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Sunday, February 28, 2010

By Request

Someone in comments asked me to comment on this post by Glenn Greenwald. I won't try to summarize Greenwald just go read it. Then maybe come back if interested.

The commenter also asked if I believe that Obama is playing 11 dimensional chess and playing it well, that is, do I interpret his shifting policy positions to be strategic and necessary. I'd tend to say that Obama is playing at least 7 or 8 dimensional chess. I largely disagree with Greenwald.

Greenwald notes that Obama and John D Rockafeller said they supported the public option but that it wasn't supported by 60 senators. Now that they are forced to use reconciliation, they don't support passing the public option via reconciliation. Therefore, their statements were strategic and the strategy is to defeat the public option

The Obama White House did the same thing. As I wrote back in August, the evidence was clear that while the President was publicly claiming that he supported the public option, the White House, in private, was doing everything possible to ensure its exclusion from the final bill (in order not to alienate the health insurance industry by providing competition for it).

I have two problems with Greenwald. The subject under discussion shifts from "the Democrats" to "Democrats including Rockafeller and Obama."

He does know that the Democrats in congress could pass a public option. This is plainly obvious -- they have the majority in both houses and the Senate majority has the final authority to decide the scope of the reconciliation process. He does not consider two other explanations of what is happening.

First there are not now and never have been 50 votes for the public option in the Senate. This would mean that some Democratic senators have been lying. I don't think it even means that any has lied in public. The claim that there were well over 50 votes for a public option was not based on public declarations by more than 50 senators. Rather it was a report, without naming names, of informal head counts. Assuming the head counters were honest then, some of the heads they counted belonged to un named liars.

Second, the public option might be unavailable because it is opposed by Democrats in the House. This is very possible. It is certain that passage depends on blue dogs who did not vote yes before and it is possible that they refuse to support a public option.

Note again "They pretended in public to "demand" that the public option be included via reconciliation with a letter that many of them signed (and thus placate their base: see, we really are for it!), " here "many of them" is equated with "They." This is a clear error. If only many of them did something then they didn't all do it.

Greenwald's analysis relies on their being an entity called "the Democrats" such that what is true of some is true of the group. Notably this group does not include all Democrats or even all Democratic elected officials (it does not include the progressive caucus). It includes exactly everyone who Greenwald decides is to be included. Thus the Democrats can pass a public option and are publically demanding that one be included because 50 Senators plus 217 representatives plus Obama can pass a public option and "many of them" publicly demand a public option. Those "many of them" can't do anything becuase, while they are "many" they are less than 50 Senators (forgetting the House).

Now I note, as Greenwald does in an update, that his post is about politics not policy. In the update he argues that the public option would be good policy. He does not argue that it is important. He does not distinguish between the robust public option and the level playing field public option. He does not consider the possibility that aiming for the public option might increase (or reduce) the risk of no reform at all. He doesn't compare the value of the public option to the value of the rest of reform. Most of all, he assumes that Obama and Rockafeller give as little consideration to health care policy except for the public option as he does.
This is (no links) the man who discussed the "narrow issue" of health care reform and mentioned "tiny concessions" to progressive aims in the rest of the bill.

Oh here's one for Obama, Rockafeller and Greenwald. What about medicare buy in ? All of the Democrats in the Senate (plus Sanders) signed on to that publicly. I think it would be a better policy than the level playing field public option. Why has it vanished from the debate ? I think it is clear that it has vanished because it is perceived to be a half measure -- that is because the progressives who are still fighting for the public option are more interested in bragging rights than in policy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I know It's silly to take Dana Milbank seriously, but here he is on the health care summit.

The forum matched his lawyerly skills -- and, less flatteringly, his tendency to act like the smartest guy in the room.
Now I'd say that if Obama were the smartest guy in the room, then it would be irresponsible of him to ignore that fact. That question is not addressed at all in the article.

More importantly, no questions of substance were addressed in the article. It was all 100% about style.

It appears that, to Milbank, claiming that someone else's assertion on a matter of fact is incorrect is bad form. If people followed his rules of how not to act like you are the smartest guy in the room, then facts would have no effect on the debate.

The scary thing, is that I think that Milbank knows this. I think he is going meta or horse race, that is, he has noticed that the people of the USA don't like people who know a lot. He clearly thinks that it's not his problem to decide if this is a crippling national neurosis which leads to idiocy like electing George W Bush. If it's not his problem, whose problem is it ?

update: Welcome Krugmen and Krugwomen. Yes I am indeed so vain. My reaction on opening his blog was "another link to Brad... why doesn't he ever link to meeeeee" and then "heeeyyyyy that's my name."

Note (as I didn't in the post I wish I had written better) that Milbank didn't say that Obama acted as if he thinks he's the smartest person in the room. The problem is acting like the smartest guy in the room. As written it isn't a statement about self esteme, but about smartness. I believe that Milbank is thinking of knowledge not intelligence, and that he is saying that it is a mistake for someone to demonstrate that he or she knows more than others.

Also, "going meta or horserace" is two feeble attempts to name the phenomenon. I just learned a much better name coined by David Sirota the "Media's ... Innocent Bystander Fable" so I guess the verb form would be "to stand by innocently" and I should have said that Milbank was "innoncently standing by." or, clarity before elegance, written that Milbank was going all innocent bystander on his readers.

I got to Sirota via Glenn Greenwald's post on Newsweeks discussion of the aversion to describing the IRS attacker Joe Stack as a "terrorist"

This is a good example of the innocent bystander fable.

There could not be a better example.

After that post, various Newsweek employees fiercely protested that they were *not* discussing and endorsing Newsweek's aversion to using the word, but rather innocent bystanders discussing the fact that others don't use the word.

Greenwald notes that the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" do not appear in the Newsweek article reporting on Stack.

I have no doubt that the many Newsweek employees who are furious with Greenwald are absolutely sincere -- that it just didn't occur to them that their magazine could contain the phenomenon which they were discussing.

They don't seem to understand that this is much much worse than conciously choosing to avoid the words terrorist and terrorism for the reasons they gave. They appear to be sincerely dumfounded that the text of newsweek is supposed to be part of the rality with which Newsweek employees should be familiar (at least when they are discussing the discussion).

Think of it. They write "we weren't talking about Newsweek. We were talking about the media organs which won't call Stark a terrorist a group. A group which includes Newsweek, but we couldn't have been expected to notice that (although we are qualified to read the minds of those people other than ourselves who did exactly the same thing we collectively did).

update 2: Pulled back from comments

There is a hidden premise behind the view that pointing out factual errors constitutes "condescension." It is that the purpose of politics is the assertion of identity rather than attaining any concrete objective. I had more to say about that here.

Ben Ross

There was another comment which I didn't like so much.

Steve in comments gives me a whole new appreciation of the word "condescension"



Even assuming that the data is accurate and everybody's using the same dictionary, in a world of incomplete information there are almost always several logically plausible ways to interpret a given set of facts.

"Here are the facts:"
1. The State of Florida has the highest concentration of physicians in the U.S.
2. The State of Florida has the highest death rate in the U.S.

We can interpret these facts a number of ways:

1. Physicians cause death.
2. High death rates attract physicians.
3. Both the high concentration of physicians and the high death rate are caused by other variables (e.g. the high concentration of elderly Floridians).

C'mon, Doc, I shouldn't have to make this point to an econ professor.


This is also a comment at Krugman's blog. That would be the Krugman who likes to use the phrase "accidental theorist."
Polifact is a National Treasure, However

"One could argue those were the times when Congress got around the need for the standard 60 votes"
60 votes became the standard in 2007. Polifact is noting the plain fact that Republicans lie like rugs, but, even especially in that context, they don't note that filibusters only became standard practice when Mitch McConnell became minority leader.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wish I'd Typed That

The Navy, in particular, has been feeling like they’re left out of the action since terrorists—inconveniently from a budget request point of view—don’t seem all that interested in taking to the high seas.

Those rotten terrorists not only kill people, they have no respect for the balance between the services budgets. So let me try to google that latest. Has this evil choice of terrorists affected the ratio of the army budget to the navy budget ?

OK 2009 warning pdf before B Hussein O took over TOA (has to be requested budget authorization ) rounded to the billion (current dollars this is about the ratio damnit)

Army 139
Nave 149

so for comparison (and really at random honest) 2000

Army 73
Navy 89

By the way the projection gets even crazier.

What the f*ck the navy has a problem that our pressing military problems since 9/11/2001 have nothing to do with them and they still have a larger budget TOA request than the army. I have no clue what Toa means but that is insane.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Geography Quiz

What is the largest city in the USA that can't be reached by navigating the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi river, or any Great Lake ?

I don't know the answer. I'd guess Denver.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Paul Glastris vs the NBER Business Cycle Timing Committee

Glastris writes of Obama

"He thinks he is Reagan in reverse," notes Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, "a patient, genial game changer for the ages." The parallels are indeed hard to miss. Both men took the oath of office amid worst-since-the-Depression recessions, handed to them by administrations widely considered to have been ineffectual.

The NBER Business Cycle Timing Committee writes that there was a very brief recession (oddly miniscule and coincidentally declared less than a year before M Feldstein moved from chair of that committee to chair of Reagan's council of economic advisors) which ended in July 1980 well before January 20 1981 and then another recession which began in July 1981 well after January 20 1981.

Glastris is not a fan of Reagan, but everyone knows that the worst since the Depression recession started before Reagan too office, since July comes before January.

This is not quibbling, the 1981 recession was a recession of choice -- the last
recession deliberately induced to fight inflation.

The choice was not Reagan's it was Volcker's, but the claim that "Both men took the oath of office amid worst-since-the-Depression recessions" is simply plainly absolutely false.

I think The Washington Monthly should publish a correction.
Washington Post Headline Writer part this is getting ridiculous

From "Senate advances job-creation bill with GOP help"

The headline suggests that, this time, Republicans weren't obstructionist.

In fact most Republican senators tried to kill the bill with a filibuster : "Five Republicans, including new Sen. Scott P. Brown (Mass.), joined 57 Democrats in voting to break a filibuster of the jobs bill,".

So let's see. This bill is principally a tax cut. Cutting a tax paid by employers. In a way designed to give them an incentive to hire. The logic is based on incentives not Kaynesian demand boosting by increasing the deficit. This is exactly the sort of proposal that is most glorified in the Republican world view. Also it addresses a huge and pressing problem.

And most of them not only vote against it, but also use the extreme tool of the filibuster to fight it.

Republicans use an extreme technique to fight a proposal which they would support if they cared about policy at all.

But that's not news. The news is that not quite all Republicans are willing to abandon everything they ever stood for in the cause of partisan obstruction.

Just kill me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reading the Constitution is Fundamental II

This is written on Glenn Reynolds's blog

SO HERE’S A QUESTION: Would a default on Treasuries accomplish what the Balanced Budget Amendment was supposed to achieve, by forcing the government to spend no more than it takes in? With more collateral damage, of course. . . .

This is written in the US constitution Amendment 14 section 4

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Glenn Reynolds is a full professor of law.

He knows that the first amendment means he has a right to discuss whether it would be a good idea to default on treasuries to exactly the same extent that the 18th amendment means that it is illegal to sell intoxicating liquors, that is, not at all.

Now that I infer that a law professor doesn't know what's written in the Constitution, I wish I hadn't been so hard on Lasorda.

I'm not in the USA so I feel free to discuss his argument. In fact, I considered it a clever reducto ad absurdum of the idea of pre-commitment when Elisabetta Addis told it to me while lying on a beach 15 years ago.

And, believe it or not, I just told her today that we really ought to write up her joke as a paper with a model and so forth.
Glad I didn't write that

Are you arguing that the “highest responsibility” of an executive branch officer is contained within his oath of office? Might it be that his highest responsibilities are contained within the text of the Constitution itself? What about federal statutes? Those might have some interesting insights about executive responsibility. You know, now that I think about it, the US Supreme Court might have weighed in on the responsibilities of executive officers too.

— Lasorda · Feb 20, 03:50 PM ·

I hope I don't have to explain to my readers that the oath of office is contained in the text of the Constitution itself (article II section 1).

I wonder just how stupid one has to be to contrast a passage with the text of a document without searching the document to make sure that the passage isn't part of the text of the document.

No don't tell me. I don't want to know.

I don't expect people to actually know the text of the Constitution (I haven't memorized it myself) but I do expect people to check before making easily refutable claims. Lasorda is a commenting on a blog post so he must have access to the web and therefore the text of the US Constitution. Do you think he's never heard of Google ?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Eleven Dimensional Telepromter

The phrase should unite the left and right blogosphere. "Eleven dimensional chess" is often used in the left blogosphere, always sarcastically, to refer to Obamaniacs who allegedly insist that every apparent mistake by Obama is, in fact, a subtly brilliant strategic move. This is a mild exageration. I should know, I am one of those Obamaniacs.

I understand that over on the right, they are still telling teleprompter jokes based on the premise that the President can't talk without one. This is a bit odd, since Obama has demonstrated an amazing ability to speak eloquently without a teleprompter. I guess they just haven't accepted the fact that George W Bush isn't President anymore.

Now I see a link between the overused phrase and the overused word -- health care reform. You knew I was going to get back to that didn't you ?

However, I am serious. I was semi convinced of the 11 dimensional chess hypothesis (not the mockery I semi held the mocked belief) when the health insurance lobby AHIP said that they would support health care reform if and only if it included an individual mandate.

Suddenly the Obama campaign's proposal (with no mandate) didn't seem only to be terrible policy (it was) but also brilliant politics. 11 dimensional chess. The problem with the proposal was that, while it sounded great, it would bankrupt all the health insurance companies. That would be a bad thing to do, but heyyyy not a bad thing to threaten to do.

However, that 11 dimensional sacrifice came at a heavy price. Obama had to defend his unworkable policy in countless debates with Clinton and Edwards. He couldn't say "I'm just saying this to get elected -- I don't mean it" or "I'm just saying this to get elected and scare the bejesuses out of AHIP."

So what does this have to do with teleprompters ?

Well the origin of the joke is that Obama sounded much much better in set piece speaches (with a teleprompter) than in the debates. Well of course. If you propose an unworkable policy, you can give good speaches but you will have trouble in debates. It's not that he couldn't debate well, it's that he didn't have a case. I'm pretty sure I recall correctly and that this was the origin of the teleprompter insinuation (presumably insinuated off the record by the Clinton and Edwards campaigns).

Of course Obama had another problem in those debates. He was debating Clinton and Edwards both of whom are (like Obama) super hot shot lawyers who are very very good at debate. Also Clinton knows an amazing amount about policy (like her husband).

Now that Obama is defending a health reform plan with a mandate, and, especially, now that Obama is debating congressional Republicans, he appears to be an absolutely brilliant debater.

Now I have no idea why Republicans keep telling the jokes which just make them look both stupid and rude.

I guess that they are playing 1 dimensional tick tack toe.
If Andrea Fay Friedman challenges Sara Palin to a debate on TV about "Family Guy," what is Palin's next move ?

Looks like check mate to me.


A "Family Guy" actress with Down syndrome voiced a character who was asked about her family. "My dad's an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska," the character replies.

The former half-term governor considered this mockery of her son with Down syndrome, and blasted the show online and on the air. Yesterday, Andrea Fay Friedman, the 39-year-old actress who did the voice-over work on the show told the New York Times, "I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor."

Palin's possible responses.

1. The obvious response is to ignore the challenge or, at most, refuse to debate. This is the normal response of former major party vice presidential candidates to such challenges from people like minor TV actresses. It is also the most likely response, but it is costly.

First Palin criticized Friedman with some vigor Obviusly she considered herself to be criticizing only people without Downs not knowing that Friedman had Down's and considering the writer(s) director and executive producer of the show to be the targets of her criticism. However, that Friedman has decided to consider herself to have been criticized. To attack and refuse debate is cowardly. It works if you criticize oh I don't know rappers and stuff, but not so well if you criticize a woman who has overcome Down's syndrome.

Also Palin's line is that she is not part of the elite. It is always tricky to claim you are so far above someone that you don't have to debate them when you claim to be a populist. Finally, Palin can't be seen to argue that people with Down's aren't competent to debate.

I'd say she would refuse and it would cost her a lot, at least if Friedman chose to complain for a while about Palin's cowardise or haughtiness.

2. Debate and win the debate. Now first of all, given Friedman's interview with the New York Times, Palin's interview on CBS, and given the facts of the case, I'm not sure Palin can manage this. It wouldn't help much anyway. Friedman seems rather intelligent, but she has Down's with the characteristic facial features. Due to prejudice, viewers will underestimate her intelligence. Out debating her will *look* like stealing candy from a baby.

3. Debate and not clearly win the debate. Oh that would be a problem wouldn't it.

4. Debate and lose the debate.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jonathan Chait Soft on Reihan Salam and Soft on the Causes of Reihan Salam*

In fact, Jonathan Chait lied to defend Salan. He misquoted Salam in order to make Salam seem more reasonable that he is.

Chait wrote "Reihan Salam at National Review objects that Leonhardt is refuting a notion that no serious person actually holds:"

That claim is a lie. Salam didn't say that Leonhardt is refuting a notion that no serious person actually holds. Salan said that Leonhardt is refuting a claim that no person actually holds.

Chait himself presents proof that he, Chait, is a flat out liar, quoting something the Salam actually wrote.

"I don't thing that anyone doubts that ARRA helped perk up growth."

Note "anyone" not "any serious person."

I fear that Salam may have written that honestly -- that is that he is completely ignorant or insane.

OK less than 5 minutes of research later I find

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Jan. 8-10, 2010. N=1,021 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.


"Now here are some other questions about that bill, which is officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, although many people refer to it as the economic stimulus package. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of the effect that bill has had on economic conditions around the country? It has improved economic conditions. Economic conditions have not improved, but it prevented conditions from becoming even worse. It had no effect on economic conditions. It has made economic conditions worse."

Improved Conditions 12%
Prevented from
Becoming Even Worse 49%
Had No Effect 22%
Made Conditions Worse 19%

I'd say that means 61% accept the perk up view and 41% absolutely reject it.

That's 418 unpersons right there. Assuming the sample was OK, Salam's guess of 0 appears to be off by roughly 100 million.

I think we learn 3 things. One is that Salam is an extreme elitist. Basically most people count zero to him. When he says about what "people agree" , he means "people like us agree."

Second he is very sloppy.

Third, in their desperate search for non-insane conservatives, liberal thinkers are willing to ignore the facts.

Note Matthew Yglesias links to Chait and shows this reveals something about "the smarter set of conservative commentators."
And Kevin Drum writes "Reihan is implicitly suggesting that liberals ought to be engaging with the best of conservative thinkers"

A little problem like saying 100 million = 0 is perfectly consistent with being accepted among "the smarter set of conservative commentators" and "the best of conservative thinkers".

Now I personally know conservatives who are smart and who are not insane. Why are they hiding ?

update: Welcome Kevin Drummers. My ferocious criticism of Chait was a joke. Also, I will note a possible defence of Salam. He might argue that people can believe that ARRA perked up growth, but that it did not improve economic conditions.

This would not make sense if one uses the phrase "economic conditions" as it is used by economists and journalist who write about the economy. We mean things like GNP growth, unemployment and maybe inflation. As we use the phrase economic conditions do not include the national debt. That is something which will affect future economic conditions but it is not currently an economic condition.

Thus usage is not the only possible usage -- the words "economic" and "conditions" do not belong to economists or economic journalists.

It is possible that poll respondants thought that the ARRA perked up growth but that this perking was outweighed by the added debt. Given the standard journalistic usage of "economic conditions" they should not answer that it made economic conditions worse. However, that is not necessarily given.

I'm fairly confident that a similar fraction of people would say that the ARRA caused lower GNP in the 4th quarter as said that it worsened economic conditions. However, I don't have proof.

Of course this is always true. Only if someone were to quote the question asked in a poll and then said no one gave the answer that some people gave would there be rock solid proof that they were wrong.

*improved title credited to Brad DeLong
Department of Huh

Steve Benen writes

"if the Senate is going to have to take one last shot at health care reform, this time through reconciliation"

Why is this shot the one last shot ? I fear Benen is right, but I don't know why it is so.

The amendment to the budget currently being considered by the Senate does not have to be the Senate's "one last shot at health care reform."

There can be two completely different amendments to the budget (bills passed under budget reconcilation). The first a minimal "sidecar" to get the House to accept the Senate bill plus the sidecar. Then once that sidecar and main bill are passed and signed, the 17 can advocate a totally new bill, to be passed under the budget reconciliation process, introducing a public option, oh and another introducing medicare buy in and maybe a third shifting funding from the excise tax to a tax on millionaires.

Of course, Reid will never let this happen. The prospect is just intollerable. I mean it means taht the Senate won't be able to move beyond health care reform, but rather the debate will continue on issua after issue where the vast majority of the public absolutely disagrees with the Republicans.

We can't have that. I mean if Reid allowed such idiocy he might endanger his excellent chances of retiring next year.

I'm pretty sure that the problem is really that Reid is determined to avoid re-election. So what is it ?

I have some guesses in increasing order of plausibility.

1) That trick only works once.

The 50 left more Democrats understand that Lieberman's view of morality is very asymmetric. He can do things, but if anyone else does they must be punished forever. Basically the trick of compromising to get to 60 then using reconciliation to take back the concessions can only be played once. If the Democrats play that trick, then Lieberman will never vote for cloture again.

So what ? Lieberman (and Nelson) can get the Democrats to 59. What's the point of getting to 59 ? It is clear that no motion for cloture on an important controversial bill will pass for the forseable future. Using reconciliation to take back concessions on the health care bill implies that nothing important will be accomplished by any other means for the forseable future. Not using reconciliation to take back concessions on the health care bill also implies that nothing important will be accomplished by any other means for the forseable future.

to break a promise which was implicit (or at most made explicitly by someone else).

2) It is possible that Democrats fear the return of the zombie death panels lie. Some Republicans have scared people claiming that provisions which aren't in the bills are in the bills. More have scared people by claiming that the bills will lead to something bad, even if it is not in the bill. One way to respond to this argument is to promise that the matter will be closed for the forceable future once the bill is signed. I don't think that any Democrat has made any such promise (quite the opposite many promise that they will continue working on improvements). However, Democrats might fear that a failure to respect a promise which they definitely haven't made will play into Republicans hands.

That is, maybe they aren't moralistic moral idiots but rather cowards afraid of their own shadows and sure that the people really agree with Republicans no matter what they say when polled.

Well it is true that the timidity of Democrats knows no bounds and is invulnerable to evidence. But the polling evidence on the public option is overwhelming. It was the focus of the Republican noise machine for months and still has majority support. The few Democrats representing states where a majority of voters oppose the public option can vote no. Basically all Democratic Senators gain unless one more month of lies makes all the difference. I don't think even Senators can be crazy enough to believe that.

3) Democratic Senators think that to compromise to get 60 votes, then use the reconciliation process to take back the concessions is dishonest and imoral.

This assumes that politicians are constrained by morality. I'm afraid that this might be true of Democrats. It also assumes a totally sick and twisted conception of right and wrong such that a promise privately or implicitly made to Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson is more important than the national interest. I'm afraid that enough Democrats in the Senate are both constrained by their perception of right and wrong and moral idiots that a reform supported on the merits by 50 or more Senators wouldn't pass because to pass it would be

This would mean that Democrats feel constrained by the need to play fair with 2 senators who gave their word then took it back (Lieberman supported medicare buy in before he opposed it, Nelson supported the team of ten compromise before he demanded the cornhusker kickback in exchange for reiterating his support -- both are clearly willing to break their word in order to be the 60th vote). Yet they are our only protection from Republicans who are clearly completely uncontrained by anything.

Is there any other possibility ?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Notizie Odierno

Ahmed Chalabi and Ali Faysal al-Lami… clearly are influenced by Iran,” Gen. Ray Odierno said last night. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.”

Surprisingly blunt language from Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who was speaking last night at a forum sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War. Odierno said the U.S. has evidence of several meetings in Tehran between Chalabi, Lami, and Iranian officials, including at least one person on the U.S. terror watch list.
It's All About Evan

All about Evan.

Evan Bayh wants to reduce the number of votes required for cloture in the Senate to 55.
Yes it is a very good thing that a certified centrist supports filibuster reform. For one thing, that means he isn't focused on mean lefty bloggers.

But how did he choose the number 55 ? Well as an extreme moderate he might have just averaged 60 and 50*, but I think that, as an extreme egocentric, he performed another calculation.

I'd say he figures he would be the 55th vote. Let's count. OK he makes less trouble than Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln so he's magic number 55.

I'd say he's been spending the last year watching Nelson and Lieberman in the spot-light and thinking "if only it took 56 votes for cloture, that would be me."

It is very very clear that he made a bid to sell his vote more dearly than Nelson and Lieberman (remember the blue dog senate caucus). It is also clear that he doesn't have quite the necessary ruthless disregard for the national interest.

I am going to not step out on a limb and say that if he had announced his retirement on January 18th** he would have called for filibuster reform reducing the number of votes needed for cloture to 56.***

* According to the obsolete US Constitution, the votes of 50 senators plus Biden constitutes the will of the Senate except for ratification of treaties, constitutional amendments and conviction following impeachment by the house.

** I'm assuming he'd have assumed that Coakley would win, since he clearly doesn't think at all about Democrats' chances of winning Senate seats.

*** I'm joking. Of course he would have called for 55 and planned to position himself just to the left of Mark Pryor.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To The Economists R.A. "Doesn't mean a thing" doesn't mean a thing.

R.A. wrote " if America is any indication, tighter fiscal integration doesn't mean a thing if the people running the show at the federal level are short-sighted, provincial, and apt to choose grandstanding over good policy."

I comment.

The post is, in general, excellent. However, the concluding sentence is clearly false. Your claim that US fiscal integration "doesn't mean a thing" asserts that automatic transfers from states with shrinking output to states with more rapidly shrinking output did not occur.

I think it is obvious that when you wrote "doesn't mean a thing" you assumed that the words didn't mean a thing, that the very clear definite and exact statement that the effect of fiscal union on the US state budgets is exactly zero, was merely an general expression of disapproval of the US Senate.

I think it would be better if The Economist recalled that words have specific meanings, and that the general feeling one has when typing them is not a guide to the accuracy of one's assertions.

In fact, the unemployment insurance system and Medicaid automatically transfer money to the budgets of worst hit states. The case that fiscal union made it not utter idiocy to use the same currency in all of the USA was not at all based on the assumption that the Senate would do anything in response to need, but rather based on the automatic transfers implied by existing programs.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Always click the link -- Kevin Drum

I have very great respect for Kevin Drum. Therefore I am shocked by what happened when I followed his advice.

The links are in this post here

Two years ago, when the FBI was stymied by a band of armed robbers known as the "Scarecrow Bandits" that had robbed more than 20 Texas banks, it came up with a novel method of locating the thieves.

FBI agents obtained logs from mobile phone companies corresponding to what their cellular towers had recorded at the time of a dozen different bank robberies in the Dallas area.


I'm only linking to this because it's a pretty good guess that this is similar to the kind of data mining that the NSA is doing as part of its warrantless wiretapping program. (See here and here.)

Now I just assumed that the links would take me to evidence in support of the claim. Instead the first link takes me to this

David Ignatius provides a plausible guess about how the NSA is using the database of calling records they've collected over the past few years:

etc etc etc

The evidence for Drum's guess is the fact that Ignatius guessed something (in my view Ignatius made two different guesses neither of which is similar to the case in Texas) and that he Drum found it plausible.

Evidently due to the passage of time, plausible has matured into a "pretty good guess." Now I work with data sometimes. I would not consider a plausible idea unsupported by any evidence to be a "pretty good guess." I'd say that it takes at least some data to decide about the quality of a guess as opposed to its attractiveness. Oddly this utter total contempt for data appears in a post about data analysis.

The key point is, as Drum advises, always click the links. A claim and a link usually means the link presents evidence for the claim and not that the link presents a weaker form of the claim.

I am honestly shocked at what I read after clicking that link.

OK now I click the second link and read

DATA MINING UPDATE....Yesterday I noted that the NSA's domestic spying program was "a system for identifying criminals by statistical analysis," and suggested that Americans need to decide if they think it's appropriate to launch police surveillance on people simply because they fit a statistical profile. Today, Noah Shachtman points to a USA Today article that says that's exactly what's happening:

The template, officials say, was created from a secret database of phone call records collected by the spy agency. It has been used since 9/11 to identify calling patterns that indicate possible terrorist activity. Among the patterns examined: flurries of calls to U.S. numbers placed immediately after the domestic caller received a call from Pakistan or Afghanistan.

At least there is some evidence. There are two huge problems. First the word "among". There is no claim that the NSA wasn't doing other completely different things too. In fact, I think we can be confident that this was the most defensible of many things they did and therefore the one they discussed. Note the link is presented in support of the claim that this is "similar to the kind of data mining that the NSA is doing as part of its warrantless wiretapping program." That asserts that they are doing one and only one kind of data mining (depends on what the meaning of "the" is). You can't make a "the" claim with "among" evidence. That's a simple gross logical error.

The analogy with the Texas case is ... utter nonsense. In texas the information on the call was that it was near the time and place of a bank robbery. In the NSA case it is that the calls followed a call from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Nothing about the time of that call and, you know, those are two whole countries not one or a few cell phone towers.

I guess it is better to link to evidence which proves that your claim is false than to link to your old guess presenting it as evidence for your new guess. Still shocking though.

The post after the second link contains a link to the post from one day before. The day later post says the guess in the day older post was exactly right. This is odd. The older post posits that the statistical analysis is works "semi reliably". The newer post contains no 0 (zero) nada evidence on the reliability of the NSA algorithms. Drum just assumes that conclusions based on statistical analysis must be semi reliable. Since the second post, anonymous FBI agents have complained that the suggestions they got from the NSA were completely totally unreliable.

Look Drum if you think conclusions by people who process a huge amount of data must be "semi reliable" then what the hell happened to financial markets last year ? Tons of data and bad assumptions can imply completely unreliable conclusions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New York Times Headline Person I

I generally criticize the slant of headlines, but this New York Times headline is uhm very Ballanced

Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze

The article by John Broder clearly explains that the debate is between climate scientists on one side vs politicians and media personalities on the other.

Every single scientist quoted in the article notes that, to the extent that the recent blizzard on the mid Atlantic US provides evidence on global warming it supports standard models of human caused warming. As far as I can tell from the article, all such models imply increased precipitation on the area.

The article contains a brief reference to global warming skeptics which clearly refers to the very very few actual climate scientists who are skeptics. However, Broder doesn't have a quote from an actual climate scientist who doesn't think that, to the very limited extent it provides any evidence, the blizzard weakens the skeptics case.

Among scientists there is a difference of emphasis between those who note that the blizzard supports the standard models and those who note that a few days weather provides almost no evidence on climate change. In effect all scientists quoted agree that the blizzard provides evidence in support of standard models but, being only a few days weather on one region, only a little.

This view is supported by citations of predictions of higher precipitation made before the blizzard. There really couldn't be a stronger case that the blizzard is not evidence in favor of global warming skepticism.

A reasonable headline would be "All interviewed scientists agree that Inhofe is full of it" or "standard global warming models predicted increased snow" or something.

Instead the disagreement must be presented as a debate in which headline skimmers are not informed that one side in the debate consists of people with no expertise making claims inconsistent with all published evidence.

I do mean inconsistent as in known to be false (unless the blizzard is a collective halucination or something). The evidence in question is the published predictions of standard climate models. The empirical support for the models is strengthened by the blizzard. To claim otherwise is to make a plainly certainly absolutely 100% false claim about the published predictions of models. It is, of course, possible that humans are not causing global warming, nothing is ever proven beyond all doubt in science. However, it is not possible that Sen Inhofe's claims are accurate, because he made a false claim about the relationship between models and currently available data.
Today's headlines and abstracts form a work of art

The pundits are united in declaring the Tea Party convention a huge success.


Behind the radicalism
Dionne: Why the Tea Party movement is on the rise, and why the GOP can't give it what it wants.
Ignatius: Europe needs Tea Party

Broder: We have to take Sarah Palin seriously
Milbank: Heavy shoveling from party machines
Will: Republican hopes rise in California
Marcus: Can a gay judge ban gay marriage?

They are experts who can explain the public to official Washington (odd I thought their job was to explain things to the public).

There is only one problem. The public doesn't understand itself the same way the pundits do. There is also a poll

Both parties viewed negatively
POST-ABC NEWS POLL | Americans are unhappy with government, but few know much about the "tea party;" Palin's political standing takes hit.

Ooops. Turns out you can't understand what the US public thinks from watching TV.

Results from the poll

Although Palin is a tea party favorite, her potential as a presidential hopeful takes a severe hit in the survey. Fifty-five percent of Americans have unfavorable views of her, while the percentage holding favorable views has dipped to 37, a new low in Post-ABC polling.

There is a growing sense that the former Alaska governor is not qualified to serve as president, with more than seven in 10 Americans now saying she is unqualified, up from 60 percent in a November survey. Even among Republicans, a majority now say Palin lacks the qualifications necessary for the White House.

Oh my.

And the Tea Party movement ?

The new poll shows Republicans divided about the tea party movement, which threatens to cause a rift in the lead-up to November's midterm elections. Two-thirds of those calling themselves "strong Republicans" view the movement favorably, compared with 33 percent among "not very strong Republicans."

Overall opinion is about evenly split, with 35 percent of all Americans holding favorable views of the movement and 40 percent unfavorable ones.

But the main point, stressed in the abstract, is that "nearly two-thirds of those polled say they know just some, very little or nothing about what the tea party movement stands for." Here US adults are showing sophistication not ignorance, since it is clear that the tea party movement doesn't know what it stands for either.

The headline person managed to make the pundits look like naive fools. I assume this is because they insulted him or her and that the actual columns, which I haven't read, are not utter idiocy.

update: I wish I'd written that. Josh Marshall shows why TPM gets so many more hits than this blog

Ya Think?
More than 70% say Palin is not qualified or equipped to serve as president. A steep decline from on last fall.

But a quarter of the population and David Broder ain't nuthin'.

--Josh Marshall
Dean Baker is confused about something.

He wrote

Most of the alternatives to patent-supported drug research would involve direct commitments of public funding. The obvious place to begin is by creating a system of publicly funded clinical trials.

It is silly to talk about a "place to begin" public funding of drug research. There is already public funding of drug research via the NIH (this includes a specific program of pharmaceutical (small molecule) development although most NIH funded research is either fairly pure or development of biologicals (in practice monoclonal antibodies and peptide hormones).

The NIH also finances clinical trials including the huge phase III clinical trials. It is true that a large part of what pharmaceutical companies do is run clinical trials, but it is also true that there are huge publicly funded clinical trials.

Results of some clinical trials are available on the clinical trial registry. OK so there are only 1374 studies with results reported on the registry out of 52723 closed studies so he has a point there.

Finally, the stimulus already included a large amount of extra money for the NIH. I mean it's been done.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's Wrong with Michael Kinsley ?

In circa 1981 I said that he is often so eager to point out the contradictions, hypocrisy and idiocy of someone that he neglects to mention his own opinion.

More generally, he seems bored with merely pointing out that Republicans are demostrably wrong and that there policy proposals are based on false factual premises.

So, for the sake of saying something original, he takes their premises as valid.

So, for example, he decided that liberals really do have less respect for people who disagree with them then conservatives. Click the link. His post is brief and, as always, witty and fun to read.

His evidence is that Jacob Weisberg notes that majorities US adults have contradictory policy proposals. Note that this means that on half of the issues noted by Weisberg the majority agrees with him. He is noting an inescapable fact. Now I will agree that liberals are much more likely than conservatives to accept reality, but that was not the topic under discussion.

Kinsley's point is that it is not condescending to tell people they have contradicted themselves and it is condescending to flatter people when you happen to like their conclusions.

However, as always, Kinsley concedes much too much. Recall the Tea party convention where Tom Tancredo said Obama would not have been elected if voters were required to pass a "civics literacy test." That's condescending. I don't notice any criticism from Krauthammer.

I think the key issue is that conservatives deceive themselves about the wishes of the American people. For decades a large majority has favored higher taxes on the rich and corporations (this was true in 2000 too).
and search for "fair share"

In fact, there is reliably a majority in favor of any proposal to raise taxes on the rich.

In the health care debate the House income surtax is popular and the Senate excise tax is unpopular. Also huge majorities support the public option.

Does Krauthammer think that such views show the bedrock common sense of Americans ? I think not. I think he completely denies the massive evidence. I would guess that he doesn't know about it (Gallup is after all a very obscure organization).

Now Krauthammer is not alone. Obama just said that he thought most Americans don't resent Lloyd Blankfein's $9,000,000,000 bonus. I think he should get out more. My guess is that the overwhelming majority of Americans resent it. I'd guess a majority would say so (although "to resent" is stigmatized) and a huge majority would say it is unfairly high.

update: game of telephone here. In the paragraph above commenting on my recollection of Paul Krugman's interpretation of those of Obama's words recalled by Simon Johnson. In fact, Obama mildly criticized the bonus and suggested that an employee deciding how much to pay himself is not his understanding of capitalism. On the other hand, if Obama is too subtle for Simon Johnson, Obama has a problem.

The true condescension is that of elite people who claim they know what the American people want without having to ask us. They can only think they know what we want better than we do. Now that's condescension.

These facts are totally ignored by Kinsley in his eagerness to be intellectually arrogant (and really is anyone more eager to argue that he is smarter than everyone else -- I'm a close second but he wins).
Pass the Damn Senate Bill ?

I think it is clear that 2 possible outcomes remain for health care reform -- either the House passes a modifying bill as an amendment to the budget, the Senate passes that bill via the reconciliation process and the House passes both bills or there will be no bill and the Democrats will be totally hammered in November and the issue will be dead for roughly another 15 years.

It is clear that the House won't just pass the Senate bill and then try to change it via reconciliation. I think this was clearly Pelosi's favored approach and she definitely doesn't have the votes. So this is pure speculation.

I think the aims of progressives would be better served if the House just passed the Senate bill. I also think that the House progressive caucus refuses to consider this partly because of pride, but enough amateur psychology.

How can that be ? First many Senators have to reform the Senate bill or lose their jobs. The special deal for Nebraska is political poison. Second one of those senators is Harry Reid. I think that the otherwise almost certain outcome of moving on to other stuff as soon as a bill any bill is signed is unlikely for these two reasons.

Second, in order to get a sidecar bill, the House has to beg the Senate to do funny things -- to find a way to change a law before it is a law, that is, to find a way that an amendment to a bill is considered under rules different from the bill. This can be done of course (I'm sure the technical problems are cover for the fact that Reid doesn't have 50 votes lined up yet). But the Senate will exact a price. No one seriously imagines that the Senate will give up as much in the sidecar bill as they gave up in informal pre- Brown negotiations. The Senate sure will not add medicare buy in or a major shift from excise to income taxation.

However, on both of these issues, the public is strongly with the House.

I think if the House is so flexible so meek and mild as to just pass the Senate bill and then sends up a budget bill with a shift to income taxation and medicare buy in, that it will be very hard for the Senate to risist both.

Yes people will say the House is cheating, because, although all said that the Senate bill was to be modified they didn't mean it. People will say that the House just doesn't accept the fact that 60 votes are required in the Senate even though the Senate rules don't say so (never mind the constitution).

I think the House could pass such a bill. Blue dogs are blue dogs, but many are rightfully scared and will be reluctant to vote against overwhelming public opinion.

Now obviously my little daydream is just that. However, I think it is because of a failure of imagination and nerve on the part of the House progressive caucus.
Washington Post Headline Person part II for Today !

The headline Poll: Bipartisanship popular, compromise tricky

ignores the non-obvious result of the poll -- 63% of US adults want congress to keep trying to pass comprehensive health-care reform. The alternative is to advise congress to "give up" so the question is clearly biased. Still 63% is a big number, way more than support for existing bills.

This suggests that people in the USA refuse to understand how limited currently avaialable options are. I think (and I think all experts agree) that either a bill similar to the Senate bill passes now* or the issue is dropped for a while (say another 15 years like last time). Support for more work on a bill but neither of the current bills is, I think, partly based on an unwillingness to make irreversible choices (even when polled) and partly based on ignorance of the power of the filibuster (see post below).

The evidence of support for bipartisanship is from another question where 54% of US adults say Obama is doing at least enough to compromise with Republicans. How could US adults convince the Post that they are not hungering for more bipartisanship ?

Also when reporting the poll Jon Cohen says that 60 is about equal to 40

"Americans spread the blame when it comes to the lack of cooperation in Washington, and, in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, most want the two sides to keep working to pass comprehensive health-care reform.

Nearly six in 10 in the new poll say the Republicans aren't doing enough to forge compromise with President Obama on important issues; more than four in 10 see Obama as doing too little to get GOP support.

I don't see any reason to round to one digit. The actual numbers are that 58% say Republicans are doing to little to compromise with Obama and 44% say Obama is doing to little to compromise with Republicans. I think a correct description of the results is "Most US adults think Republicans are doing to little to compromise with Obama. US adults are divided on whether Obama is doing to little to compromise with Republicans.

The fact in the poll is that the fraction who say Obama is doing too little 44% is very close to the fraction who say Obama is doing the the right amount 45%. Both are significantly below the fraction who think Republicans are doing too little 58%.

Another way of putting it would be "marjorities of US adults say Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Obama and that Obama is doing at least enough to compromise with Republicans"

This is because, as noted above, 58%>50%, 9% say Obama is doing too much and 54%> 50%.

Why does the Cohen feel the need to take a poll which shows a very clear difference in perceptions of Republicans and Obama and pretend it doesn't ?

*for now -- that is everyone who knows how Washington works agrees that if nothing like the Senate bill passes now, the issue is dead for a while. Some, including me, think the House can then add replace the excise tax with a tax on individual income over $500,000 and family income over $1,000,000 plus a public option plus medicare buy in as part of the 2011 budget and that Reid can then use the budget recociliation process all only after the House passes the damn bill (see next post).
WaPo Headline Person Part N

Craig Becker, nominated for NLRB, rejected by Senate
Updated 7:01 p.m. ET
The nomination of Craig Becker, whom President Obama chose to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, died Tuesday after it failed a cloture vote in the Senate.

Senators voted 52 to 33 for end debate on Becker's nomination, but that was not enough to move to a vote.

Confirmation is blocked by a filibuster and the Washington Post says it is rejected. The Senate voted no 33 to 52.

Notice that only 26% of Americans know that 60 Senators are needed to defeat a filibuster. I'm sure a larger fraction of Washington Post readers know that. Indeed if you read the story, you will notice that a confirmation was "defeated" in spite of 52 yes votes.

What justification is there for leaving the word Filibuster out of the headline ?

Which is a more important fact, that Becker's nomination, like all nominations which must be approved by Congress, was considered by the Senate, or that unlike almost all nominations in US history, it was filibustered ?

The headline was written for people who understand that 60 votes are now needed for anything in the Senate (26% of the population) but have to be reminded that, if congress must confirm a nominee, it's up to the Senate as clearly written in the constitution ?

US voters just do not know enough to do our jobs. The press is not helping.
Was it necessary to say that

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Firepup Follies

Firedoglake has emerged as a reasonably important force on the left wing of the Democratic party. Sure it's not dailykos, but it is much more reliably lefty.

Jane Hamsher et al are active activists and really believe in a democratic organization of Firedoglake. They have a reader poll to elect Firedogs (to fight the bluedogs). These would be congressmen whose re-election campaigns are actively supported by Firedoglakes.

Being transparent as well as democratic, they have the front runnders after the first day of voting up up. I see
Vote for 2010 FDL Fire Dogs

It’s going to be a tough election year in 2010. Which members of Congress should we help?

Early Front-runners in Voting

Eric J. Massa (NY-29)
Michael E. Capuano (MA-08)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-25)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-07)
Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05)

I know the beta Firedog Michael Capuano. He is my representative in Congress. Every two years I get a general election ballot which gives me a choice between Michael Capuano or I can write a name in.

IIRC the Republicans haven't run a candidate in MA-08 since Michael Capuano has been in office (nor did they ever run one against his predecessor although way back in the msits of time some Republican ran against Tip O'Neil.

This year will not be a tough year for Michael Capuano. There is no point in donating to his campaign. He doesn't have to campaign. He represent Ma-08.

I think the vote shows the Firepup approach to politics. It has nothing to do with actually influincing policy outcomes. It is a matter of expressing personal preferences.

Hamsher explains the idea *again*

It’s 3pm and as promised, here are the first day vote tallies to determine which members of Congress become FDL Fire Dogs, and receive community fundraising and GOTV support in 2010.

See its not "which congressperson do you like best ?" nor "with which congressman's public statements do you agree with most ?"

It is where should we direct our scarce resourses.

I'd say rule number one is that Firedoglake should try to defeat Republican candidates and not waste resources on elections where there is no Republican candidate.

Note I am criticizing Firepups, that is, Firedoglake readers who do something more than just read. I thought the election of Firedogs was a good idea (which shows what I know). I am in no position to criticize the actual Firedogs such as Alpha Firedog Hamsher on this one.

But come on firepups political strategy and self expression are not the same thing.
Burying the Lede

Scott Wilson and Anne E. Kornblut have an article about how "The Obama administration is aggressively pushing back against Republican criticism of its handling of terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab."

The Republican argument is that the Obama administration would have obtained more intelligence from Abdulmutallab if they had ignored the constitution. They key fact is that Abdulmutallab is currently cooperating. Republicans in congress and the press, who have no information not available to the public, have asserted otherwise, because they feel free to make claims of fact totally unsuported by evidence. I would call those statements "lies."

Wilson and Kornblut wait till paragraph 11 to note that "Senior administration officials said Abdulmutallab is cooperating again. U.S. investigators brought over members of his family from Nigeria on Jan. 17 to encourage him to talk."

The point is that in ballanced coverage of a political controversy, the facts, with a known liberal slant, must be downplayed.
Hound or Hedgehog

Reflecting on the hack gap TM (all rights reseved by Matt Yglesias) I want to escape into fantasy. What if there were a partisan Democratic 24/7 channel ? What should we call this fantasy channel (in blog posts) ? First I thought hound news as Foxes and hounds are traditional enemies. Then I thought hedgehog news as a reference to Isaiah Berlin.

Should I fantasize about Hound news or Hedgehog news ?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Conflict of Interest ?


It turns out that one of the people arrested when they were apparently attempting to tap Senator Landrieu's phone is the son of the acting US attorney for Lousiana's Western District.

A fourth person arrested, Robert Flanagan, 24, of New Orleans, the son of the Shreveport-based acting U.S. attorney for Louisiana's Western District, also has been silent.

The son is now charged with a federal crime. The alleged crime was committed in Louisiana's Eastern district, so father is not in charge of investigating and possibly prosecuting son. That's something.

Now fathers and sons can disagree, but it is odd that the son of a Lousiana US attorney is a ciminal enemy of the one Louisiana senator of the Presidents party (that is the person who typically chooses Louisiana US attorneys).

The key, of course, is the word "acting." I'm sure that Mr Flanagan Sr was appointed by Bush and hasn't been replaced because it is impossible to get nominees through the Senate.

Here we have a Senate so disfunctional that it can't protect itself from criminal families.

I think the key feature is that Republicans ignore all norms and traditions, while Obama is determined to raising the level of fair play in Washington and invents new norms which restrict his ability to fight back.

I'm sure the Republic is not doomed. I am confident that something will save it. I just have no idea what that might be.