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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.