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Monday, December 19, 2011

Mr Ballance Himself Has an interesting column

The Ballance balance pun which I flog relentlessly is due to Chris Cillizza who is not to be blamed for the fact that an editor ignored the rules he chose for a corruption scorecard and added Jack Ballance for balance.

He wrote a very odd column about the House Republicans blocking the payroll tax cut extension ostensibly because they like the payroll tax cut so much.

It is (as usual) a column about the political debate, but Cillizza waits till the second to last paragraph to quote a Democrat (a quote which includes as few words as, and no more words than, are this parenthetical comment includes).

This is actually non ballance. Cillizza doesn't quote Democrats because he argues with the Republicans himself. Still it is odd to read so much nonsense without reading anyone noting that it is nonsense.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Watch this arabic language McDonalds ad. To understand Arabic views of US capitalism, gender relations, Big Macs and Meat Loaf, ... oh hell just watch

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Presidential Campaign has Been Going on too Long

I read "MIT" as "Mitt" here "MIT’s Light Speed Camera Captures Photons Moving" then I immediately thought that, maybe with this new miracle technology they can freeze Romney's policy positions and capture him mid flip flop.

And it's 2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

All evidence from the debates notwithstanding, there is a Republican with a brain.

Asif Mandvi, reporter for the "Daily Show," tried to prank Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, asking for a sample of her urine. She immediately forked it over, though it was only apple juice -- yazakchattiest.

I want a brokered convention.

the plan added up to an actual elimination of Medicare even though Ryan planned to spray-paint "Medicare" on an old railroad bridge in Janesville and point to it and say, "See? Medicare is still there."

Oh hell, to save pixels, the quote of every day is just whatever Charles Pierce wrote that day.

How does he write that well ? Did he sell his soul to the devil ? If yes, did he make a good bargain ?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Kinsley gaffe to top all Kinsley gaffes

Michael Kinsley noted that politician's gaffes occur when they accidentally say something which is true, universally known to be true, and damaging to themselves.

Ex Senator Rick Santorum just said "Science should get out of politics." I am willing to bet that his aids told him to say "politics should get out of science" and argue that schools only teach about Darwin because of politically correct affirmative action for 19th century rich English gentlemen.

But ooops little Ricky said what he really thinks. Science should not mess with his political program or his religion (of course in his mind there is no distinction).

By the way, I have long been a huge fan of Michael Kinsley (including back when I only knew of him as the new anonymous author of TRB). So writing the post below was painful.
Brad is right. I was wrong. Michael Kinsley has become a reflexively contrarian twit who can't manage to avoid contradicting himself.

Kinsley wrote a blog post here

"For every group Obama takes to task, he also has a “to be sure” passage in which he tries to make clear that he’s not talking about you. But if you listen to the music, not the words, you might well think otherwise."

So Kinsley feels free to ignore the words. After sneering at Obama for "to be sure" he dares to write

"this distinction is hard to maintain if you’re simultaneously suggesting that there is something ill-gotten about most rich people’s gains."

Note the weasel word "suggesting." Kinsley has just noted that Obama said the opposite of what he writes Obama was "suggesting." Positive proof that a claim is false doesn't matter, because as a pundit, he can always ignore what Obama said and write about what he thinks unattentive listeners might have thought he said. So ignoring the text when interpreting is a form of sophistication, because the really hard challenge is to figure out how people who don't pay attention to the facts hear things.

Then at length Kinsley plagiarizes while pretending he is criticizing

"conflating actual crooks and the innocent affluent makes it hard to claim that raising their taxes isn’t punishment for some form of misbehavior. Taxes are not a punishment; they are a source of necessary revenue. But if you tie them to the financial scandal, they sound pretty punitive."

Notice that he has gone from discussing what some might think Obama said if one ignored what he actually said, to ignoring what Obama said. Having admitted that the claim immediately above is totally false, Kinsley asserts that Obama suggested it. Read down a few lines, and it becomes something Obama did with no qualifications. In a few sentences black has become white and up has become down.

Does Kinsley really think Washington Monthly readers are dumb enough to fall for that ?

He goes on to say that the middle class must be hammered. He pretends to forget that Obama proposed doing so this summer. The claim that this must be done is just something that everyone who is anyone accepts. There is no need to present evidence.

Also it is outrageous to say that a family with income of $250,000 is borderline rich, because Kinsley has totally lost touch with the vast majority of people in the USA (and don't even think of the world).

update: I just realized that Kinsley criticized Obama on the grounds that an income of $250,000 does not make a family rich and for not asking (in this speech as opposed to his policy proposals) for sacrifices from the middle class. Again, the two criticisms contradict each other. No matter what Obama said, Kinsley must be wrong, just based on logic.

update 2: Welcome Thomaites. I didn't like the Kinsley post, but it is criticism at its best compared to the work of the title, abstract and illustrations guy at The Washington Monthly.

"To be sure" Kinsley's conclusion isn't harsh. He concludes that the speech was not "a really great speech" but now the illustration and teaser suggests that Obama is the reincarnation of Robespierre.

Chrome's automatic URL completer often has trouble deciding if I want to go to The Washington Post or The Washington Monthly. Today, I have trouble deciding to which organ of the absolute faith in Ballance and cutting social security it sent me.

I commented. Much below is redundant.

I have long defended you from criticism at my friend Brad DeLong's blog, but I think I will now give up and admit that he was right.

First income of $250,000 makes one incredibly rich by any reasonable standard. The fact that you are spoiled doesn't mean that the top 3% isn't rich.

Second Obama has described extremely painful spending cuts and significant tax increases in great detail. You earn a place with T Friedman by insisting that Obama do what he has already done.

You may have forgotten everything that happened last summer, but a responsible columnist would have googled it.

Finally, you agree with Obama's policy proposals. You note that he always adds a "to be sure" to explain that he is not lumping honest people together with crooks. Indeed you snear at him for doing exactly that. You also snear at him for not doing that.

Put the criticism from the sentence including "to be sure" along with the criticism that Obama didn't make the distinctions you make and you find that logic alone proves that you are wrong.

Basically your problem is you know a banker whose feelings are hurt. You admit that it is absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical to critice Obama because of this tragic event,then go on to do so.

I think your fundamental problem is that you are envious. Obama is President. He clearly knows more than you do. He makes serious policy proposals which I can't remember the last you made. He writes better than you do. He has carisma. That is soooo unfair.

I admit, in advance, that I envy you, partly because you write infinitely better than I do.

Also, of course, you must be contrarian.

So now I have to admit (to Brad) that he was right and I was wrong. And I hate that.
An inside the inside of insider baseball post

I have noticed some people claiming on the web that those who jokingly pretend to believe the Mickey Kaus has sex with goats have had our comeuppance, since the accusation began when he speculation that John Edwards had had sex with someone other than Elisabeth Edwards and, lo and behold, Kaus was right.

This history of the goat sex joke is innaccurate. It was started by Duncan Black with this post

Kaus - Sleeps With Goats

In my eyes, I have to say, it's likely that it's true. Any claims by Kaus to not have carnal knowledge of goats will just be more evidence that the man is a liar.

posted April 29 2004 when Black learned that Kaus made unfounded accusations against John Kerry, that's Kerry with a K not Edwards with an E (the one without the great hair who windsurfed).
He just can't help himself.

Dana Milbank fires both barrels at Newt Gingrich in this column. He doesn's speculate about erotic activities with pigs*, but I'm sure that's only because of the 700 word limit.

But even here, he just has to throw in a bit of Ballance

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones recently dug up a 1978 Gingrich quotation lamenting that “one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.”

Thanks to Gingrich, this is no longer a problem, in either party.

Milbank presents no evidence that Democrats are sufficiently nasty. In fact he doesn't quote a single Democrat. He doesn't argue that they have gotten nastier since 1994. There is no need to present evidence that Obama is nastier than Johnson, because the phrase "in either party" is automatically valid and need not be supported by any evidence.

I almost suspect that it is an unconscious tic. It could be that Milbank wrote and wrote, then realized that he had criticized only a Republican and added the totally unsupported swipe at the Democrats. But it is also possible that he claims that both sides share a fault as automatically and unconsciously as he breaths.

* pigs not goats as I am discussing the nastiness of Johnson and not Mickey Kaus's approach to journalism.
A Better Press Corps

Mary Ann Milbourn writing about extended unemployment insurance in the Orange County Register shows how it's done.

Meanwhile, the proposed unemployment extension would continue the current 99 weeks of benefits now available to the long-term unemployed. There would be no additional benefits for the so-called 99ers, who have exhausted their 99 weeks.

Not everyone understands this. Some people (sorry no links just memories) clearly think further extension means extension to a 100th week. The actual fact isn't a deep dark secret (I knew it) but it is usually not reported in articles about the latest twists and turns in Congress.

I sure didn't know any of the following and wonder why I don't get information like this in The Washington Post

Congress faces a Dec. 31 deadline for extending the benefits. If they are not extended, California Employment Development Department officials estimate 95,000 unemployed workers who are collecting benefits on their last tier of so-called FedEd aid would face an immediate cutoff.

Benefits for others who are on one of the four other federal unemployment extensions would end as soon as they complete the tier they currently are on, said Loree Levy, an EDD spokeswoman.

As of October, 970,000 unemployed workers in California had been out of work more than 26 weeks and were collecting on one of the five tiers of extended benefits.

Levy said that ultimately 1.5 million unemployed Californians will be affected. Without the federal extensions, the newly unemployed will only eligible for the standard 26 weeks of state benefits.

That's 132 words of solid information. Not a lot of trees killed. Why am I amazed ?
Now I know the effect of the bill on people in California. To find out about the other 49 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam I will have to find other serious newspapers.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

There she goes again. This is my second post on an article by Rosalind S. Helderman on the payroll tax.

This time, she doesn't mention the totally false argument that the payroll tax holiday reduces the balance of the Social Security trust fund. I guess this is an improvement compared to mentioning it and failing to note that it is absolutely false, but I still think a correction of the false claim which she repeated (neither in her own name nor for attribution) without noting its falsehood is in order.

My complaint this time is with this paragraph

Democrats believe the tax cut could help stimulate the economy by giving consumers more of their paychecks to spend. But many Republicans believe it’s a short-term gimmick that will not spur economic development and would complicate efforts to do a total rewrite of the tax code that would result in lower rates.

She does not have ESP. She can't know what Democrats or many Republicans *believe* but only what they claim.

Personally, I suspect that some of those Republicans oppose the bill, because they think it could help stimulate the economy. The cited arguments (after the removal of the one which is based on a false claim of fact which she noted earlier) make no sense. To call something a gimmick is not to argue against it. To argue that short term policy must be bad is to assume that the current economic situation is normal. And there is no chance of said total rewrite and everyone knows it.

But, if I were a reporter, not a blogger, I would not feel free to speculate about what is in peoples' minds and, unlike Helderman stick to reporting what comes out of their mouths.
Fiction In the Washington Post

I don't want to make this a daily feature but Anthony Faiola and Michael Birnbaum made it hard for me to get past The Washington Post (my home page) without an angry blog post. In what is supposed to be a news article, they make a false claim of fact. They do not point to any supporting evidence (nor could they as their claim is plainly false) nor do they quote even a self appointed expert.

Their claim that "Europe’s crisis now is as much political as economic. It stems from a legacy of overspending and overborrowing, but ..." is false. Spain and Ireland were running budget surpluses and had a debt to GDP ratio lower than Germany's. Italy had a primary surplus and declining debt to GDP ratio. Germany happens to be the one and only country allowed to adopt the Euro in spite of not meeting the Maastricht conditions (which shows how stupid those rules were).

Now, I suppose that the claim is vague enough to be not proven false -- they didn't write public "overspending and over borrowing." Indeed the root cause of most of the crisis, here in Europe as well as in the USA, ws a combination of banking deregulation and banker's errors.

Here I think the problem is that they consider the sentence which I truncated to be a claim that the problem isn't just over public spending and under taxing by Greece and Portugal. They go on to criticize Germany "but ... it also reflects a lack of investor faith in the will of financially solid nations such as Germany to unite behind their troubled neighbors to shore up the currency union." so they can't say that the German position is total nonsense. That would be unBallancelicht.

But the German claims are false.

update: I posted before finishing the article. They go on to write "That plan called for treaty changes to set a limit for budget deficits at 3 percent of gross domestic product and a cap on debt of 60 percent of GDP — effectively mandating good fiscal governance." I submit that the word "good" should not appear in an article presented as news not opinion. I also happen to think that, right now, the "good" fiscal governance would cause a severe recession and would be "good" to exactly the extent that "good" means "horrible" and "idiotic." The demands of Ballance make it simply impossible to cover the debate without accepting the assumption that austerity is always good.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ballance in the Washington Post part way too many.

Facts have a known liberal bias. Therefore, a ballanced political reporter must not mention facts which undermine arguments made by politicians, at least not if the politicians are Republicans

In this article Rosilind Helderman twice mentions the claim made by conservative Republicans that the payroll tax holiday undermines social securities finances. She never mentions that it has no effect on the social security trust fund. The change is that instead of the Social Security Administration collecting taxes and using the money to buy Treasury securities, the Treasury gives the same securities to the Social Security Administration.

I remember this and found proof here in the second url returned by my first google search. This is not an obscure fact. It makes nonsense of the following from the article:

What might normally be a no-brainer for most congressional Republicans is being resisted by many tea-party-conscious members who oppose what they consider a short-term gimmick that would worsen the federal deficit and siphon money from Social Security.


Many conservatives argue the tax cut will undermine Social Security — which is funded through payroll taxes paid by workers and employers —

To prevent Social Security from losing tax revenue, Congress mandated that revenues be transferred from the general fund to the Social Security trust funds to make up for the tax reduction. This is provided for in section 601 of the Tax Relief Act, which reads in part, "There are hereby appropriated to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund established under section 201 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401) amounts equal to the reduction in revenues to the Treasury by reason of the application of subsection (a). Amounts appropriated by the preceding sentence shall be transferred from the general fund at such times and in such manner as to replicate to the extent possible the transfers which would have occurred to such Trust Fund had such amendments not been enacted."

Now the Conservative Republicans might (and have) argued that the trust fund is meaningless. In that case, a payroll tax can't undermine the finances of Social Security. Also the when the trust fund reaches zero, nothing will change, so it is nonsense to call that bankruptcy of Social Security.

Also, furthermore and besides, dog bites man and Mitch McConnell lies (in the same article).

“I think most Americans, most Republicans, are very reluctant to raise taxes on anyone during this economic crisis that we find ourselves in,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saidTuesday.

The polls prove that this claim is false. Also note how he equates Americans and Republicans. Again, the inconvenient massive polling data can't be mentioned, because it is unprofessional to note facts which contradict politicians' claims. I really don't know if Democrats are offered the same courtesy of hiding their lies. They don't lie as often.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lying Liar Lies about Lies

Romney strategist shows reckless disregard for the truth (which should be the headline under surprising news stories such as "Area Dog Bites Man").

Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney strategist [skip]

What about the tough response from Politifact? [pants on fire - Robert ]

"Do you know how many times they did that to Barack Obama in 2008?" he said. "Quite a few.

In fact in 2008 Politifact rated 2 (two) Obama claims "pants on fire." Now when I was in elementary school we defined a "few" as "more than two but not a lot" so two is not quite "a few".

Since 2008, Politifact has rated two more Obama claims "pants on fire." In contrast they have rated 8 Romney claims "pants on fire" already. They only began following him relatively recently. In the relatively recent past, Romney's winning pants on fire ratings at more than 3 times Obama's rate. And Obama is President.

He still has work to do to catch Michelle Bachman and "chain e-mail" (and I haven't checked who else). I'm sure he will manage.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The DFHs are Going Too Far

I have my vices. Lots of them. One is occasionally reading the Rude Pundit. But these OWS hippy flower children have ruined everything. His Rudeness has gone all earnest and sincere.

I can't take it anymore.

Are rude blankets tax deductible ? Whatever happened to proudly lowering the level of debate ?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beyond Parody

Does Steoen Colbert have the world's easiest job or the hardest ?

He decided to parody

a request for an advisory opinion sent to the FEC on behalf of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads which stated: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.”

Is that easy as just reading it or hard as going faster than light ?

update: He did it

I am now much closer to believing the CERN to Grand Sasso Neutrino result.

Also Buddy Roemer is desperate for publicity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

OK it's official -- Obama is determined to do the opposite of anything Krugman advises.

President Obama says aloha to Hawaiian shirt tradition at APEC conference

Kugman obvously thought that, since Obama is from Hawaii, he could recommend Hawaiian shirts without getting a smack in the face (I mean he didn't even mention that Obama used to smoke pot).

Liquidity Traps And Hawaiian Shirts

Hempton’s suggestion:

[Bernanke] should not only announce that the Fed is buying Italian debt. He should do it whilst wearing an Hawaiian shirt and carrying a marijuana pipe. (I would even buy him the pipe…)

OK, it turns out that I have some inside information: in his academic days, Bernanke actually DID have a taste for Hawaiian shirts, often wearing them to the office. I don’t know about the marijuana bit.

Unfortunately, when he went to the Fed they turned him into a central banker.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Department of WTF !?!?

The usually well informed Jonathan Bernstein writes

"the Bush years [snip] the Minerals Management Service [snip] I’m not aware of cases of fraud and corruption"

Uh Jonathan try googling
"Minerals Management Service" prostitutes
"Minerals Management Service" cocaine

Someone call MediaMatters

Actually don't. If they read that post at the Ten Miles Squared, their heads might explode.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Forget the Women's world Cup. We are beating the Japanese where it really counts

Robot Soccer

Also I've never seen so many players sent off for flagrant fouls. I think my countryrobots have been studying the strategy of my country of residence

When will Robotic Beings Rule the World ?

While the final triumph of the robots is inevitable (they keep getting better and better while we just add flab). Their candidates -- Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry -- haven't done so well.

They have sunk to the level of trying to trick us about what won in 92 and 96 by naming their top candidate "Big Dog"

They need to work on the irritation hornet's nest sound (marginally worse than the Dukakis X37) but still much more convincingly alive than Mitt Romney. No ?
Shorter meets QOTD

QOTD "The election seems to pit the immovable object against the irresistible force — except, kind of, the opposite."

Shorter Jon Chait

The election pits the removable object against the resistible force

Longer shorter Jon Chait

The election pits the removable obstruction of Republican sabateurs against the feeble force of Obamanian technopopulism.

We also have a candidate for "Worst URL ever"









in the final bonus "no way am I gonna click that even if you pay me" round.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Josh Marshall wins the internet

Yeah yeah I know "dog bites man" but this post is for the ages


What if you ran for president to boost your book sales numbers and somehow found yourself the frontrunner for the nomination even though you'd never set up an actual campaign? Ask Herman Cain.

Because of the title.

Satire is dead.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Comment on Drum on the 60 vote Senate

Kevin Drum wrote

Like it or not, the reality of congressional politics has changed. The Senate is now a 60-vote body, and it's the vote on a cloture motion that's the important vote. For all practical purposes, the cloture vote is the vote on the bill. So my complaint would be just the opposite of Fallows's. Instead of insisting on a Schoolhouse Rock version of reporting, I'd prefer it if the media routinely reported on the actual reality of legislation today. If you want to report accurately, you should (a) report the cloture vote as a vote on the bill itself, (b) you should make clear that 60 votes are required to pass a bill, and (c) you should report the partisan breakdown of the voting — something that used to be routine but now only occasionally appears in reports of legislative activity.

Bottom line: The real-life practice of politics in America has changed over the past decade. Reporting should change along with it.

Note that he says the key votes to be reported are not votes on the bill itself but on cloture motions. His proposal is not to change reporting as reality changes (so to use "Cloture motion" in the place of "bill," but rather to use the word for the event which used to occur but didn't in this case to refer to the other thing which happened in this case.

They have to report on votes on Cloture motions, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't say they are reporting on cloture motions. Would Drum think it OK to say the Senate voted against a banana ? Why not talk about what happened using the word for what happened rather than a nice familiar word which happens to refer to something which didn't happen ?

At his blog, I have a long comment which I cut and paste below.

I vaguely recall some poll which demonstrated that most US adults don't know that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster.
26% correctly answered 60.

However, I agree with Fallows on the specific matter. I think the headline should have included the word "cloture" or "filibuster." I think all headlines of all articles which report on cloture votes and or filibusters should include the word "cloture" or the word "filibuster."I'd even contest your claim that your position is that reporting should change. Political reporters are now reporting cloture votes not votes to pass the bill. Yet they use the same old words. Most of our fellow citizens demonstrably do not know that the way the Senate (dis) functions has changed. Political reporters have failed to report the breaking news that the Senate fundamentally changed in January 2007. This isn't new but it is still news to most US adults. It should be reported until the public knows about it. That means people should be confronted with ugly words which they don't understand so that some of them will learn what the words mean and what has been done to their republic.

I understand that your aim was to argue exactly what I have argued. But I think that avoiding the words "cloture" and "filibuster" is not the way to teach people that they are the keys to understanding official Washington's failure to function in 2009 and 2010. It would be better to avoid the words "bill", "pass" and "approve." These are old concepts which are rarely useful these days. They should be used rarely while filibuster and cloture should be used often.

Do you think someone should say he was late to work because the roads were packed with carriages or say that the roads were packed with Chariots ?
Second post on Drum on Filibusters

(this is not a filibuster -- no one has to read all this junk before they can decide something)

Druum advocates reporting votes on cloture as votes on the bill. Basically he opposes "tediously explaining the evolution of the filibuster in every story, something that probably isn't really practical anyway,"

I throw a cow below.

I haven't read all the comments to your first post on Fallows and the Senate 60. I am here to cut and paste my comment to my personal blog. I note that the post was also condemned at Balloon Juice

I don't think the post was poorly expressed. I think you are giving substantively bad advice to journalists. My problem with this post is identical to my problem with the earlier post. You accept the principle that if something is not new, then it is not news. I consider this principle to be inconsistent with responsible journalism. I think a fact is news if it is important and most people don't know it. It is simply a fact that most US adults don't know the rules of the Senate. Therefore, it should be reported as news.

I support "tediously explaining the evolution of the filibuster in every story, something that probably isn't really practical anyway," It certainly is practical. Yes it would cost ink and paper, but the space could be found by removing some horse raice, political strategy, and perceptions of public perceptions garbage. Also the Washington Post is not People or Playboy. Entertaining the reader is not supposed to be its only goal.

I will give an example of the sort of journalism which I want. Bakc in the 80s a poll showed that a small fraction of US adults knew that the Reagan administration supported the government in El Salvador and the rebels in Nicaragua. The New York Times then began writing about "the US supported government of El Salvador" and "the US supported contra rebels in Nicaraugua". The second phrase slid over the detail that, some years, such support was banned by Congress (it identified the US government with the Reagan administration). But the point is that a fact which should be but wasn't well known was reported again and again.

I think the problem with both posts is that you assume that an undesirable feature of journalism is how things must be. So you just accept the journalistic attention span such that an fact, however important it might be, is not reported and reported and reported for years until the public knows it.
The WaPo was certainly following the standard norms of journalism wihen it failed to report that the latest Republican filibuster was one more example of extraordinary and (I think) unprecedented obstructionism. But your commenters object to those standard norms of journalism. Replying that journalism we advocate would be "tedious" just doesn't do it. nor does "probably not practical." If it is not practical, you are right, but you present no evidence for your claim nor any sign of careful thought. You just note that that is not the way it is done. But we argued that it is the way it should be done. This post does not reply to our argument. It doesn't even engage our argument.

But enough about you. I think the posts are related to four problems with US journalism (except for that exception). Journalists are afraid of irritating readers by patrnonizing them, journalists are out of touch with normal people who follow the news only casually, journalists are aiming to impress other journalists by telling the other journalists something they don't know, and journalists assume that, while the general public is ignorant, their readers are well informed.

I consider the fourth. Here I note that newspapers can and should and don't test the idea that their readers are generally well informed already by polling their subscribers asking about beliefs on matters of fact.n Heeyyyy Mother Jones could do that. They could at least look up Pew polls which show they are wrong (maybe not if they work at the WaPo). But more importantly, they could remind their readers that lots of people don't know the facts and give them water cooler amunition. Most people learn about public affairs from friends. Journalists should consider the way in which their repeatedly reporting a fact makes it more likely that their well informed readers will mention it to people who don't read newspapers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I hate hate hate the new Thinkprogress format. I can't seem to comment on Yglesias.

He waved a red flag in front of this bull with a post on "The Copernican Revolution in Macroeconomics." I am too upset to read the part on macroeconomics, but I assert that his claims about Ptolomaic and Copernican astronomy are totally incorrect.

the Copernican Revolution in astronomy. Not the potted 7th grade story of linear progress, but the tale told in Thomas Kuhn’s somewhat revisionist book.

The way this went was as follows. Ptolemaic astronomy started with the observation that “the planets” (including the sun and the moon) seem to revolve around the earth. It assumed they moved in circular orbits, and made predictions based on that. As people bothered to pay attention, it became clear that this theory gives you the wrong predictions. So people developed the ad hoc concept of “epicycles.” The planets moved in circles-within-circles, with equations developed to account for the actual position of the planets. With more and more observations, the calculations became more and more complicated and a lot of people were unhappy with the increasingly messy picture. Then along comes Copernicus who as a young man had been involved in some neo-Platonist cults featuring sun-worship and a heliocentric worldview. He notes that if you reinterpret the heavens as centered around the sun, you can derive a considerably more parsimonious and theoretically elegant account of positions of various heavenly bodies. All the epicycles are gone! Victory.

Yglesias's final claim of fact is simply totally undeniably 100% false. Copernicus did not eliminate all epicycles. The Copernican model has epicycles.

Ask the Wikipedia

For philosophical reasons, Copernicus clung to the belief that all the orbits of celestial bodies must be perfect circles[2] and to a belief in the unobserved crystalline spheres. This forced Copernicus to retain the Ptolemaic system's complex system of epicycles, to account for the observed deviations from circularity and to square his calculations with observations.

Now that wasn't so hard was it ? I understand that it is hard to get the facts straight on a breaking story about what was published in a book in 1543, but I think that claims of fact should be accurate and if it is not worth botherin to get them right then it is not worth making them.

Furthermore, Ptolemaic astronomy started with Ptolemy who included epcicycles and much more complicated things. The claim made by Kuhn and many many others that Ptolemaic astronomy got more and more complicated is supported by absolutely zero primary evidence.

The unsupported claim is accepted as true, because it has been made in so many secondary sources, but there is no document from the time of Copernicus or earlier which demonstrates that Ptolemaic models were made more complicated after Ptolemy'ss original model. In contrast, there is evidence that Ptolemy's original model was used by Copernicus.

The claim that the Ptolemaic model was fiddled to fit the data, because the original model didn't work is not supported by any legitimate historical evidence.

I have not read the post after the quoted passage. I am too upset and afraid my head will explode.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Second post on One article in the Washington Post.

Using the uninverted pyramid approach, I will discuss something which actually matters this time. The last in first out feature of blogs helps.

The Washington Post had two articles on their latest poll. The first focused on the Presidential horse race. The second noted that US adults disapprove of congress and then went on to discuss other results. At the very end of the second article (the part I read only after writing an indignant post about standard errors) follows

Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires to help close the deficit enjoys wide public support — three-quarters of adults, including majorities of independents, moderates, conservatives and Republicans, back it.

Among the few groups that don’t favor such tax increases are Republicans who strongly support the tea party movement; they oppose the proposal by more than two to one.

This isn't news to anyone who pays attention to polls anymore, but it is more newsworthy than the observation that most US adults have noticed that Congress is not functioning. Importantly, opinion leaders don't pay any attention to polls even when discussing public opinion.

It is widely argued that Obama has decided to fire up the base with populist proposals which will increase turnout of Democrats and liberals but reduce his support among moderates and independents. In fact, his populist proposal is supported by a majority of self identified Republicans and conservatives. Obama is moving towards the center of public opinion. He is also firing up the base.

Paul Kane's and Scott Clement's understanding of statistics is essentially as low as possible.

They wrote

Only 3 percent of Americans said they “strongly approve” of the performance of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — essentially as low as possible, given the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points.

That is they said that mathematical statistics proves that we can't agree on anything. They definitely asserted that it is "essentially" impossible for 100% to agree on somethnig.

The problem is that pollsters have reported nonsense standard errors for so long that journalists have been convinced of something absurd.

In fact, the variance of the mean of a sample from a binomial distribution depends on the true probability -- in this case the fraction of the population which strongly approve of the performance of Congress. To be modest, pollsters always present the highest possible standard error corresponding to an evenly divided population. To be honest, I think they report the largest plausible standard errors due to sampling alone to hide the fact that poll responses deviate from actual voting for reasons other than sampling error.

In any case the standard error corresponding to 3% is 100% times the square root of (0.03*0.97/(smple size) or roughly 0.55%. The convention is to report a number plus or minus 2 standard errors so 3% plus or minus 1.1%. This would be a 95% interval if the distribution were normal. Using the normal approximation, one can reject the null that the true fraction of strong approvers of Congress is zero at the 95% level.

Of course if one has any sense at all, one rejects that nul at the 100% level not the 5% level, since some people said they strongly approve of Congress. The normal approximation works very well even for fairly small samples so long as the true probability is close to 0.5. Obviously it doesn't work whenever it gives an x% level which includes the hypothesis that no one in the population would say something which someone in the sample said.

But that is an advanced topic.

Next topic English. An obviously false statement is not made true by adding the qualifier "essentially." The fact is that some US adults strongly approve of our Congress. This is appalling, but they really exist. The word "essentially" was used to assert that this mere fact is negligible. This contempt for mere facticity reminds me of Hegel (them's fighting words where I come from).

Hegel did have a point. A historical movement can turn into its opposite. So the theory of statistics has become a way for some people to dismiss inconvenient data as "essentially" non-existent.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Who Said it

"The peace-at-any-price party would no doubt muster strong at the Congress. That party would fain leave Russia alone in the possession of the means to make war upon the rest of Europe,"

Who said it ?

"Everything for me and nothing for anyone else, for such is the vile maxim of the masters of mankind"

I really hate the new ThinkProgress format. For one thing, I can't comment on Matt Yglesias anywhere that anyone reads. I can't stand this.

Commenting here.

Now he's messing with Orwell. I agree entirely with this post which argues that language can't be neutral. Rather the decision by the MSM or establishment or whoever that some phrasing is neutral is, and must be, a political act. It is not possible to balance without a fulcrum.

However, he quotes Rorty criticizing Orwell. In theory, I believe that all writers should be criticized, but I can't let this pass without counterargument.

Critiquing George Orwell, Richard Rorty notes that in practice, newspeak tactics fail. “Ethnic cleansing” was developed by thugs during the Bosnian Civil War as a newspeak term that was supposed to replace “genocide” with a phrase (“cleansing”) that has positive affect. The practical impact was to turn “ethnic cleansing” into a chilling term that connotes genocide.

Rorty's argument is nonsense. The world is not Oceania. Rorty proved that attempted brainwashing fails if the people whose brains you intend to watch have a free press and free debate. Newspeak was enforced through terror. It was not a tool to convince people. Rather it was a tool to humiliate them. In 1984, Orwell didn't suggest that it would work without the thought police. Minitrue without Minilove was not considered in that book.

The above paragraph may be unfair to Rorty. The error is referring to abuse of language as Newspeak. This invokes 1984, which did not consider abuse of language separate from terror. The word "Newspeak" is not in quotation marks, so it might be Yglesias's error not Rorty's. Notably, the ethnic cleansers did not have total power over the debate concerning Bosnia. They didn't even in Serbia proper which, soon after the coining of "ethnic cleansing" set a new record for consecutive days of protest. The issue was the Belgrade municipal election. Milosovic is a depraved criminal, but even in his wildest dreams, he wasn't Big Brother.

The relevant work by Orwell is "Politics and the English Language." To claim that the case of "ethnic cleansing" disproves Orwell, Rorty must argue that the abuse of language discussed in "Politics and the English Language" is effective so the side that abuses language wins debates it should lose. But this has nothing to do with the actual essay. Orwell asserted that all sides abuse language. There was no prediction.

More importantly, Orwell didn't write much about the effectiveness of abuse of language in "Politics and the English Language." He described the abuse of language at length. He described damaging consequences for the thought of the speaker. I think he argued that people can manage to avoid thinking clearly by abusing language. I don't recall (I am analysing from memory) any claim that the listener or reader can be infected even if the listener tries to resist.

I can't recite the essay from memory and I might have missed something, but I don't recall anything contradicted by the case of "ethnic cleansing."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hirohito Award Winner

In honor of the emperor who, on 14 August 1945, said "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage" I award Steve Benen this weeks Hirohito award for humorous hypobole.

He is brilliant. The contenders are down to

as an objective matter, I suspect most fair-minded observers would agree that Louie Gohmert isn’t terribly bright.


Dick Morris ... maybe it’s time for The Hill’s editors to start taking a closer look at his pieces.

Why oh why do we have to put up with Obama instead of the political genius Bill Clinton who trusted Dick Morris to keep his finger on the national pulse and explain how to obtain high approval ratings ?
Jon Chait has a very good post on the class and perceptions of class war.

He notes that the vast majority of US adults support higher taxes on the rich while elite commentators assert that such a proposal appears to the Democratic base but repels moderates. They are half right, it has 66% support among members of a party's base. That would be the level of support for the Buffet rule among self identified

How can people like Brooks and Penn be so totally wrong about something so simple ?

I have my usual comment

This is an excellent and important post. I have long been puzzled by the huge disconnect between public opinion on tax progressivity and elite opinion about public opinion on tax progressivity. As you note, overwhelming enthusiasm for increasing the share of taxes paid by the rich is not new. Gallup has found that majorities over 60% say the rich pay less than their fair share of taxes in every poll on the subject starting in the very early 90s. Yet somehow the elite only just noticed.

The influence of CEOs and other super rich people is clearly part of the explanation. I think it is also true that actual tax proposals involve increasing taxes on the rich but not super rich. Many elite opinion leaders are, by normal peoples' definition rich. But they (or do I mean you ?) don't feel that way.

Also media corporation CEOs are particularly influential. I think this happens even if they try not to influence reporting and commentary.

Here I think a key issue is that it isn't enough for people to carefully prevent their personal self interest from influencing anything they say and write. My idea of what happens is that one person proposes higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 and the listener winces. I am very very acutely aware when a proposal is not welcome, even if the other person is careful to be polite and non-commital.

HerI think it would be useful to ask people about facts in the public record. We can't compare tax rates which people support to the objectively right tax rate. But we can ask people what is the median household income, what is the 95th percentile etc. Then we have the true numbers (they are just statistics). We can actually ask and compare with reality both do that corrected for SMSA specific price levels (it is a hassle but it can be done).

I guess that the elite will guess vastly higher than accurate dollar amounts. As for the correction for prices, I'm dead solid certain that the elite will claim that DC and NYC are vastly more expensive compared to the country as a whole than would anyone who looked at actual prices (including the cost of housing). Of course, price indices are, like optimal tax rates, and unlike household dollar income levels, a matter of constant controversy.

I think that when the elite think of normal typical Americans, they think of a family with an income somewhere from $100,000 to $150,000 per year, that is two to three times the median family income. It would be easy to understand how opinions about opinions are out of touch with reality if opinions about plain facts are out of touch with reality.

Note I use "elite" to refer to power and influence and not to any sort of ability at all (you started it, you mentioned Penn).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Richard Cohen removes all doubt.

His sole aim in life is to make Duncan Black's head explode. Why else would he write of Rich Perry

"The big lug may not have much of a brain, but he sure has a heart."

Uh Richard, as you should know, it is possible to be stupid and selfish, lazy and vile.
Just look in the mirror.

OK I got that out before my brain splattered on my screen (I thought I might be collateral damage).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Proof from the Great Orange Satan Itself that the ghey is satanic and they won the week

It is true that Brack Hussein Obama and Elisabeth "Class war" Warren-court received even more votes than gaysatan. This re-enforces my point.
Earth is Room Enough

Neutrinos and the end of Privacy

Isaac Asimov was there.

See also

With Folded Hands

Rhodomagnetism and Cold Fusion.

Science fiction.

"So?" Underhill was staring again, somehow fascinated by those gnarled and scarred and strangely able hands. "What, exactly, is rhodomagnetics?"
He listened to the old man's careful, deliberate answer, and started his little game again. Most of Aurora's tenants had told some pretty wild tales, but he had never heard anything to top this.
"A universal force," the weary, stooped old vagabond said solemnly. "As fundamental as ferromagnetism or grav-itation, though the effects are less obvious. It is keyed to the second triad of the periodic table, rhodium and ru-thenium and palladium, in very much the same way that ferromagnetism is keyed to the first triad, iron and nickel and cobalt."


"A rhodomagnetic component was proved essential to maintain the delicate equilibrium of the nuclear forces. Consequently, rhodomagnetic waves tuned to atomic frequencies may be used to upset that equilibrium and produce nuclear instability.

Unreproduceable alleged science

Cold fusion refers to a proposed nuclear fusion process offered to explain a group of disputed experimental results first reported by electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. [skip] The small tabletop experiment involved electrolysis of heavy water on the surface of a palladium (Pd) electrode.

Paladium is the secret.

(OK so "With Folded Hands" was written in 1947 so the idea was that Palladium had something to do with fission not fusion, but that's only off by 2 letters). I had more typos working from memory.

I'm not suggesting that either Asimov or Williamson sold his soul to the devil in order to forecast the news decades later. It's just that many strange things appear in the news (which is massive) and in science fiction. Also, I wish I had had a blog in 1989.
Berkeley Big Brother

Good thing there is no way this could be abused.

(dumping on Daniel Davies)

Excellent in parts. Well written as always. But with one incorrect and irrelevant aside.

Points (not in order)
1) On average bankers aren’t as bad as murders (I agree)
2) Not all bankers share any of the blame (I agree)
3) Many borrowers lost their heads as well as their houses (agreed).
4) You can bail out banks with deficit spending (I agree except for the detail that, in the USA, bailing out banks reduced the Federal debt).
5) No true Scotsman admits that there are Scottish bankers (I’m not an expert).
6) Even if property is not theft it should be evenly distributed (I passionately agree).
7) making good policy proposals depend on dubious claims of fact is unwise (I very passionately agree).
8) Bankers do not bear a very large share of the blame for the recession (huhhh wahhhhh ? how can anyone think that. Also what does that have to do with the rest of the post).

Brad DeLong makes a much better argument than the one that came to my mind (see below). His point is that no one made bankers keep mortgage based garbage on their books. Faith in the financial system collapsed when bankers and others discovered that some bankers had done so counter to all sound principles of banking such as originate and distribute, find a greater fool, first you pillage then you burn.

Sure other bankers did all the right things (and neither pillaged nor burned). But if you don’t know who blew over 100% of their equity betting on a bubble, it doesn’t do you any good to know that some bankers didn’t.

This was far far away (Lehman, Bear Sterns) or long long ago (AIGFP which isn’t even a bank) but it happened and many people are paying the price.

My weaker point is that, in the unfortunate paragraph about what happened which mars your nice post on people being mean to you and sound egalitarian political strategy, you assume that house prices are exogenous. A housing bubble just happened for some reason.

Look over the Atlantic again. There was no similar bubble during the 20th century. People will chase trends and inflate bubbles and all that, but something changed sometime around Y2K. I think that banking and finance generally changed. Option ARMS and a housing bubble acting together did not cause Countrywide to abandon all lending standards. They did that because investment banks were willing to buy and package all the garbage mortgages they initiated. OK the blame is shared by rechless homebuyers, non-bank mortgage companies, ratings agencies, AIGFP and some smart hedge fund managers who made money with legal but socially costly tricks (Magnetar). But there have always been reckless homebuyers and they never managed to bring down the US economy. Those of us who aren’t bankers refer to the rest of the lot as “bankers”

Note “the lot” not “you lot” IIRC you were one of the first to warn of the danger back when you worked at the bank of England before you went over to the dark side private sector, where I’m sure you did just as good a job but couldn’t publish your insights.
Why can't we have a better pres corps part Aleph null

Amy Sullivan correctly notes that silly people have been saying that Obama has a problem with Jewish Americans for 3 years in spite of all of the proof to the contrary.

She also makes a blatantly false, pants on fire, four Pinoccios false assertion on a point of fact.

"...Obama ... when he delivered a speech in May calling on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, "

This claim is totally utterly false. Neither in May nor in any other month did Obama call on Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders. The text of his call is not disputed. It is also totally unoriginal. He called on negotiations on mutually agreed changes to the 67 borders. This was also Clinton's position. I think Bush's to, to the extent he pretended to believe in peace talks at all. Anyone who followed the controversy and can remember simple facts for four months knows that Sullivan's claim is false.

The horrible thing is that I am sure she is not lying. I don't know if she fell for easily refuted Republican lies, forgot in four months, or thinks that what Obama actually said is immaterial because in politics perceptions are realities (and heaven forfend that journalists inform the public about the facts when all statements on a subject from one party are false -- that would be unBallanced.

Also, Sullivan's main point is that Jewish Americans don't support politicians entirely based on the degree to which they agree with the Israeli government of the day (or even entirely based on whether they serve the interests of Israel as the Jewish American sees them). Good thing she isn't a protocols of the elders of Zion anti-semite or a neoconservative. But then she assumes the opposite of what she just spent an article proving, saying that Obama will not have a problem with Jewish Americans because he opposes a declaration of Palistinian statehood.

I'd like to see some polling comparing the views of Jewish and Christian Americans on that particular question. More generally, I'd like to know if Jewish or Christian Americans are more likely to agree with, say, AIPAC. I promise you that I don't have a firm prior.

So what the hell is going on ? I'm sure that Sullivan once new that Obama didn't call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders. I'm sure that she knows that Jewish Americans are not all much concerned about Palistinians (and almost none are obsessed by Palestinians). So why does she feel obliged to stick to a narrative which she knows (or knew) is false ?

That is not a rhetorical question and I will try to answer it. I think the key to understanding the nonsense in her post is that both the plainly false claim on a matter of fact in the public record and the conventional but silly speculation about what matters to Jewish Americans are in asides in which she concedes that both sides have a point. The post principally argues that Jewish Americans don't take marching orders from Netanyahu or any Kristol. But to be balanced, she feels the need to concede that the people she criticizes aren't totally 100% completely wrong (I agree that they aren't). I think this means that she does not feel responsible for the concessions. The idea seems to be that if one agrees with her general take, spin, slant and main conclusion then one just can't criticize her.

If I am right, then this is terrible. It means (as we all know) that persistent disciplined liars can get their lies to be treated as facts. If they are careful to avoid saying the truth, then their statements must all be 100% rejected or lies must be partially accepted. So the fact that Obama didn't call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders is less important than the need to agree with Republicans about something. The most frustrating part is that Karl Rove clearly explained his strategy "you don't attach their weaknesses. You attract their strengths" and journalists feel duty bound to make sure that it works.

Note I am not saying that all Republicans lie all the time. I am just saying that some Republicans lie all the time as a matter of principle. If its true, then they don't waste their soundbite and miniquote saying it, because the journalist will say it if they don't. OK I don't have absolute rock solid proof that any Republican other than Karl Rove lies all of the time as a matter of principle, but he is very influential and made his approach very very clear.
Commenting on Weisberg Commenting on Suskind

Weisberg wrote

Issues of accuracy, fairness, and integrity come up nearly every time Suskind publishes something. Key sources claim they've been misrepresented and misquoted, that basic facts are wrong,

Then his only criticism of "The Price of Loyalty" is that it is too kind to co-author John O'Neill.

I comment.

I didn't know that anyone unaffiliated with the Bush administration had such a negative view of Suskind's earlier books. This is a sign of the risk of relying on partisan media. The liberal blogosphere loved them (I'm sure that Jane Hamsher likes the current book -- but I haven't checked). I don't really blame myself. I'm just a citizen, so I don't have to read conservatives, centrists or firebaggers if I don't want to. And I don't.

That said, let's look only at "The Price of Loyalty." O'Neill is a co-author of that book not just a source. The description of O'Neill had to be negotiated by Suskind and O'Neill. And O'Neill had a huge pile of bargaining chips since someone in the Bush administration had responded to his request for information by sending him a huge pile of confidential documents.

update 2: I'm sure you won't read to the end of this diatribe, but you really must read the note after the end of Weisberg's article

Correction, Sept. 22, 2011: Because of a production error, the article originally featured a photograph of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill with a caption identifying him as Ron Suskind.

I'm fairly sure that was a mistake, but my reaction is "Bad production assisting but oh what a critic."

Now consider this extremely dishonest butchered quote from your post "every time Suskind publishes something. Key sources claim they've been misrepresented and misquoted, that basic facts are wrong, " In the case of "The Price of Loyalty" you claim only that one of the co-authors is flattered. Notably all claims that sources were misquoted and/or misrepresented have been proven false. The sources are on disk as quoted in official (but normally secret) records.

I admitted that my quote was totally dishonest. I elided a key word which is absolutely necessary to make your statement true "nearly." But I have to admit that my BS detector is set off by weasel words like "nearly." You didn't have to use it. You could have discussed his sole authored books. You could have noted that "The Price of Loyalty" does not count, because O'Neill had to approve the text,, Suskind had access to usually secret official records and the people he criticized had access to the exact same records.

Any sneaky removal of context in "The Price of Loyalty" would be immediately detected by White House staffers tasked with searching for the quotes in computer readable files and checking the context.

Your view seems to be that "The Price of Loyalty" is an exception to the rule. But you slide over that fact using the weasel word "nearly" and then just not discussing the accuracy of claims of fact in "The price of Loyalty" or the description in it of anyone who isn't a co-author. For a few extra pixels, you could have avoided using a weaselly qualifier and avoided sliding over evidence related to your main claim without mentioning it.

Why didn't you just say that "The Price of Loyalty" is an exception and then provide the very simple explanation of why it is an exception as I did ? It's almost as if you would rather see if you can slip something past your readers.

Later Weisberg lists demonstrable errors of fact in "The Confidence Men." Weisberg's treatment of *his* sources is not reasonable. I have read about many errors on the list in articles which explicitly note that they were noted by the Obama administration. Basically White House staffers seem to have been assigned to look up howlers in the book. Weisberg gives no hint that he didn't discover all of the errors he lists on his own. Now journalism is different from academics, but, where I work, he would be required to cite his sources.


"W.H. details errors in Suskind book"
Ben White in Politico 9/19/11

An administration official sent along a partial list under the headline "The Suskind Book Game: 'Too Big to Fact Check?'" From the list of alleged errors: "1.) Suskind wrote that Larry Summers needed Senate confirmation to lead the National Economic Council. 2.) Suskind wrote that Secretary Geithner served as 'Chairman' of the New York Fed. 3.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling served as 'an assistant Treasury Secretary.' 4.) Suskind wrote that Geithner had 'never been an undersecretary' at Treasury. 5.) Suskind wrote that the acronym for the Bank for International Settlements is 'BASEL.' 6.) Suskind wrote that Gene Sperling played tennis at the University of Michigan."


Don't Believe Ron Suskind
Jacob Weisbert Slate 9/22/11

Suskind has now turned his egregious writing and dubious technique on the Obama administration in his new book, Confidence Men. Once again, his work is strewn with small but telling errors. Here are a few: The Federal Reserve is a board, not a bureau (Page 7); Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was previously president, not "chairman," of the New York Fed (Page 56); he was, however, an undersecretary of the treasury, which Suskind makes a point out of saying he wasn't (Page 172); Horatio Alger was an author, not a character (Page 54); Gene Sperling didn't play tennis for the University of Michigan, because he went to the University of Minnesota (Page 215); the gothic spires of Yale Law School, built in 1931, are not "centuries old" (Page 250); Franklin D. Roosevelt did not say of his opponents, "I welcome their hate" (Page 235). What FDR said at Madison Square Garden in 1936, was "I welcome their hatred." That nuance wouldn't matter if it weren't such a famous line, but getting it wrong is the political equivalent of an English professor misquoting Hamlet's soliloquy.

That is an entire paragraph. There is no citation of anything -- no hint that Weisberg had any help from anyone in finding those errors some of which were described in public 3 days before his article was published. And with attribution to the White House. It's easy to look good if you present someone else's work as your own.

Weisberg's post has had a dramatic effect on my opinions both of Ron Suskind and of Jacob Weisberg.

I hasten to add that I am fan of Robert Rubin and a Rubin-hater hater (you don't want to read what I write about Matt Taibbi).

update: I am writing as I am reading. Weisberg is more silly than I imagined possible. Now he is saying that Suskind got claims of fact wrong because of a non denial denial (or maybe two).

Suskind hangs a lot on a line from Larry Summers about the economic team being "home alone." Summers, too, has vehemently disputed Suskind's characterization, telling Politico, "The hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context."

Note that Summers's statement is consistent with the statement "I did say '... home alone ...' and that quote was taken out of context. The context was 'A 'quote' B' "(for A and B such that it is obvious that the meaning of the quote was not distorted by removal of context). I mean really when in the history of journalism has the fact that a public figure says he was quoted out of context (without describing the context at all) been considered damaging to a journalist ? I consider Summers' statement to be a confirmation that he did, indeed, say something like that. I am sure that, if hooked up to a lie detecter, Weisberg would say he agrees with me. I am sure he would not stand by his claim about what Summers's said if hooked up to a lie detector. There is no doubt in my mind that Weisberg is being dishonest.

Or to put it another way -- I think Weisberg's post contains an interesting mix of accuracy and originality. And if you know exactly what I mean.

(note also the citation for a fact not in the public record -- cite to prove a claim is true, don't cite if it is clearly true and one might be given credit)

That is a very classic non denial denial. Note that Weisberg asserts that this is a denial of the specific claim that Summers said "

update II The Icing on the Cake. I have now read to the very end (reproduced below)

should no longer be treated as a "controversial" journalist as much as a disreputable one. His fellow journalists no longer trust him. Readers shouldn't either.

Correction, Sept. 22, 2011: Because of a production error, the article originally featured a photograph of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill with a caption identifying him as Ron Suskind.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps with better production assistants who don't draw attention to a journalist's conflation of two different co-authors

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Silly Comments on an Important CNN Poll

This poll shows plurality support for Obama's jobs proposal and majority support for all components of the proposal. The difference is clearly due to large numbers of people who said they didn't have a judgment of the whole proposal, presumably becaue they didn't know what was in it.

Importantly there is strong support for sending money to state governments so long as it is associated with the words "teachers", "first," and "responders" but not "fungible." A 2009 poll showed low support for sending money to state governments when it was associated with the word "deficits" (an irrelevant point on an old forgotten poll, respondents may have thought that running a deficit was a condition for getting ARRA money while the question just observed that states governments had deficits).

One outlier is a bare majority supports "increasing federal aid to unemployed workers." Being insatiable, I assert that the question was miss phrased. "increasing" is ambiguous. Does it mean compared to current policy (99 weeks of UI) or compared to current law (26 weeks of UI after the current temporary bill expires).
How is one to answer if one thinks that current policy should continue ? I'm sure that most respondents interpreted the question as more generous than current (temporary emergency) policy. The vague wording might have been chosen to lump together continuation of benefits in weeks 27-99 and hiring subsidies for the long term unemployed. But the effect, I think, is to convince people that the issue under debate is UI for 100 or more weeks.

Also to be really really twitty, the poll asks "How much do you blame the Federal Reserve Bank for economic conditions today." I would answer "not at all, because no such entity exists". I don't blame the Federal Reserve Board much either. This question refers to something which doesn't exist, or ambiguously to one of many Federal Reserve banks. I don't have such a mild view of all employees of the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas, Minneapolis and, I think, St Louis. I am thinking of the three Presidents (not, pace Ronald Suskind, their chairmen).

I am very sure that fewer people would have blamed the Federal Reserve Board (by the way "Infrastructure Bank" sounds like the worst product name since "Edsel.")

Monday, September 19, 2011

Comment on, among others, Steve Benen, on David Brooks.

How is David Brooks absurd -- let me count the ways.

Here he slips into assuming that the poor are made poor by their sins. This is a typical conservative assumption and it is demonstrably absurd.

I think his logic is to consider "voters" to be singular -- to be one entity capable of collective sin. "voters" sinned, because some borrowed and some lent recklessly. So the "voters" brought suffering upon itself. This is a typical error of Rousseau, Hegel and Marx and of communists and fascists. Brooks being an intellectual imports it.

But he makes two other absurd claims. First he ignores Congress. It is simply not true that "When you are the president in a financial crisis, you have the power to pave roads and hire teachers." That requires spending money which can only be disbursed as appropriated by Congress. Pretending to cut Obama slack, Brooks has declared him responsible for all of the actions of Republicans in Congress. He doesn't argue that they bear no blame (he can't) so he pretends that they don't exist. This is pure partisan hackery.

He also presents himself as an expert on macroeconomics. He claims, as if it were obvious, that the Federal Government can ameliorate the suffering due to a recession but can't turn the economy around. The data beg to differ. The Federal Government changed a slack economy with high unemployment to a booming economy almost instantly during WWII. It also turned a growing economy into a depressed econonomy in 1937 (and back again in 1938). There is no evidence pre WWII that recessions have a life span -- the probability of a recovery starting in a month did not increase as the recession got older. Since WWII there hasn't been a recession without a policy response, and there hasn't been an effort at stimulus which wasn't quickly followed by a recovery.

Brooks might argue that this is not true when the economy in recession is also in a liquidity trap -- that the effective policy is cutting interest rates which can't be cut any more (and never mind 1933, 1937, 1938 and 1942). But he doesn't. He just assumes that stimulus ameliorates but can't cure.

He also just asserts that cutting taxes and deregulation causes higher growth. There is almost exactly zero evidence that cutting taxes causes higher growth. Deregulation (in large part via bills signed by Bill Clinton) caused the crisis by allowing bankers (and non bank mortgage companies) to sin against the Gods of sound banking.

There are almost no actual economists who agree. Many think that fiscal stimulus doesn't stimulate at all. Others think more can and should be done. Almost none think policy so far was about right (I think Narayana Kocherlakota might be the only one). Notably, Obama doesn't claim that the Federal Government has done all it can. He rejected Brooks' defence of himandCongress and proposed the jobs act.

Frankly the only explanation of the column is that Brooks is trying to make Krugman's head explode.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Congressional Republicans are worse than Jacob Weisberg imagines possible even when he takes into account the fact that they are worse than he imagines possible.

Opinions on whether tax cuts are stimulus spending differ. Jacob Weisberg does not have a point.

Weisberg wrote a generally good article "Republicans Vs Economics" but he made one gross blatant error, obviously when he tried to argue that not all powerful Republicans are know nothings, cynics or both.

That's not to say that everyone who rejects Obama's stimulus spending is a default-welcoming ignoramus. Libertarians or libertarian-leaners don't necessarily think stimulus won't grow the economy; they just worry that it will grow the government at the same time and that it won't ever shrink back. But they don't mind stimulus tax cuts, which reduce the resources available to government. Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance, the government-slashing chairman of the House budget committee, has argued that stimulus spending is an evanescent sugar high that produces no lasting economic benefit.

His standard was support for tax cuts as stimulus. His example was Paul Ryan. He argued that Ryan called "stimulus spending" sugar high economics. He should have checked. In fact, Ryan called using tax cuts as stimulus sugar high economics

From The Hill

“I’m not a Keynesian, so I don’t think sugar-high economics works,” the Wisconsin Republicans said at a policy discussion hosted by The Hill and sponsored by No American Debt, an advocacy group. “We’ve sort of proven this already, a number of times. Temporary tax rebates don’t work to create economic growth ..."

By Weisberg's chosen standard, the Congressional Republican who he claims is neither a cynic nor a know-nothing is one or the other (or both).

When will reporters learn that they sometimes have to choose between admitting that both sides don't have a point and making fools of themselves ?

Now I'm sure Weisberg would find this post puzzling. If I am not satisfied by an article entitled "Republicans Vs Economics" which asserts that many top Republicans want to hurt the country (in the short run) what would satisfy me ?

Simple, a journalist who does not assert that temporary extension of the payroll tax holiday is a spending increase not a tax cut. That is, a journalist who checks a source before paraphrasing from memory (or desperation for Ballance given the gross liberal bias of the facts).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From the Washington Post

Obama scores well against terrorism

Peter Wallsten
National security has gone from being Obama’s big weakness to his area of policy strength, polls find.

I note that evidence has some effect on public opinion . I also note that the President gets the credit and the blame (the buck stops there). Obama didn't get distracted by a desire to invade a country his father neglected to conquer, but I don't think he did anything special and good.

But what strikes me is that the headline and abstract guy (or gal or team) has officially decided that the facts don't matter -- that they report only opinions and not facts. The word "polls" is tacked on second to last. The distinction between what is true and what a majority of US adults think is not consider worthy of large type. "policy strength" means "publicly perceived policy strength." The distinction between perceptions and objective reality was ignored.

Somehow the rule that newspapers should report facts not opinions has lead to them reporting opinions not facts -- a discussion of the facts is perceived as expressing the reporter's (or editor's) opinions. Since everything is debated, every claim is an opinion. Of course, I'm just following Colbert and noting that the facts have a clear liberal bias.

In contrast, it is OK to report the fact that most respondents in a poll believe p or the fact that the inside the beltway conventional wisdom is q. But widely shared opinions are the most dangerous opinions. An eccentric error leads to debate, a shared error leads to ... well invading Iraq and austerity in a liquidity trap and all sorts of stuff.

This can have dramatic effects. Newspapers do not regularly report that views on the shape of the Federal budget differ and that the US public is totally wrong. The idea that huge amounts of money is spent on foreign aid with limited results can't be contested by noting that the amount of money spent is one fortieth the average guess by an US adult, because that simple fact published in the Federal Record has a liberal bias.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

I think Matt Yglesias has gone completely around the bend and said it is the Fed's fault that we can't have nice things and clean air.

I don’t have any defense to offer of yesterday’s decision by President Obama to evade implementation of EPA recommended ozone regulations, ...

You don’t have to like it, but you do have to understand that it’s the case. As a matter of practical politics, to make progress on the environment you need healthy macroeconomic conditions. Which is part of my case for why everyone on the left needs to care more about monetary policy. ... And precisely because it’s not true that environmental regulations are job killers, environmentalists need to care about the Federal Reserve.

This is my comment on his blog.

I have been apologizing for my repeated nearly identical criticisms of your posts on monetary policy, but your obsession with monetary policy is reaching extremes that would make Milton Friedman blush.

First note that the current monetary policy is by far the most radically dedication to expansion of any monetary policy at least since the Fed was founded. All earlier efforts to pump up the economy are dwarfed by the Fed's current (ongoing) efforts.

Second note that you simply assume that the Fed can deliver full employment. You don't even bother to argue this. OK fine I'm sure you understand economics much better than Keynes (what the hell did he know anyway) and I understand that anyone who advocates even more expansionary monetary policy must agree with your definite undeniable assertion made right in this post) that it will solve all of our problems *especially* if they have specifically written otherwise.

But third you do understand that the leader of our particular coalition (let alone the leader whomever it might be of the other one) can't "put in place a Fed team". He can nominate people who will never work for the Fed, because the confirmation vote will be filibustered.

Consider the case of Peter Diamond.

Oh by the way, you noted that it was very brave and a bit reckless to argue that a Nobel Memorial prize winner is wrong. But now you are just assuming that he is wrong. You don't even bother to argue. Your position is that if full employment would be good, it is Obama's fault that he didn't nominate two more people to the Fed so that the Senate not approving them would cause full employment.

Do you even understand how absurd the argument in this post is ?

Oh something else. There is still overwhelming popular support for environmental protection. The argument that the people won't support tougher smog standards because of the unemployment rate is unsupported by any evidence on public opinion. In contrast you assume that at the NAIRU people understand that employment does not depend on anti-pollution (or fiscal or trade) policy. Obviously the argument that this is bad because it will cost jobs was made when the unemployment rate was 5%. Your argument is based entirely on the assumption that the US voting public shares your views on macroeconomics. They don't (the most popular proposal for what to do to help the economy was "cut government spending).

Finally note that Paul Krugman argues, convincingly, that this is a very good time to force firms to spend on anti pollution technology because we are in a liquidity trap. His argument makes sense. If firms aren't hiring because they don't have customers (check) making them spend more for the same output makes them spend more (output limited by demand) so increases aggregate demand and employment. In general anti-pollution efforts should reduce real wages (if the cost of clean air is not counted in the CPI bundle -- it increases correctly measured real wages) but not affect unemployment. Right now, it will cause higher employment. Now you might argue that the public doesn't believe Krugman, but the public doesn't believe you that, if the Fed achieves its stated aims, then pollution regulations don't reduce jobs (lump of labor fallacy wins the day) *and* the public supports tighter regulation of pollution.

OK a challenge. Find economists who are prominent in the profession who agree with you that the problem (ozone or unemployment directly) is due to the Fed. Many will criticize the Fed but, I think, none will say that the Fed could make things fine. To be clear, Scott Sumner is not a prominent economist (he's a well known blogger but not prominent in the field). Joe Gagnon is not prominent except that he got a lot of attention with, well exactly the argument you are making.

There is this stupid but on the web ranking of economists.

Gagnon is ranked number 1279
I am ranked 1348 (have you ever heard of me except in your comments thread and at Brad DeLong's blog ?
Peter Diamond is ranked 63 (he's the one with whom you chose to argue about what the Fed can achieve).

Scott Sumner is not ranked in the top 5% of economists. I can't find him in the top 10% either. His works convince me that this is *the* Scott Sumner

beyond my comment.

I add that it if isn't unemployment, it is inflation. First it isn't known that looser monetary policy reduces the long run average rate of unemployment. Second, it does cause higher inflation. I don't see the problem with higher inflation, but people hate it. The argument that pollution controls add to inflation is just as convincing to the public as the argument that they cost jobs. Also it is true, but I won't stress that point, because the debate is about politics.

I have been looking at Pollingreport. I don't have anything particular to add but I note two things
First there are a lot of questions where the pollster asserts that anti pollution regulation hurts the economy. I can see that if the question is phrased economy vs environment that the economy would get more support when we are in a recession. But that doesn't mean that Republicans can convince people to accept that framing (pollsters can when polling but look at the record of political consultants who talk about framing).

Second I don't see a pattern in simple questions for tighter or looser environmental regulation (except that there is always a majority for tighter regulation). But I wouldn't as I didn't find a long time series. The very recent numbers look normal to me.

Third, there clearly has been an increase in global warming skepticism. I think this is a Fox News and partisan Republicans issue. The Republicans used to accept the fact of global warming. Now Republican leaders don't. The lemmings follow. I see no role for the economy. In particular the public is totally wrong about whether most scientists agree on global warming but this has nothing to do with smog *or* with polls of public opinion on smog.

Finally, Yglesias seems to me to be generally not only very smart but also very reasonable and reality based. I just don't know what it is with him and the Fed. I dunno maybe the Fed was rude to him or something.

Ballance reaches new heights

The Fannie/Freddie took over agency (FHFA, that is, DeMarco) is going to sue major banks for fraud. The claim is that employees of the major banks lied about the mortgages underlying securities sold to Fannie or Freddie. No one seems willing to claim that this fraud did not occur. Also, the banks were saved by Federal intervention. Also the bankers are paying each other huge bonuses. Finally the banks have huge piles of cash which they aren't lending. It might seem hard to argue that the suit is a bad idea.

But where there's a will there's a way. For Ballance, Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Zachary A. Goldfarb present the case for letting banks keep money which, by law, belongs to the Federal Government.

Argument 1) what is good for the banks is good for us

Some financial analysts said the lawsuits come at a particularly bad time because bank lending is already sluggish. They warned that the lawsuits could sap capital from banks, leaving them with even less money to lend, and further weaken the economy.

Some financial analysts need to be told about supply and demand. Low volume can be a sign of low supply of loans with many liquidity constrained agents eager to borrow but with banks afraid to lend because they don't have capital or reserves or something. This isn't the current problem. Banks and other firms have huge amounts of money sitting around. Did you notice the interest rates on Treasuries ? There is low volume of lending because firms have excess capacity and don't want to invest, many consumers are not credit worthy no matter how much money one has sitting around (zero real return is better than loaning to someone with an underwater mortgage) and solvent consumers are not inclined to ramp up consumption much (consumption is like that).

These "financial analysts" are not reasonable independent economists (more on that below).

Argument 2) I will just quote "Others argued that Fannie and Freddie were sophisticated investors who helped shape the very securities they purchased." What ?!? if Fannie and Freddie issued the securities, why did they purchase them. The whole point of hte law suit is that not all mortgages are equal (and the ones the banks sold to Fannie or Freddie are not like the ones the banks said they were selling). Argument 2 is based on the assumption that all mortgage backed securities are the same, not similar, the same (the *very* securities). This is pathetically grossly false. Sure Fannie and Freddie issued a lot of mortgage backed securities. The Fed bough over $ T worth of them. The Fed has been making huge mega gigantic profits.

Everyone knows that different mortgages have different risk of delinquency. For some reason Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Zachary A. Goldfarb feel the need to pretend to take seriously someone who claims that all mortgages are the same. I'm sure they aren't stupid. I'm sure that they feel that to be responsible journalists, they have to quote an obvious lie without noting that it is a lie (actually, as far as I can tell, adding the "very" which makes the claim totally false as opposed to merely deceptive). Why do they feel they have to do that ?

OK sourcing. Who are these "financial analysts" ? Who said that Fannie and Freddie issued the securities they bought ? How about some names. How about one name ?

One former top executive at a financial institution that bought and sold mortgage securities, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, criticized the suits, saying that “the whole thing has gotten ridiculous and out of hand. The banks are big boys. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are big boys. The people who invested in private securities are big boys.”

Uh doesn't the Washington Post have a policy on granting anonymity ? For one thing aren't they supposed to explain why they granted it ? What is the explanation ? A former top executive is afraid he might be fired by his former employer if he said that it shouldn't be forced to pay lots of money to the Federal Government ? The source demanded anonymity, because he is ashamed of the nonsense he is spouting. Why aren't the Post's intrepid reporters ashamed to quote him (or, hah sure, her) ? Why did an editor allow anonymity ?

Then "Added another bank official: “These are folks that were involved in creating these securities. The idea that Fannie and Freddie were victims in this, it defies credibility.”" More anonymity ! Also a lie. The claim would be true if "these securities" were replaced with "securities of this general type." The whole argument of the plaintiff is that securities of this general type are fundamentally different. The anonymous quote is a material lie.

No one is quoted by name in the article arguing against the suit. Note there is no hint in the entire article about who the "financial analysts" who think the suit will hurt the economy might be. The assertion is supported by no evidence at all -- not even a source who was granted anonymity counter to Washington Post policy. I assume someone made that argument (I am not accusing Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Zachary A. Goldfarb of journalistic fraud). However, I suspect that the analysts are (or were previously) employed by big banks. The only anonymous sources quoted arguing against the suit (for other nonsense reasons) have a clear conflict of interest.

By the way, the article goes on to note that the securies in question were not assembled by Fannie or Freddie. This is obvious, but Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Zachary A. Goldfarb should have noted that the facts they describe contradict the assertion made by one of their two anonymous sources.

The part I find most frustrating is that I'm sure Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Zachary A. Goldfarb consider the article a no holds barred call em as they see em (various other sports metaphor) description of what crooks the bankers were. But for some reason, they feel obliged to quote BS and lies (respectively) from two people ashamed to let people know their names.

Couldn't they just write "we could find no one willing to be quoted by name defending the banks." ? That appears to be the case. It is news. Why not report it ?