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August 2008

Welcome to Weimar Russia!

Hoisted from the Archives: Welcome to Weimar Russia!

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: The Emergence of Weimar Russia: Chris Bertram marks another stage in the emergence of Weimar Russia:

Crooked Timber: Putin's speech : I just read the transcript of Putin’s speech following the murders in Beslan. In it, Putin expresses nostalgia for the old USSR. Obviously it is intended for a domestic audience and plays to their concerns and expectations. What should we make of the following passage? And who are the “they” of the penultimate paragraph below?

Today we are living in conditions which have emerged following the break-up of a vast great state, a state which unfortunately turned out to be unable to survive in the context of a rapidly changing world. But despite all the difficulties, we have managed to preserve the core of the colossus which was the Soviet Union.

And we called the new country the Russian Federation. We all expected changes, changes for the better. But we have turned out to be absolutely unprepared for much that has changed in our lives…

On the whole, we have to admit that we have failed to recognise the complexity and dangerous nature of the processes taking place in our own country and the world in general. In any case, we have failed to respond to them appropriately.

We showed weakness, and the weak are trampled upon. Some want to cut off a juicy morsel from us while others are helping them.

They are helping because they believe that, as one of the world’s major nuclear powers, Russia is still posing a threat to someone, and therefore this threat must be removed.

And terrorism is, of course, only a tool for achieving these goals. But as I have already said many times, we have faced crises, mutinies and acts of terror more than once.

When I was in the Clinton administration in 1993-95, one of the background ideas was that it was desperately important to avoid the emergence of a "Weimar Russia"--a country that felt that things had gone downhill, that the promises of a better tomorrow had been lies, that projected aid and promises of economic partnership and integration had been a screen behind which had taken place the real maneuvering to weaken Russia. In my view, U.S. attempts to prevent the emergence of a "Weimar Russia" ran into three major obstacles:

  1. The Reagan-Bush budget deficits that precluded aid on a Marshall Plan-equivalent scale--and thus greatly weakened the U.S.'s ability to shape institutions.

  2. The lack of a political consensus within Russia on what the future should be like--eastern Europe, which felt certain that in a good future they would be like western Europe--has had a much easier time.

  3. Bill Clinton's excessive empathy for Boris Yeltsin: Clinton's view that Yeltsin was a good man playing a difficult hand who did not need his life further complicated by pressure from Treasury technocrats was, I think, in the end not a plus. (Even worse, I think, has been Bush's excessive empathy for Vladimir Putin.)


Carrie Fisher Is Teh One

Alyssa Rosenberg lays down the law:

EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect: "WILL SOMEBODY GET THIS BIG WALKING CARPET OUT OF MY WAY?": Dude, given that Ta-Nehisi Coates and his readers appointed Lando Calrissian [Billie Dee Williams] as the Official Black Spokesman and are looking for "One Caucasian Who Speaks For You All," how can there be any possible choice other than Princess Leia Organa [Carrie Fisher]? The cinnamon buns are possibly the whitest hairstyle of all time. She's tough, she's decisive, she's principled, she's strong in the Force and a rockin' New Republic politician, and she and Lando can spar and then go out and absolutely wreak some havoc on slug-like crime lords. Okay, she is lame enough to take Han's name when she marries him after he kidnaps her and takes her on the worst romantic getaway ever. But even with that in the balance, Princess Leia can speak for me any time.


The Second Circuit Discovers that It Has Ovaries!

Sua sponte and en banc:

In Extremely Rare Occurence Court Moves to Rehear Case of Canadian Rendition Victim Maher Arar | Center for Constitutional Rights: August 14, 2008, New York – The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an extremely rare order that the case of Canadian rendition victim Maher Arar would be heard en banc by all of the active judges on the Second Circuit on December 9, 2008. For the court to issue the order sua sponte, that is, of its own accord without either party submitting papers requesting a rehearing, is even more rare.

“We are very encouraged,” said CCR attorney Maria LaHood. “For the court to take such extraordinary action on its own indicates the importance the judges place on the case and means that Maher may finally see justice in this country.  As the dissenting judge noted, the majority’s opinion gave federal officials the license to ‘violate constitutional rights with virtual impunity.’  Now the court has the opportunity to uphold the law and hold accountable the U.S. officials who sent Maher to be tortured.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) case seeks to hold accountable the high level administration officials responsible for sending Maher Arar to be tortured and interrogated in Syria for a year – a practice known as an extraordinary rendition.  Based on faulty information, Mr. Arar was detained as he was changing planes at JFK airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation. A Canadian citizen, he pled with officials not to send him to Syria, the country of his birth, because he would be tortured there.

After nearly two weeks in New York, with access to counsel and the court obstructed, he was flown to Jordan on a chartered jet in the middle of the night and taken by land to Syria. Mr. Arar was tortured, interrogated and kept in a 3x6x7-foot underground cell for a year until the Syrian government, finding no connections to terrorism, released him home to Canada.

CCR originally filed the case in the Eastern District of New York in January 2004; the first ruling, in  February 2006, dismissed the case on the grounds that allowing it to proceed would harm national security and foreign relations. CCR appealed the decision, arguing before a three-judge panel in November 2007, but the Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision in June 2008 along similar lines...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.


Now Why Did the Stock Market Go Up This Morning?

Andrew Samwick writes http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/andrew-samwick/453/tough-news-labor-market

Comparing the current episode to the last 20 years, which includes the recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s, the level of claims was higher during those downturns than it is currently. But the level never got as high as it is now without going even higher."

This seems to me to be yet another recession call sign...

Posted by email from Brad DeLong: Notes (posterous)


Stand Next to the Ugly, Dance Next to the Klutzy, and Talk Next to the Stupid...

Apropos of What’s at Stake in Economic Growth This Election, Diane Rogers asks:

The Obama Tax Plan (or How to Look Good at the Dance) | EconomistMom.com: I may be kind of old and past my dancing days now, but I still remember the trick to looking good at those school dances, even when you’re not “the total package.”... When you’re just standing there, stand next to the ugly person. When you’re dancing, dance near the klutzy person. And when you’re engaging in conversation, converse around the stupid person.

Now, it may still be that the Obama tax plan would be voted the “belle of the ball,” but it wouldn’t be because of its beauty in an absolute sense, only because of its beauty measured relative to some less attractive standards. The Obama campaign likes to compare different aspects of their tax plan to the different less attractive standards around the room. This is what’s known among budget geeks as a “baseline issue”–but what might be easier to understand as ”how to look good at the dance.”...

If [Brad DeLong's] calculation is linear, for example, and if we use Tax Policy Center estimates for the cost of the McCain and Obama tax plans (I know the Obama campaign is using a much larger figure for McCain), then the Obama tax plan adds “just” $2.8 trillion to the federal debt over ten years (not counting interest), while the McCain tax plan adds $4.2 trillion.  So Obama’s plan costs two-thirds what McCain’s plan does.  Does that mean (doing the algebra) that Brad DeLong would calculate that the Obama tax plan would involve $600 billion in reduced annual incomes due to the reduction in national saving–which is $300 billion less than the perhaps $900 billion under the McCain tax plan?

So I guess I need to ask Brad:  is the Obama plan still “smart” and “pretty” on the economic growth front in an absolute sense, and not just compared with the McCain plan–you know, that ugly, dumb thing?

It's not an ugly, dumb thing: it's an ugly, dumb, stupid thing.

I have three effects--a crowding-out effect, a higher-natural-rate-of-unemployment-due-to-less-capital-deepening effect, and an inflation-fear effect. The way the numbers work out is that I implicitly forecast that McCain will run average unified deficits of $500 billion a year, and Obama average unified deficits of roughly $150 billion a year. Push that down to a balanced unified budget and you get not an extra $600 billion but an extra $130 billion.

Aiming for a balanced unified deficit over the business cycle would, I think, be a good thing economically--but I really do not see how we could possibly get there.


PE 101 Guest Lecture: Non-Powerpoints: August 14, 2008

GLOBALIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

What was traded: 1500 and before:

  • Silks, gems
  • Spices
  • Slaves
  • Knowledge (but very slowly: 500 years from China to Europe): spaghetti, compass, printing, gunpowder

What was traded: 1500 to 1800: add:

  • Textiles
  • Sugar
  • Intoxicants (coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco, opium)
  • Slaves (industrial plantation slavery: middle passage)

All due to the ocean-going caravel; digression on Zheng He

What was traded: 1800-1870: add:

  • Cotton
    • Consequence: U.S. Civl War (300K dead of 1.2M white southerners; 300K dead of 6M white northerners and Blacks; same number maimed)

What was traded: 1870-today: add:

  • All staple commodities that don't spoil
  • the iron-hulled ocean going steamship
  • the submarine telegraph cable

How cheap is trade today?:

  • A standard container, 5500 cubic feet
  • An iPhone, worth $200, in a box 1/32 of a cubic foot
  • One container can carry $35M in iPhones
  • Costs $8000 to ship a container across the Pacific (used to be $3000)

Economic Growth:

  • Current U.S.: $25/hr ($2008)
  • U.S. 1900: $3/hr ($2008)
  • U.S. 1800: $1/hr ($2008)

Today: You can buy 80,000 calories of potatoes from a day's wages at $1 an hour

  • 1700 Beijing: 2000 calories purchased with a day's wage
  • 1700 Leipzig: 3000 calories purchased with a day's wage
  • 1700 London: 8000 oat calories, but only 3500 wheat calories

International income differentials on the order of 2-1

Today:

  • U.S.: $25
  • Coastal China: $6
  • Interior China: $3
  • India: $2
  • Ethiopia, etc.: $1

Post-WWII Development Strategies:

  • Soviet (seems a good idea because no Great Depression in the Soviet Union, and Soviet victory over the Nazis in WWII)
  • "Commanding Heights"
  • Import substitution
  • Independence as a magic bullet

All failures


The Washington Consensus:

  • Maximize economic contact--eliminate trade barriers
  • Minimize regulation--an excuse for bureaucracy and bribery
  • Shrink the state--outside of East Asia and maybe western Europe, emerging market economies can establish property rights and enforce contracts, and that is pretty much all they should dare try to do...

Rodrik:

  • Regulatory arbitrage on health and safety--race to the bottom
  • Capital mobility: is the constraint savings, or investment demand?
  • Perverse savings flows
  • Needed: global scale institutions (like the EU, only more so)

Immigration:

U.S.:

  • 300M people
  • 150M workers

Mexico:

  • 100M people
  • 35M workers
  • Of whom, 9M in U.S.

Winners from immigration:

  • Mexican migrants bigtime
  • Mexican stay-at-homes (remittances, larger farms)
  • American businesses
  • American consumers
  • American workers who become straw bosses

Losers:

  • Past legal immigrants
  • African-American males with little education

Thomas Sowell Is the Stupidest Man Alive

Someday the writers of National Review will realize that the incompetence of their economic coverage is one reason for the shredding of their own professional reputations. But that day is not yet.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell on Obama on National Review Online: The question, incidentally, was why Senator Obama was advocating a higher capital-gains tax rate when experience has shown that the government typically collected more revenue from a lower capital-gains tax rate than from a higher rate.... Economists may say that higher capital-gains tax rates can translate into lower levels of economic activity and fewer jobs, but Obama will leave that kind of analysis to the economists...

Congressional Budget Office:

Congressional Budget Office: Because taxes are paid on realized rather than accrued capital gains, taxpayers have a great deal of control over when they pay their capital gains taxes. By choosing to hold on to an asset, a taxpayer defers the tax. The incentive to do that -- even when it might otherwise be financially desirable to sell an asset -- is known as the lock-in effect. As a consequence of that incentive, the level of the tax rate can substantially influence when asset holders realize their gains, as can be seen particularly clearly when tax rates change.... For instance, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 boosted capital gains tax rates effective at the beginning of 1987. Anticipating that increase, investors realized a huge amount of gains in 1986. Then, in 1987, realizations fell by almost as much, returning to a level comparable to that before the tax increase.... The sensitivity of realizations to gains tax rates raises the possibility that a cut in the rate could so increase realizations... in the short run.... [A] stock of accumulated gains may be realized shortly after the rate is cut, but once that accumulation is "unlocked," the stock of accrued gains is smaller and realizations cannot continue at as fast a rate as they did initially.... The potentially large difference between the long- and short-term sensitivity of realizations to tax rates can mislead observers into assuming a greater permanent responsiveness than actually exists...

Justin Fox:

"Serious" economists and capital gains taxes - The Curious Capitalist - Justin Fox - Economy - Markets - Business - TIME: on this particular topic I tend to rely on professors at fancy universities who have served in the current Bush administration, because I figure it's hard to dismiss their verdict as political. The current consensus of this crowd is pretty well reflected in a 2004 paper by Greg Mankiw, the former chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and Matthew Weinzierl, which concluded that "for standard parameter values, half of a capital tax cut is self-financing." That means half of the tax cut is not self-financing--so the overall result of the cut is a revenue loss. And those "standard parameter values" include spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss from the tax cuts. If you simply do as the Bush administration has done, and make no commensurate spending cuts, you get less than half of the tax cut back...

A quibble: without offsetting spending cuts, you get less than zero of the tax cut back. The dynamic revenue loss is greater than the static revenue loss.


Obama vs. McCain on Fiscal Policy

Ah. Here we are. Call me at 925-708-0467 with questions. I'm lecturing and also spending a bunch of the day in pointless bureaucratic meetings, but I will try to respond.

Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee:

Sen. McCain has put forward the most fiscally reckless presidential platform in modern memory. The likely results of his Bush-plus policies are clear. As Berkeley economist Brad Delong has estimated, the McCain plan, as compared to the Obama plan, would lower annual incomes by $300 billion or more in real terms by 2017, costing the typical worker $1,800 or more due to the effect of large deficits on national savings and thus capital formation. Sen. McCain's neglect of critical public investments would further impede economic growth for decades to come.

Do not take the critics' word for it. Go look at the plans for yourself at http://www.barackobama.com/taxes. Get the facts and you will see the real priorities at stake in this election. America cannot afford another eight years like these.

Here is what they are talking about in that penultimate paragraph:

Political Economy Working Notes and Papers: 2008-7-11: DeLong: What’s at Stake in Economic Growth This Election: http://posterous.com/getfile/files.posterous.com/braddelong/1hDM1X4wJymyFW1etrx1I4iaEcIo2F6gS7WiApa0GiFWdO4EnRVGItVaft1K/20080713_jobs_obama_mccain.pdf

As John Maynard Keynes wrote nearly a century ago about inflation:

Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency.... Lenin was certainly right.... The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose...

The same holds true of tax and spending policies that create unsustainable deficits and rapidly climbing debt-to-GDP ratios--as John McCain's proposals do.


Here's a lot of the rest of their op-ed:

The Obama Tax Plan: Even as Barack Obama proposes fiscally responsible tax reform to strengthen our economy and restore the balance that has been lost in recent years, we hear the familiar protests and distortions from the guardians of the broken status quo. Many of these very same critics made many of these same overheated predictions in previous elections. They said President Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction plan would wreck the economy. Eight years and 23 million new jobs later, the economy proved them wrong. Now they are making the same claims about Sen. Obama's tax plan, which has even lower taxes than prevailed in the 1990s....

John McCain offers what would essentially be a third Bush term, with his economic speeches outlining $3.4 trillion of tax cuts over 10 years beyond what President Bush has already proposed and geared even more to high-income earners. The McCain plan would lead to deficits the likes of which we have never seen in this country. It would take money from the middle class and from future generations so that the wealthy can live better today.

Sen. Obama believes a focus on the middle class is appropriate in the wake of the first economic expansion on record where the typical family's income fell....

Sen. Obama believes that responsible candidates must put forward specific ideas of how they would pay for their proposals. That is why he would repeal a portion of the tax cuts passed in the last eight years for families making over $250,000. But to be clear: He would leave their tax rates at or below where they were in the 1990s.

  • The top two income-tax brackets would return to their 1990s levels of 36% and 39.6% (including the exemption and deduction phase-outs). All other brackets would remain as they are today.

  • The top capital-gains rate for families making more than $250,000 would return to 20% -- the lowest rate that existed in the 1990s and the rate President Bush proposed in his 2001 tax cut. A 20% rate is almost a third lower than the rate President Reagan set in 1986.

  • The tax rate on dividends would also be 20% for families making more than $250,000, rather than returning to the ordinary income rate. This rate would be 39% lower than the rate President Bush proposed in his 2001 tax cut and would be lower than all but five of the last 92 years we have been taxing dividends.

  • The estate tax would be effectively repealed for 99.7% of estates, and retained at a 45% rate for estates valued at over $7 million per couple. This would cut the number of estates covered by the tax by 84% relative to 2000.

Overall, in an Obama administration, the top 1% of households -- people with an average income of $1.6 million per year -- would see their average federal income and payroll tax rate increase from 21% today to 24%, less than the 25% these households would have paid under the tax laws of the late 1990s....

In contrast, Sen. McCain's tax plan largely leaves the middle class behind. His one and only middle-class tax cut -- a slow phase-in of a bigger dependent exemption -- would provide no benefit whatsoever to 101 million families who do not have children or other dependents, or who have a low income....

The McCain plan represents Bush economics on steroids. It has $3.4 trillion more in tax cuts than President Bush is proposing, largely directed at corporations and the most affluent....


Brad DeLong's Guest PE 101 Lectures, August 2008

Class Topics:

Background Readings:


http://tinyurl.com/682bbw


The Second Gilded Age

Chye-Ching Huang and Chad Stone:

Income Concentration at Highest Level Since 1928, New Analysis Shows: Average pre-tax incomes in 2006 jumped by about $60,000 (5.8 percent) for the top 1 percent of households, but just $430 (1.4 percent) for the bottom 90 percent, after adjusting for inflation, according to a new update in the groundbreaking series on income inequality by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.  Their analysis of newly released IRS data shows that in 2006, the shares of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent of households were higher than in any year since 1928...

Loading 201CAverage Income in 2006 up $60,000 for Top 1 Percent of Households, Just $430 for Bottom 90 Percent201D

Loading 201CAverage Income in 2006 up $60,000 for Top 1 Percent of Households, Just $430 for Bottom 90 Percent201D

Gene Sperling http://www.harrywalker.com/articles/Sperling_FinancialTimes_Jan2006.pdf:

How to reform a winner-takes-all economy: Two of President George W. Bush’s economic goals... will be to convince anxious American workers that they should not lose faith in an open, global economy and that they should support tax reform that moves the US closer to eliminating all taxation on investment. What must be recognised, however, is the growing degree to which these two policy goals are in conflict. While the president is essentially right to stress that we cannot turn our back on open markets and globalisation, his rhetoric and policy framework ignore the increasing winner-takes-all and loser-loses-all tendencies in the US economy.

Last year, the wealth of the richest 400 Americans climbed to nearly double the 1982 level as a share of US gross domestic product; but we also saw those suffering losses taking steeper falls. Jacob Hacker of Yale University has found that when US families suffer a drop in income, they face 40 per cent declines on average. At the same time, Lawrence Katz, the Harvard economist, has documented the increasing polarisation in the US labour market as earnings grow at the high end while opportunities for middle-class jobs dry up.

Such extreme gains and losses are often due to significant differences in education or skill but as Robert Shiller, the Yale economist, has written, the unpredictability, speed and vastness of global markets have also enhanced the role of luck, or slight timing advantages, in determining who falls into the winners or losers circles.

Consider twin brothers with equivalent education and work histories, who each took good jobs six years ago--one, fortunately, with Google, the other, less fortunately, with Lucent. Since the investment community was still betting on Lucent in early 2000 and Google was just getting established, it is hard to say that skill led one worker to $2m in stock options and the other to a pink slip and a job retraining programme.

Even though such differential outcomes can seem unfair to many, this is a price we gladly pay for a free market economy. Our progressive tax system has been part of the way the US has balanced the desire for a free economy with the values of equity. Yet, eliminating taxation on investment income exacerbates--not moderates--winner-takes-all outcomes.

Consider our brothers. If the one at Lucent finds a new, $60,000 a year job, he could pay about 25 per cent in federal taxes (including payroll taxes). Yet, under Mr Bush’s tax policy, if his twin at Google can find a solid 6 per cent return investing his $2m, he can make at least $120,000 a year while paying a lower 15 per cent tax rate. If we move closer to Mr Bush’s vision of zero taxes on dividends, capital gains and inheritances, the Google twin could watch his gains accumulate tax-free year after year and then pass on his wealth to an heir, tax free.

Moving the US tax code in this direction is wrongheaded on both economic growth and value grounds. Progressive taxation is critical to marshall the resources to ensure that those who end up at Lucent or Delphi have the support and education to get second and third chances in the global economy. Without a greater cushion against falls in the global economy, workers may opt to take less risk on their future, just as entrepreneurs would risk less if they thought a single bankruptcy would land them in debtors prison.

Furthermore, a tax system that eases the Google’s tax-free wealth accumulation but forces his brother to pay higher taxes on income earned through labour betrays American values that honour the hard work of the middle class over policies that perpetuate an economic elite. A better tax reform plan would prevent the most privileged Americans from paying lower taxes on their investment than typical families pay on their wages, while encouraging savings and wealth creation for struggling workers. We could start by ending our current system of giving those in the highest tax brackets more than twice the tax deduction of typical workers and creating a flat tax incentive for savings – a 30 per cent credit for everyone. More important, we should provide automatic matching credits for moderate income workers to save--essentially creating a universal 401(k) plan for retirement savings accounts for all Americans.

So if the president really wants to build support for greater openness in the economy, he needs to focus on tax reform that expands the winners circle, not reform that expands the current winners fortunes.

The writer, a former national economic adviser to President Clinton, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of The Pro-Growth Progressive (Simon & Schuster)


Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Howard Kurtz Edition)

Hoisted from comments: a nice catch from bdbd:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Semi-Daily Journal Economist Brad DeLong: Speaking of the Post, note in Penn's memo, about a quarter of the way in, in the planning about how to attack Obama's voting record, the line (I paraphrase) "Then we go on to Kurtz" -- is that stenographer Howie Kurtz?

Yes, it is:

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/2008_pdf/20080812_Penn_Memo.pdf

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?


Fear Not That the Walls Have Ears; Fear That They Have Tongues! (Jim Fallows Fears His Email Edition)

Jim Fallows is scared of his email. I think he is wrong.

Fallows:

Check out Josh Green's memo haul: [I]t is very much worth reading my colleague Joshua Green's new story about what went wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign, and the trove of memos he collected while reporting the story.... The magnum opus among the memos, based on what I've seen, is this one from Mark Penn, which is sure to be parsed and reflected-upon for months and years.

Related thought that comes to my mind while reading through these documents: I make my living writing things down, but even I have reached the point where I am not willing to put any sentiment whatsoever into reproducible form -- in an email that could be forwarded, in a document that could be cut-and-pasted -- without thinking about how it would look if it got into unintended hands.

That is, the perfection of the technology for spreading and sharing written material has made writing weirdly less useful for conveying private thought. It's risky as a way to share thoughts about running a political campaign; it's reckless as a way to say anything about any other person you might not want him or her to hear. The evolution of technology may return us to the era when the no-tech face-to-face meeting, or the hard-to-copy handwritten note, is the most secure means of communication. And when written statements, even in the "privacy" of email, are necessarily blanded-down by pre-knowledge that they could turn up somewhere unexpected months or years or decades later.

Two thoughts. First, Jim Fallows has clearly not yet figured out how small and how good tape recorders are: meetings are no protection. Second, for most of us the big problem has never been that people will repeat what we say, but rather that they will repeat what we did not say--or take what we say out of context.

I think the solution has four parts:

  • Say what you mean.
  • Be polite and charitable about those with whom you disagree--or at least adopt the manners of a gentleman, who is someone who never says anything that might give offense unintentionally.
  • Memorialize your conversations.
  • Insist that everything remain in its proper context.

And this is where people like Dana Milbank and organizations like the Washington Post are absolutely poisonous. We remember how Milbank took Barack Obama's:

It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions...

And turned it into:

President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour: Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee. Fresh from his presidential-style world tour... Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington.... The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room.... Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment... that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions"...

In such a world as this one in which we live in, email and other means of communication that automatically create a record that can be used to push back against distortions is a blessing.


Here, for the record, is Mark Penn's email: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/2008_pdf/20080812_Penn_Memo.pdf


Greg Anrig on the GOP

He smells a wind from out of the west:

McCain's Problem Isn't His Tactics. It's GOP Ideas.: At long last, the conservative juggernaut is cracking up. From the Reagan era until late 2005 or so, conservatives crushed progressives like me in debates as reliably as the Harlem Globetrotters owned the Washington Generals. The right would eloquently praise the virtues of free markets and the magic of the invisible hand. We would respond by stammering about the importance of regulation and a mixed economy, knowing even as the words came out that our audience was becoming bored.

Conservatives would get knowing laughs by mocking bureaucrats. We would drone on about how everyone can benefit from the experience and expertise of able civil servants. They promised to transform stodgy old Social Security into an exciting investment opportunity that would make everyone wealthy in retirement. We warned about the scheme's "transition costs" while swearing that the existing program would still be around for today's younger workers. They offered tax cuts. We talked amorphously about taxes as the price of a civilized society. After Sept. 11, 2001, they vowed to strike hard at terrorists anywhere and everywhere without worrying about the thumb-twiddlers at the United Nations. We stood up for the thumb-twiddlers.

But now, seemingly all of a sudden, conservatives are the ones who are tongue-tied, as demonstrated by Sen. John McCain's limping, message-free presidential campaign. McCain's ongoing difficulties in exciting voters aren't just a tactical problem; his woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven't worked in practice. The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment.

Largely as a consequence, the public's attitude toward government -- Ronald Reagan's bête noire -- has shifted. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that, by a 53-to-42 percent margin, Americans want government to "do more to solve problems"; a dozen years ago, respondents opposed government action by 2 to 1. Meanwhile, Republican constituency groups' long-standing determination to put aside their often significant differences and band together to support GOP candidates is fracturing: The libertarian darling Ron Paul and the evangelical Christian leader James C. Dobson are among the Republican bigwigs who haven't so far endorsed McCain. And the mountains of books and articles by conservative writers attacking liberals and liberalism have begun to be matched by new stacks of tomes exploring what went wrong with conservatism and what is to become of it.

As I listen to leading voices and thinkers on the right pondering the condition of their ideology, it is increasingly clear to me that they face a fundamental dilemma -- one that cannot be resolved anytime soon and that might well leave the conservative movement out to pasture for as long as we progressives have been powerlessly chewing grass. That choice is whether to stick with rhetoric and policies wedded to free markets, limited government and bellicose unilateralism, or to endorse a more robust role for the public sector at home while relying more on diplomacy and international institutions abroad. Either way, conservative Republicans seem destined to have a much harder time winning elections for the foreseeable future. Just ask McCain how much fun he's having.

The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge -- retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government -- pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting private-sector competition work to everyone's benefit.

So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by "starving the beast." President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan, notwithstanding today's desperate efforts by the right to distance itself from the deeply unpopular chief executive.

But in practice, those ideas have all failed to deliver...


Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Hilzoy:

Obsidian Wings: Clueless: Cernig at Newshoggers posted an excerpt from a McClatchy article on Pakistan that includes this astonishing statement:

"One thing we never understood is that India has always been the major threat for Pakistan," said former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, now the president of the Middle East Institute.

Just. Shoot. Me. Now. If we -- or at least those of us who are responsible for South Asia policy -- didn't understand this, we should have our collective heads examined. I'm trying to think of analogies:

  • One thing we never understood is that China really cares about holding onto Tibet.
  • One thing we never understood is that the idea of returning to what were once their homes is a big deal for Palestinians.
  • One thing we never understood is that Israelis are really worried about being surrounded by hostile Arab countries.
  • One thing we never understood is that poverty is a serious issue in India.

Feel free to add your own suggestions below. Otherwise, open thread!


Current and Proposed Maine Slogans

  • Maine: Vacationland...
  • Maine: Life as it should be...
  • Raymond, Maine: Home of the landlocked salmon...
  • Maine: Where the construction workers are surprised and alarmed if you obey the signs they wave...
  • Maine: We drive fast and erratically on two lane roads...
  • Maine: All Ur biting insects R B-long to us, California!...
  • Maine: All Ur summer rains R B-long to us, California!...
  • Maine: Lobster-themed products aren't just a good idea, they are the law...
  • Maine: Where "BLT" means "bacon, lobster, and tomato"...
  • Maine: Where Mcdonalds serves lobster rolls...
  • Maine: Where 7-11 serves lobster rolls...
  • Maine: Where Tim Horton's and Dunkin Donuts do not yet serve lobster rolls, but their resistance is futile...
  • Maine: Where else can you get lobster tempura sushi?

Matthew Yglesias Asks a Question

He is puzzled by his soon-to-be-ex-colleague Marc Ambinder:

Matthew Yglesias: Good Advice: As sometimes happens when I read Marc Ambinder's blog, today I'm puzzled by the mentality of the campaign reporter:

While we've been focusing on the race card, the Republican echo chamber has been sounding full tilt about Barack Obama's Jimmy Carter-esque turn as advice columnist to Americans about energy. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity spent part of their broadcast mocking Obama for urging Americans to inflate their tires to help conserve gasoline. Obama had a point, and the auto industry recommends the same thing as do governors Schwarzenegger and Crist, but nevermind; the ridicule fix is in. An effective GOP shot.

Here's my understanding of the sequence of events. Gas prices are on the rise. Consumers are feeling pain, harm is being done to the economy. Oil companies begin posting record profits. John McCain and the GOP propose a series of giveaways to oil companies that economists doubt will do anything to reduce gasoline prices in the short run. These measures will, however, starve the government of revenue for infrastructure, harm the environment, and devastate coastal economies. Barack Obama counters with a tip that will do no harm to the economy or the public purse but will allow people to save money in the short, medium, and long runs. Obama's proposal is endorsed by the auto industry as sound (similarly, fully inflated bike tires make you go faster), and has been embraced by the most successful politicians in the Republican Party today. But Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity mock it along with the rest of the "Republican echo chamber."

The upshot is deemed to be . . . success for the echo chamber, "an effective GOP shot." But why? Maybe the attack will be reported in a way that's helpful to Republicans. But why should it be reported that way? Why should slamming Obama for offering sound, bipartisan, industry-endorsed advice be an effective attack?

Because informing the American voters is not something that it ever enters Mark Ambinder's mind that he should do.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?


John Yoo: In His Own Words

John Yoo speaks to Esquire:

Print John Yoo: In His Own Words: Congress is going to have, several times every year, a chance to vote on funding the Iraq War.... If 51 percent of the members of the House -- they just don’t have to vote. The reason they’re not doing it is they recognize the political reality, which is that 51 percent of the public doesn’t want them to withdraw precipitously. But don’t pretend it’s the Bush administration that’s doing it....

They could say, “We’re only going to fund 200 for six months, and then only 150,000.” Funding power is how Congress controls the entire administrative state. I used to do it. When I was working for Hatch, we used to use the funding power all the time to control the agencies. They could do it with the military, too, if they wanted to. I think it’s just a political will problem...

I don’t have any problems with Congress funding cutoffs, passing the MCA, not confirming generals, holding oversight hearings, all the things they do.... I don’t think, based on my reading, that the court system was intended to mediate disputes between the two branches about war. If people have objections to the conduct of the war, take over the Congress and pass a law. Cut off the funds. I have no problem with the way Vietnam ended. The Democrats had a majority and they passed a funding cutoff....

I always try to separate between legally and policy. Legally it’s constitutional. If Congress has given the president the armed forces, he can use force abroad and Congress can stop him with the power of the purse...

I have to say, though, I don’t think of myself as having any special knowledge. Or about Iraq.... Nobody ever asked me in the government whether it was a good idea. I certainly criticized the reconstruction strategy -- I gave this big speech at AEI and wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times saying we should let the country fall apart and keep it in three pieces, just guarantee its external security and let them fight it out...

The stuff I worked on was the legal stuff. So I never went to a meeting or even remember discussing with anyone about the merits. I thought the president could use force in Iraq. It was definitely constitutional once Congress passed a law authorizing the president to use force in Iraq....

Of all the things I worked on, the initial ideas or proposals came from -- came from career people, people who served there as part of the permanent bureaucracy. None of them, as far as I know, were political appointees hanging around saying, Yeah, let’s do these things.... Legally, they’re not owed any of those rights in the Geneva Convention. As a matter of policy, the government can choose to give it to them if they want. What they’re doing is giving them a mixture. They’re giving them some rights but not the full amount...

You could say you should apply the Geneva Conventions to everyone all the time, that otherwise you undermine the conventions globally. Or you could say that if you don’t give the rights to people who disobey the rules, there’s no incentive for anyone to obey the rules.... They [Nazi Germany] were a nation state. They mistreated their citizens, but in the fighting they were pretty scrupulous about obeying the rules of war, at least in the war against the West...

I met with some of the people at the agencies and the military, and I don’t like them getting hung out either, so that’s, I think, one of the reasons I try to do all the writing and speaking I do. These people asked me for my professional judgment about what they were doing and I thought what they wanted to do was legal. I do not respect people who then, having done that, run off and hide.... If they did things based on the legal judgment I had, I ought to defend it. They’re not the lawyers. I was. So I feel like if you’re a doctor and you have a diagnosis of someone, you should be able to explain publicly the diagnosis. I feel some people in the Bush administration have sold out CIA agents or military officers.... I think Ashcroft should have stood up publicly for what he believed in. In Washington obviously there’s always a lot of wish to get away from the controversy, but I don’t think it does a service to the ones who actually do the fighting...

[T]he Geneva Convention issue comes up around December of 2001 and gets settled January of 2002.... [E]veryone in the government agreed that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al Qaeda. The thing we were arguing about was whether it applied to the Taliban. But no one dissented that Geneva applied to al Qaeda...

[T]he question of whether Geneva Conventions applied to al Qaeda was a straightforward question, at least to me. The policy question is much more difficult -- whether they should apply them as a matter of policy. There’s a balance. Is this going to degrade military discipline? Is it going to give us a bad image versus does it produce gains in security? Is it part of the message that terrorists are not going to be given the same status as people who follow the rules? It’s a very difficult tradeoff. And then it’s harder and harder because there’s the question, If you don’t give them full Geneva Conventions, what are you going to give them? That’s a hard question, too. I think the legal questions are much easier than those fine, hard-grained policy issues. It think those are very hard questions. It’s not my job to say what they should do.... We’re not going to obey the Geneva Conventions but we’ll be close, consistent with humane principles. I agree that they should not receive the kind of recognition and benefits as, say, a solider from a country who followed all the rules of war would get. But I think it’s a very difficult question. And again, people who have these “obvious” right answers are, I think, misleading people. Or they just don’t see both sides. All these policy questions have a tradeoff of various thin...

I think that’s unfair, first because Goldsmith never issued an opinion of his own. He’s certainly free to criticize. It goes back to unless you’ve actually made the hard decision yourself, then you don’t really know how you think it through. Or what you would do. So he says “slapdash opinion,” but we have no idea what he would have done because he left. Second thing is, it went through the normal process opinions go through in the Justice Department. It was primarily worked on by career staff people and then went through a process of editing and review by different offices within the department, no different than any other. He [Ashcroft] approved it. And so the idea that it’s slapdash or it was haphazard I don’t think was true. We were under time pressure...

There wasn’t a lot of back and forth and people saying, “This is wrong, you need to delete this.” I think that there was no pressure from any other agency from within the department that the opinion was going too far -- or that it wasn’t going far enough. It was very much hands-off, I think. That doesn’t surprise me considering how sensitive the issue was. People wanted the office, I think, to take the full responsibility.... Has Congress ever used this phrase [“death, organ failure, or permanent damage”] anywhere ever before? I think it was about health care.... It’s the phrase Congress used. The main criticism, which is certainly fair, is that statute is so different from this one. How can you borrow the language of one and include it in the other? On the other hand, that’s the closest you can get to any definition of that phrase at all.... I didn’t want the opinion to be vague so that the people who actually have to carry things out don’t have a clear line, because I think that would be very damaging and unfair to the people who are actually asked to do these things...

Now you can say those words are shocking because they’re too clear. But that’s why, “Let’s see if there’s any language that defines this phrase that we can draw from somewhere else.” Because I don’t want to make some vague, beating-around-the-bush standard. This is unpleasant. Don’t interpret what I’m saying as, Oh, I was happy to do this or eager, or I felt some satisfaction. Mainly because I had read what the British and the Israelis had gone through -- they had their own struggle with this issue and they had their own judicial decisions, and I had read all kinds of articles and books about this issue. I mean, it’s a difficult issue. You have to draw the line. What the government is doing is unpleasant. It’s the use of violence. I don’t disagree with that. But I also think that part of the job, unfortunately, of being a lawyer sometimes is you have to draw those lines.... This one you could say, “Look, here’s a line that’s very clear. It comes from this other statute Congress passed. It comes from a different context, but that’s the language Congress used, and if you want to change it, you can change it”...

I really tried to distinguish between law and policy. Here’s this language Congress used in a statute... we know a list of things that violate that statute. In the opinion, it does provide things which were said to be torture by Congress when it passed the law, and it did list things which other courts found to be torture.... [T]he opinion contains a list of things you can do and things you can’t do. For example, Congress was quite clear when it ratified this treaty and the executive branch signed it that police brutality doesn’t count. So how do you define torture so that it doesn’t include common cases of police brutality, which can be very violent?.... The easy thing to do would have been to just repeat a vague standard that sounded good and then sort of wink to the CIA that you can go ahead and do whatever you want -- which is somewhat what I feel the people who came after me did.... I agree, the language is not pleasing, it’s not politically savvy. I didn’t see that as my job.

Here’s where I think of it differently: The proposal for interrogation methods comes from the CIA. It comes from the career people. They want to know if what they want to do is legal.... [C]ircumstance put people in the position of having to make this very difficult choice... using coercive measures against Abu Zubaydah to learn what he knew. I think there are some moral questions. It’s not obvious to see where it goes. Do you use interrogation methods against the guy who is the number-three leader of the terrorist group which has shown that it could carry out devastating attacks on our country?... But the other side of the moral question is the lives you might save by finding out what he knows.... I thought in this case there were enough safeguards and controls on them that it wouldn’t have been abused. And again, this goes to Iraq. If the Iraq War had never happened and Abu Ghraib never happened, would people be as upset about this?...

[T]he Constitution can’t protect against bad decisions.... Congress and the president make terrible decisions, and have in the past.... You [could] slow it down so the country can’t act quickly. You’re going to have costs to that, too.... World War II is a great example of that. Because of Congress, Roosevelt couldn’t bring us into the war in 1940. We had to have Pearl Harbor.... You could have a system that goes to either extreme and they all have costs and benefits. The thing the framers were really worried about was not that the president would make a mistake but that the president would become dictator. I really don’t think Bush has become that...

Zawahiri and bin Laden are the political leadership. The operational leader is the guy we captured. And he is the guy who wrote their manual on resistance to interrogation. So any normal thing we try he would recognize and counter. So you have a choice, if you want to use interrogation methods that are coercive that you don’t think are going to cause any long-term permanent harm. Are you willing to forego those? I have a hard time believing an American president would say, No, absolutely not. I personally don’t believe that Gore or any responsible president would say, “No way, don’t ask him any more questions, give him a lawyer.” Now, six years later, we’ve successfully stopped their attacks, we’ve broken up their cells, they’re on the run. You could say, “Well, we can take two or three months to interrogate them”...


Marching Through Georgia, or "Some Damn Fool Thing in the Caucasus"...

Adam Blomfield of the Torygraph:

Georgia conflict: Screams of the injured rise from residential streets: Mr Saakashvilli may also have banked on support from his closest ally, US president George W Bush, whose administration is said to have given tacit support for a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in the believe that the territory could be recaptured within 48 hours.

But as events have unfolded differently, Washington has offered Georgia - one of the largest contributors of troops in Iraq - little more than lukewarm vocal support. In a demonstration of the fact that Georgia could be abandoned by its chief ally, President Bush warmly embraced Mr Putin at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday. With the West apparently unwilling to participate in a proxy war with Russia at a time when relations with Moscow are already highly strained, Georgia now faces potential isolation in its conflict with its giant neighbour. Already the economic consequences of the war are being felt as Western specialists involved in helping Georgia develop its infrastructure began to flee...

Of the four big potential threats to world peace--the Islamic Reformation, the rising industrial power that is Imperial Wilhelmine China, the potential for a National Hinduist India, and Weimar Russia--Weimar Russia may be the most dangerous.


If You Are Not Reading Dean Baker's Beat The Press...

...you should be: Beat The Press | The American Prospect.

And you should also be reading Todd Gitlin. For example this:

CJR: Sunday Watch 8-10-08: On Meet the Press Sunday, David Gregory told his political round table:

The big question…on the campaign trail is readiness to lead, to handle a crisis like this [Russia-Georgia]. And the readiness issue has been a huge theme of the attack ads that Senator McCain has launched against Senator Obama. It’s been something you’ve seen in, in all of the ads. Let’s show clips from each of some recent ads to drive that point home. Watch.

Crowd: (In unison) Obama! Obama! Obama!

Narrator #3: (From political ad) Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family? He’s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead? Not ready to lead, that’s the real Obama.

Gregory resumed:

There is a fundamental question, which is the question mark over Barack Obama’s head to a lot of voters, is he really ready? Does he have enough experience to take on the issues?

David Gregory appears to have a limited supply of question marks at his disposal. He doesn’t see any over John McCain’s head. None about McCain’s top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, who had been, until recently, a paid lobbyist for the government of Georgia. None about how Scheunemann lobbied McCain’s staff on behalf of Georgia, while at work in McCain’s presidential campaign. None about Scheunemann’s job at Worldwide Strategic Energy making deals to help Georgia develop its hydrocarbon industry. None about Scheunemann’s history as a principal backer of the Iraq war and promoter of Iraq’s putative rescuer, Ahmad Chalabi. So many question marks, so many blind spots. No, to Gregory, the Russian-Georgian war provides one of those 3 A.M. moments when you wake up, rub your eyes, and see question marks circulating over the other guy’s head.

Speaking of blind spots, Gregory went on to ask whether McCain’s efforts to “define Barack Obama”—“define” is political talk for “insult”—risk “this maverick image,” as if “the maverick image” were some sort of accepted fact, as if it hadn’t already been exploded at book length by Matt Welch in McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, as if it were more important to speculate about the fate of an image than about its accuracy.

Meanwhile, over at CBS’s Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer found nothing amusing about Karl Rove’s suggestion—yes, that Karl Rove—that “part of the reason why Senator Obama is in the shape he is in today is because he’s failed to run a positive campaign. He’s run a negative campaign. He’s claimed to be something new and different, and yet given these - you know, it is really beyond the pale to sit there and insinuate that Senator McCain is somehow going to attack him for being black, which is what he did for over a month.” Schieffer’s penetrating response was: “What do you think John McCain ought to do?”

Later, Schieffer asked Rove: “Does he need to separate himself from your old boss, George Bush? Separate himself more?” To which Rove replied: “John McCain’s not George Bush. He ran against him in 2000.” Schieffer seemed not to know that McCain has voted with Bush 100 percent of the time in 2008 and 95 percent of the time in 2007. If he knew, would he care?

You know an anchor is out of his depth when he feels the need to defend himself from a withering attack by—Paris Hilton. Yes, that Paris Hilton, who taped her own funny comeback ad last week and stuck it in John McCain’s face. Schieffer, being a wrinkly white-haired guy, took major umbrage and seemed to feel it was incumbent upon him to stand up four-square for all wrinkly white-haired guys thusly:

I am compelled now to stand up for old white-haired dudes and point out we actually have several advantages over others. For example: If forced, we can drink coffee straight from a mug. We don’t need to sip it through a little hole in a plastic top on a cardboard container to make it taste good. Since we grew up when telephones had cords and telephone booths had doors, we know how to keep phone conversations private. We were lucky enough to grow up when it was safe for kids to walk to school and we learned the lessons that came from having to organize our own after school games...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?


Cleaning Up the Drafts File: Amanda Marcotte on the Falling Price of SUVs

From Pandagon:

Pandagon :: A land of unsaleable Canyoneros :: May :: 2008: I realize there are a lot of people on the internet who preen like they rarely make bad decisions, and when they do, they recant immediately, but you’ll see that such people rarely offer examples of how this has actually happened in their lives. We all get into the rationalization cycle, some more than others, but we all do it.... I bring this up, because if you know much about the rationalization spiral, then the fact that America’s reaction to increasing evidence of both peak oil and global warming would be to reduce our average gas mileage was entirely predictable. Some... [of us] presented with the evidence, were likely to get more efficient vehicles or start taking more public transportation/walks/bicycles... the truth is mostly that we weren’t that invested in car culture to begin with.... But for people who really like cars and driving, it was entirely predictable that they’d be eager to rationalize it to themselves not only by denying that we were facing sustainability problems, but that they’d double down by halving their gas mileage.

Which is why I agree with Tim F. that singing “I told you so” isn’t that fun after all.

I don’t feel particularly smug when I stand next to my Honda Fit watching some SUV owner near tears as she puts more than $100 of gas into a car she doesn’t need. It just feels sad to think about how long it’s been since it became obvious to anyone who cared to look that we won’t be able to scare off problems like fuel scarcity and climate change by closing our eyes and wishing. That lead time was an opportunity to make changes... [that] would [have] prevent[ed] huge numbers of honest Americans get caught with their pants down. Instead we blew it out the tailpipe of cars that average 15 MPG.... It’s simply unsustainable to live in suburban car country with a negative equity on the house, $6-7 gas... and expensive SUVs that nobody wants. The saddest thing for me was that most who will get fucked the worst had no idea this was coming. There was that one guy who warned us, but he had a snooty laugh.

On an individual level, it’s easy to feel superior to people who bought SUVs and are paying for it now. But that’s foolish, because we all rationalize our choices.... I’m going to suggest that the people who exploited this rationalization tendency hold the lion’s share of the blame... right wing pundits, car companies, and oil companies did all the hard psychological rationalizing work.... They painted critics as effeminate hippies... sanctimonious and nosy.... They gave people pseudo-scientific explanations they could latch onto.... It’s a P.R. strategy that only had to work on enough people, and it did.


Hoisted from Comments: The Dawn of Humanity

Hoisted from Comments: The Dawn of Humanity

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: The Dawn of Humanity: What astonishes me is the speed. They've got the origin date at -56,000, and the oldest modern human remains in Australia are -40,000. The route from East Africa across Asia to Northern Australia is 10K+ miles, which means humans were expanding at close to a mile a year. That's just unbelievably fast.

We have all sorts of branches of homo surviving stably for a million plus years all over africa, asia, and europe, and this new branch comes out of Africa and by the end of the Great Migration, only a little over ten thousand years later, they are building boats to sail to Australia. And wiping out or out-competing every one of our homo sibling species on the way.

The Singularity is truly in our past.

Posted by: tavella | January 23, 2007 at 05:15 PM


Stupidest Men Alive (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

I introduced my daughter to Emmanuel Saez the other day, which reminded me that I haven't heard *National Review* talking about how income has actually become more equal in quite a while, and that it is time to hoist this from the archives:

"Stupidest Man Alive" is no longer sufficient. We must now refer to the financial writers at National Review as the Stupidest Men AliveTM. There are just too many of them.

I really do not understand why the culture, society, and foreign-policy people at NR--who do, sometimes, have things to say that they want people who are not on the Bush payroll to listen to--haven't risen up in revolt, for appearing cheek-by-jowl to the work of the Stupidest Men Alive destroys their credibility as well.

Mark Thoma watches Thomas Nugent self-destruct in an implosion of stupidity:

Economist's View: Thomas Nugent... questions the integrity of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.... "(Is there a potential bias in these studies?)".... If he has evidence [which he does not: Saez and Piketty have been very careful, and are very good; I'd take even odds that at least one of them will do something to win the Nobel Prize someday], put it on the table....

[T]he... attack... on Krugman's presentation of inequality statistics... without basis. For example, [Nugent] whines:

[W]hat is the basis for his growing inequality assumption? Is he referring to levels of income? Wealth? After-tax income?

Well, if he'd check Krugman's Money Talks page for a section called "On Tracking Inequality" he might be enlightened. It's all there, including links to the original data. A simple email to Krugman would have straightened it out as well, but of course, that would undermine the attack squad effort....

Mark Thoma does not do Nugent justice. Here's a sample of the loony:

Thomas E. Nugent on Paul Krugmand and Inequality on NRO Financial: Some of Krugman’s inequality cohorts prefer to use median or average family income in presenting their arguments. But what further undermines any of these positions is that we have added millions of people to the list of employed, most of whom are at the lower end of the income scale. Being a math major, such additions would tell me that the traditional “average” income level would fall. Seven million new workers are better off than if they didn’t have a job. How do the redistributionists argue against that economic gain?...

Well, the "redistributionists" point out that the median household income has fallen. Increases in employment have come about overwhelmingly because the population has increased, not because a given American has a greater chance of finding a job. 64.4% of working-age adults had jobs in 2000. 63.1% of working-age adults had jobs today. That employment as a share of adults is only 98/100 of what it was in 2000 has played a big part in keeping the lid on most people's wages and salaries--supply and demand, you know--which has played a big part in widening inequality.

Here's another sample:

The Treasury reports that the majority of American families with incomes below $40,000 pay no income taxes at all today, while many in this group receive welfare subsidies. According to Krugman, “Now the rich are getting richer, but most working Americans are losing ground.” In a booming economy when global wealth is growing, I find it difficult to believe that “most” working Americans are losing ground, especially when many of them pay low or no taxes and employment is at record levels.

Yes, in a booming economy it would be difficult to believe that most working Americans are losing ground. So the fact that the best data we have makes it look like we are is something we should take seriously.

There is one interesting point. Thomaa refers to it here:

[Nugent's] overall point is to deny that there is widening inequality.... He actually claims inequality has [recently] narrowed:

During the first four years of the George W. Bush presidency, the income share of the top 1 percent fell slightly to 19 percent from 20.8 percent...

Here, however, Nugent is, I think, simply picking up a line from Greg Mankiw--who is, I think, simply wrong here. Greg wrote:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: New Data on Income Inequality: In today's NY Times, Paul Krugman calls attention to the update of the Piketty-Saez data on income inequality, although Paul describes the data differently than I would.Here is what I see: After rising substantially from 1986 to 2000, income inequality is essentially the same in 2004 (the most recent year of data) as it was in 2000...

Take a look:

What I think: I can't be as optimistic as Greg is that the trend of rising inequality has come to an end. Where Greg sees an essentially flat trend from 2000-2004, I see numbers for 1998-2000 that were temporarily boosted by the dot-com bubble, and then a decrease in inequality from 2000-2002 as the bubble ebbed--a decrease that was then reversed in 2003-2004 as inequality rose again, and the gap between median salaries and productive suggests that inequality has continued rising since.

I wish that income inequality has peaked. I think my wishes are vain.


Academic Administration for Dummies

"OK. So Gerard is the new Ben. And Paul was the old new Jim. But now Paul has gone to Poughkeepsie. So who is the new Paul?" "I don't know. I've been on vacation. I do know that Clare is the new Clare..." "The.new Paul has not been Revealed as of yet." "Are you the new Paul?" "I? I could never be the new Paul. I am not fit to tie the thong of his sandle." "I want to know when the other new Jim is showing up to play with Alan, Raj, Emmanuel, and Gene..." Four public finance graduate students poke their heads out of their offices. "Yes, tell us!" they say. They look the least bit like characters on the Nature Channel show "Meetkat Manor"...

Justin Fox Likes Jim Manzi; I Am Not Sure Why...

Justin Fox likes Jim Manzi:

The Curious Capitalist - Justin Fox - Economy - Markets - Business - TIME: I think Jim Manzi, surely the most interesting new conservative voice on economic issues to emerge in the past few years, has produced a screed against Obamanomics.... A sample:

Growing inequality and middle-class wage stagnation are big problems for America. But trying to re-regulate the economy and redistribute income is a cure worse than the disease. Of course, all of my criticisms of Obama’s economic plans would also be a lot more useful if his opponent seemed to care at all about any of these issues, and was presenting creative alternatives. Further, for all of my litany of dumb things Obama wants to do (and things that the current government is doing right now) to inhibit growth, the United States is a very rich country with a strong economy. Subject to normal ups-and-downs, it is likely to keep growing for a long time even if Obama does all he wants to do. If you keep eating enough french fries, however, eventually you’re going to have a heart attack.

I'm not saying Manzi is necessarily right. His post begins by approvingly citing Boskin, after all. But this is what the discussion ought to be about.

Well I will say that Manzi is wrong. I don't understand why Justin Fox approves of him.

Here is Manzi:

High Taxes Kill Jobs: I’ve been trying for weeks to get around to cataloging just how many bad economic policies Obama has proposed.... For all the “We are the change we’ve been waiting for” yak-yak about a new generation or whatever, and for all the celebrated economists who are advising him, the odds-on candidate for the U.S. presidency has apparently decided to do his best to recreate the economy of the late 1970s. One important part of this is the incentives that his tax policies will create.... Obama’s proposed tax policies would likely reduce... new company start-ups. Long story short, expect many fewer new companies to be founded if Obama gets his way on economic policy. Given that something like 7 million people in the U.S. work in companies that are or were venture-backed, including a majority of the employees in high-growth sectors of the economy like computers and software, this is likely to matter a lot in the long run.

The key thing to keep in mind about the economics of starting a growth company is that generally you are trading lower current income and much longer hours for some years in exchange for the low-odds chance of a big payday.... The potential pot of gold has to be very big to get people to make the leap.... [C]onsider Anne’s incentives as they exist the moment before she makes the leap. As she considers whether to do it, her potential payday gets two big haircuts under the Obama plan versus current tax rates: (1) she loses an additional 10% of her payout when she sells the company or goes public, due to the higher capital gains tax rate, and then (2) unless she plans to buy and eat an immense number of pizzas and cheese steaks the day she sells the company, she will invest the proceeds, and will now expect to pay higher taxes on all of the capital gains, dividends and interest income that she will earn on this in perpetuity. The second haircut is actually the larger one...

I think we can stop there. I am a progressive-consumption-tax guy myself--I don't like to see capital income taxed unless that tax is linked to high consumption spending in some way. But the claim that Anne's entire stake is subject to the capital gains tax on the day of the IPO is so false as to be totally bonkers.

No, Justin, keep looking.


How Microsoft's Incompetence Will Bring Us DRM-Free Music

Tim Anderson:

How Apple is changing DRM | Technology | The Guardian: When Apple approached record companies about selling their music digitally five years ago, they "were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied", according to Steve Jobs's recollection of the process. That meant using digital rights management (DRM) - a software wrapper - to protect songs from unlimited copying. Jobs says it is crucial to the contract: "If our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store."...

If DRM does not in fact discourage piracy, then it is merely a nuisance for the user. Now the Guardian understands that most download stores will remove DRM on permanent music downloads. "We are going to be selling non-DRM music from the summer", says Dave Elston, HMV's digital content manager, adding that it would solve "obvious interoperability issues."... Amazon has announced that its DRM-free MP3 download store, already online in the US, will be rolled out internationally later this year.... [T]he music companies are now abandoning DRM because it worked too well. Apple wouldn't license its version to rivals - so the best-selling iPod drove the iTunes store to its present position, where it is the third-largest music retailer in any form in the US. Rosenblatt says that record labels "have been desperate to find a viable competitor to Apple and iTunes.".... "The record companies don't like dealing with Apple, because Apple is in a position where it can dictate the economic terms and dictate the business models," says Rosenblatt. "What's going to draw people away from iTunes? One answer is to get rid of DRM."

Last month, former customers of Microsoft's defunct MSN Music store in the US received an unwelcome email. "As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of licence keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers," it said.... The problem is worse than it first appears, since a "new" device may actually be your existing PC. Some users habitually reinstall Windows to keep it running sweetly, but doing so removes its authorisation.... Worse still, the DRM component in Windows can get corrupted for no apparent reason.

This is a common problem for users installing the BBC's iPlayer software, for example, which also uses Microsoft DRM. The fix, described in detail on the iPlayer support pages, involves deleting all the files in the hidden DRM folder within Windows. A side effect is that existing licences are destroyed - so existing DRM-protected files could well no longer play.... If the licence server has been turned off, the music will never, ever play again. What if you back up your licences? This used to be possible through Windows Media Player. But Microsoft removed the option from version 11, introduced for Windows Vista. Microsoft's Adam Anderson told us that licence backup did not work properly anyway...


The McCain Campaign Makes Up Its Own Facts on Health Care

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal is moderating a debate between my long-time friend David Cutler of the Obama campaign and Jay Khosla of the McCain campaign--and lets, without editorial comment, Khosla make false statements about the Obama campaign health care proposals.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And everyone is entitled to their own analytica view about the way the world works. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.

The WSJ does its readers no good service when it doesn't provide basic fact checking about campaign characterizations of their opponents' proposals.

Khosla claims that the Obama campaign plan contains an employer mandate. It doesn't. Cutler and company got thwacked regularly throughout the primaries because the plan set forth did not contain a universal mandate of any sort:

http://hillaryclintonclub.com/2008/04/voters-see-very-different-healthcare.html Hillary Cinton Club: Clinton's plan, with an estimated $110 billion annual price tag for the government, would require everyone to have coverage. Obama would make coverage mandatory only for children. His plan would cost roughly $50 billion to $65 billion a year. "If it's accessible and affordable, they'll buy it, independent of whether they have to buy it or not," says David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard who's advising the Obama campaign. Not true, argues the Clinton camp. Without a mandate, some people, especially young, healthy ones, are going to skip signing up, and their participation is key to balancing out the higher healthcare costs of those who are sick. Who's right? It's not clear, though economists have generally sided with Clinton on this issue...

http://blog.econtech.selfip.org/2008/02/more-on-health-insurance-mandates/ Richard Eskow: The Obama plan does not include mandates. Health mandates are popular among many Democratic-leaning health policy analysts. The Clinton campaign has been going after Obama aggressively on this issue. They’ve said that the absence of mandates is a basic flaw in Obama’s plan; suggested a cynical political calculus behind Obama’s position said that his position feeds a Republican narrative; and took the position that Obama’s plan is politically vulnerable while theirs (and Edwards’) is a political plus in the general election...

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/02/david-cutler-on.html Tyler Cowen: Cutler is very smart, tenured at Harvard, arguably the leading health care economist, and yes he is an advisor to Barack Obama. He says mandates are not the way to go, and no I do not think he is just "falling in line" here. Read the whole thing. Yes, the key is to make insurance cheaper, not more expensive. Yes, mandates are a political loser. Yes, ex post fiddling can make up for a lot of the problems in the "no mandate" approach and there is going to be lots of ex post fiddling anyway...

http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=02&year=2008&base_name=another_note_on_richard_eskows Ezra Klein: Here's the thing: The Obama plan does not make health insurance affordable. It does not arrest its growth. It does not even come close. Nor, it should be said, does Clinton's plan. But Clinton's plan, by establishing a universal health system, creates the pressures and incentives to retain and improve a universal health system -- otherwise, you have hordes of angry citizens caught between a mandate they can't evade and a plan they can't afford. Obama's plan makes some incremental improvements, but by not creating a universal system or having intense cost controls (and none of the plans do, as such controls are not politically palatable), it will simply return to a state of slow deterioration. So the difference between the plans is that in Clinton's case, we know the spur that will force her to continue reforming, improving, and pressuring the system: It's the mandate. With Obama, we don't know what that spur is, save for a generalized desire to improve the health care system. And I don't trust that as enough. Rather, I worry that attention will turn to other things, and though our system will be better for Obama's improvements, it will not be sufficiently changed, and it will definitely not be universal...

Yet you printed what Jay Khosla wrote that:


Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal is moderating a debate between my long-time friend David Cutler of the Obama campaign and Jay Khosla of the McCain campaign--and lets, without editorial comment, Khosla make false statements about the Obama campaign health care proposals. Jay Khosla either does not know what the Obama health plan is, or knows and is a sociopath who does not mind lying one whit. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And everyone is entitled to their own analytica view about the way the world works. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.

The WSJ does its readers no good service when it doesn't provide basic fact checking about campaign characterizations of their opponents' proposals.

Jay Khosla writes:

http://blogs.wsj.com/agenda/category/health/ Shaping the new Agenda: Health: Jay Khosla: The Obama plan imposes an employer mandate to provide coverage while simultaneously allowing employers to simply put them in the national plan. Faced with tough economic conditions and rising health care costs, this creates a clear incentive for employers to simply drop coverage and move their employees into the national plan. According to a study done by the Lewin Group on John Edwards plan, which had a very similar employer mandate combined with a national plan option, almost 52 million individuals would lose their private employer coverage...

May I ask why you printed this? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And everyone is entitled to their own analytica view about the way the world works. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts. The WSJ should either have blown the whistle and told Khosla to go back and rewrite without patently false characterizations of his opponent's proposals, or should have engaged in some in-line editorial fact-checking, or should have run a debate like this only with a neutral arbiter-referee on the field to call intellectual fouls.

I know that Laura Meckler knows what is going on with the McCain campaign here. She is an excellent reporter, and I recall the well-done http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120882415111033181.html?mod=googlenews_wsj. But the WSJ is not doing its readers any good service when i presents Cutler vs. Khosla in the raw this way.

Jay Khosla writes:

Shaping the new Agenda: Health: The Obama plan imposes an employer mandate to provide coverage while simultaneously allowing employers to simply put them in the national plan. Faced with tough economic conditions and rising health care costs, this creates a clear incentive for employers to simply drop coverage and move their employees into the national plan.

According to a study done by the Lewin Group on John Edwards plan, which had a very similar employer mandate combined with a national plan option, almost 52 million individuals would lose their private employer coverage...

At this point Laura Meckler should have blown the whistle and told Khosla to go back and rewrite. Under the Obama campaign plan firms that don't offer employer-sponsored coverage are required to pay 6% of payroll to help pay for the costs of covering the uninsured, so in many cases it would make business sense to add private-employer coverage (and the number of workers with such coverage would grow, not shrink). But there is no requirement that firms do so: there simply is no employer mandate.

Indeed, when David Cutler was doing his briefings on Obama campaign ideas about health care during the primaries, he get regularly thwacked because the Obama campaign plan expressly did not include an employer mandate.

Hillary Cinton Club: Clinton's plan, with an estimated $110 billion annual price tag for the government, would require everyone to have coverage. Obama would make coverage mandatory only for children. His plan would cost roughly $50 billion to $65 billion a year. "If it's accessible and affordable, they'll buy it, independent of whether they have to buy it or not," says David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard who's advising the Obama campaign. Not true, argues the Clinton camp. Without a mandate, some people, especially young, healthy ones, are going to skip signing up, and their participation is key to balancing out the higher healthcare costs of those who are sick. Who's right? It's not clear, though economists have generally sided with Clinton on this issue...

Richard Eskow: The Obama plan does not include mandates. Health mandates are popular among many Democratic-leaning health policy analysts. The Clinton campaign has been going after Obama aggressively on this issue. They’ve said that the absence of mandates is a basic flaw in Obama’s plan; suggested a cynical political calculus behind Obama’s position said that his position feeds a Republican narrative; and took the position that Obama’s plan is politically vulnerable while theirs (and Edwards’) is a political plus in the general election...

Tyler Co WEN: Cutler is very smart, tenured at Harvard, arguably the leading health care economist, and yes he is an advisor to Barack Obama.  He says mandates are not the way to go, and no I do not think he is just "falling in line" here.  Read the whole thing.  Yes, the key is to make insurance cheaper, not more expensive.  Yes, mandates are a political loser.  Yes, ex post fiddling can make up for a lot of the problems in the "no mandate" approach and there is going to be lots of ex post fiddling anyway...

Ezra Klein: Here's the thing: The Obama plan does not make health insurance affordable. It does not arrest its growth. It does not even come close. Nor, it should be said, does Clinton's plan. But Clinton's plan, by establishing a universal health system, creates the pressures and incentives to retain and improve a universal health system -- otherwise, you have hordes of angry citizens caught between a mandate they can't evade and a plan they can't afford. Obama's plan makes some incremental improvements, but by not creating a universal system or having intense cost controls (and none of the plans do, as such controls are not politically palatable), it will simply return to a state of slow deterioration. So the difference between the plans is that in Clinton's case, we know the spur that will force her to continue reforming, improving, and pressuring the system: It's the mandate. With Obama, we don't know what that spur is, save for a generalized desire to improve the health care system. And I don't trust that as enough. Rather, I worry that attention will turn to other things, and though our system will be better for Obama's improvements, it will not be sufficiently changed, and it will definitely not be universal...

I am no match for David Cutler on the economics of health care, but I tend to think that the Democratic critiques of the Obama campaign proposals have pointed out a problem with it--that the Obama campaign plan is likely to work better with an employer mandate than without. But it does not have a mandate.

And for Khosla to say, and for the WSJ to print, that Obama's health care plan does contain an employer mandate is below the bar.


I Have Yet Another Problem with Mark Graber...

I'm not sure whether I have problems with Mark Graber or he has problems with reality--this is, remember, a twenty-first century American legal academic who managed to wedge himself into a position to the right of John C. Calhoun. Graber writes:

Balkinization: H. Robert Baker's, The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War is a great choice for persons interested in serious summer reading. The book is a nice summer read because the author writes well and tells a good story. The result is a nice page turner about Wisconsin anti-slavery politics and the Supreme Court’s... denying that state courts could issue writs of habeas corpus to persons in federal custody.... The book is a serious read because Professor Baker raises important questions about popular constitutionalism.... A central theme of both the actual rescue of Joshua Glover, an alleged fugitive slave, and The Rescue of Joshua Glover is... [w]as Sherman Booth’s effort to prevent Glover’s rendition an act of popular constitutionalism... to protect [the rights of] the citizens of Wisconsin, including persons of color? Or was that rescue an act of constitutional usurpation, no more legitimate than the effort of southern states during the 1950s to insist that states could nullify Brown v. Board of Education.... I am not entirely convinced by [Baker's] assertion that there is a sharp distinction between the Wisconsin citizenry of 1856 and the white citizens councils of a later era...

That word "legitimate." It means lawful or according to accepted standards. It also means just or proper or right or appropriate. There is a certain tension here. Mark Graber pretends that this tension doesn't exist--that a phrase like "an illegitimate yet not illegal use of lawful procedures" has no meaning. But it does.

You can place the actions of Sherman Booth and of Orville Faubus on the same plane as equally illegitimate--which Graber does--only if you win three consecutive tricks:

  • The linguistic trick of denying that "legitimate" means both "lawful" and "just," and insisting that it means "lawful" only.
  • The legal trick of denying that the Preamble of the Constitution has emanations that color the rest of the document: the Preamble says that the purpose of the Constitution is to "establish justice" rather than to "enforce lawful order"; Earl Warren, at least, would insist that this does make a difference.
  • The political trick of denying status to the Declaration of Independence. A country that holds it self-evident that people have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that government is legitimate only to the extent that it acts to secure these rights, will interpret its constitution differently than a country that does not hold these self-evident truths.

You have to win all three of these tricks before you place those trying to keep Joshua Glover from being sent south into slavery on the same plane as those throwing rocks at African-American children trying to go to school. I don't find any of them attractive, or especially defensible.


North Korea Watch: The Famine Wolf Is Here

For a decade we have been waiting for the next North Korean famine. Now Marcus Noland is saying that we aren't waiting any more: http://www.iie.com/publications/newsreleases/northkorea0408.pdf

Calculations by Noland and Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego, indicate that the country’s margin of error has virtually disappeared... in recent years available supply has exceeded more appropriately calculated grain requirements... but that this gap has virtually disappeared. “This is a yellow light about to turn red,” says Noland.

Food prices have almost tripled in the last year.... Anecdotal reports describe a breakdown in institutions and increasingly repressive internal behavior. Noland and Haggard forecast that the North Korean regime will ultimately weather this challenge politically by ratcheting up repression and scrambling, albeit belatedly, for foreign assistance.

The North Korean food crisis, now well into its second decade, presents a difficult set of ethical choices. North Korea is critically dependent on food aid, but the government has recklessly soured its relations with the donor community. Yet in the absence of vigorous international action, the victims of this disaster will not be the culpable but the innocent.

As of this writing, it already may be too late to avoid at least some deaths from hunger, and shortages of crucial agricultural inputs such as fertilizer are setting the stage for continuing food problems well into 2009.


Traders! Read the Second Page of the Statistical Release **Before** You Trade!

Traders! Read the second page of the statistical release before you press the button!

Meredith Beechey (who once made the mistake of writing an equation with a pure rate of time preference in front of George Akerlof--a red flag to a bull) and Jonathan Wright have details:

FRB: FEDS paper 2007-5: "Rounding and the Impact of News: A Simple Test of Market Rationality":

Abstract: Certain prominent scheduled macroeconomic news releases contain a rounded number on the first page of the release that is widely cited by newswires and the press, and a more precise number in the text of the release. The whole release comes out at once. We propose a simple test of whether markets are paying attention to the rounded or unrounded numbers by studying the high-frequency market reaction to such news announcements. In the case of inflation releases, we find evidence that markets systematically ignore some of the information in the unrounded number. This is most pronounced for core CPI, a prominent release for which the rounding in the headline number is large relative to the information content of the release.

Keywords: News Announcements, Rounding, Market Efficiency, Rational Inattention


From the Archives: History Has a Liberal Bias

Freshman: "I'm not a Democrat! I don't think I should have to listen to this stuff!"

History News Network: JAMES C. COBB

PARTISAN HISTORY: A FRESHMAN'S PERSPECTIVE: After 34 years of college teaching, I thought I had heard just about every imaginable student complaint. Last week, however, a freshman in my 300-seat US History Since 1865 course came in to discuss her exam with one of the graders and proceeded to work herself into a semi-hissy over the fact that we had spent four class periods (one of them consisting of a visit from Taylor Branch) discussing the civil rights movement.

"I don't know where he's getting all of this," she complained,"we never discussed any of this in high school." One might have let the matter rest here as simply an example of a high school history teacher's sins of omission being visited on the hapless old history prof. had the student not informed the TA in an indignant postcript, "I'm not a Democrat! I don't think I should have to listen to this stuff!"

Given the current student and,in some places, administrative, pressures to put absolutely everything-- notes, study guides, all potential exam questions and answers, etc.-- on the Web, I can envision the day when the Web pages for our classes might read: " In order to insure that the professor's lectures will not offend your political sensibilities or challenge any of your other beliefs and perceptions in any way, please indicate by clicking the appropriate box below whether you prefer the Republican or Democratic version of this course."

Jim Cobb
University of Georgia


Politics in the American Midwest

Ari Kelman reports from the Heartland:

Straight talk. My friends: Having just spent more than a month in Northeast Ohio, I can tell you anecdatally that the economy is THE story there. In my parents’ reasonably nice, middle-class suburb, every third house is on the block (4 bdr/2.5 bath — $159,000!). And the local paper, The Plain Dealer, in addition to running front-page articles about rising food prices, is filled with heartrending human-interest stories about struggling Clevelanders facing hard times. All of that said, I’m not sure that I’d describe the people with whom I spent time as “bitter.” But they’re pretty anxious. Which is likely the right context in which to run an ad like [this].... To be honest, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a more devastating political attack that’s also true. “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” is probably also a contender:

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Buce Talks About the Luckiest Horse in the Fifth Millennium BCE

From Underbelly:

Underbelly: The Luckiest Horse in the Fifth Millennium BCE: The subject for the day is the domestication of the horse, where and when and how and why, as recounted by David W. Anthony in his fascinating and absorbing new book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language (2008)—and also a salute to the luckiest horse.in the Fifth Millennium BCE.

Per Anthony, the date is about 4800 BCE; the place is in what he chooses to call “the Pontic-Caspian steppes,” just above the Caspian Sea. The “why” is interesting: apparently not for riding, but for food—horses were big and meaty and could live over the winter in cold climates (riding came later).

AS to “how,” the flip answer is “it wasn’t easy,” which is not surprising when you stop to think of it: horses—or, more precisely, stallions—are a notoriously tricky lot and they wouldn’t take kindly to being stabled or hobbled or slapped into harness.

But as to precisely how, the DNA evidence provides a remarkable clue. Per Anthony:

the female bloodline of modern domesticated horses shows extreme diversity. Traits inherited through the mitochondrial DNA, which passes unchanged from mother to daughter, show that this part of the bloodline is so diverse that at least seventy-seven ancestral mares, grouped into seventeen phlogenetic branches, are required to account for the genetic variety in modern populations around the globe. Wild mares must have been taken into domestic horse herds in many different places at different times. (196)

So much for the ladies. What of the gents? Anthony continues:

Meanwhle the male aspect of modern horse DNA, which is passed unchanged on the Y chromosome from sire to colt, shows remarkable homogeneity. It is possible that just a single wild stallion was domesticated. (Id.)

Got the picture yet? “The standard feral horse band,” explains Anthony, “consists of a stallion with a harem of two to seven mares and their immature offspring.”

Mares are…instinctively disposed to accept the dominance of others, whether dominant mares, stallions—or humans. Stallions are headstrong and violent, and are instinctively disposed to challenge authority by biting and kicking. … [A] relatively docile and controllable stallion was an unusual individual—and one that had little hope of reproducing in the wild. Horse domestication might have depended on a lucky coincidence: the appearance of a relatively manageable and docile male in a place where humans could use him as a breeder of a domesticated bloodline. From the horse’s perspective, humans were the only way he could get a girl. From the human perspective, he was the only sire they wanted.

So here’s to you, Mr. Lucky, the granddaddy of them all.

Afterthought: Anthony’s book is a rewarding read but it’s hard to figure out just who is his target audience. He seems to have written at least three books here—the horse, the wheel, and language—or maybe six—one set each for specialists and non-specialists. The nonspecialist (that would be me) will get a lot out of it, but he’ll find himself skipping a lot of the detail. The specialist—well, my impression is that nothing is ever settled in archaeology, so I suspect there are plenty of specialists ready to prove to me that he’s full of something horsey.


Progress is Non-Linear

John Gordon:

Gordon's Notes: Progress is non-linear: Palm vs. iPhone Address Book: My iPhone Address book, with about 400 entries, is pretty darned slow.... The Address Book is very slow to launch (4 secs on my phone), but Google Mobile search also searches the Address Book -- and it's fast.... My Palm address book, with about 600 entries, launches instantly. There's no perceptible delay. Time to select an address on the Palm? Maybe 1-2 sec. On the iPhone? Maybe 6-7 seconds. (Faster if you use Google Mobile.) The iPhone has, of course, at least fifty times the processor speed and more than 1,600 times the memory capacity of the original Palm.

The Palm had essentially instantaneous responsiveness from day one. It was one of the design goals of the original team. The Palm was to have instant on, no user waiting for a system response, and no crashes. Incredibly, the original Palm team met those goals. Later... well, that's a sadder story.

Apple will one day fix the iPhone Address Book problems. Heck, Google Mobile already has. It is a good example, however, of the random walk aspect of progress. The iPhone does a lot that the Palm never could, but the original Palm did a lot of things well that the modern iPhone does poorly or not at all. Technological progress is squirrelly.


Henry Farrell on the Latest in Conspiracy Theories

The expertise of Crooked Timber is indeed awesome. Henry Farrell:

Straightforward answers to unnecessarily complicated questions, number whatever the hell it is now — Crooked Timber: I’ve been too caught up in a genuine academic debate over UFOs and sovereignty over at the Monkey Cage to respond to this quasi-related query from Kevin Drum:

Question: According to a poll done to publicize the new X-Files movie, the #1 conspiracy theory (in Britain, anyway) is the belief that Area 51 exists to investigate aliens. … But down at #10, we get this: “The world is run by dinosaur-like reptiles.” What the hell kind of conspiracy theory is that? Dick Cheney doesn’t look anything like a dinosaur.

Answer: It’s a conspiracy theory in which Dick Cheney is a shape-shifting dinosaur-like reptile, that’s what. A shape-shifting dinosaur like reptile who hunts people down for kicks in secret federal compounds, to boot. Crooked Timber surely represents the greatest concentration of expertise on this particular set of claims in the respectable blogosphere – see here, here, and here for more, and this article, by the mysterious “jsm,” for a fuller briefing on the David Icke phenomenon. Indeed one of our occasional contributors has actually been identified by Icke as a key member of the international lizardoid conspiracy. Since Icke came out as an actual anti-Semite, I think that our collective researches have ceased. Maybe, given the continued popularity of the theory, we need to start looking at this stuff again...


More Robert Bork Snark

James Boyle:

A Process of Denial: Bork and Postmodern Conservatism by James Boyle: The better known variant of originalism, and the one that Mr. Bork first adopted and held as recently as 1986, was the philosophy of original intent.The Constitution means what the Framers (or perhaps the Framers and ratifiers) meant it to.... Mr. Bork chose to shift his ground somewhat. In The Tempting of America he argues that the understanding of the public at the time the Constitution was ratified, rather than the intent of its original authors, should determine its meaning. There is obviously a price to pay for making this change.... This problem is a particularly acute one for Mr. Bork. Throughout The Tempting Of America he explicitly connects his struggles to those going on within other disciplines... [that] have rejected the idea that the text can only be read to mean what the author intended.... These other methods are referred to collectively (and a little pretentiously) as "the reader's revolution against the author." They represent everything that Mr. Bork finds most reprehensible in today's scholarship.... But the trouble with Mr. Bork's revamped and sophisticated version of originalism is that it can no longer appeal to the romantic idea that the imperial will of the author must govern the text... he has handed over interpretive competence to the historically located readers of the constitution.... Mr. Bork has joined the reader's revolution.

As I pointed out before, this switch is a costly one for Mr. Bork. To the initial cost of having been seen to adopt the very same methodology so often criticised by conservatives in other academic disciplines, one also has to add the cost of having been seen to change from one dogmatically asserted position to another. Mr. Bork obviously feels this one particularly strongly because he denies having done it. Though he described himself during the hearings as "a judge with an original intent philosophy" and argued in print that "original intent is the only legitimate basis for constitutional decision-making", he says in The Tempting of America that "[n]o even moderately sophisticated originalist" believes the Constitution should be governed by "the subjective intent of the Framers."...

The most interesting example of Mr. Bork's scholarly method is the point in The Tempting of America he takes sections from his 1986 article The Constitution, Original Intent, and Economic Rights which, as one might suspect from the title, defends original intent, and uses those sections to defend original understanding. At first glance, it appears that he does this by finding the words "original intent" wherever they appear in the article, and simply replacing them by "original understanding." Chunks of text which had reproved Paul Brest with failing to understand that the original intent determines the meaning of the 14th Amendment, are edited, expanded upon, a new philosophy of interpretation inserted. With a quick change of key words they can become reproofs to Paul Brest for failing to understand that original understanding determines the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Even the same counterarguments can be pressed into service. In 1986 for example, "[t]here is one objection to intentionalism that is particularly tiresome. Whenever I speak on the subject someone invariably asks: "But why should we be ruled by men long dead?" In 1990, Mr. Bork finds that "[q]uite often, when I speak at a law school on the necessity of adhering to the original understanding, a student will ask, "But why should we be ruled by men who are long dead." In the era of the word processor, this kind of "search and replace" jurisprudence has its attractions. Still, both the interpretive criteria and the identity of the `dead men' has changed, and Mr. Bork seems uneasy with that fact.

The closest Mr. Bork comes to admitting a prior attachment to intentionalism, is that point at which he confesses having previously "written of the understanding of the ratifiers of the Constitution". Actually, he wrote of the intentions of the ratifiers, and a more characteristic statement from his earlier self would be "I wish to demonstrate that original intent is the only legitimate basis for constitutional decision-making." This seems definite enough, but the new Mr. Bork does not like it. Having de-emphasised intention, and converted Framers to ratifiers, he then claims that he was merely using "a shorthand formulation, because what the ratifiers understood themselves to be enacting must be taken to be what the public of that time would have understood the words to mean." Of course, according to his new theory, what Mr. Bork meant by his "shorthand terms" is irrelevant, the important thing is what he would be understood to mean when he said "original intent." Perhaps he feels his new method should not apply here...


What "Pro-Choice" Means

A bunch of messages in my email box criticize Democratic politicians who say they want abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare."

Amanda Marcotte takes them to school. Here she schools Amy Sullivan:

Pandagon :: Gah :: February :: 2008:

Interviewer: You're pro-choice. Does that interfere with being an evangelical?

Amy Sullivan: Well, I don't like the [pro-choice] label. I guess the reason I wrote about abortion the way I did in the book is because I have serious moral concerns about abortion, but I don't believe that it should be illegal. And that puts me in the vast majority of Americans. But unfortunately, there's no label for us.

Yes, there is. If you think abortion and other forms of contraceptive birth control should be legal--i.e. that women should have the legal right to decide when they have children--you are pro-choice.


Reading the Atlantic for the Thrill of Reading "Conversion Porn": Hoisted from Comments

The departure of Matthew Yglesias from the Atlantic means that the incoming Ta-Nehisi Coates will have to leap tall buildings in a single bound in order to keep the Atlantic from tilting from center-right to solid right. (I hope he can: but I fear he can only leap tall buildings in a couple of bounds.)

With the exceptions of Fallows (who is center-left) and Crook (who is center-right), the others' names just don't evoke the "this is a really smart and thoughtful person from whom I will probably learn something" needed to command first-string attention. Yet there is a certain fascination there.

In comments, Count Cant puts his finger on a piece of it:

Hoisted from Comments on "A Proposed Pecking Order for Honest Conservatives": A couple of points about Andy Sullivan:

  1. I read him frequently
  2. he has improved, and perhaps enough to be counted an Honest Conservative
  3. but he is a lagging Truth-Teller, not a leading Truth-Teller. He eventually gets to the truth, but only after a year or two of sliming, denouncing, and ridiculing the leading Truth-Tellers
  4. so my main motivation for reading him is that disreputable pleasure known as Conversion Porn...

More on the U6 unemployment rate and "Recession"

William Polley writes:

William J. Polley: August 2008 Archives: I share [DeLong's] unhappiness with the conventional unemployment rate. It's a rough guide at best. And while I do think that U-6 is a useful indicator, what DeLong doesn't point out is that even today U-6 is a good point-and-a-half below where it was in 1994 (earliest year for which data is available in that series). That was a couple years after the end of a historically shallow recession (granted, it was still a period of labor market weakness).

So yes, some aspects of the economic situation are about as bad as during and shortly after the 2001 recession. Some are worse, and some are not as bad. When you consider the fact that the weakness in manufacturing is part of a longer term structural change, it looks less like a traditional recession even though it may soon (if not already) meet the NBER business cycle dating committee's criteria. If you're in some (though not all) types of manufacturing, this has been one long recession for a decade....

But there is a silver lining. First, the average seasonally adjusted mean duration of unemployment dropped from 17.5 to 17.1 weeks. Next, and I think this is a crucial point, the percentage of the unemployed who are reentrants or new entrants to the labor market both increased. In fact, since March, the percentage of the unemployed who are job losers dropped from 53.7% to 50.2%.... [T]his is a pretty noisy signal over the time horizon of a few months to a year.... However, it is something that bears watching....

But the U-6 number is bad news any way you slice it. So yet again we are left longing for more information. The economy remains at a critical point--teetering on the edge of a recession. Maybe in one. Maybe pulling out of one. I do have a feeling that if a recession is declared, it will not be declared until we are actually out of it. Perhaps we already are. But the labor market weakness lasts a couple years after the "official" end of a recession, so keep that in mind going forward.

I think that the question of what happened in the early 1990s--whether it is best viewed as a short and shallow recession followed by a "jobless recovery" or as something significantly worse--is contested. I'm not sure which side I come down on in that debate--I change my mind from week to week. But the fact that U6 was high in 1994 is not an argument that U6 is not an important and useful indicator, IMHO at least.

It seems to me that we are groping toward a language in which we have four business-cycle phases, which may or may not occur in any particular business cycle:

  • Expansion--output levels growing strongly, unemployment rates falling, capacity utilization rising.
  • Late expansion--measures of capacity utilization near previous peaks and measures of unemployment rates near previous troughs, output levels growing but not exceptionally strongly.
  • Jobless recovery--measures of capacity utilization near or below previous troughs and measures of unemployment rates near or above previous peaks, output levels growing but not strongly.
  • Recession--output stable or falling, measures of capacity utilization falling swiftly and measures of unemployment rates rising swiftly.

Does this make for a coherent and useful langauge for talking about fluctuations? I don't think so. What would a better language be? I don't know.


UPDATE: A very well-informed correspondent writes in:

  • Sorry to bug you again, but... The Business Cycle Dating Committee has a real problem. A recession has always involved a substantial decline in real economic activity. The committee has always used monthly indicated so as to designate peak and trough months, and because quarterly GDP gets revised so much so frequently. At the Stanford workshop, I asked Bob Hall if the committee would call a recession without a decline in GDP, and he said, "Of course not." This is a serious slowdown but I don't think it's a recession.

More Bad Unemployment News

Yet more bad unemployment news. The headline unemployment rate ought to be higher and rising faster, given what other labor market indicators are saying:

Jobless Claims Hit Highest Point in Six Years: The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance rose by a seasonally adjusted 7,000 to 455,000 for the week ending Aug. 2. The increase left claims at their highest level since late March 2002.... The latest snapshot of layoff filings was worse than analysts expected. They were forecasting new claims to drop to around 430,000.... Meanwhile, the four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, rose to 419,500 last week, the highest since mid-July 2003. The number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits went up by 31,000 to 3.3 million for the week ending July 26, the most recent period for which that information is available. That was the highest since early December 2003...


Transnistria...

"Sometimes it is hard to get solid news about Transnistria"? It is always hard to get solid news about Transnistria. But now I have heard of it three times in the past week--the only times I have heard about it in the past two years, first in a Walter Jon Williams story about human photosynthesis, then in a lunch conversation over the state of eastern Europe, and now Doug Muir:

Transnistria: underwater?: It’s sometimes hard to get solid news about Transnistria. No international news agencies report regularly from there, and it doesn’t have a good English-language site. News stories about the breakaway state tend to come out of Russia, Moldova or Ukraine, often in the local languages. So it’s not clear what impact the recent flooding is having there.... Since Transnistria is basically a thin sliver of low-lying land along the bank of the Dniester river, you would expect they’d have problems, but it’s not easy to find out what’s going on....

Meanwhile, Itar-Tass reports that Ukraine has decided to release a huge amount of water through their Novodnestrovsky hydroelectric dam. If this happens, Transnistria might have to evacuate about 50,000 people — roughly 10% of its population. That should be interesting.

I mentioned there are no good English-language sites for Transnistria. But there are several bad ones, most notably the Tiraspol Times and the Deciphering Transnistria “blog”.... [T]hey’re bogus in interestingly different ways. The Tiraspol Times is more classically Soviet, with lots of headlines like “To Transnistria’s plan of peace, Moldova responds with plan of war”. The Deciphering blog is more vaguely lefty anti-globalist why-can’t-we-all-be-friends-ish. They’re both drawing from the same well, but they’re using different buckets. I mention this because the Tiraspol Times has, so far, completely ignored the floods — 10% of the country’s population may be displaced, but their headline today is about how Moldova is destroying press freedoms — while Deciphering has an angry article about how the whole thing is Ukraine’s fault...


Slip-and-Fall

I missed this. From Lindsey Beyerstein:

Majikthise : Bork settles lawsuit over fall at Yale Club:

NEW YORK - One-time U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork settled a $1 million lawsuit Friday against the Yale Club after he fell stepping onto a platform to speak. His lawyer, Randy Mastro, said terms of the deal were confidential and he had no comment. Bork, 81, sued in Manhattan federal court last year, saying he injured himself so badly at the June 2006 event sponsored by the New Criterion magazine that he needed surgery and was left with a limp. He faulted the club for not having stairs or a handrail leading up to the platform.

Lawyers for the New York City chapter blamed Bork, saying any injuries he sustained were at least partially his fault for not recognizing potential risks, which the club said were "open, obvious and apparent." [AP]

Conservative icon Robert H. Bork settled his lawsuit over injuries he sustained when he fell off the platform at the Yale Club. Because tort reform is for the little people.... 

I shot an event at the Yale Club a couple months ago. I didn't see any obvious platform hazards in our room, but you never know.

There were always two modes of tort reformers. There were people who said relying on tort lawsuits to assess liability a lousy system because it (a) provides screwy incentives and (b) gives out semi-random lottery wins to a few. And there were people who said that filing a tort lawsuit was an act of theft and piracy. Bork was always in the second camp.

If somebody in the first camp wants to file a slip-and-fall lawsuit, I say fine: the fact that they think the system is bad from a utilitarian perspective doesn't make it in any sense immoral for them to exercise their rights under it. People in the second camp--like Robert Bork--are a different kettle of fish entirely. If they truly believe tort lawsuits are bad because they are acts of piracy and theft, then Robert Bork is a self-confessed pirate and thief...


Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

"Squeaks," I thought, refers to a one or two percentage-point lead. Not according to CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin:

Obama squeaks by McCain in polls - CNN.com: WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The race between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama is extremely tight, according to the latest CNN "Poll of Polls." Just five points separate the two candidates -- Obama's 48 percent to McCain's 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.... A CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll of 1,041 adults conducted on July 27-29... a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points...


Meanwhile, on the Campaign Trail

From AP:

Obama pokes at McCain over tire - pressure issue: ELKHART, Ind. (AP) -- Barack Obama taunted Republican presidential rival John McCain on Wednesday for first ridiculing him for advising voters to keep tires inflated and then later acknowledging that the practice saves gasoline. ''It will be interesting to watch this debate between John McCain and John McCain,'' Obama said.... Discussing the air-pressure issue during an appearance Tuesday night, McCain said he wasn't opposed to Obama's suggestion. ''And could I mention that Senator Obama a couple of days ago said that we ought to all inflate our tires, and I don't disagree with that. The American Automobile Association strongly recommends it, but I also don't think that that's a way to become energy independent.''

Obama had noted that keeping tires inflated and cars tuned was endorsed by both NASCAR and AAA and should be part of any comprehensive plan to reduce reliance on imported oil. In mocking Obama, McCain told a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D.: ''My opponent doesn't want to drill, he doesn't want nuclear power, he wants you to inflate your tires.'' The Republican National Committee widely distributed tire pressure gauges labeled ''Obama energy plan'' and suggested that was the Illinois senator's only idea for reducing oil imports, although both candidates have offered multifaceted energy proposals....

Obama campaigned in Indiana as his campaign released a new television ad that seeks to link McCain to President Bush.... Obama also questioned McCain's claim to being a maverick. While the Arizona senator has broken with his party on many issues in the past, he ''reversed himself on position after position'' to secure his party's nomination, Obama asserted. ''That doesn't meet my definition of a maverick.'' McCain's campaign ''ran an ad saying Washington is broken. No kidding. It took him 26 years to figure it out,'' Obama said.