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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wired Vs Greenwald

Rule number one: Never debate Greenwald.
Rule number two: If he makes you so mad your head is about to explode, don't debate Greenwald.

Unfortunately Wired editor in chief Evan Hanson is not willing to let Greenwald's claim that he is not a legitimate journalist pass so he opened his lap top and removed all doubt.

Hansen wrote in response to this post by Greenwald

At stake are the chat logs.

We have already published substantial excerpts from the logs, but critics continue to challenge us to reveal all, ostensibly to fact-check some statements that Lamo has made in the press summarizing portions of the logs from memory (his computer hard drive was confiscated, and he no longer has has a copy).

Our position has been and remains that the logs include sensitive personal information with no bearing on Wikileaks, and it would serve no purpose to publish them at this time.

That doesn’t mean we’ll never publish them, but before taking an irrevocable action that could harm an individual’s privacy, we have to weigh that person’s privacy interest against news value and relevance.

This is a standard journalistic balancing test — not one that we invented for Manning. Every experienced reporter of serious purpose recognizes this, and the principal is also embodied in the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics:

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance…. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Even Greenwald believes this … sometimes. When The New York Times ran an entirely appropriate and well reported profile of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — discussing his personality and his contentious leadership style — Greenwald railed against the newspaper, terming the reporters “Nixonian henchmen.”

Similarly, when Assange complained that journalists were violating his privacy by reporting the details of rape and molestation allegations against him in Sweden, Greenwald agreed, writing: “Simultaneously advocating government transparency and individual privacy isn’t hypocritical or inconsistent; it’s a key for basic liberty.”

With Manning, Greenwald adopts the polar opposite opinions. “Journalists should be about disclosing facts, not protecting anyone.” This dissonance in his views has only grown in the wake of reports that Manning might be offered a plea deal in exchange for testimony against Assange.

To be sure, there’s a legitimate argument to be made for publishing Manning’s chats. The key question (to us): At what point does everything Manning disclosed in confidence become fair game for reporting, no matter how unconnected to his leaking or the court-martial proceeding against him, and regardless of the harm he will suffer? That’s a debate we have had internally at Wired with every major development in the case.

It is not a question, however, that we’re inclined to put to popular referendum. And while we welcome the honest views of other journalists acting in good faith, we now doubt this describes Glenn Greenwald.

I comment.

Dear Evan Hansen

Your post is entirely based on a false claim of fact. You assert that Greenwald demands that you release the logs ignorning all privacy problems. This claim is false. He proposes releasing the logs, but also describes another option. I quote from Greenwald's post

" For the last six months, Poulsen has not only steadfastly refused to release any further excerpts, but worse, has *refused to answer questions about what those logs do and do not contain*."

and later "Whether Manning actually said these things to Lamo could be verified in one minute by "journalist" Kevin Poulsen. He could either say: (1) yes, the chats contain such statements by Manning, and here are the portions where he said these things, or (2) no, the chats contain no such statements by Manning,"

Note that in the quoted passage Greenwald does not ask for anything which is currently private to be revealed. He asks for Poulson to confirm or deny a claim publicly made by Lamos.

Since you are an editor, I assume that you are functionally literate. You must know that your accusations against Greenwald are false. I think that you clearly libeled him.

In any case, if Wired is to make any claim to be any sort of legitimate journalistic enterprise, it must confirm or deny public claims which are either proven or disproven by the evidence in your possession.

This is what Greenwald demanded in spite of your libelous lies about what he wrote.

Earlier in his post, Hansen wrote

Tellingly, Greenwald never misses a chance to mention Poulsen’s history as a hacker, events that transpired nearly two decades ago and have absolutely no bearing on the current case. This is nothing more than a despicable smear campaign based on the oldest misdirection in the book: Shoot the messenger.

My comment continues.

Also Poulson's criminal record is absolutely relevant to the case. The reason is that Poulson quotes the man who prosecuted his crimes as a source without acknowleging their previous interaction [I think I was confused here. Rasch's relevance is that he put Lamo in contact with Federal authorities. See below]. Again I quote from Greenwald

Yet at no point -- through today -- have Poulsen or Wired ever bothered to disclose that the person who "helped to turn over [Manning] to the FBI and Army intelligence" is (a) the same person who put Poulsen is prison for several years, (b) a regular contributor to Wired and (c) a long-time associate and source for Poulsen. Just on journalistic grounds, this nondisclosure is extraordinary.

Clearly Rasch is relevant to the story. The interaction of Rasch and Poulson is relevant to the story. Poulson's criminal record is relevant. You must know this as the man who prosecuted him is (or claims to be) a regular contributor to Wired. Due diligence required you to click the link provided by Greenwald to that public claim.

One falsehood might be forgiven. Given the two blatant lies in this brief post, I think the only honorable course of action for you is to resign from "Wired" and cease to claim to be a journalist.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Waldmann
Think Progress and the English Language

Ian Millhiser wrote

"Of course, it remains to be seen whether Lee will begin to tow his party’s line-of-the-moment once he actually gets into the Senate and is pressured to join the GOP’s crusade against Obama’s judges." This sentence contains a typo which isn't just your garden variety typo. It was specifically denounced by George Orwell in "Politics and the English Language."
Dying metaphors.
Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
I fear that Ian Millhiser has bean spending two much time around Matthew Iglesias.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Plumbing the Depths of Ignorance

James Joyner and Coner Friedersdorf falsely assert that the EPA is acting unilaterally when developing greenhouse gas regulations. More surprisingly, Jonathan Bernstein displays what seems to be to be equal ignorance. Most surprisingly he did so in a post entitled "EPA action isn't 'unilateral'

Huh ?!?! I thought the point of this post was that Joyner and Fridersdorf are totally ignorant about the facts of the case. Reading it, you seem to be just as ignorant.

Congress has acted already when it passed the Clean Air Act. That act of Congress, signed into law by a President, compells the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions now that it is known that they have damaging effects.

This isn't just my personal opinion. It is the Supreme Court's opinion in the case of vs EPA. Try checking my claim of fact in this obscure publication.

Nothing could be further from unilateral executive branch action than an action ordered by the Supreme Court based on its interpretation of current law.

I do mean that literally. No executive action has been less unilateral than this one in US history (some have not been more unilateral). Facts are facts. Supreme Court decisions are not obscure events

update: In contrast Jonathan Zasloff remembers the relevant facts. He also writes better than I do and is more polite.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The amateur (and currently drunk) constitutional lawyer

What the hell is the commerce clause all about ? How about the 10th amendment ?

How to reconcile

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and
Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general
Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be
uniform throughout the United States;

Amendment 16
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from
whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and
without regard to any census or enumeration.


Amendment 10
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to
the people.

One might claim that income taxes must depend only on income and not on the "source derived" and so must be equal on all types of income if the main body didn't allow excise taxes. Long before the first Convention om human history, Hobbes had explained that there is no real difference between a tax and a fine. Power to tax is power to regulate. The key limit on the power of congress to regulate anything and everything was the clause over-ridden by the 16th amendment "No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the
Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken." This clause was clearly repealed by the 16th amendment. With it were repealed all property rights and restrictions on the power of Congress (with the President or over riding a veto) to tax or fine any activity not expressly protected by the constitution.

It seems to me that, the day the 16th amendment was ratified, property rights were restricted to those based on the ban on bills of attainder and ex post facto laws.

So what's with this commerce clause ? I don't think one needs to appeal to it to justify regulations enforced via fines (aka taxes). I think it mattered back before the 16th amendment and now neither gives to nor takes away any powers from Congress.

It is clear from history that "regulate" was a euphemism for "tax" and that the clause was added to establish the first North American Free Trade Zone. The point was that states couldn't charge tariffs on imports from other states. It was a power specifically "prohibited by it to the States" not a power specifically "delegated to the United States."

The power to "lay and collect ...
Excises," definitely freed from any census or enumeration by the 16th amendment, is a very broad power to tax (or equivalently penalize with fines) any activity which is not elsewhere specifically protected. In my opinion the commerce clause adds nothing. In any case, it can't possibly remove powers which Congress would otherwise have.
Jimmy Carter is a great man. I will note some additional additions.

Notably Ronald Reagan is the recent former president with the highest approval ratings after Kennedy and Carter is near the bottom. When AEI hacks attempt to explain what Reagan did right, they claim that, out of love of the free market, he eliminated regulations which helped incumbent "producer interests" avoid competition and hurt consumers. The best I can figure they are thinking of the very beneficial deregulation of interstate trucking and of airlines. Both the result of bills signed into law by Carter.

Semi sane Reaganauts try to claim that Reagan did what Carter did. That's how great Carter is.

He is about the best ex president ever (well John Q Adams was the attorney who argued the Amistad case in front of the supreme court -- see the movie).

He poll watched military dictator Noreiga trying to get elected in Panama. Noreiga said that Bush sent poll watchers who were out to get him, but Carter was honest. Carter was honest. He said the voting was free and un-intimidated. This took guts as it might have lead to him siding with Noreiga. Then when the votes began to be counted and it was clear that Noreiga lost so Noreiga stopped the counting, Carter's denunciation was totally credible. He demanded entry to the headquarters of the electoral commission. A Panamanian national guardsman said "Let the gringo in. He has balls."

Then he poll watched in Nicaragua. He said the election was fair. Republicans were outraged. Then not so much with Violetta Barrios Chammoro was declared the victor over the Sandinista Daniel Ortega. Then Republicans gave the credit to Reagan. By the way, Daniel Ortega is currently President of Nicaragua.

Then in Haiti he was part of the team that convinced military dictator Cedras to return power to elected president Aristide. Carter, in particular, refused to give up when the rest of the team wanted to bug out and hand the problem over to the US army rangers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cyber Country (now with Saunas)

Finland is very prominent in cyberspace. It was the first country (of many I would guess) to surpass the USA in web servers per capita. It gave us (literally) Linux. I might be the only one who remembers the F-Prot virus checker. Now it sends angry birds catapulting over our ramparts.

I've been grading exams. I am supposed to grade many more. I am desperate for any possible way to waste time. So I thought about inventing a country which exists only in cyberspace. I'd give it at least two names and claim that they spoke an incomprehensible language which is why you have never read a book written there (come on admit it) and don't know much of anything about it. I'd claim that Leonid Brezhnev promised to respect human rights when he was there (yeah like that's really likely). Then I'd claim it was in some strange out of the way place like the Antarctic or the Arctic or something.

Hmmmmm. You have to admit it answers a whole lot of nagging questions. Have you ever actually seen Finland ? Do you know anyone who has ?

Do real people sing about toilet paper ?

That's really impressive computer animation for a cybercountry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Huh ? Who ?

Obama Considering Another Goldman Sachs Alumnus to Replace Larry Summers
By: Blue Texan Tuesday December 14, 2010 10:30 am

Blue Texan seems to assert that Larry Summers is a Goldman Sachs alumnus. This is simply a false claim on a simple matter of fact.

Blue Texan is certainly asserting that the Obama administration currently employes a Goldman Sachs alumnus. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury who worked for Goldman Sachs. I wouldn't even be shocked if there is some civil servanat who briefly worked for Goldman Sachs.

But I have no idea who Blue Texan has in mind.

I think that, to the FireDogs, mere facts don't matter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Last of the Obamicans Watch

I think that I was very very confused when I wrote that I was one of the last diehard obamaniacs. I said I'd reject him if he didn't get the making work pay tax cut extended and didn't make a huge stink. OK so technically he didn't get the making work pay tax cut extended, but he did get the 2% payroll tax cut which is less progressive but twice as large so I remain an Obamaniac.

But many of my fellow self proclaimed liberal Democrats are weirdly docile Obama followers. In the Washington Post ABC News poll 31% of self proclaimed liberal Democrats said that they supported extension of all the Bush tax cuts including those for the rich. That is about the same as the fraction of all US adults who supported such a policy before Obama caved.

And Obama repeats whenever asked that he opposes extending income tax cuts for the rich. I think a huge number of self described liberal Democrats flipped just because Obama decided to oppose in principle but cave in practice.

I'm shocked.

Part of the issue is (surprise surprise) phrasing of the question.

For each item I name, please tell me if it's something you support strongly, support somewhat, oppose somewhat or oppose strongly.

Extending the Bush-era tax
cuts for all taxpayers,
including wealthy people as
well as the middle class"

It isn't clear what the alternative is -- extension for the middle class only or no extension for anyone. The poll gives a choice between extension for all and ... well something else but it isn't clear what. I'd guess many people thought that opposing that provision means allowing all the Bush-era income tax cuts to expire. That is a sensible proposal, but it has never been supported by more than a tiny minority.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Senator Bernard Sanders just denounced US income inequality for over 8 hours on the floor of the Senate.

This was not a filibuster. He was not blocking any action.

Am I to infer that the Senate which just doesn't have time to repeal DADT or ratify START or etc etc isn't doing anything on Fridays ?

This is all Senator Reid's responsibility. He could tell Republicans that they can deliberately slow the Senate by filibustering bills they support etc. But then they will work on Fridays just as their constituents do.

Evidently that would be too radical a break with the norms and traditions of the Senate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Huh ? Ryan Avent is stumped by tricky math. He doesn't seem to be able to handle complex calculations which involve more than two numbers as in E = A - B - C + D. Either that or he is one of the many people driven to shrill unholly innummeracy by Paul Krugman.

I surfed over to this horror honestly thinking that Krugman must have been unreasonably hard on Avent. I was appalled that anyone who could make the two gross gigantic errors that Avent made could be published by The Economist. I will not elide anything I leave off Avent's final argument (the year before the election includes December 2011 and most of November 2011) and conclusion just to avoid being sued, but I don't skip any of his text in order to make his argument seem more stupid than it really is. I don't think I am personally capable of generating a more idiotic argument if I tried.

Ryan Avent can't handle the concept of a difference in differences. He can't recognise the idea. Arithmetic inolving more than two numbers appears to be totally outside of his ken.

Dec 9th 2010, 16:02 by R.A. | WASHINGTON
THIS is one thing Paul Krugman has gotten very right about the dynamics of recent economic policymaking:

[T]he history of the past two years drives home, if anyone doubted it, that economic policy must be considered from a political economy point of view; that you have to think ahead to how current policies affect the environment in which future policies will be decided.
But then there's this:

Put these two observations together — and what you get is that the tax-cut deal makes Obama’s reelection less likely. Let me repeat: the tax cut deal makes Obama less likely to win in 2012.

One gets the feeling from reading these lines that it's the point Mr Krugman wanted to make before he ever started looking at the data. That would help explain why he, rather sloppily, makes a big analytical error.

Note how high Avent sets the stakes. He doesn't say that he disagrees with Krugman. He "gets the feeling" that Krugman didn't approach the issue rationally. Because of his inability to handle simple arithmetic, he chooses to accuse Krugman of intellectual dishonesty. I will link what Krugman actually said with what Avent idiotically thinks he wrote with asterixes, double asterixes etc. Emphasis mine.

The observations in the above quote are as follows:

Look at the Zandi estimates: they show a boost to the economy in 2011, which is then given back in 2012. So growth is actually slower* in 2012 than it would be without the deal**.

Now, what we know from lots of political economy research — Larry Bartels is my guru on this — is that presidential elections depend, not on the state *** of the economy, but on whether [Krugman's error here*****] things are getting better or worse in the year or so before the election. The unemployment rate in October 1984 was almost the same as the rate in October 1980**** — but Carter was thrown out by voters who saw things getting worse, while for Reagan it was morning in America.

Let's do look at the Zandi estimates. Mr Krugman is right that the deal provides a big boost to output in 2011 and then a drag to growth in 2012. But growth is still strongly positive* in 2012, according to Mr Zandi's estimates. Things won't be getting worse** in 2012. They'll be getting better, to the tune of 3.4% real GDP growth. And they'll be*** a lot better than would otherwise be the case. Absent the deal, says Mr Zandi, the level of employment in 2012 would be significantly lower than with it, and the unemployment rate would be around 8.7%, as opposed to 8.4%****.

*Avent attempts to refute a claim about the difference between two predicted growth rates (with and without the tax cuts) by reporting only the growth rate with the tax cut.

** Again Avent refers to the rate of growth with the tax cuts not the difference in rates of growth with and without the tax cuts.

*** "They'll be" is a statement about levels. Krugman's whole point is that, according to Bartels, elections depend on recent trends not levels.

**** Avent attempts to refute a claim about the effect of the tax cuts on the rate of improvement from 2011 to 2012 of the unemployment rate by reporting Zandi's estimates about the effect on the level of unemploment in 2012.

***** Krugman may have confused things by trying to make them simple. As written, he asserts that only the sign of GDP growth or the change in unemployment matters. Ooops. This helps explain Avent's weirdness marked **. English is not suited to writing about numbers. "whether things are getting better or worse" should be "whether things are getting better and, if so, how fast they are getting better or things are geting worse worse and, if so, how fast they are getting worse." It is clear what he means from "growth is actually slower in 2012 than it would be without the deal." I think it is clear what he means anyway.

Krugman says elections depend on the rate of change of GNP and of the unemployment rate in the year or so before the election. I will try to make things simple enough that even Ryan Avent can understand by talking first about GNP. Krugman says that the election depends (very roughly) on log(GNP2012)-Log(GNP2011) so the effect of the tax cut on the election depends (very very roughly) on
logGNPwithtaxcut2012)-Log(GNPwithtaxcut2011)-log(GNPwithouttaxcut2012) +
log(GNPwithouttaxcut2011). He notes that this quantity is negative and concludes that the tax cut will hurt Obama's chances in 2012.

Avent thinks he can refute a claim about the difference between two differences, a calculation made of four numbers, by presenting claims about two numbers at a time.

So he discusses the sign of logGNPwithtaxcut2012)-Log(GNP2011withtaxcut) which has nothing to do with Krugman's calculation. If Avent were to argue that Obama will be OK even though the tax cut will hurt his chances, then the calculation would be relevant. But he claims he can refute a claim about the effect of the tax cut on something whithout any consideration at all of what would happen without the tax cut.

This is profound innumeracy. It is also plain idiocy. I would have thought that people who can't stand words like "difference" or "sum" or "rate of growth" could understand that statements about causation are statements about how something changes something else.

Then Avent makes an equally gross error when discussing unemployment. Krugman claims that the variable of interest is

Unemwithtaxcut2012-unemwithtaxcut2011-unemwithouttaxcut2012) +
unemwithouttaxcut2011). Avent discusses unemwithtaxcut2012-unemwithtaxcut2011.

This is even more extremely idiotic as Krugman specifically noted that the level of unemployment in 1980 and 1984 was similar, but the electoral experience of Reagan and Carter were very different. Avent has completey forgotten Krugman's claim about political science *and* the overwhelmingly dramatic example which supports the conclusion of political scientists. He isn't talking about changes in unemployment at all but about the level of unemployment.

The appalling thing is that I suspect that Avent is sincere. I fear the following might have happened.

Avent may have decided that Krugman is being dishonest and has resorted to special pleading. The reason would be that Krugman might appear to Avent to have chosen not to peform a simple natural calculation, but rather to have found a strange bizarre calculation that appears to support his conclusion. Avent's idea might be that fancy intimidating mathematics can be nonsense, since the poor reader can't understand what is going on and can't see it is invalid. I think that Avent thinks (as I do) that honest people don't obscure things with incomprehensible math. But I fear that Avent considers taking a difference in differences to be incomprehensible math.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Brad DeLong is mystified by Barack Obama's version of US History

TRANSCRIPT of Dec 6 press conference

Barack Obama: This is why FDR, when he started Social Security, it only affected widows and orphans. You did not qualify. And yet now it is something that really helps a lot of people.

Does anybody have any idea what the frack Obama is talking about here, or why he would think something like this, or why he would say something like this?

I have a guess. I tried some serious googling to get to anything which might be called social security and only affected widows and orphans. I got to something at the social security administration web sight. It even had to do with a President Roosevelt.

The thing which convinces me that I've got the source of his uhm unusual view about social security is that the bill which only affected widows and orphans and is described in the SSA official history as a first step towards social security was passed by the Illinois legislature. My guess is that, in Springfield, young state senators are told that social security started right there and, at first, only affected widows and orphans.

Special Study #1:
Abe Bortz Lecture on the History of Social Security

Interest in the welfare of the many children left orphaned, abandoned, or taken from parents who could not support them, was crystallized and given direction by the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, called by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909.


The first Statewide mother's pension law was enacted in Illinois in 1911, 18 States had enacted such laws by 1913, and 39 States by 1919. With few exceptions, assistance was limited to children up to 14 or 16 years of age. By 1934, a year after the New Deal began, there were Mother's aid laws in 46 States, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii. Thus, dependent motherhood had come to be distinctly recognized as a problem of mass poverty which could not be relegated to voluntary charity. Limited at first to orphaned children, ...

Monday, December 06, 2010

I think that I am one of the few remaining die hard Obamaniacs. Andrew Sullivan is another.

But even I don't understand why he is privately pressing for extension of the Obama tax cuts rather than loudly demanding in in public. Even worse it seems possible that he will reach agreement with Republicans for temporary tax cuts for millionaires only but not of the stimulus bill tax cuts for 95% of working American families.

Bush Tax-Cut Deal With Jobless Aid Said to Be Near

Rather than extending the tax rates only on income described by Democrats as middle class — up to $250,000 a year for couples and $200,000 for individuals — the deal would also keep the rates for higher earners, probably for two years. In return, Republicans said they would probably agree to extend jobless aid for the long-term unemployed.

This outline of the deal includes no mention of the simulus bill tax cuts. Further down in paragraph 11 Herszenhorn and Hulse mention those tax cuts.

After the failed votes in the Senate on Saturday, top Democratic Congressional leaders met at the White House with Mr. Obama, who told them he would not agree to any deal unless it included the extension of jobless aid, which has begun to run out, and also the extension of a number of tax breaks for middle- and lower-income Americans that were included in last year’s economic stimulus plan.

It is not clear if Obama has silently caved on this one. Even if he hasn't, no Republican (but Paul Ryan who is crazy) is publicly on record as opposing.

A public debate about such an extension would help Obama. For one thing, only 8% of US adults remember that the Democrats have cut the taxes for the vast majority of US families. A debate about extension of the cuts would remind people that they exist.

Second, Republicans seem reluctant to cut taxes of the non-rich. It is at least clear that this is part of Obama's bargaining position. The $400 per indivdual $800 per family are mediocre stimulus, that is give much more stimulus bang for the deficit buck than the Bush tax cuts.

Tax cuts for the rich vs tax cuts for everyone else is a debate that Democrats desperately need to have in public and loudly. As far as I can tell Adam Clyburn is the only elected Democrat who has tried to focus public attention on the issue.

It is a no-brainer a nega brainer. How can it be that it is allowed to just vanish from the top paragraphs of the NY Times article ?

If Obama lets Republicans insist extending cuts for millionares and not extend those cuts for 95% of working families without political cost (not to mention while Democrats have majorities in both houses) then I will have to conclude that Obama is a Republican mole or something.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


"Hi I'm Austan Goolsbee from the council of economic advisors, and today I wanted to talk a little bit about a major milestone hit by General Motors."

I don't want my cars to hit any milestones. I generally try to stear them away from milestones among other things. But I promise this was presented as an example of the brilliant Obama communications strategy.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Republicans made fools of themselves, but the joke's on the US

In a cavernous old print shop, the Alaska Division of Elections began the painstaking task of counting the more than 92,000 write-in ballots cast in the race between Murkowski, tea party favorite Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams.

Yes fewer than 92,000 votes are required to gain the power to put a hold on any and all legislation in the worlds only remaining super power. Less than 0.03% of the population. Oh and check your constitution. There is nothing we can do about it short of revolution.
How well did my predictions do compared to those of highly paid pundits ?

Several pundits didn't do all that well as noted by MediaMatters (via Benen)

I made the following predictions on September 15 (predictions down in the comment thread).

"I guess R gain 5-6 (which is huge given the fact that this election is 6 years after 2004).

To go way out on a limb, I guess R pickups in ND, AR, IN
PA & IL and 0 D pickups. You will notice that compared to polls I am predicting poor perfromance [SIC TSW*] for tea partiers (so lose NV and Co). "

I didn't see Feingold's loss in Wisconsin coming, but there was almost no polling before September 15 and almost no discussion (I admit Cook had moved it to toss up).


Republicans gain 5 or 6 Correct
Hoeven wins in ND Correct
Boozman wins in AR Correct
Coates wins in IN Correct
Kirk wins in IL Correct
Toomey wins in PA Correct
Bennet wins in CO Correct
Reid wins in NV Correct

Unless someone can find other predictions which I made, that's 8 out of 8. Now in the main post I discussed the possibility that the narrative would be Tea Party ruins Republican chances in the Senate. In fact the narrative is Democrats Shellacked in House.

*So I can't type So what

Sunday, November 07, 2010

This seems worthwhile to me

Friday, November 05, 2010

I ask Nate Silver to estimate some parameters.

It seems to me that in many senatorial races the actual outcome was closer to the last few polls than to the smoothed average. That is it seems to me that less smothing (more sensitivity) would have been better for Senatorial races. Nevada is an exception, but this works for Penn and Wash (closer than smoothed average although they are still counting in Wash) Colorado (other sign than smoothed average) and Kentucky (wider than smoothed average).

My thought (which I believed before the election so I might just be seeing what I expected) is that optimal forecasts involve less smoothing for Senate electoins than House elections or Presidential elections. The logic is that people are learning about the candidates in October so population voting intentions change a lot.

In contrast people have been inundated by information about Presidential candidates since it seems like forever so they have learned all that they are willing to learn by October and made up their minds unless they are determined not to.

Also in contrast, most people never learn much about candidates for the House of Representatives ( I strongly suspect that many voters don't learn the names and just look for the D or the R).

I'd guess gubernatorials are like senatorials.

In any case, the question of which smoothing parameter works best is an empirical question and can be answered using your data set. I'd be interested in estimating optimal smoothing parameters and testing the null that the optimal smoothing parameter is the same for senatorial, presidential and house elections.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Politico hails acqua Buddha within 17 minutes of polls closing.

Also calls for DeMind and Laehy with 0% reporting.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Republicans have made me miserable with an effective (if in my view cynical) political strategy. Now one has decided to torture me with hope. His line is that Republicans are doing OK in early voting, because this election they are doing better than in 2008.

Here we will have huge GOP gains for sure and his line is that they are doing better than 2008.

"We've seen a very, very significant shrinking of the [early voting] gap between Republicans and Democrats," said Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party. "We think the early voting numbers bode well for us."

Monday, November 01, 2010

I complained that today was nothing special no rally to restor sanity and/or fear, no Halloween (more fear) no election (the sum of all fears). Now I realize I was wrong. Today is the 18th birthday of Ruby Rubacuore. This means that her face can now be published as she is not longer a minor whose privacy must be especially well protected.

Italy's very sober establishment daily Il Corriere della Sera celebrates the event. I noticed a photo of her face on the web last night, but I didn't understand (how dense).

She is now an Moroccan Italian young woman who is in the news because Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called the police in Milan to say they should release her, because she was Hosni Mubarak's niece. Ungratefully, she is now describing Berlusconi's bunga bunga an event featuring him and numerous young women (and an underage girl or two).

Journalists around the world (OK mostly around Europe) are convinced that this is the person who will finally bring Berlusconi down (I'll believe that when I see it)

At least the names of the newspapers and TV networks are comprehensible here Ah a google translation gives just the right extra touch of further absurdity.

I hasten to assure the reader that The Guardian is not guilty of objectifying Karima al Mharoud (her real name) by referring to her as "it". when it comes to English Italian English translation and gender errors she happens to the best of us.

I am also very sure that Daily Telegraph correspondent Nick Squires has never denied having sex with Silvio Berlusconi. I assure the reader that the original is roughly as garbled as the google re-translation. The extra problem again is gender of pronouns. In Italian pronouns are rarely used for subjects, because person and number can be guessed from the conjugation of the verb*. So google had to guess that the subject was a "he" not a "she" or an "it." I hasten to add that, as far as I know, I am the first man to deny that he has ever had sex with Berlusconi.

(all verbs but "to be" have 6 different forms for gender and number in all tenses and modes except the present subjunctive (for which pronouns are used as needed) -- also one can't be something which doesn't have a clear gender and number in Italian -- If I say I am red with embarassment over my spelling, in Italian you can tell I am male).
The model, says the Rome correspondent Nick Squires, says he received 7,000 euro after attending an evening at the home of Berlusconi, but denies having had sex with the premier. La giovane ballerina di danza del ventre al centro dell'ultimo scandalo sessuale in Italia dice che sta scrivendo un libro, continua la corrispondenza.

Polls close in Kentucky in just 30 hours and 28 minutes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Washington Post Congressional Ratings

According to The Post's analysis, 19 Democratic-held seats currently lean toward the Republicans, and Democratic strategists all but concede those contests. An additional 47 Democrat-held districts are considered tossups, while 38 other Democrat-held seats, while leaning toward the Democratic candidate, remain in potential jeopardy. Meanwhile, just four Republican-held seats appear truly competitive -- three leaning toward the Democrats and one considered too close to call.

Republicans need to gain 39 seats for a majority. Greg Sargent offers two analyses which don't convince me. I offer a third.

First interpret lean as as solid lead. In practice this fits Cooke's practice, although I have no idea about the W post. Then, first interpret solid lead as certain win, so before getting to tossups the Republicans gain 16. There are 47 Dem held toss ups 46 more than the one Rep held tossup. So if the tossups split 50 50, the Republicans gain
oh my
39 and control the house 218 to 217.

Hmm ok what if lean means 90% chance (I think this is actually close to what happens when Cooke says lean but one should check at fivethirtyeight at a news source which must not be mentioned here).

OK 19 lean R 50 lean D so 31 more lean D. Moving from 100% down to 90% gives Republicans pick up 3.1 more for an expected gain of 42.1 . These numbers are the best numbers for the Dems that I have ever seen. Better, for example, than predicted based only on past elections and GNP growth (Reps gain 45).

Now I'd say the numbers are not really such good news for Dems. I assumed that a huge range of probabilities are called tossups. If so, while splitting toss ups 50%-50% is the only way to interpret the word, the true average probability of a "tossup" could, in theory be an 89% probability of a Republican win.
Illinois Early Voting

Data from Lynn Sweeton via Kos

So far, 298,113 Illinois voters have cast ballots including 174,739 Democrats (58.6% of those who have voted so far) and 83,166 Republicans (27.9%). (Note: Illinois does not have party registration, so Democrats are defined as those who have voted in a Democratic primary and Republicans are defined as those who have voted in a Republican primary.)

After typing and typing and typing, I notice that the post below is silly. 58.6% > 41.4%. A low turnout Republican primary can't explain why more than half of the people who have already voted in the Illinois general are Democratic primary voters.

Of course no one knows what early voting means because it is so new. In fact, the meaning of early voting totals is rapidly changing since early voting is so new. But I can see why Democrats are pleased.

Primary voting is an imperfect proxy for party registration which is an imperfect proxy for partisan orientation (leaning independents vote as they lean about as much as declared party supporters).

If the Democratic primary was closer than the Republican primary, then there will be pro-Alexi bias in the calculation. Yep the Republican primary was a Kirk cake walk.
740,000 voted in the Rep primary and 900,000 in the Dem primary

So far it seems to me that the Republicans prefer stupid insults even when they have credible arguments.

Now how does that compare to partisan self identification ?

In a PPP poll (pdf warning) which is supposed to be of likely voters self identified democrats outnumber self identified republicans 40% 30% R 30% I. 4/3 is higher than the ratio of votes in the primary. All doesn't matter if independents go for Kirk, but the evidence, such as it is, suggests that using primary voting is tougher on Giannoulias than using partisan registration data or even partisan orientation among voters classed by PPP as likely voters.

Hmm uhm tends to look not so bad.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Matt Yglesias wonders if people have to speculate in housing. What if someone wants to buy a house but doesn't want to gamble that house prices will increase ? Is there anything to be done ?

In theory, this problem has been solved. It is now possible for home buyers to hedge. It is also possible for professional investors to speculate in housing. I'm not sure they would do better than the amateurs, look how well the RMBS and stock markets function.

The solution, in theory, is the Case-Shiller house price index. You can roughly hedge the price of a house you own using the index. The problem is that the risk you want to hedge is that you want to sell the house and it is cheap. So long as you own the same house, the price only matters for property tax assessments.

Shiller really really honestly believed that he had made the world a much better place when he confinced the Chicago Commodities board to introduce trading in the index. But then almost no one traded it (what if you held an index and nobody came ?).

I think that the correct innovation which will really fix things is one in which the balance of a mortgage is indexed to the Case_Shiller index. If the index were perfectly matched to your home, your equity in the house would just grow with repayments minus interest. Oh the interest to be paid would be constant (OK indexed to wages or the CPI to be perfect), not a constant times the balance owed. So, to the extent that the index worked, interest and principle payments and equity in the house wouldn't depend on housing price fluctuations.

This makes mortgage initiators waay long the local Case-Shiller house price index, but they can hedge that risk by shorting it.

Problem solved except for people who own their houses outright and, hey they can bear a bit of risk.
UnBallanced Coverage at the Washington Post

So now we know what it takes to get the Washington Post to take sides -- good punchlines.

The top article at is a report on>/strike> strike>advertisement for celebration of the rally to restore sanity and/or fear. I don't blame Jason Horowitz. I can't contain my enthusiasm either.

OK OK there is an effort at ballance.

But with its Capitol backdrop, exuberant crowd and clever placards, the Stewart-Colbert rally began to look like an ironic version of the political theater it sends up.

Yes the problem is based on the key distinction between irony and sending up. Come on Jason, you can do better than that. Either say something in favor of insanity and/or complacency or start a blog.

Grim warnings of what might go wrong.

Saturday won't be the first time, of course, that comedians have stepped forward as critics of the political system only to find themselves inside the political arena. (Hello, Al Franken.) In Italy, for example, the comedian Beppe Grillo led massive rallies against an ossified and corrupt political culture. They proved so popular that they spawned a political party.

YOu have to read it in context to understand that this is supposed to ballance the enthusiasm expressed in the rest of the article. Watch out Stewart, if you aren't careful you might end up in the Senate and you know how disfunctional that place is. Be careful Colbert, unless you're careful you will find yourself leading a political party.

Clearly in the face of sanity and irony and serious comedy, Horowitz can't maintain his ability to argue that both sides have a point. He's clearly desperate to avoid pro sanity bias. The proof is the quote below

"the right-leaning Beck." That's desperation.
Why are Businessmen Angry With Obama ?

Obama has clearly helped large US firms. Profits are soaring and the stock market is way up. Evidently the people who are supposed to manage large firms are extremely angry at him. Why ?

Kevin Drum thinks that they were totally spoiled by the Republicans and expect to be giving whatever they demand and to be praised no matter what happens.

I can think of some other possible causes of businessmen's insane anger.

It's the economy smart guy. No one is surprised that ordinary people are generally angry, because they economy is in the crapper, and direct that anger at Obama. The premise of the post is that businessmen are well informed and rational. I'd guess that many of them are upset that they can't do anything new, because that would imply investing and they have excess capacity, so they blame someone else. I admit I was tempted to say they are upset because, of course profits are low in a recession, but then I remember that during Obama's presidency profits grew faster than they ever did under Reagan, so that's not it.

I bet many of them watch Fox. Is there any reason to think they know what's happening in the real world ?

Also are you really enjoying having a President younger than you are ? I'm not. Also he's African American and they are old White guys all of whom know they can't say racist things and some of whom are racist. They are busy. They have to decide which news channel to watch.

Finally there is strategic whining. Obama is good for business, but they quite rationally think that the result of criticizing Obama is more powerful Republicans who give them what they want. Also Obama tries to mollify critics so wheels might squeek hoping to get greece. Or most of all, conservadems are pro-business but not totally crazy and obey if business shouts at them.

But all in all, I agree, they are totally spoiled, surrounded by flatterers and coddled by Presidents for three decades, they expect to be praised and thanked constantly.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Likely Voter Polls, Registered Voter Polls and the Power of Averaging

I have quoted this post by Steve Singiser from vague recollection so many times recently that I finally looked it up. Singiser looked up polls taken within one month of election day in 2006 and 2008 which reported results both for registered voter samples and likely voter subsamples. He found that the registered voter polls performed better

"THE FINAL SCORE: RV 32, LV 21, Ties 3"

This is a stunning fact. Basically everyone but Singiser ignores registered voter polls if likely voter polls are available. I post, because I think I have a marginally useful suggestion. If results from the registered voter sample and the likely voter subsample work about equally well, then the average of the results for registered voters and likely voters will perform better than either, probably quite a bit better than either.

So I average if I can. For example, this means that I consider the latest CNN poll of Nevada to show a dead heat Angle up 4% in the likely voter sample Reid up 4% in the registered voter sample.
For school, my 13 year old is supposed to follow and occasionally report on current events. She googles. I just asked her if any of her classmates didn't have internet access. I got a puzzled stare and "not have internet access ?!?!"

Enquiring further I learn that, well yes two years ago a couple of classmates (she witheld the names) claimed that they didn't have internet access for a week or two, because of computer problems.

She was amused and said her next report would be how people are being sucked into the internet. I said, well not everyone is like me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"pollsters need to address why their results sometimes diverge widely a few weeks or months before the election, only to converge at the end." -Mark Blumenthal

Pollster accuracy is judged almost entirely by their last poll before the election. The idea is they say polls are snapshots not predictions (this is silly we look at them to predict).

LV filters will select different voters depending on the date. Gallup is unusual as they explain their LV filter. One question is something like "do you know the location of your polling place." Clearly not knowing on Oct 30 is an important signal that one is not going to vote. Not knowing in August pretty much just means the voter hasn't voted there before

Another question is something like have you voted there before. Both select against young people. The two put people who have never voted before *or* who have moved since the last election on the edge of exclusion (3 strikes and you're out that is 3 non voter like answers imply that Gallup considers you not likely to vote).

Gallup uses this filter, because just before the election it becomes a good filter. Every 2 years there is a Gallup anomaly where the Gallup LV sample is more Republican than other LV polls (except maybe Rasmussen this year). This is all very predictable and, unlike pollsters, I personally have addressed it repeatedly.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Brad DeLong wants a Labour Party with Balls
Legal Advice for Citizens Against Government Waste

They had an advertizement which James Fallows clearly thinks was directed by a genius of the caliber of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Reifenstal (sp). He notes that each of the claims in the advertisement is the exact opposite of the truth

And if you know anything about the Chinese economy, the actual analytical content here is hilariously wrong. The ad has the Chinese official saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries -- all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China's (successful) anti-recession policy.

Then Campus progress used the same video with new subtitles, so the professor's chinese was translated into accurate claims in English (I'm assuming that the professor really isn't a witch)

According to Ben Smith CAGW asked youtube to take down the modified ad, while admitting that parody is fair use.

"We love parody as much as anyone (I was a huge fan of the Downfall series myself), but what Campus Progress did was not 'parody,'"

Their basic claim is that Campus Progress is using the modified ad to raise money.

Campus Progress's Sara Haile-Mariam emails:

Citizens Against Government Waste must have spent all their money on the video, and didn’t have any left over for legal advice. Our video is a parody, not a copyright violation. And we aren’t raising money off it. We’re only raising awareness and highlighting the concern of young people that corporate interests are drowning out their voices this fall.

I fear I must agree with CAGW. The legitimate purposes of parody are to be fun, to be audacious and to refute and discredit the parodied argument. A parody can add to the discussion. Sad to say, Campus Progress's attempt at parody adds nothing to the discussion, because the original advertizement is a much more absurd and audacious parody of itself. Nothing could more effectively demonstrate the dishonesty of CAGW and the absolute absence of any possibility that they have anything useful to contribute to the national discussion than an advertisement in which the economic success of the People's Republic Of China is used to argue for small government.

The People's Government of China isn't as invasive as it was under Mao, but, compared to them, Obama and Thatcher are indistinguishable (yes I know that, under Thatcher. the UK had socialized medicine, but I like understatement. Also under Obama the USA locks people up without legitimate trials just like the PRC, so there).

A respondent once argued that they couldn't have harmed Ariel Sharron by libeling him and damaging his reputation, since his reputation couldn't possibly be worse than it was already. Simlarly, the claim of parody can not possible be used as a defence against CAGW's copyright infringement claim, since they are clearly well beyond parody.

Update: It's not my fault. Youtube took the attempted parody down before I posted my explanation that the original ad is beyond parody.

update: some spelling corrected and some commas added.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Open Letter to NPR

Dear NPR bosses.

I understand that you sent out a memo ordering NPR jounalists to not attend the Rally for Sanity/and fear.

the bosses at NPR actually made an even more bizarre decision earlier this month, when they told the network's journalists they could not attend the much-hyped Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert "rally" on the National Mall on Oct. 30; their memo said "NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers,"

Did you send out a similar memo ordering NPR journalists to not attend the recent rally featuring Glenn Beck ?

I ask for information, but I guess the answer is no, since you didn't imagine that any NPR journalists would attend (or that the ones who would are the ones who would denounce you alleging that you were violated their first amendment right to peaceably assemble).

If the answer is yes, I apologize for this speculation. If the answer is no, then I must denounce you for biased pressure on NPR journalists, in which you make it clear that they must not act as liberals, but may act as conservatives. I can't imagine any justification for sending just one memo.

Update: Open letter answered. The answer to my question is no, they did not send a memo telling NPR reporters not to attend the Beck rally.

questions on how it handled Beck’s rally and the Oct. 2 gathering on the Mall for the “One Nation” progressive rally.

NPR did not advise staff to not attend those two rallies

Note that Alicia C. Shepard asserts that there were questions about the "One Nation" rally. I assume that she is not lying to her readers. I expect she can back up her claim of fact that there were such questions. If not, she must be fired. It just can't be that she is the one who decided to bring up the case of the "One Nation" rally. She definitely asserts the contrary. Obviously a false claim on a matter of fact is a firing offence.

So new questions. Who asked if NPR administration sent out a similar memo referring to the "One Nation" rally ? How many people asked ? Did they ask via e-mails, blog posts, phone calls, faxes, or smoke signals ? Maybe Alicia Shepard is the only person who asked the question and the only person who answered it by consulting her memory. Does that count ? Are ombudspeople allowed to report on events which take place only in their heads without noting that detail ?

Also is it really wise to type "One never truly knows what a lousy job the blogosphere is capable of until one is at the center of a story." I don't think one is wise to insult the blogosphere. Or to challenge it. Ohhhh, you think my original post was humorless, exagerated, paranoid, and hostile ? It was nothing. When challenged, I can give you some realll humorless hostility*.

How's about trying to answer another question "can that nutcase really put my job in danger ?" Fortunately the answer is "of course not."

Aside from the question of whether NPR posts falsehoods, I note that the she concedes the memo was a mistake, but did come up with a justification. Allegedly it wasn't clear to some NPR reportes if the Stewart/Colbert rally was considered political (so forbidden) or entertainment (so allowed). The ombudsman doesn't explain why the memo wasn't titled "When is a rally really a rally" and why it didn't end with the conclusion that this rally is really a rally (there was no need to remind people of the rule against attending real rallies).

I would really have liked a memo which noted that, this cycle, to be pro-sanity is to be partisan, and the NPR can't favor the sane over the insane. Note the balance. The memo wouldn't say which party has gone insane. Maybe the point would have been that Harry Reid is a wild and Craaaazzzy guyyyyy.

*humorless in the sense of not being funny not in the sense of not trying to be funny.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

George Soros funded mediamatters

Suddenly, the claim that George Soros funds mediamatters has changed into a fact reported by mediamatters and George Soros from an unsupported accusation transmitted by Fox News (and it's satttlelights and I'm not talking about Sky). The interesting thing is that people who have claimed for years that Soros funds mediamatters are treating this as news.

They don't say they are glad that a link which already existed is now open, they seem to have entirely forgotten their repeated claims that Soros funded mediamatters.

Rush Limbaugh, for example, basically said that he has been lying to people for years.

No one who reads this blog will be surprised that I think Limbaugh freequently lies making claims of fact with no evidence because they support his conclusions. What puzzles me is that he seems to be pretty much open about his dishonesty. It seems to me that Limbaugh listeners can not fail to notice what is going on.

Limbaugh makes a huge amount of money. Ditto heads claim to believe falsehoods and don't make a lot of money. I really don't understand at all. I don't know any ditto heads so I can't ask why they do so. Of course, if I were to talk to ditto heads, they will indignantly deny that Limbaugh lies and still more indignantly deny that they know perfectly well that Limbaugh lies. But I don't think they can really doubt it.

I think part of what is going on is that many people think it is more important to be on the right side and to be a reliable member of the team than it is to accept facts as facts. I think there is also sincere suspicion of mere "facticity" (an attempted English translation of a German word that Hegel used to express his contempt for facts). A belief that a claim of fact which supports the right conclusion is somehow essentially true even if the specific claim doesn't correspond to reality.

I am trying very hard to imagine what it is like to be a ditto head and I just can't do it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Something in the Water

Exra Klein writes about hardball

Jonathan Bernstein thinks that the Democratic tendency to believe Republicans are far more ruthless and organized than they are is mirrored among Republicans:


But Republicans have their own list of grievances, including the last-minute revelation of George W. Bush's driving record in 2000 and the stuff about his military service in 2004.


Democrats embraced some legitimate, but nevertheless inventive, tactics in the push to get health-care reform through both the Senate and the House. Barack Obama decided to forgo public funding so that he could vastly outspend John McCain. Nothing there goes nearly as far as the tactics Republicans used to pass the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit,

First, at the time, Klein did not describe any of the Democrats tactics as inventive

What reconciliation is for

One of the weirder ideas out there is that it would somehow be unorthodox to use the budget reconciliation process to smooth out the difference between two health-care reform bills that have already been passed. But as Henry Aaron points out (pdf), this is literally what the reconciliation process was created to do:

I think that this claim (which is of course completely accurate) has ceased to be operative, because of the aqua Buddha ad.

On the site I commented at some length

You and Bernstein are hinting at two contradictory claims -- that Democrats play as hard hard ball as Republicans and that Democrats are wise to not play as hard hardball as Republicans. Both can't be true.

The first claim (which neither of you quite made) is clearly false. After arguing that both sides think the other is tougher, Bernstein checks the facts and concludes that Republicans are tougher -- and that this is bad strategy in the medium run.

Your examples of Democratic hard ball prove that you just can't make one tenth of a case that there is any comparison. You note Obama declined public financing -- Four years after Bush declined public financing. You note that the Democrats used the budget reconciliation process to reconcile the budget with the budgetary resolution. For some reason you consider this "inventive." You do not defend that assertion, because you can't. There is nothing inventive about using reconciliation for reconciliation

In contrast the Republicans used the reconciliation process to cut taxes and add to the deficit. That was inventive.

Other absurd non-examples include the Republicans suspicion that the proof that Bush lied to the US public (about his most recent arrest) was provided by Democrats. This is a legitimate issue -- Republicans had made rather a large deal about Clinton lying to the public. Republicans had been claiming that Gore lied or exaggerated, typically by lying about what he said. If the Republicans unproven suspicion is correct, there is no comparison between Democratic and Republiccan tactics in 2000.

According to fare left US News and World Report, the official documents released by the White House demonstrate that Bush did not fulfil his contractual obligations to the TANG. In contrast Clinton was called a draft dodger for briefly considering attempting to get into the national guard (and this in spite of the fact that given his birthday and the very public results of the draft lottery it would have been obvious to any responsible journalist that he wasn't drafted because his draft number was over 300 (over 330 IIRC)).

No evidence could be stronger than the utter mind boggling feebleness of the supposed examples of Democrats acting like Republicans. You aren't seriously arguing that conservatives are right about Republicans and liberals. Yet you hint and suggest something which you must know is total nonsense, before briefly admitting that it is nonsense and changing the subject.

I suggest you bring bottled water to work. There is clearly something in the Water in the Washington Post building.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kargan just asserted that I don't believe in private property. OK I admitted, I don't believe in natural property rights -- I believe that private property is a social invention (roughly I'm with Walzer).

But I find myself indignant over the complete contempt for the useful institution of private property displayed by the editorial board of The Washington Post. They have decided that the time derivative (not the level) of house prices is more important than the principle that claims to own something should not be accepted without evidence.

They have the idea that the foreclosure mess is a bad thing and not good because it slows foreclosures (OK) and therefore we should just ignore massive widespread perjury and accept any banks claim to own a house just on their say so (and robosign so).

They assert that property titles are "antiquated." Lenin thought the same and it didn't work out so well.

All that is sacred is profaned all that is solid melts into CDOs of RMBS.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

AP Edited

Poll: Many Obama 2008 supporters defecting to GOP

Poll: Obama's 2008 coalition dispirited and crumbling; GOP stands to benefit on Election Day

AP News

Oct 17, 2010 08:38 EDT


_76 percent of Obama voters say they will support the Democrat in their House district, while 8 percent plan to back the Republican and the rest are undecided.

_71 percent of McCain voters say they will vote for the Republican in their House district, while 9 percent plan to get behind Democrats and 20 percent haven't chosen a candidate.

Yes you read that correctly. The headline says Obama supporters are defecting to the GOP and the actual data from the actual poll show a larger fraction of Obama supporters intend to vote for Democrats than McCain supporters intend to vote for Republicans.

The argument is 76<71 and in fact 71 is about equal to 100.

update: Oh my Golly Gee. The bias in the article is vastly vastly more extreme than I imagined possible. "they've released the Congressional Generic ballot number. And it actually has the Dems up by 5 points."

end update.

Clearly the respondents didn't give the correct answer. Liz Sidoti just knows what the US people think and she isn't going to let some anonymous poll respondents mess up her story. I mean the ignorant buffoons haven't checked the story line. Who needs them.

The skipped part is worse than the headline. It is easy to give readers the impression that public opinion is the opposite of the opinions reported in polls, because quotes are much more interesting than numbers. Sidoti quotes two people who voted for Obama and intend to vote for Republicans. 8% of Obama voters declare an intention to vote for Republicans. The roughly 4% of total respondents who have the correct views (as judged by Sidoti) are the only ones she quotes.

The article is basically a massive lie. The headline is a false claim on a matter of fact. It should be corrected.

The actual situation is that the Republicans are going to win more seats because many people who voted for Obama won't vote in the mid terms. In large part this is due to disappointment, but it was inevitable. There hasn't been a pattern of Republicans doing much better than Democrats in mid terms, but there also hasn't been such a huge difference in political attitudes of the young and the old. It has always been true that the fraction of voters who are young is much lower in mid terms than in Presidential years. The change in partisan affiliation by age means that this mid term will be much better for Republicans than the last Presidential year. This is a separate issue from disappointment in Obama.

Also, the results of the poll absolutely scream that the disappointment will hurt Democrats by preventing people who would vote for Democrats to stay home and not by convincing them to vote Republican.

I wonder if Sidoti and the headline writer can read arabic numerals. Actually I'm pretty sure about the headline writer. I think it is clear that he or she just read the first few paragraphs which quoted Obama supporters who are defecting to Republicans and didn't read the number 8%. Thus the headline shows how successfully misleading the article is. I am assuming that all claims of fact in the article are technically true and note that someone whose job is to summarize the article clearly came away with a totally demonstrable false impression.

Does anyone have any explanation of why the AP employs Liz Sidoti ? I ask for information. I don't think the aim of top AP management is to deceive the public. If it were, their personel policy would make sense, but I just don't believe it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"'The Economics of Interstellar Trade' a critique"

Click the link. It is not decorative. Nor is this one. Or this one. (which take you to the original article so don't click them twice -- we wouldn't want any time wasted here would we ?).

I find the analysis in "A Theory of Intersteller Trade" unconvincing. You assume that the Trantorian merchant can costlessly accompany it's cargo, however you neglect to consider the economics of interstellar tourism. Imports and exports of goods are easily managed as you demonstrate, but invisible exports are not.

WLOG (with loss of generality) I assume that agents are risk neutral make marginal utility 1) and also, as is standard, assume that they are depraved selfish swinish creatures who care only about consumption.

With these assumptions, the interest rate r must be related to the subjective rate of time preference (symbold font) r, hence r (are you sure you understand the notation).

Consider the advantages of a round trip to Trantor. One can leave invested wealth K behind. After a delay, measured in Earth's inertial frame* of T the wealth will have increased to Ke^(rT)
but the subjective delay will only be T/A where A= (square root of (1 - v'v/c^2))... how did you make actual equations without equation editor, LaTex or (shudder) Tex ? This means that the Value of K will be increased by this operation from the value in the absense of interstellar travel -- K to
K^(r(T(A-1)/A)). This operation can be performed infinitely many times so uh well seems like V is infinite.

Note the infinite benefits of interstellar travel must exist for any interest rate. If r < rho then people can be infinitely happly by borrowing infinity, consuming it then paying it back with interest by consuming - infinity at some future date).

Arbitrage implies that the K in this example is total wealth on planet, as the agent can consume - (total wealth minus its wealth to accumulate such K before leaving). Thus arbitrage proves that travel at speeds approaching the speed of light must cost the greater of the value of Trantor and the value of the Earth. Here simple economics has provided us with the answer to what appears to be a difficult problem in physics and engineering.

I have made extensive use of the simplifying approximation of risk neutrality (so did two of the guys who just won the Nobel prize by the way). Of course I also used the entirely standard assumption that economic agents are perfectly indifferent to the prospect of everyone they have ever known dying before they meet again.

(by the way, you claim not to know general relativity but assert correctly that the Earth has an approximately fixed inertial frame provided it is approximately in free fall -- of course that only holds at the center of mass of the Earth where we find ourselves to withing an interstellar scale approximation)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unsubtle Contradictory Statements

This goes beyond "who oh why don't we have a better press corps" and "top reporters are innumerate" to "top reporters are illiterate too"

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz report on a Washington Post poll in the Washington Post.
They [most Americans] want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care.

If true, their claim would imply that many Americans want Washington to have no role in fighting poverty -- a very very radical position not yet advocated by any of the Republican loons running for office. It would also imply that more than half either want to eliminate the FDA or don't know if it should be eliminated.

However, their claim of fact about the Washington Post poll is false.

The actual questions are two clicks away from the "interpretation" (one has to click through a page of graphs and more analysis to get to the brute and raw plain facts of the matter).

The relevant question in the actual poll


As far as I can guess, Cohen and Balz read "Insuring access to health care" as
"regulating health care." If my guess as to what in the poll gave them that idea is correct, they are illiterate. The FDA does not "[i]nsure access to health care" but it does regulate health care.

The plain English meaning of the quoted passage from the article allegedly reporting the results of the poll is that a more than half of Americans answered "no federal governement involvement at all" or "no opinion" to the question on health care. In fact 11% answered "no federal government involvement at all" and 1% had no opinion. Cohen and Balz assert 12>50. In fact 52%, an absolute majority (52%) said they would "like to see more federal government involvement in that area" More not "maintain a role" and 52 is more than half not "almost half." The claim in the article is plainly false and should be corrected.

64% wanted the Federal Government to be more involved in "reducing poverty" 64%. 94% wanted the Federal government to have some role. 94% is technically a majority, but so is 64%. It is not normal to describe a 94% majority just as "most Americans" and a making an extremely weak claim when one could make a vastly more informative true claim with four more letters is strange enough to be deceptive.

Clearly Jon Cohen and Dan Balz are either lying or they don't grasp the difference betweeen supporting "to be involved" and "maintain a role" on the one hand and to "more federal government involvement" and "" on the other. This is beyond innuracy. Basically it means that two top Washington Post reporters are functionally illiterate or deliberately lying.

I am going to bend over backwards to be charitable. Here I assume that
that 52 % is roughly "almost half" and that "most" is a reasonable word for 94% but not for 64% (the use of "most" had lead to many invalid arguments as to prove that something is true of most one needs to prove only that it is true of amajority, but then many go on to assume that "mos"t means "approximately all" so 50.1% is approximately all). Finally I assume tha writing "a majority" ... "more involved" which would be actually informative and plainly true for any definition of "most" was impossible because it would require 9 more keystrokes which is just too much for the subtle destinction between more effort to fight poverty and no effort to fight poverty.

With those very generous assumptions, the article still contains a falsehood. The reason is that the fraction supporting a role for the federal government in health care (and in particular in insuring access) is not "almost half" or "about half" or "slightly more than half" or "52%" but rather 88%.

My first guess was this was innumeracy so extreme that the difference between "more" and "any" is considered negligible. However, re-reading the article, I notice a huge number of quotations of people who say the federal government has recently done too much.

The conclusion of the article is "not all americans are Tea partiers," yet the case is understated to an extent which makes the article fundmamentally false. I think that the problem is that the poll results have a clear liberal bias, so describing the poll accuately would be unballanced.

However, facts are facts and the Washington Post must correct the falsehoods it published if it is to be considered a resectable newspaper.

I read the article but was not upset until the excellent Steve Benen quoted the questions as reported rather then the questions that were actually asked. Benen was not impressed by the respondents writing "There's a reason our discourse isn't more constructive."

Heh indeed. And more than one reason. Part of the problem is newspaper articles which make false assertions like this one. I think that one huge failure of US journalism is a failure to report accurately the opinions of the US public on egalitarianism, poverty, economic policy and so forth. On economic issues, the US public is way to the left of the US public as reported by the elite media.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nicholas Kristof has forgotten the SAT.

I know he was once very familiar with it, since he is a Harvard Graduate (class of 82 just like me). But in his pop quiz on religion, some correct answers are not among the options given. Those correct answers are "all of the above." He gives multiple choice answers a,b and c. The rule is that one or three are true statements. This rule can't be deduced given the implicit "or"s for either inclusive or inclusive or.

I scored 8 out of 13 which I consider not bad (even though I am an atheist and we are supposed to know more about religion than the religious). For two of the questions which I got wrong, the correct answer was "all of the above." However, I answered "all of the above" correctly once. That was when I knew for sure that all of the above was correct. The others I assumed it couldn't be.

My guess is that answer d "all of the above" was removed to save ink and paper. A single line "in each case either only one of the answers is correct or all three are correct" would have helped without killing all that many trees.
Corriere Della Sera headline guy

L'intervista: Stieglitz, stampare denaro non serve di F. Fubini

The Stieglitz in question is Stiglitz.

My last name is usually miss-spelled. I see there is no hope. Even Nobel memorial prizists suffer the same fate.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Daily Show is one of the few things to which I look forward. Uh Daily.

This is wonderful, but I am so far gone that I strongly object. Stewart said we gave 700,000 billion to the banksters. A loan is not a gift. They paid us back. Much of it was money for preferred shares not toxic waste.

But it's wonderful.

(although the embed HTML code seems messed up. Seems that someone didn't read the fine HTML print).

So who is supposed to make sure that terrible bills don't sail through the Senate without debate. Uh ooohhhh don't want to look into that Angle.

The Mortgage Bankers Association isn't very good at banking, but they are comic geniuses
D'Souza's successful Fukayaming

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Final Battle for the Bride of the Gallup anomaly.

I gulped when I say the TPM smoothed congressional generic ballot. The Republicans have pulled ahead again. This happened because Gallup switched on their likely voter filter. I warned in advance not to take the number too seriously.

My I've written a lot on the Gallup anomaly.

I believe that Gallup switched on the filter roughly when the biases with registered and likely voters are roughly equal, meaning both are biased in opposite directions. In particular, the Gallup likely voter filter has very different properties in late October and August (would have that is, I don't think they even ask the questions in August). One of their 7 questions is "do you know where your polling place is ?" The answer clearly conveys different information if the question is asked October 30 or October 6th. Someone who still doesn't know then is someone who is not likely to actually vote. Someone who doesn't know now is just someone who hasn't voted there before (that is another of the 7 questions).

Pollsters are judged based only on the last poll which they report. Gallups last poll is a very good predictor of electoral outcomes. Is Gallups early October poll a good predictor of Gallup's last poll ? I'm off to check. It is now 7:52 AM EST.

I have been over at The few numbers I looked up provide no support to my claim. I am looking at the Gallup/USA Today poll because it's what I found.

Gallup D-R

Year Last, first Oct, date Registered last first Oct
2008 12 6 10/10-12/08 15 ---
2006 7 13 10/6-8/06 11 23
(damn last in September was tied)
2004 1 -3 10/22-24 4 2
2002 -6 1 10/03-6 5 5
(ruined everything)

The likely-registered gap improves on average 0.33% for Democrats and the last poll is 0.75% better for the Republicans than the first.

I still believe what I claimed.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Rasmussen Poll shocks everyone who has no clue how Rasmussen polls

Various commentators seem surprised at the sudden change in the Rasmussen Generic Congressional Ballot poll. All through September Rasmussen reported a near constant wide Republican lead while other pollsters reported a much smaller and shrinking lead.

Now suddenly, as soon as we enter October, Rasmussen reports a Republican lead of only 3%. What could possibly have suddenly changed on October 1st ?

Rasmussen weights it's samples so that a constant fraction of weighted respondents self identify as Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The weights are based on the average response in the last month of polling. This might make some sense in polling on specific races, but there really isn't much difference between partisan identification and generic ballot voting intentions. I'm sure there are some people sho say that they are Democrats but voting for Republicans and vice versa.

Therefore the Rasmussen poll is roughly last month's self identified Republicans plus a constant near one times the fraction in the latest poll of independents who plan to vote Republican for the Republicans and a similar calculation for the Democrats. This means that the poll basically is only partially updated within a month.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ross Douthat wrote a good column.

I could sneer and say Shorter Douthat "honymoons end." But I won't.

There is one point which bothers me, but I'm not criticizing Douthat.

"the liberal left largely accepted that it had lost Clinton-era arguments over ... welfare reform,"

I think this is just plain true. However, "largely" doesn't mean universally and I'm not going to stop arguing.

Interestingly the New York Times also published some shocking news -- months ago in April.

During the recession up till April 2010 welfare enrollment had increased less than 10% while food stamp enrollment increased more than 40%.

It seems that a welfare reform which worked OK in the late 90s (when everything economic in the USA worked wonderfully) is creating huge suffering now. In 2009, the rate of severe poverty (income less than half the poverty line) was the highest on record (records only go back to 1975).

No one could have predicted -- except the liberal left which argued that just to get rid of the word "entitlement" the welfare reformers guaranteed a crisis in a severe recession. The Federal contribution doesn't increase automatically. States are squeezed. The program isn't there when people need it.

The assumption that any single mom who doesn't find a job in 2 years is a deadbeat doesn't seem to be valid when the unemployment rate is almost 10%.

So in the general political debate, it is still agreed that welfare reform was a great thing and that "the liberal left" was totally wrong.

Also, among people who know what they are talking about, there doesn't seem to be much debate

Ronald T. Haskins, who helped write the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans, said, “There’s definitely a problem.”

“Many states have been too slow to take destitute families back on the rolls,” Mr. Haskins said. “In 1996, both Republicans and Democrats assumed that welfare rolls would rise during a recession as jobs got harder to find.”

But it's just agreed that the case was closed in 2000 and must not be relitigated.
Mark Thoma asks why US citizens don't support more income redistribution.

I contest his premise in a long comment

I disagree with the premise of the quoted article and the post. I think most people in the USA support explicit leveling. In particular I think a solid majority wants the tax code to be more progressive. Search for Gallup and fair
here .

The majority of US adults has been convinced that the poor pay more than their fair share and the rich less than their fair share for decades.

This also shows up in polls on other topics. The only approaches to shoring up social security and paying for HCR with majority support were increasing taxes on the rich.

Many commentators noted majority opposition on extending Bush tax cuts on income over 250,000. I was surprised the majority was so small (on average between 50% and 60 % not slightly over 60% as I would have expected).

US citizens may be less egalitarian than Europeans, but they definitely want a more egalitarian policy. Yet, as in the recent case, Congress won't deliver it.

The claim of people (cough Henderson cough) in families with income over 250,000 that they are (he is) just middle class was subject to a tidal wave of ridicule. It is not surprising that there are such people. One got the sort of reception he would get in Sweden.

As far as I know, only one major politician (majority whip James E. Clyburn) proposed the obvious good policy and politics compromise of permanent extension of Bush tax cuts on income under 250,000 and temporary extension of the Obama tax cuts for 95% of working families. This is a total no brainer as the Democrats have to convince people that those Obama tax cuts exist. But it would be "class war" so it can't be debated.

I see no evidence that a party which advocated higher taxes on the rich and lower taxes on the poor and middle class would have any trouble winning elections. There is no such party in the USA.

The Democrats are convinced that US citizens reject "class war" and "demagoguery" and "left populism." Looking at the polls, I have no clear idea why this is so. The current election in which voters seem inclined to vote for Republicans because they think that Obama singed the TANF act (which they think cost $700 billion and not around zero) seems to me to be a sign not of a polity with unusual views but of a failure of political representation.

I think the answers are to be found withing the Democratic party (not registered Democrats but the people who run the party starting with an effort to figure out who they are). I guess it has to do with
1) veto points -- progressive reforms are popular if they are ever enacted but can't get through the Senate.
2) The power of money in US politics -- a winning message is no good if one can't buy TV time to get it out.
3) The power of campaign consultants who also help large firms with public relations (which means politician relations) -- that is it's Penn's fault.
4) Baby boomers convinced that McGovern was rejected for being too far left in general so that means Americans don't want more progressive taxes and guys 1972 was 38 years ago.
5) Opinion leaders all have high incomes and socialize with people with high incomes and are totally totally out of touch (I have repeatedly shocked people with the link to pollingreport in this comment).
6) Politicians are inclined to blame the voters for their general cowardice.
Ad Hominem at Crooked Timber

Matthew Yglesias wrote

Chris Bertram


By contrast, here’s Lane Kenworthy’s chart of income growth by decile under the Tories versus Labour: [click for the graph]

You see here that New Labour had these (presumably finance-driven) gains at the tippy-top but also major progress for the bottom half of the income distribution.

and on to other issues.

Chris Bertram replies (in part -- I stopped here)

update: Bertram seems to have revised his post, making my criticisms no longer relevant. So I delete this post (which is available by e-mail on request at least if you are Chris Bertram).