Tim Pawlenty Goes for the Unreality Based Base Vote

He is supporting conservative Doug Hoffman against Republican Dede Scozzafesta in the special election in NY-23. This is a delightful race in which the Republicans might manage to lose a seat which they have held in the predicessors of NY-23 since 1871 (I read that somewhere on the web).

To solidify his crazy-base Credentials Gov Pawlenty makes a totally anti-reality based argument

"We cannot send more politicians to Washington who wear the Republican jersey on the campaign trail, but then vote like Democrats in Congress on issues like card check and taxes," (via thinkprogress I can't find the permalink).

Dear governor, I don't think the word "more" means what you think it means. When was the last time a Republican in congress voted like a Democrat on taxes. I admit that Snowe, Collins and then Republica Specter voted for the massive Obama tax cut as part of the spending bill, but I don't think that Pawlenty means "voting for tax cuts" when he said "voting like a Democrat on taxes" (that would be too reality based). The last time the Democrats increased taxes was in 1993. They also cut taxes for the poor, but that doesn't count. That bill passed with a grand total of 0 Republican votes 0 in the House plus 0 in the Senate.

The fact is that Republicans in congress and especially Republicans in the House of Representatives are very disciplined. Their personal views just don't matter much.

That's why it is so wonderfully wacky that the right wing of the Republican party is willing to risk losing a seat over irrelevant ideological purity.

That anyone who wants to be the Republican nominee has to pretend to be totally delusional is excellent news for Barack Obama.

I don't think any Republicans have voted for card check. In fact, as far as I know, no Democrats have voted for card check either. I wasn't aware of any vote in any committee.
I agree with Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera

I never expected to type that.

Lou Dobs said

Geraldo Rivera ... — This guy is nothing but a fiction of his own imagination and a figment of whatever he sees in the mirror.


Geraldo Rivera wouldn’t know a fact if it hit him in the rear end — and that would probably be an appropriate place if you wanted him to absorb the information. … This is the kind of vile stupidity and ignorance that he spews everywhere he goes.


Gerado Rivera said

Lou Dobbs ... discovered that one of the ways to get people to watch was to make of the image of a young Latino trying to get into this country a profoundly negative icon.

Yep. They are doing excellent work analysing each other. Just so long as they leave the rest of humanity alone I am delighted.

update: uhm maybe I should have been more careful about that whole "rest of humanity business" because there is more insightful analysis from Mr Dobbs (very same link)

Last week, Dobbs ripped Fox Business News anchor John Stossel as a “self-important ass” with his “own brand of myopic idiocy” after Stossel told Fox News’ “rodeo clown” Glenn Beck that he does not support “the Lou Dobbs-kind of rants about immigrants wrecking America.”
Get the Lead Out II

About a year ago, I noted the hypothesis that lead from leaded gasoline causes violent crime. It has been proposed that the US shift to unleaded which began in 1973 caused the decline in violent crime in the US in the 90s.

This hypothesis suggests a later peak of crime in the UK which began the shift to unleaded later. I predicted a peak in violent crime in around 2008.

So how is that prediction holding up ?

Back then the most recently avaible data were from 2007/8. So I'm off to check the 2008/9 figures.

(tense pause)

According to a victimization survey there was a statistically insignificant 4% decline in violent crime in the past year (they don't use calender years so it is 2008/9 vs 2007/8 the study was published in July. Police recorded violent crime declined 6%.

I predicted about zero, so OK so far.
Opt Out is so Popular that even the fiery far left populist senator and diehard supporter of the robust public option supports it.

The American working man can trust the Senator who is determined to protect him from giant corporations who have managed to eliminate effective competition in many states-- John D Rockefeller.

History may be a harsh teacher, but don't try to tell me that it doesn't have a sense of humor.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reid Opts for Opt Out !
Climate Science: What Went Right ?

The US Chamber of Commerce is tying itself into knots trying to deny that it denies the scientific near unanimous consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). In notabe contrast, lunatics who claim that lower tax rates lead to higher revenues control the Repubican party.

What's the difference ? Sure the evidence for AGW is stong but the pattern that tax cuts are followed by huge deficits and that the Clinton tax increase was followed by a surplus is pretty clear too. Economists are about as divided as climatologists on the evidence.

So what's the differerence ? Well clearly climate science is accepted as science while economic science is considered an oxymoron. But is it really likey that J.Q. Public recognizes the solidity of climate Science. I would guess J.Q. is a bit vague on the difference between climatology and meteorology, and between forecasting the climate and forecasting the weather. The reputations of weather forecasters are similar to those of economic forecasters and astrologers.

I think the key factor is that J.Q. Public has noticed that the scientific community as a whole seems to be on to something. Scientists in other fields can recognise science when they see it. They have noticed that climatologists have evidence as solid as evidence in their own field and reason the way they reason and don't assume that they have a can opener. So the scientific establishment as a whole has endorsed climate science.

They also have let an economist or two into the National Academy of Science, but that is mere tokenism. I imagine they say the following

Yes yes we believe that, someday, there will be social science and oh of course the day is already dawning. Surely we will let some social scientists mingle with real natural scientists. Why ever not. Soem of my best friends are social scientists. I even let them use my bathroom.
A Case for Opt Out

The latest news is that Senator Reid seems to be planning to try to get the Senate to vote on a health care reform bill with a public option which allows states to opt out -- to deprive their citizens of the public option and that White House officially supports Senator Reid's efforts out -- to deprive their citizens of the public option.

So this post is probably un-necessary. However, since, on September 4 2009, I proposed a (probably unconstitutional) form of opt out, I want to explain why I think it is a good idea.

Obviously the main advantage is an opt-out clause is probably needed to get to 60 votes for cloture. This is not the only advantage however.

I assume that opposition to opt out depends in very large part on the desire to help insurance companies. There is no other reality based reason to oppose the public option. This means that many governors and state legislators would be very eager to not give people in other states the option to by public insurance. Opt out would not give them the power to do that. It would only give them the power to force their constituents to subsidize insurance companies. This makes a state level opt out decision very different from the decision by a Senator to vote against the public option. Senators can take the option away from people who aren't their constituents. Many senators are so eager to do this that they don't mind hurting their constituents too in the process.

I hope that the number of states which actually opt out will be lower than the number of States which send 2 anti public option senators to Washington. The decisions are different. The costs to their constituents are the same. The benefits for insurance companies are much lower.

Now many opponents of the public option aren't reality based at all. Many people sincerely believe that the public option means death panels or something. The opt out debate will drive a wedge between the tea partiers and the reality based corporate stooges. As argued above, many corporate stooges who would vote to eliminate the public option nationwide will not be eager to shaft their own constituents. This will infuriate the tea partiers. Anything which separates the sincerely ideological from the mercenary tends to weaken the alliance of money and conservative ideology on which the Republican party is based.

Furthermore a patchwork in which people in some states have access to a public insurance plan, people in other states will be very irritated that premia drop at the state line. Public support for those non reality based state legislators and governors who opt out will suffer as a result.

I think opt out will make it clear to people if those in State government, who are supposed to be serving them, are, in fact, either bought tools of insurance companies, or ideological fanatics who can't see reality, or both.

Of course it is necessary that states be allowed to opt out of a centralized plan with a scale large enough for efficient administration and high bargaining power, or, better, one with rates linked to medicare and effectly immense bargaining power.

If they can opt out of a feeble tiny public plan confined to their state, they will, and it wouldn't matter much if they didn't.
The Return of the Trigger

People are talking about a public option with a trigger as a health care reform compromise. Alarmingly some work in the White House.

First What Ezra said

No one has ever seemed to have worked on a possible trigger as an actual provision of an actual bill. No one has sought political support for a trigger. I think that bringing up the trigger is equivalant to asking for delay. Both the trigger and delay are advocated by Senator Snowe.

Being sure that discussion of a trigger is a waste of time, I just can't resist.

I propose a trigger in which people in some state have access to a pubic option if for t = 2014 or later, fewer than f(t) % of legal residents have health insurance. To be a good policy, f(t) should rise to 100 % over time.

Aadding a trigger to the public option could be a disguised way of eliminating it. Certainly, if the Senate were required to pull the trigger, a trigger is like a no.

Adding a trigger could amount to nothing if, say, Barack Obama were the one to decide whether to pull it.

A trigger only makes sense if it is based on hard numbers and those numbers are crunched by an independent non political entity. I'm not sure how constitutional that would be, but let's assume it is pulled by the GAO or something.

Snowe is eager for a trigger pulled if people don't have access to affordable insurance. This is equivalent to no trigger, since the subsidies are designed to guarantee that all have access to affordable insurance. Snowe is not convinced that this means insurance is actually affordable, but it is declared to be affordable. Her position is just a gentle moderate sounding no to the public option.

OK so my proposal. I think it can be implemented. I mean it is not too hard to reliably estimate the number of people with insurance and the number of legal US residents in a state. It is hard to estimate the number of undocumented aliens, but everyone with power agrees that, for the purposes of health care reform, they don't count.

The point of my proposal is that an insurance company with a domminant position in a state would have a strong incentive to get people insured in order to avoid competing with a public option. This would give it incentives to chase after the uninsured *and* to charge low premia. The threat of a public option would work vaguely like a public option.

Effort to waste time completed.

But seriously Snowe is just delaying things, because when history calls she gets anxious. Go without her. Use budget reconciliation if necessary.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In Which I Irrespect Matthew Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias uses the word "irrespective" twice in 55 words spanning two posts (including the title of the older post).

I don't want him to feel irred* but I'm feeling unusually irrespectful of Yglesias's prose style. I mean "irrespective" is a fine word, but what's wrong with "notwithstanding."

By the way both posts are brilliant.

*people my age think we show how hep and kewl we are when we demonstrate that we know that "to diss" is a verb.
Mark Kleiman on Retribution

This post by Mark Kleiman is more interesting than an average Mark Kleiman post on crime and punishment, and that is saying a lot.

I can't summarize it, please just click the link.

To give it the whole college try, Kleiman argues in favor of considering retribution as a legitimate aim of punishment *and* that "the suffering punishment inflicts on offenders and those who care about them is always a cost and not a benefit, and therefore can only be justified by some good result." That's a tough square to circle (although the broadness of some good result helps).

I'm sure it is a pure coincidence, but, in the post, Kleiman is, among other things, defending an apparently indefensibe* statement by Barack Obama

"Barack Obama supports the death penalty even though he believes it “does little to deter crime”. It is justified, he says, because it expresses “the full measure of [a community’s] outrage”. " Oh my Lexington has waved crime, punishment and Barack Obama in front of Kleiman's nose. He (or she) was asking for it.

Kleiman makes three arguments

1) ... when punishment expresses outrage in a way that changes attitudes about the wrongfulness of the underlying act – as more severe punishment of drunk driving and domestic violence surely has done – it has a crime-control effect not reducible to incapacitation and deterrence.

2) ... a light punishment reflects, and reinforces, the low value the community assigns to the person on the receiving end of the crime, and by extension to other people of similar background.


3)The shift from weregild or private revenge to punishment by the state no doubt represents an important social advance. But it ought to be thought of as a bargain, with the state standing in for the Lord and saying to the victim and his family, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That bargain, once made, must be kept.

first note that argument 3 is in notable contrast to arguments 1 and 2. In 1 and 2 Kleiman argues that the state can and should shape public attitudes. Sounds alarmingly Marxist, but, like much of his thought, Marx owes this to Smitth who made the argument in "Theory of the Moral Sentiments."

Point 3 relies on the assumption that the state can only slake and not eliminate our thirst for vengeance. If a false dichotemy were a valid argument, then Mark Kleiman would be wrong and my grandmother would be my grandfather.

I think that Kleiman doesn't prove all that he seems to set out to prove. In particular, while I think that Obama's statement is fine as a political compromise needed to win elections, I don't think that Kleiman successfully defends it as a moral proposition. I will use it as an example, when discussing Kleiman's arguments.

OK point 1. This is an effect of punishment. In allowing it to be considered, Kleiman seems to assume that people who make the laws know more about right and wrong than mere citizens. He seems to think that the beliefs about morality which will be encouraged by the law are the beliefs of people like him and are true beliefs. I note that the law has also reinforced the view that the first amendment right to association doesn't apply to the Communist Party, that atheism and religious skepticism are depraved etc etc etc. Influencing opinions does not necessarily mean improving them.

Note the key weasel word "seems" in the paragraph above. Kleiman doesn't actually state that laws affect moral sentiments *and* this is a good thing. He just said that there is an effect of the law other than deterrence and incapacitation. I grant him his point. Everything has all sorts of effects direct and indirect and oh what a tangled web we weave when in consequentialism we do believe.

It is irrelevant to Obama's statement. Obama doesn't say we need the death penalty to convince people that some especially bad murders are really bad. He (and Lexington parapharsing say "expresses '... outrage'" not "creates a proper sense of outrage."

Point 2. Here it really seems to me that Kleiman is saying that utilitarian calculus must only operate within the limits set by rights including the right to equal protection under the laws, which plainly includes policing services and punishment which does not depend on the identity of the victim. I think point 2 amounts to saying that the state must act through anonymous laws. A benevolent dictator who was above the law might do better, but we don't have a benevolent dictator on hand. To live under the law and not under arbitrary authority, punishments must be regulated by laws. This means that judges will sometimes punish someone more severely than we would if they were absolutely free to punish as they saw fit. It sure doesn't seem to me to have anything to do with retribution. It has to do with the rule of law and the claim that laws must be clear and simple in order to maintain the rue of law.

3. Vengeance is mine sayeth the state. Here I can interpret Kleiman's arguments in two different ways depending on the meaning of "must." It is an imperative and it might be categorical or hypothetical.

Is he saying it is morally necessary to keep all social bargains -- that the historically existing social contract is morally binding ? Surely he doesn't believe that. The USA made a social compact with its White male citizens promising us that we would control the country and that it wouldn't arbitrarily deprive us of our property (including human property). It didn't keep that bargain. Kleiman can't be arguing that a promise made to our ancestors centuries or milennia ago is moral law. However, I think he definitely is appealing to the sense that promises should not be broken even if you can get away with it.

It seems he is arguing that the unsatisfied thirst for vengeance can lead to crime and that it is welfare maximising to take this it into account. William Douglas said no man is more than x meals away from a felony (I think X was 6 which is clearly to low). Similarly, one might argue that we must punish a criminal, because if we don't the victims will.

This really doesn't seem to get us to the death penalty. We must kill this man, because someone else might, doesn't strike me as a sound argument.

I'd say Kleiman has made two major valid points. First, one has to decide between the rule of law and attempting to optimize dterrence and incapacitation for a given level of total punishment. Hardly a shocking conclusion, but convincing. Also that punishment has effects in addition to effects via incapacitation and deterrance. His examples are that it promotes a proper outrage and sooths dangerous outrage. Not at all a logical contradiction, but, again, the argument that actions have many different effects and forecasting is difficult is not really novel.

In the end, I think it is clear that Kleiman has something in mind which I haven't grasped. After being provoked to thought, I have come around to the conclusion that his arguments are obvious and amount only to respect for the rule of law and the complexity of humanity. I must have missed something.

But what ?

* update: I actually want to defend Obama. I claim he was lying. IIRC The statement appeared in "The Audacity of Hope." It appeared in the context of Obama arguing for more safeguards to reduce the probability that innocent people are sentenced to death and for less and less arbitrary application of the death penalty. Notably Obama's amazing legislative achievement in the Illinois senate was convincing his colleagues and Gov. Blago... to require that all police questioning of suspects of capital crimes be videotaped. In practice he managed to achieve something that restricts the death penalty and that is rare. Obama's claim that he doesn't oppose the death penalty as such, makes perfect strategic sense. This would be true even if his only aim in life were to reduce the number of people put to death.

The people of the USA (and of Illinois) will *not* be convinced that the death penatly is always wrong. They will ignore all statements about the death penalty by people who say that it is always wrong. When I read the passage I wasn't disturbed at all. It seemed obvious to me that Obama was making a obligatory gesture of feigned respect for vengeance.

In contrast, I was outraged when he praised welfare reform. Again, I'm sure he did that, because one loses ones electability (and status as a serious non DFH) when one criticizes welfare reform. However, the facts are the facts, and Obama's claims about the pre-reform welfare system are falsehoods.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Big Government

A comment on something I read quoted by Digby.

When you comb the serious academic evidence about how and why economies grow, you will find that no case can be made that big government or even high taxes impede economic growth over time.

I hate to type this but I don't agree with "you will find that no case can be made that big government or even high taxes impede economic growth over time. "

In fact, I don't think you can find any case that high taxes impede economic growth. That much is true.

However, high G (government spending other than transfers like social security) is very robustly correlated with low growth in every cross country data set which I checked.

Both can be true. The evidence is very strong that deficits are terrible for growth.

Now these are cross country regressions and most countries are in the third world. It isn't necessarily relevant to the USA.

There is strong evidence that high public spending on education is good for growth (not neutral good). High Transfers (like social security) are correlated with high growth.

Public health care spending is correlated with good health and private health care spending isn't This is not just the result of the USA with huge private spending and not so great health. It is true if you drop the USA from the sample.

High infrastructure spending is correlated with high growth. Believe it or not high military spending is not correlated with low growth.

Huh !?!? so what's left ? Well I'd say some countries actually have bloated bureaucracies. The USA sure isn't one of them. No one proposes bloating up our bureaucracy. We have been fighting bureaucratic bloat for my entire lifetime (born November 9 1960).

We won. The federal government does much more than it did when I was born and Federal civilian employment is a much lower fraction of total employment.

OK sure we got some Blackwater's in the bargain, but basically the USA shows that the public sector can be efficient -- more efficient at many things than the private sector.

This means the sad fate of third world countries with bloated bureaucracies (compared to what they can afford) is not relevant to our case.

But it's there in the cross country data. I could *not* make the apparent effect go away (I checked for my own information. I don't mine data then write it up as if I hadn't mined the data. Honest).

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Totally Dishonest Quote Produced by Cutting and Pasting

People who object to being quoted often complain that their remarks were taken out of context. They aim to insinuate that the meaning of the quotation was distorted by removal of needed context. Usually, this insinuation is bogus. However, it is possible to misquote someone using cut and paste.

For example (and I really don't recall many examples this egregious of the top of my head) Ben Armbruster uses cut and paste to make the careless reader believe that Ivan Volsky wrote something definitely different from what Volsky wrote. I quote Armbruster misquoting Volsky.

Regardless, the Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky notes that the opt out provision won’t lower costs like a stong public option will:

But a state-based approach won’t have the ability to significantly lower health care costs or change delivery patterns.

Volsky did indeed write the quoted words in that order. However, he was definitely explicitly *not* writing about opt out. The quote in context clearly refers to trigger not opt out
At this point, Reid may not have the votes to move a national opt out off of the floor; he is introducing a national opt-out with the understanding that it would become a state-based ‘trigger’ when the Senate formally takes up the measure. The maneuver is meant to satisfy progressives — Congress tried — but the final bill will include a mechanism that triggers a state-based public option if a certain affordability threshold is not satisfied (if 5% of the state population does not have access to at least two “affordable” options, for instance). The policy will then be presented as ‘the best deal we could get’ and embraced by both Reid and the White House.

But a state-based approach won’t have the ability to significantly lower health care costs or change delivery patterns.

I don't see how Volsky could possibly have made it clearer that the quoted criticism was *not* a criticism of the opt out compromise but a criticism of the different bill which Volsky claims that Reid predicts would pass if Reid were to propose opt out.

I think Armbruster could have run the quote past Volsky ? The both work for CAP and the Volsky statement and the totally distorted misleading quotation appear on siste web sites.

At this point, I think CAP is not up to Fox News standards. I mean Fox News tends to quote Fox News correctly.
Begging the Question II

It is very unfortunate that many people use "begging the question" to mean "raising the question." It is less important that I personally have my personal definition which is "making an argument which is so vulnerable to a counterargument that it begs someone to make that counterargument." I think the standard definition is assuming what one seeks to prove.

OK so I'm third in line for "begging the question." That raises the question "What ever am I to do ?" The answer

read Daniel Davies who wrote

"playing a little crossword-puzzle game where the answer was “”. " That's it. An apparently convincing argument which is absolutely vulnerable to a question is playing a little crossword-puzzle game where the answer was "what about [question]"

In the case in question, a single word is enough. The word is "consensus" and the counterargument is "are you saying there was a consensus as there is now ?"

Also, by the way, it is not usually a good interprative strategy to assume that Mr Davies means literally exactly what he writes. He uses a rhetorical technique called "irony". So, for example, he did not really confess that the main aim of most of his writing is to annoy people when he wrote "The whole idea of contrarianism is that you’re ... setting out to annoy people." He really meant "part of the point of contrarianism, but not the whole point, is to annoy people." I have seen on the web someone (pretend to ?) take the sentence seriously.
Either more good irony or a bad interprative strategy.
I made a fool of myself over Karen Ignagni

When I was young and stupid (last week ok middle aged and stupid) I wrote a post entitled "A Defence of Freakonomics." It got a lot of attention. Maybe I am addicted to contrarianism and just want attention.

Now I am going to argue that the true hero(ine) of US health care reform is not Ted Kennedy, not Ron Wyden, not Barack Obama, not even Elisabeth Edwards, but Karen Ignani.

She is head of the health insurance lobby AHIP. One would expect her to be leading the resistance to universal health insurance. Of course, she claims otherwise -- in fact she says she supports health care reform provided it is universal.

Why would anyone believe her ? Well for one thing, she has been working for universal health insurance since Barack Obama was in college. I hand the mic over to Matt

Look at her bio:

Prior to joining AAHP in 1993, Ms. Ignagni directed the AFL-CIO’s Department of Employee Benefits. In the 1980s, she was a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, preceded by work at the Committee for National Health Insurance and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
What’s the Committee for National Health Insurance? Well:

The Committee for National Health Insurance was organized in 1969 through the efforts of UAW President Walter P. Reuther

You have to admit it answers a whole lot of nagging questions.

Now like Matt (and Paul) I don't really think the commically mendacious PWC analysis was a deliberate attempt to shoot the health insurance industry in the feet. My theory in the post below.

I do think that Ignagni has consistently not gone all out attacking any universal plan and did attack the first non-universal proposal to appear. My reading of the event was (and is) that it is just not possible to satisfy both Snowe and Ignagni.
I'm glad that Reid appears to have decided to satisfy neither, but I do think that Ignagni and Snowe have irreconcilable differences.

Look if someone repeatedly says something, if that statement fits with the entire history of their professional life and if her actions are explained by the hypothesis that the statement is not a lie, one might consider the possibility that it isn't a lie.
Back Commenting on Black

Atrios wrote


Like Digby, I can't predict the future but remain (very) cautiously optimistic about the end result of HCR. I was worried for awhile there, when I realized that it seemed that one thing many of our very important senators had forgotten to consider was that people actually have to kind of like this plan, and forcing people to buy shitty insurance would probably not make voters happy. I get the sense (not that I really know) that it's become a bit more of the conversation, and hopefully that'll lead a few more people to understand that pleasing Olympia Snowe and AHIP can't be the only considerations.

I comment.

I think you are unfair to Snowe and AHIP. I think very important senators Baucus and Conrad have even worse ideas about policy than Snowe or AHIP.

Recall that Snowe's watchword is "affordability" which sure makes it sound like she shares exactly your concern. Also note that she supported the Wyden amendment.

Or what about AHIP (which is not identical to the insurance companies which it claims to represent -- principal agent problem anyone). AHIP/PWCs commically dishonest assault on the Finance Committee bill was an assault specifically against the Finance Committee bill and, in particular, the fact that the individual mandate was not universal.

I think it is possible that AHIP really does consider non-universality the one deal breaker. Certainly they have been saying exactly that for over a year. A possible story is that Baucus balked on universality and AHIP told PWC sicc him. Attack dog PWC then mixed metaphors and went whole hog shooting themselves in the foot (hey they're accountants. What do they know from metaphors).

Frankly, I'd say that one reason why the very important Senators are now focused on writing a decent bill is that Baucus is no longer the most important Senator. Another reason is that they have discovered that they can't satisfy both AHIP and Snowe and trying to satisfy both they will satisfy neither.
Why do they public option oponents rage ?

I think everyone knows this, but I will repeat it here. Senators who claim to be moderate are willing to threaten to block reform if it includes a public option.
Bloggers ask how they could possibly have such extreme views on one narrow issue ?
(before I linked to Yglesias via Benen without linking to Benen so I am making up for it). Long enough ago that I don't have a link, Ezra Klein noted that all of the public options under discussion are hobbled, because people who get insurance from their employers will not have the option. So what's the big deal.

Many people (links forgotten again but I suspect Kevin Drum) have explained that public option opponents assume that it is stealth single payer. That if everyone can opt for public insurance, everyone will, and that all limits in the current bill will be swept away when people find out how much they can gain if they have access to the public option.

As proposed it is narrow but it will be Wydened (that it the only appropriate word for eliminating the barrier which keeps people who get insurance from their employers as proposed by Ron Wyden). This is actually fairly clear. In his efforts to block the Wyden amendment in the Finance committee, Sen Max Baucus declared it out of order on the grounds that it had not been scored by the CBO even though it had been scored by the CBO.

To opponents, the only ways to stop the public option from growing into single payer are to block it entirely or to cripple it so that it won't be able to charge low premia.

Limits on who has access such as the unWydened current provision or state level opt outs just won't stop it. Breaking it up into many little public or cooperative options will, because most of low costs will be due to piggy backing on medicare's bargaining power.

Opt *in* might OK for them. If it starts slowly and never take off. Opt out, not so much. Even if roughly half of states opt out, they won't stay out when people get angry over how much premia fall the instant you cross a state line.

Even if it is a little aspect of reform now, it can't be kept from growing except by strangling it in its cradle.
Senator Mary Landrieu Proposes a Poll

NPR asks her a question

Asked about polls showing public support for a government plan, Landrieu said the questions should be phrased differently.

"I think if you asked, do you want a public option but it would force the government to go bankrupt, people would say no," she said.

Yep Senator Landrieu sure knows more than Joe Public about the public option, and she knows way more than the CBO which predicts that it would cut $ 100 B off the Federal debt over ten years. I don't know how exactly that would bankrupt the Federal Government.

As Matt Yglesias notes, Sen. Landrieu shows no hint of knowing what the public option is.

I recommend you just click the link and skip the rest of this post.

The relatively charitable explanations of her repeated claims that it will be subsidized by taxpayers are beginning to be implausible. She does not phrase them as predictions about what will happen no matter what the CBO says. She claims that the public option is just like taxpayer financed programs such as medicaid and medicare

Describing the public option as a "government-run, taxpayer subsidized, national insurance plan," Landrieu said it would likely replicate the problems faced by Medicare and Medicaid.

""Why don't we fix the two public options we have now instead of creating a third one," she told NPR's "Tell Me More."

Her count is off (she forgot her own health insurance for example) but more to the (unoriginal) point, there is nothing optional about medicaid. You pay for it via your 1040 or else.

The charitable might assume she is lying, but I am getting the horrible sensation taht she is honestly ignorant.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comments on a post at Rortybomb

Go read the post

My comments

I have a lot of comments and can't be brief.

1) You seem to assume that if one advocates geoengineering then one must decide to at least reduce efforts to cut emissions. This does not follow logically. I am ignorant and my opinion doesn't matter but I sincerely believe that we should do everything politically possible to reduce emissions and send sulfate precursers up 18 mile long tubes. The discussion of the effects of geoengineering has become linked to opinions about cap and trade and carbon taxes. This is illogical and ideological.

2) relatedly, some people seem to use the logic "If Bjorn Lomborg says it's good it must be bad." This is not completely reliable. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn.

3) acid rain -- the amount of Sulfur Dioxide under discussion is less than one half of current US Sulfur Dioxide emissions (which are a modest fraction of the world total). The acid precipitation will be spread over the world not concentrated at lethal (to spruce trees not humans) levels (like the smoke the US used to send across the border to Canada)The claim that that amount of Sulfur Dioxide will directly cause serious damage to the environment tends to be contradicted by the scientific analysis by Kravitz et al (pdf warning I am ignorant and their conclusion might be contested. However, the confident claim from a non expert that they are definitely wrong does not impress me.

4) Moral hazard and hurting a billion people. The two points don't fit together comfortably. As noted in another paper the same group at Rutgers (and others) predict that the main problem with sulfur based geoengineering is that it will cause reduced precipitation in India and China. This (unlike acid rain) is a real problem. It does not, however, create a moral hazard problem. The USA can honestly tell India and China

"we want to stop global warming. If you don't reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, then we will feel forced to send millions of tons of Sulfur Dioxide up 18 mile tubes. We really don't want to do this as it will hurt you badly. That's a nice monsoon you have there. It would be a pity if something were to happen to it."

I don't mean to be flippant. Reduced rain in India and China is one of the climate changes which would do the most to incrrease huiman suffering. That, and not acid rain, is the serious problem with Sulfur based geoengineering.

5) "Moral hazard" is a very respected phrase. However the logic of the moral hazard argument is Leninist "The worse it is the better it is." Now Leninist is not a nice word, but what exactly is the difference in the reasoning. Of course a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn and Lenin's argument might be valid in this case.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Look how much Sulfer Dioxide are we talking about ?

The general guess is a gram of sulfate in the stratosphere* cancels the effect of over 100,000 grams of CO_2. Given emissions of around 30 trillion kilograms of C0_2 one would need to add (net) less than 300 million kilograms of sulfate per year to cancel that much additional CO_2 and pause global warming. Given the half life of sulfate in the upper stratosphere, if it were sent that high, that corresponds to well a lot more. let's multiply by ten so steady state is cancel ten years of global warming times the half life of sulfate (which is over a year). We are up to 3 billion kilograms of sulfate per year and, why by some strange coincidence that is exactly the amount considered by Kravitz et al in the analysis which concludes that the additional acid precipitation will be a minor problem.

This group at Rutgers is, I think, respected in the field. They are the same group which warned that SO_2 based geoengineering is likely to cause severe problems with reduced rain in India and China which are, from the point of view of the average human, about the two most important aspects of climate.

The amounts of additional SO_2 to be spewed according to their assumptions are 3 to 5 billion kilograms. That would not amount to a doubling of US SO_2 emissions. According to data from the Environmental Defense Fund, the US was emitting 10 billion kilograms of SO_2 in 2002. China emits much more.

I don't see how the increase in US emissions by 30 to 50 %, that is, back to the level the USA emitted in 1990 is going to cause World War III.

I don't see any legal difference between 18 mile high tubes and 1000 foot high chimneys.

Now it is true that SO_2 geoengineering carries the risk of imposing large costs on India and China.

I'm no expert on international politics, but it seems to me that the USA could do worse than develop a partial solution for global warming that, unfortunately, would be worse for China and India than emissions control in China and India.

I mean it seems to me "get your house in order before we are forced to pump up SO2 to keep from roasting" is a pretty effective sounding negotiating strategy if it is a plain direct description of facts and things we will do even though we regret the costs they will impose on India and China.

* yes I know I made fun of people for saying the plan was to inject sulfate. Sulfur dioxide rapidly becomes Sulfate in the presence of water and oxygen, so the stuff up there will be sulfate even if the stuff we send up is sulfer dioxide.

update: teeny tiny factor of 1,000 error corrected. A Tg is a Terragram or a billion kilograms. I wrote a billion grams. ooops.
James Wimberley warns about Black Helicopters. Kevin Drum agrees. Paul Krugman thinks they understate the danger.

Wimberley just topped the post criticizing Glenn Greenwald for being to soft on the Obama administration in the "huh are you sure those are the same facts" derby.

Also James Wimberly and Kevin Drum agree that Sulfer Dioxide (SO_2) is the same thing as Sulfate (SO_4). They are wrong. 4 is not equal to 2. Sulfer Dioxide is not Sulfate or even Sulfuric Acid (H_2S=_4). It is a much much more vicious chemical.

The critique of the proposal to send sulfer dioxide up 18 mile tubes would be more convincing coming from people who refreshed their memories of High School chemistry enough to not claim that a different molecule is involved.

I quote Wimberley "One of Levitt and Dubner’s unfounded enthusiasms is for geoengineering solutions to CO2 forcing, specifically massive injection of sulphate aerosols ino the atmosphere to shield the earth from solar radiation by artificial smog." OK at least the next words are "Not being an expert ..." You don't say ?

Here is Drum

"they're fans of the idea of pumping huge amounts of sulfates into the stratosphere in order to reflect a little bit of sunlight back into space and away from earth."

OK now let's ask the Wikipedia if sulfer dioxide is sulfate (or a sulfate)

Here is Sulfate see 4 oxygens not 2
Here is Sulfur Dioxide. See 2 oxygens not 4 (as the name suggests)

I think the fact that two of the smartest people in the known universe made the exact same high school level error suggests that people are in a bit too much of a rush to denounce geoengineering.

Moving up from the molecular scale, Wimberley argues that for geoengineering to work there must be an unaccountable not responsible (in the constitutional sense) international technocratic committee in charge. Hence the black helicopters.

He writes
2. For the same reasons, the measures cannot be national or regional in scale. They will be inherently global in their effects, even if carried out by or in a single country. The political cover accordingly has to be global.

and concludes

I conclude that the only possible locus for the Monnet-style delegation is to an agency under the fig-leaf auspices of the United Nations. It could have an anodyne title: “The executive subcommittee of IPCC Working Group III on technological mitigation”. The crucial word is executive. It would decide stuff, and give orders to the relevant agencies of member countries like NASA. The budget would have to be unlimited. Only very brave and knowledgeable people would volunteer; and they would need the equivalent of a witness protection programme for their personal safety.

Kevin Drum mostly agrees again

Everything seems easier when it's just an academic exercise. But geoengineering isn't something that a single country can pull off. It's a global problem, after all. That means treaties and conferences and endless debate over costs and benefits and what the target temperatures ought to be and who's responsible for side effects.

Paul Krugman thinks that Drum and Wimberley are unaware of the risks of geoengineering

Having somebody — who? The United States? The United Nations? The Coalition of the Willing? — pump sulfur into the atmosphere through an 18-mile tube, or cut off sunlight with a giant orbital mirror, would either (a) require many years of hard negotiations or (b) quite possibly set off World War III.

What planet are these people living on and trying to save ?

Why would the USA spewing S0_2 out of 18 mile chimneys be so different from spewing SO_2 out of thousand foot chimneys ? Since when has international law prevented anyone from putting anything other than chemical weapons in the atmosphere ?

Why would the world let us destroy the world with CO_2 but not add some SO_2 ?

I mean if you assume that the world can prevent countries from emitting pollutants then there is no problem to solve.

Look let me ask a broader question: When has the rest of the world ever prevented the USA from doing something inside US borders that the US decided to do ?

And a still broader two. Do you really think that "international law" is a useful descriptive term related to planet earth ? Is there any evidence that so called international law has any power to restrain the USA ?

Finally specifically for Wimberley. You have heard of the Federal Reserve Board haven't you ? They don't have any black helicopters at the Fed last I heard. The US senate does delegate immense power to executive bodies provided they exclude foreigners. This is also the body that gave the President the authority to start WW III and the constitution be damned.

I think that Levitt and Dubner have driven the blogosphere crazy with acute irritation.
Washington Post Headline and Abstract VI

I was going to write apost about how the headlines corresponded to that articles today. I am given pause by an absurd headline, but it corresponds to an absurd article. I guess overall the streak is broken. Now I object to 5 headlines in 6 days. Keep up the good work anonymous person who writes the headlines. Rome wasn't built in a day (believe me, I know, our plumbing still needs work).

In particular the number 1 headline at

"Poll: Most Americans support public option

Washington Post-ABC News Poll | Americans still remain sharply divided about both the overall package and Obama's leadership on the issue."

picks out the salient facts in the article in the order that corresponds to emphasis in the article and which also makes sense. I would not have been so pleased with "Plurality opposes health care reform plan" which would be a true statement about the polling results, but would not stress the new result in the poll.

The question about public option vs bipartisanship is very interesting, but really can't be summarized in a headline. That is to say, I can't do it and shouldn't complain that someone else didn't do it.

The third and fourth headlines in the column seem sensationalistic.
"At rescued banks, perks roll on" makes my blood boil (I didn't click the link, I don't like boiled blood).

The fourth headline is garbage, but then so is the article.

No help for prudent savers
Column | Uncle Sam's bailout of overly indebted borrowers costs those who carefully save.

The article by Allan Sloan begins

This is a quiz. What do the record-high Wall Street bonuses have in common with the record-low yields for savers? Answer: They show yet another way that prudent people, especially those living on fixed incomes, are being cheated by the government's bailout of the imprudent.

Here's the deal. The government is spending trillions to keep interest rates down to support the economy and prop up housing prices, and those low rates have inflicted collateral damage on savers' incomes. "It's a direct wealth transfer from savers and retirees to overly indebted borrowers," says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at

Wrong Allan. Low interest rates are not a bailout. What instructions have we given the FED ? We ask for price stability and reasonable employment. There's nothing there about how savers have the right to some specific return. Yes macro policy implies transfers. That doesn't mean that low interest rates are a bailout for borrowers any more than high interest rates are a bailout for savers.

Now one could claim that the bailout program for homeowners facing foreclosure costs prudent savers via the tax increase that will be necessary to pay for it. I'm not sure this is true, since foreclosures destroy value. I'd guess that savers as a group benefit from renegotiating interest rates with homeowners facing foreclosure. In normal times, profit seeking banks renegotiated. Banks are not functioning normally and one could argue that the Federal Government can help savers as a class by filling in for the banks.

That is, one can argue both ways about the actual bailout of people facing foreclosure. One can not call an interest rate a bailout without offending against the English language. How low does it have to be to be a bailout ? Was Greenspan bailing out foolish borrowers who weren't even in trouble yet by keeping interest rates low ?

The article is pernicious nonsense. It is saying that public policy must be made in a way that it is optimal for all interest groups. This is impossible. Sloan is recommending public paralysis. Now he might be perfectly aware of this. A free market fundamentalist should oppose public setting of a price -- the safe short term interest rate. I'd only say that the Fed was set up for a reason and that getting to the right of Milton Friedman is rarely a good idea.

So what of employees of the post other than Sloan. Some powerful editor decided to put this article on the front page of I think it is obvious that they felt that the article on bankers perks had to be Ballanced. This is terrible editing.

The poor guy who writes the headlines really couldn't have written a headline that both reflected the article as written and wasn't nonsense. So today I applaud him or her.
What sort of public option do people polled by ABC-WAPO Think is more important than bipartisan compromise ?

An almost new and interesting result reported by ABC and the Washington Post is that the people who were polled care more about something related to the content of the bill than about a bipartisan vote. Many previous polls reported majorities who said Democrats should compromise to get a bipartisan support for the bill. However, only a Daily Kos poll asked about a specific possible compromise (with the result that a majority opposed making that concession to Republicans). Now it is clear that asking about bipartisan compromise in the abstract is silly -- for one thing all of the questions assume it is possible to get to yes with Republicans most of whom are determined to get to no.

I think that a common interpretation of the result overstates the result. The question is "51 percent, would prefer a plan that included some form of government insurance for people who cannot get affordable private coverage even if it had no GOP support in Congress. "

The qualifier "for people who cannot get affordable private coverage" is important to people in the sample (as shown by responses to other question in this poll). No public option proposal has such a pointless restriction which is popular among people who don't say yes to a plain sensible public option which aims to drive insurance premia down via competition.

Frankly, I'd say the response in the poll means that most of the polled people would tell the Democrats not to scrap Medicaid if that were the Republican's demand to say yes. Good as far as it goes, but it doesn't mean most of them agree with those of us who say give the Republicans nothing (unless Snowe demands less than Nelson or Landrieux or Lieberman).

Fortunately, in politics it is politicians perceptions of public opinion that matter (just as in elections it is public perceptions of policy that matter) so I think it would be best for the USA if people didn't make the point I just made. I don't worry about political implications of what I write here, because alsmost no one reads this blog.
Man Bites Dog

Mark Kleiman basically says that a post by Glenn Greenwald is too kind to the Obama administration. I *never* expected to read this at

even Glenn Greenwald is willing to credit the Obama Administration with having done the right thing.

That said, there’s much less here than meets the eye.

By the way, I think very highly of both Mark Kleiman and Gleen Greenwald. Can't they just get along ?

Debate is a good thing and the Kleiman-Greenwald debates are excellent, but the tone sometimes gets a bit more heated than strictly necessary.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dubner, Krugman and DeLong

In the post below (circular linking here) I display absolutely astounding itnorance (for example I didn't know Steve Dubner's last name). At the same time, I guess at a possible response to accusations that Dubner and Steve Levitt distorted the meaning of statements by Ken Caldeira in their book Superfreakonomics. I noted that one could argue that statements were presented which support a conclusion different from Caldeira's final conclusion. That would not be removal of necessary context. That would be removal of other independent statements. Caldeira's views on what we should do are informed not only by his knowledge about the climate but also by his values. He is both a scientist and a citizen. One can use and share his knowledge without sharing his priorities or his conclusions.

Now Dubner claims that he has a quote from Caldeira in which Caldeira said exactly what I said except about one line in the book (which I carelessly didn't consider in my previous very ignorant blog post).

I quote Dubner

Caldeira then sent along another, more recent e-mail he’d written to a British journalist who asked for comment on his portrayal in SuperFreakonomics. “I believe all of the ideas attributed to me are based on fact, with the exception of the ‘carbon dioxide is not the right villain’ line,” he wrote. “That said, when I am speaking, I place these facts in a very different context and draw different policy conclusions.” He added that “I believe the authors to have worked in good faith. They draw different conclusions than I draw from the same facts, but as authors of the book, that is their prerogative.”

Note Dubner claims he has an e-mail from Caldeira.

Now if this seems clear to me in spite of my total ignorance, why were so many people willing to assert that Dubner and Levitt distorted the meaning of quotations by removing context ? I was working from Joe Romm's post and therefore a few scattered quotes from Superfreakonomics. Dubner asserts that Romm's quotes from the chapter give a misleading impression of the general thrust of the chapter. He presents his own quotes of his book in a way which makes support that accusation.

I will wait till I read Romm's response to Dubner's criticism of Romms criticism of Levitt and Dubner before even considering drawing any conclusions and besides who should care what I think.

Before moving on, I note that the question of distortion of the meaning of quotes of Caldeira is very narrow compared to the question of whether the chapter is irresponsible garbage.

Paul Krugman comments on Dubner's self defence. He doesn't address the issue of whether or not Dubner and Levitt distorted the meaning of quotes of Caldeira (other than the "right enemy" line which wasn't a quote and was an incorrect assertion).

Krugman does argue that the chapter is full of errors. That is a separate issue. Most solar cells aren't black. Waste heat produced along with electricity is a trivial issue. The few scientists who worried about global cooling in the 70s are not worth mentioning even as part of a general interest study of the history of thought. etc etc etc. Dubner doesn't actually even try to defend the chapter as a whole. I certainly didn't. I was interested in the question of misleading quotations and I am even more interested now.

On another issue Krugman's comment on the S02 stratosheild shows that "might" makes right

"Having somebody — who? The United States? The United Nations? The Coalition of the Willing? — pump sulfur into the atmosphere through an 18-mile tube, or cut off sunlight with a giant orbital mirror, would either (a) require many years of hard negotiations or (b) quite possibly set off World War III."

I would consider the probability that World War III starts because the USA is pumping S02 up into the stratosphere to be very low. The weasel phrase "quite possibly" allows Krugman to make an absurd alarmist argument without risk. In the unimaginable case that the probability can be quantified and turns out to be one in a quintillion, he can say that a one in a quintillion probability is certainly a possibility.

Given the cost of the project, The US can easily do it alone. So can Luxembourg.

Krugman essentially contradicts himself in the sentence. He notes that a coordinated effort to do anything about global warming involves years of negotiations. For example, we are currently spewing huge amounts of C02 and methane into the atmosphere endangering the world. That is terrible, but not likely to cause World War III. Why would spewing S02 into the stratosphere be different ?

I'd say it is quite possible that Krugman feels no responsibility to think before typing something provided he includes "quite possibly" in the sentence.

Aside from the fear that the stratoshield will lead to active missions for stratofortresses, I share the views expressed by Krugman. I agree with his maine assertions: that the topic of Dubner's post (and my ignorant post) is not important and that, even if Joe Romm is totally wrong about the quotes, the chapter is irresponsible and full of errors.

Brad DeLong has the chapter. He has a long list of alleged errors. I find his claims very convincing. None relate to quotes of Caldeira. Only one is related to Caldeira "p. 184: Change to remove false claim: 'Yet [Ken Caldeira's] research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.'"
Dubner agrees that this claim should be removed.
Safire and anti aircraft fire

I might get some flak for this post, but come on readers -- I want to remind both of you that this blog is supposed to be random thoughts and thoughts don't get much more random that this one.

William Safire was the very model of a modern major pundit. He used his NY Times column with as much respect as he used his underwear. Among many other things, he used it to critisize, attack and libel Henry Kissinger. Now it is very very hard to libel Dr Kissinger, since it is hard to imagine any claim about him which is worse than the truth*.

And it gives me great pleasure to reflect on how Mr Safire became so very angry with Dr Kissenger that he used the NY Times to attack him. Once they were friends (or at least Mr Safire thought so) then Mr Safire learned that Professor (on leave) Dr Kissinger PhD had Mr Safire's phone tapped. Realistically, Mr Safire should have understood that this indicated that Dr Kissinger knew he had a tongue and friends who worked for the NY Times, but Mr Safire thought that Dr Kissinger was his friend. Now Mr Safire was certainly intelligent and the fact that he seems to have thought that Dr Kissenger was capable of friendship just reminds us that extremely intelligent people can also be total idiots. But those of us who are older than 10 know that already.

How did Mr Safire convince himself not only that Dr Kissinger was capable of friendship but also that he was a friend of Mr Safire ? It has to do with FLAK.
Once upon a time, long ago and in a country far away from me (the USA) Dr Kissenger asked Mr Safire to provide Dr Kissenger with the definition of "flak". Mr Safire decided that he would not give useful information for nothing so he replied that FLAK was an acronym for a German phrase related to destroying allied airplanes which he remembered and I don't have a fucking clue.

Dr professor (on leave) Kissinger noticed that he wasn't the only employee of the USgov who knew a bit of German, and also this Safire guy can play dumb as well as actual idiots, so he must be smart. Ergo we can have some fun together.

Like Ms Lewinsky, Mr Safire has a thing for powerful men, so a realy hot infatuation (with nothing to do with semen or ejaculation or orgasms as far as I know) followed.

Then it turns out that Dr Kissenger is willing to tap the phones of people who know a bit of German and are willing and able to act dumb when it is time to act dumb so it it is necessary to use a NY Times column to settle personal scores.

I am sure that serious analyses of these events by responsible persons might be useful, but I can't grasp (or spell) the concepts of serious or responsubel at the moment

* by the way, I think the high point in judicial history was the time that lawyers for some organization sued by Ariel Sharon for libel argued that the case should be dismissed, since it was not possible to harm Ariel Sharon by libelling him. Their assertion was that his reputation was so bad that nothing anyone could say, true or false, could harm him by making it any worse. Now this was a frivolous motion as they knew perfectly well that it would be rejected. It was a deliberate insult made for the fun of it. But it was sooooo fun.

I am perfectly able to understand that Brown vs Board of Education and Marbury vs Maddison contributed more to human welfare than the pure pleasure created by that motion, but that pleasure was very very pure and I am eternally grateful to the legal team (I forget which) which made that motion on behalf of their client (I don't remember who they are either).

I am an atheist, but conditional on the assumption that we have a Lord and Creator, I think that legal team was one of the best servants of said Lord and Creator, because if He or She exists, it is clear from the signs in His or Her creation that He or She must be principally motivated by a really Sick and Twisted sense of Humor.
Washington Post Headlines and Abstracts V

I am again complaining about a headline and abstract at

Flow of terror recruits increases

Westerners, including Americans, attend camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite U.S. strikes.

This time I honestly clicked the link, because I was alarmed by the headline. I was not expecting to complain. The article contains no evidence or assertions about terror recruits who are not Westerners. The headline does not note this. To me it asserts that the total flow of terror recruits has increased. The abstract/subtitle of the article did not make me understand that this is not asserted in the article. I read the text on the front page of as saying

Total Flow of terror recruits increases

and in addition

Westerners, including Americans, attend camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite U.S. strikes.


One of many different flows of terror recruits increases

or in other words westerners, including Americans, attend camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite U.S. strikes.

Also and separately, the claim that the flow of westerners has increased is not supported by any solid data in the article. Various anti-terrorist officials say that the problem they are paid to fight is getting worse. I think that this is not news. Imagine a headline "Various officials say that the problem they are paid to fight is getting worse." I think that one is more boring that "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative" It is like the headline "Sky Blue." Journalists should critically examine statements which have the implication "so our budget should be increased."

Amazingly, this time, the headline is not "sky blue but not in the UK," since UK anti-terrorists say they have successfully cracked down on terrorist recruiting. The story in the article is mixed with claims of increased flows from Germany, and, maybe, Holland, France and Belgium and reduced flows from the UK. The firm German claim is not supported by figures. They don't say (and have no way of knowing) that they have recently discovered terrorist recruiting because terrorist recruiting has increased or because it was going on without their knowledge before.

Remind me, where were the 9/11 hijacker pilots recruited ?

I think the correct headline would have been

Westerners, including US residents, attend terrorist training camps.

or to stick to 6 words as in the original headline

Westerners attend terrorist training camps.

That headline would be justified by the article which describes the cases of Westerners who attended terrorist training camps.

Note that I don't use the word "Americans." The article contains no assertion based on evidence that a US citizen has been in a terrorist training camp, since John Walker Lind and Jose Padilla finished their training. There was a guy who appeared in a video with text claiming he was an American. As the actual reporter Craig Whitlock reports, the guy didn't speak no one heard his accent and only al Qaeda knows if he is really an American. The specific cases now before the courts concern US residents one of whom is an Afghan citizen and one whose citizenship is not stated. I'm all for welcoming immigrants including those who don't bother to naturalize themselves (for one thing I am a very welcome un-naturalized immigrant in Italy) but the word "American" is conventionally (and improperly) used in the USA to refer to US citizens. That way we insult citizens of all other American countries, but we don't confuse each other.

Finally this time I don't see clear anti Obama bias, just sensationalism.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Washington Post Headlines IV

I didn't click the link yesterday when this story was new. The headline "Stimulus Funds Yet to Open Many Windows"
The story considers only one factory. The headline asserts that stimulus funds haven't done something -- that means that stimulus funds haven't done that anywhere. The article says that stimulus funds haven't done that in "Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors factory"

The headline today (and IIRC the larger headline yesterday) suggested a story about how the stimulus is not working. The evidence is one place which is still in trouble. Special circumstances were noted in the article

Things have not gone well, partly due to the alleged misdeeds of former Republic Windows chief executive Richard Gillman, who was arrested Sept. 10 on charges including money laundering, theft and fraud. Surace said Gillman destroyed relationships with potential buyers and suppliers, removed equipment and left computer systems in shambles.

This is the fourth headline in four days which seems to me to show a gross anti Obama bias.

To recap (I'm bringing this series from angrybear because it is not of general interest).

Headline I
"Cap-and-Trade Would Slow Economy, CBO Chief Says"

Headline II
"Stagnant Prices Prevent Social Security Increase"

Headline III and abstract.

Record-High U.S. Deficit May Dash Obama Goals

Budget gap of $1.4T, while an improvement over worst projections, means less to spend on White House's ambitious jobs and stimulus packages.

Many people just glance at the headlines, because they are busy (they have lives). Headlines are important and something funny is happening to headlines.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Singular very Singular

The prime minister of the country in which I live just said "Sono pronto a modificare la costituzione, anche da solo." that is "I am ready to change the constituion, also by myself." This is grammatically very odd. I'm not sure that such a statement has ever been made in the first person singular -- people who think that they can modify constitutions all by themselves traditionally use the royal we.

Respect for forms (you know hypocricy) would normally make a prime minister claim to speak as a creation and servant of a parliamentary majority. Sad to say, the Italian constitution can be amended by simple marjorities in the house and sentate (which must vote for the change twice on occasions seperated by at least three months) plus a majority in a referendum. However, Berlusconi is not supposed to use the first person singlular when discussing what the parliamentary majority might do.

Yes yes, we all know that he owns the majority like he owns his shoes. We know that he commands and they obey. We also know that he defecates. Silvio, please, just have some decency and stop doing it in public.
Defending Superfreakonomic's

update 2: I want to stress that the post below was an off the top of my head brain dump. Notably I spelled Dubner "Dunbar" in the original post so below: no research, no thought, just typing. I never imagined that Mark Thoma would link to this post. That event demonstrates the dangerous temptations of contrarianism. Since almost no one has anything nice to say chapter V of superfreakonomics, Thoma decided to link to the post below to be fair to the Steves.

Update 3: The title of this post is wrong. It should be "defending superfreakonomics from the accusation that it distorted the meaning of quotations of Ken Caldeira by removing necessary context." That's all it's about.

Steve Dubner knows more about the issues than I do (for example I'm sure he rarely misspells his own name). He wrote a post vaguely similar to the post below except that he knows how to write correct English and he knows lots of relevant facts about what Caldeira said to him including what Caldeira e-mailed him after the controversy exploded.

I have another post on the topic.

end of update.

I am going to argue with reviews of a book which I haven't read. Also I am going enter a debate in which I am as expert as the average manhole cover.

In Superfreakonomics, Steves Levitt and Dubner present a contrarian argument against regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The consensus of the blogosphere appears to be that they are totally utterly unbelievably wrong.

Some valid criticisms have been made. For example Matt Yglesias presents photographic proof that not all photovoltaic cells are black as asserted by the Steves.

However, his other claim -- that Levitt and Dubner distorted the meaning of quotes by removing context and, effectively, misquoted their sources -- is not so well supported.

Source Ken Caldeira does make that accusation

If you talk all day, and somebody picks a half dozen quotes without providing context because they want to make a provocative and controversial chapter, there is not much you can do.

But, you know, people often say they were quoted out of context when the meaning of their statement was not distorted by removal of context.

Tim Lambert makes the case at much more length. I am really not qualified to summarize his critiques, so just click the link.

On removal of context, Lambert repeatedly notes that the sources do not agree with Levitt and Dubner's policy recomendations. This does *not* mean that the meaning of their statements were distorted by removal of context.

For example, lets say Joe Chickenhawk says "I admit that 4,259 US service people have been killed in the war in Iraq, but it was worth it" and I write "According to Joe Chickenhawk, 4,259 US service people have been killed in the war in Iraq" I have not distorted the meaning of the quoted statement by removing context. I have quoted a statement of fact and neglected to quote another statement on the same subject. The fact remains a fact with or without the context that Joe Chickenhawk still thinks invading was a good idea.

The objections made by Levitt and Dubner's sources appear to me to be of the form: I disagree with Levitt and Dubner's policy recomendation, therefore the meaning of my quoted statement which they use to support their conclusion was distorted by removal of context. This follows only if one assumes that no one ever admits to a fact (or argument or whatever) which tends to weaken the conclusion that they, in the end and on balance accept. In short, quoting people who disagree with your conclusion must be intellectually dishonest if those people are totally intellectually dishonest. From the examples given by Lambert, I don't see any sign that anyone involved was dishonest at all (and I mean also in the objections to the quotes which note only that context was removed and do not assert that meanings were distorted by removal of context).

Another way of putting it is that Caldeira etc have two roles in the debate. On the one hand, Caldeira is an expert who has well a lot more to say about C02 fertilization that I do. On the other hand, he is a citizen with priorities and he cares more about protecting the environment and less about making the gross national product as gross as it can be than say George W Bush. As a scientist, he has something to say which is worthy of more attention that anything I have to say on that topic (oh hell or any other for that matter). As a citizen, he is just one citizen. If Levitt and Dubner find the science of Dr Caldeira interesting and important but don't share the priorities of citizen Caldeira, it is perfectly reasonable for them to quote the statements about science and not mention the final policy recommendation which is based on scientific knowledge and priorities.

Now I share Caldeira's priorities, but that doesn't mean I think that the meaning of his statements about science were distorted by the removal of his discussion of optimal policy. Well actually, he seems a bit extreme. He wants to ban automobiles which strikes me as going a bit too far -- tax sure ban uhm well uhm maybe.

update: spelling of Dubner corrected thanks to Ezzie in comments.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beyond Parody

DougJ asks a question based on an incorrect assumption

"I guess the next logical question is whether or not the ombudsman at the New York Times will explore the issue of why the paper’s reporters aren’t covering the Bush recovery that all the conservatives are talking about."

The assumption is that the New York Times would't cover the Bush recovery that all the conservatives are talking about. A headline on the front page of

"Dow 10,000, Goldman $3 Billion: Welcome to the ‘Bush Recovery’"

So, you see DougJ, the ombudsman's salary is not wasted -- The New York Times has responded to his concerns.

Recklessly, I clicked the link. I honestly hoped it would lead to an article openly mocking absurd conservatives. The full headline was

Opinion »
The Opinionator
Dow 10,000, Goldman $3 Billion: Welcome to the ‘Bush Recovery’

Who should get the credit for the Dow's recent performance?

So I thought that maybe someone at the Times would express an opinion. The article by Eric Etherige strikes me as a Ballanced survey of opinion on the issue of whether Bush is currently President.

Paul Krugman refered to the Bush administration as "The Onion years" as the joke predictions in The Onion turned out to be more accurate than the predictions of those with pretensions of seriousness (other than Paul Krugman who has lots of pretensions and made lots of accurate predictions).

What are we to call the Obama years in which The Washington Post and The New York Times have clearly decided to imitate The Onion probably as a desperate attempt to attract young readers.

I feel for DougJ but mostly I worry about the future of the staff of The Onion and The Daily Show. How the hell are they going to keep up ?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Hill and Arithmetic

It would appear possible that the Senate finance committee will vote on health care reform today. The committee includes 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Two democrats, Rockafeller and Wyden have threatened to vote no (both because it is too modest a reform and too easy on insurance companies). Only one Republican, Snowe, might vote yes. The other 20 votes are clear. 11 Democrats will certainly vote yes and 9 Republicans will certainly vote no. So there will be 11 to 14 yes votes.

By my arithmetic, it means that if any one of the three undecided senators votes yes, the bill heads to the floor.

At "The Hill" Jeffrey Young must understand arithmetic better than I do. He wrote

Baucus needs 12 votes, but two Democrats, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon, in particular remain disgruntled about his bill. The lone possible Republican supporter, Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), refuses to state her intentions.

If more than one of those three senators joins the panel’s Republicans and votes against the bill, healthcare reform would suffer a tough blow on Tuesday and might not recover.

Given 11 other Democrats and 12 votes required, the resolution can pass with only one of the three votes. Here let me give an example based on the committee's web site which I just checked.

Voting Yes: 12 Senators

Baucus, Conrad, Bingaman, Kerry, Lincoln, Wyden, Schumer, Stabenow, Cantwell, Bill Nelson, Menendez and Carper.

Voting no: 11 Senators
Grassley, Hatch, Snowe, Kyl, Bunning, Crapo, Roberts, Ensign, Enzi, Cornyn and
objectively pro Republican left deviationist John D Rockefeller IV.

My semi namesake Kagro X accepts "The Hill"'s analysis.

In this case, the resolution passes, the bill would heads to the floor and yet more than one of the three would vote no (in particular Snowe and Rockefeller).

It's as easy as 9+2=11 < 23/2. Sheesh.
Some Commenter on the Internet

Commenting on Paul Krugman's blog, Alice Olson demonstrates her ignorance.

“ I, for one, am glad the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid didn't have opt-out options.”

— Alice Olson
Opt-out public option

State participation in Medicaid is voluntary; however, all states have participated since 1982 when Arizona formed its Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) program.

Medicaid does not have an opt out option, because medicaid requires states to opt-in *and* design a medicaid program. Medicaid is like the original Carper let states do it on their own compromise. A public option with an state opt-out option will make the public option available to more people than the Carper medicaid like compromise as the default option is key when it is easier to obstruct a bill than to pass one.
AHIP and PWC more on the politics

See post below. I agree with many commentators that the Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) analysis commissioned by the health insurance lobby (AHIP) which concludes that the Senate Finance committee bill would cause a huge increase in health insurance premia is totally totally bogus.

So what is AHIP trying to achieve ? I don't think they are trying to sabotage reform. For one thing, reform is likely to be great for their bottom line. They might be making trouble on the squeaky wheel gets the oil principal. However, I think they are trying to influence the reconciliation of different bills by SenReid, the whole Senate and the conference committee. In particular, I think they really want the full individual mandate rather than the watered down mandate for some but not for others in the Finance committee bill.

I believe this, because they have said this again and again over the past year.

I think commentators are confused about AHIP's motives.

Update: Either Kevin Drum is not one of those confused commentators or he and I both are confused. In any case, he wrote a much pithier version of the post below.

I think that, for more than a year, AHIP has made their condition (singular) for supporting health care reform very clear. They demand and have long demanded that health insurance coverage of everyone be obligatory.

In a last minute compromise, the Senate finance committee watered down the individual mandate so that some people would be allowed to go without insurance. AHIP objected just as they have long said they would.

Note AHIP doesn't like the public option, but they have not publicly declared that they will oppose reform if it includes a public option.

AHIP had one single simple demand and it was not met. They said they would support a reform bill if an only if it met a condition. The other 4 committees' bills meet that condition and which the finance committee's bill does not meet it. They declare war on the finance committee's bill. They didn't attack the other committees . If I understand correctly (based on no systematic research) all of AHIP/PWC's objections are to ways in which the Finance committee bill differs from the two bills reported out to the House of Representatives.

Now it is possible that the attack came now, because everyone who counts knows that only the finance committee's bill really matters. It is possible that it was saved for a late minute (I wrote "last minute" hah I wish) so that people desperate for a deal any deal would cave. Still if an organization repeatedly says something very specific about what they will and will not do, and then does exactly what they said they would do, it is very odd to dismiss the hypothesis that they meant what they said.

If I am right, many smart people are ignoring something which was very explicitly and repeatedly stated. Why ? I'd say that people are forcing a complex issue onto a simple left/right spectrum.

Baucus and Snowe are to the right of Kennedy, Dodd, Rangel, Waxman and (fill in chairman of the House education and labor committee). AHIP is surely to the right of sincere reformers. Universal health insurance has long been a goal of the US left. AHIP just can't possibly have meant it when they said they would oppose any health care reform bill which didn't mandate universal health insurance. It just doesn't make ideological sense. It's as if they cared about profits not making Ted Kennedy turn over in his grave.

So part of the problem is trying to force profit maximizing corporations onto a left right spectrum when they care about other things too including their profits.

I think the concept "center" caused even more confusion than the concepts "left" and "right." I'd say that Baucus is so eager to settle for half a loaf rather than none, that he overlooked the fact that he could get a whole loaf but not half a loaf.

I think that, since 94% coverage of legal residents is further from Baucus's stated aim of 100%, he assumed it was more achievable.

I have a hint. When Paul Krugman and Karen Ignani agree on something, maybe they have a point.

AHIP, the health insurance industry lobby just commissioned a study from Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) which asserts that the Senate Finance Committee draft bill would cause a huge increase in insurance premia. The analysis is total nonsense. Importantly the PWC report says so. The plan seems to have been that journamalists will report the headline number and not read the report.

update: Well now that's clear. TPM reports, you decide. PWC considered only reforms which would cause increased premia. For example, their explanation includes no hint that they considered the expansion of medicaid, although they definitely considered the reduction of medicare reimbursement rates. They did not consider the effect of the employer mandate. They seem to have assumed no individual mandate at all. That is they agree that the analysis was a joke. I think that AHIP and PWC went too far in messing with the numbers.

As noted by Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein (click the link) PWC calculates the headline number by assuming that measures whose aim is to reduce total health care spending will have no effect on health care spending. Thus they assume that the tax on gold plated health insurance will not lead to even one person having more modest health insurance. They assume that all medicare cuts will be balanced by increases in premia paid on private health insurance. That is that financial pressure on health care providers will have zero effect on health care spending.

That is blatant cheating. But even granting that, I still don't get it.

1) Assume that the Finance Committee bill won't bend the curve at all. Why would it cause increased premia ? It seems to me that PWC must have looked at the effect of reforms which would cause increased premia and not the reforms which would cause reduced premia.

Consider the flow of funds. For now I am assuming that the flow of funds out as costs of health care, administrative expenses and profits are fixed. How does the reform reduce the inflow of funds so that premia will have to increase?

There are 3 main sources of funds for the health sector. The largest is public money (medicare plus medicaid). This will be cut. The smallest is patients out of pocket spending. This will be cut as fewer are uninsured and regulations will restrict out of pocket expenses for the insured. The remainder is private health insurance equal to the average premium times the number insured. This flow would have to increase if total spending stays the same. This does not mean that the average premium will increase, since more people will have private insurance.

Yes money will be take out with taxes and yes less money will flow as part of the medicare budget. However that income will not be devoured. One small change is that the Federal budget deficit will be reduced (by 81 billion over 10 years according to CBO). This is not a real cost to the USA. The federal deficit is not a flow of income. It is the illusion of a flow of income. The 81 billion isn't reduced income for the USA except for the federal government. It is moving our beliefs 81 billion closer to reality. This is a benefit not a cost.

Aside from that the tax revenues and medicare cuts will flow out as increased medicaid or as subsidies. Some of that money will escape the health sector. People who would have health insurance anyway who get the subsidies will have more income at the expense of the health sector. In contrast, people who would not have insurance and will purchase it and receive subsidies will send the subsidy plus some of their own money to the health care sector. Some will be forced to do so by even the watered down individual mandate. Others will chose to do so. Furthermore large firms which do not provide health insurance will be forced to provide it. This is another huge increased flow into the health care sector. So we have some subsidies leaking out probably more than balanced by more spending on premia by individuals and small firms who get subsidized insurance plus more money for insurance for the (few) rich uninsured and the many uninsured employees of large firms.

The net changes are
1) 81 billion of reduced illusory wealth (not a real cost to anyone)
2) Lower patients out of pocket spending
3) some people have more money left over after paying for health insurance since they get subsidies for insurance they would have bought anyway
4) some people send the subsidies back plus some of their own money as they get insuance they wouldn't have had
5) Walmart stops free riding.

I just don't see how there could be a huge reduction in the total flow of cash towards the health care sector. The chairman's mark (gang of 6 draft) implied a huge increase in health insurance company profits. The watering down of the individual option implies a moderate reduction in the increase in the number insured. The arithmetic doesn't work.

2) OK so would the Finance Committee draft cause an actual increase in health care spending ? Well more people will be insured. They will demand care they wouldn't demand if they had to pay out of pocket. Also out of pocket expenses for the insured will be reduced. Again more demand for health care. On the other hand, the uninsured do get some health care and it is delivered in a very inefficient way: emergency room visits for things that could be handled in a doctors office. Lack of insurance and stingy insurance reduce demand for preventive care. Preventive care is a more efficient way to provide health (it is better to treat high blood pressure and diabetes than to wait for kidney failure and then dialise). The overall increase is not so huge.

Furthermore the reform should reduce administrative expenses. Hospitals send lots of money to collection companies trying to force people to pay out of pocket. The legal expenses of personal bankruptcy are high. Insurance companies pay people to screen for pre-existing conditions and find grounds for recission. All these things are worth doing for the hospital which has been stiffed, the person who is bankrupt or the insurance company because the administrative expense is less than a transfer from someone else. However it is still a huge flow of money from health care to something else (most of which is still in the health sector, since fighting over who pays for health care appears alongside the cost of actual health care in national income and product accounts health care spending)

Obviously international comparisons and comparisons of medicare and medicare advantage suggest that, totally aside from the channels which were ignored by PWC as mentioned above, the Finance committee bill is more likely to reduce than to increase total spending on the health sector.

My conclusion. The PWC tricks which have been described on the web are a tiny fraction of total PWC tricks.