Thursday Idiocy Feed

On Nicholas Lemann's Partial Recantation of His "Neoliberalism": Hoisted from the Archives

Il Quarto Stato

2014: On Nicholas Lemann's Partial Recantation of His "Neoliberalism": On the career of the Washington Monthly: Nicholas Lemann: A bygone age…:

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This Year's April Fools' Clown...


It's time to spin the Big Wheel for April Fools' Day! Who will it be this year? Amity Shlaes? Doug Henwood? Donald Luskin? John Cochrane? David Graeber?... No! The Big Wheel stops on... Niall Ferguson.

There is truly a wealth of material here. Let's start with:

Matthew O'Brien: Truth in the Age of Niallism: "Ferguson. He seems to believe he can twist facts... mean whatever he wants them to. Last year, you may recall, he jaw-droppingly doctored a CBO quote to change its meaning entirely. The year before that, he argued economists had it all wrong, and that "yes, folks, double-digit inflation is back"--with his "proof" coming from a well-known conspiracy website. It'd be as if I told Ferguson his history was wrong, because it ignored the collected works of Dan Brown...


Brad DeLong: Niall Ferguson "Quos Deus Vult Perdere, Prius Dementat" Weblogging...: Niall Ferguson... (1999) [writes]:

Though [John Maynard Keynes's] work at the Treasury gratified his sense of self-importance, the war itself made Keynes deeply unhappy. Even his sex life went into a decline, perhaps because the boys he liked to pick up in London all joined up...


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(Early) Monday Idiocy: Chris Bertram Wages War on Eyeglasses, Surrenders to Cyborgs

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Chris Bertram, three years ago:

Noah Smith had me going for a minute there: I just love econobloggers, with their capacity for Swiftian satire...

...Dry as dust, yet clearly having a laugh, they aim to reel in the poor saps who are take them seriously... making as if they really mean it.... Noah Smith surpasses them all with a new blog on The Rise of the Cyborgs... does a really excellent job of pretending to be keen on the robot-human future he imagines.... [H]e feigns enthusiasm most successfully about the prospects for the economy....

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For the Weekend...

The transcript does not include the most telling moment: the moment when Niall Ferguson says, in response to Paul Krugman's pleading for a very moderate Keynesian use of government demand to reduce unemployment:

Well, if you want to try the Soviet model...

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Across the Wide Missouri: What would "civil disobedience" against the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell even mean? What does Mike Huckabee want his people to do? Run up to people's weddings and interrupt them? Grab people's marriage licenses and rip them up?

'This Week' Transcript:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what exactly are you calling on people to do right now? You say resist and reject this judicial tyranny. Spell out exactly what that means?

Continue reading "" »

The Theory of Growth and Inequality: Piketty, Zucman, Krusell, Smith, and "Mathiness"

Over at Equitable Growth Paul Romer inquired why I did not endorse his following Krusell and Smith (2014) in characterizing Piketty and Piketty and Zucman as a canonical example of what Romer calls "mathiness". Indeed, I think that, instead, it is Krusell and Smith (2014) that suffers from "mathiness"--people not in control of their models deploying algebra untethered to the real world in a manner that approaches gibberish.

I wrote about this last summer, several times: READ MOAR

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April Fools' Festival Final Day: A Change of Pace

Let me get more serious, and answer a question from Noah Smith about what David Graeber means with his book Debt:

The rational kernel inside the bullshit goes roughly like this:

Humans have evolved to be gift-exchangers--beings that maintain our societies by engaging in gift-exchange relationships with kin, close friends, and immediate neighbors. Why? For two big reasons: First, to keep us all pulling roughly in the same direction. Second, to take advantage of the division of labor. There are powerful psychological mechanisms that urge us to engage in such gift-exchange relationships, and to keep such gift-exchange relationships reciprocal--in rough balance.

When agriculture and cities are invented, things get weird: rather than just gift-exchange relationships with thick-tie counterparties--kin, close friends, and immediate neighbors--we find ourselves engaged in weird thin one-sided gift-"exchange" with kings, priests (& gods).

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April Fools' Festival Day XVI: No, Steve Keen Doesn't Know What He Is Talking About. Why Do You Ask?

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From the Archives: Paul Krugman:

Minunderstanding IS-LM: Some readers have asked me to reply to this Steve Keen piece claiming that I don’t understand the IS-LM model. Sigh. I really don’t want to spend time fighting against people with whom I don’t really have a current policy disagreement — and this is so silly, besides. But to satisfy those who are for some reason nervous, here’s a brief explanation of why somebody doesn’t understand IS-LM.

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Thursday Idiocy: Once Again, Somebody Has to Do the Intellectual Garbage Collection on Robert Samuelson

Let me get this straight:

  1. Robert Samuelson thinks that the Export-Import Bank is a waste of government money.
  2. He is nevertheless opposed to cutting it.

How does he reconcile (1) and (2)? Word salad: "The congressional fuss over the renewal of its charter is... political grandstanding. The Ex-Im Bank is portrayed... by tea party conservatives as a citadel of 'crony capitalism'... government bloat that’s bleeding taxpayers.... This is... wildly misleading. It suggests... Congress is getting serious about trimming... when it isn’t..."

"Let's not do a good thing because some people I don't like will claim that it is a more important good thing than it is" is an argument one level of rationality below "get off my lawn!" or "old man yelling at clouds".


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Thursday Idiocy: George Will, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Mark Perry, Don Boudreaux, Nicholas Wade, Matthew Continetti

Jack Goldsmith Tries Patience: It Seems to Be All-Michael Kinsley All the Time Here on Thursday Idiocy: I Have to Do Some Intellectual Garbage Collection

national%20security%20agency%20-%20Google%20Search Today's Lesson:

Jack Goldsmith: Why Kinsley is Wrong About the Connection Between Democracy and the Publication of National Security Secrets: "Michael Kinsley, in his review of Glenn Greenwald’s book...

...made the following claims about leaks of national security secrets:

The question is who decides.  It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making--whatever it turns out to be--should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald...

I disagree with Kinsley, as both a descriptive matter and a normative matter.

As a descriptive matter, the press does effectively have the final say over the publication of U.S. national security secrets. The only constraints are the weak ones of marketplace... and even weaker... legal constraints in practice.  We have been moving toward this system of journalistic hegemony for a while, and the trend has been exacerbated by digital technology and the globalization of media....

I think Kinsley is also wrong about the normative question.... The government should not have the final say about which of its secrets is published.

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Thursday Idiocy on Wednesday: New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul

Margaret Sullivan: Kinsley, Greenwald and Government Secrets: "I asked... Pamela Paul why Mr. Kinsley was chosen... review the book. The intention, she said, was not to produce a particular point of view or to somehow exact revenge....

We chose Michael Kinsley, a frequent contributor to the Book Review (he recently reviewed “Double Down” for us, and before that “Going Clear”), because he has decades of experience in news journalism as well as in book criticism, has written extensively about the media and current affairs, and is thoughtful and smart...

How dumb does Pamela Paul think we are? You hire Michael Kinsley only when you explicitly want his "particular point of view". That's what he does--he does not bring deep substantive expertise or the ability to produce a balanced assessment of arguments or an ability to draw a bright line between matters of empirical fact and matters of philosophical value. He brings his particular point of view.

Ben Carson Defends Obamacare Remarks: 'In A Way, Anything Is Slavery That Robs You' : Live from the Roasterie CLXXX: May 22, 2014

Oh wow!

David: Ben Carson Defends Obamacare Remarks: 'In A Way, Anything Is Slavery That Robs You': Conservative darling Dr. Ben Carson on Sunday defended...

...comparing President Barack Obama's health care law to slavery by insisting that "anything is slavery that robs your of your ability to control your own life."

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Thursday Idiocy on Wednesday: Ezra Klein Does the Intellectual Trash Pickup: Afternoon Must-Read: Ezra Klein: Does David Brooks Know That Simpson-Bowles Failed? Plus Moar!

And we haven't even gotten to Michael Kinsley!


Ezra Klein: Does David Brooks know that Simpson-Bowles failed?: "In a mighty odd column...

David Brooks pens a paean to technocratic autocracies like Singapore and suggests that the US needs to "make democracy dynamic again" if it's going to keep up. How will it make democracy dynamic again? Glad you asked:

The quickest way around all this is to use elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms. The process of change would be unapologetically elitist. Gather small groups of the great and the good together to hammer out bipartisan reforms--on immigration, entitlement reform, a social mobility agenda, etc.--and then rally establishment opinion to browbeat the plans through.

Of course, there already was a Simpson-Bowles-type commission that overwhelmingly rallied establishment opinion to its side. It was called the Simpson-Bowles commission. And it failed. So did its descendants like the Senate's Gang of Six and the Supercommittee. Whatever you think of the Simpson-Bowles plan, the outcome proved that these kinds of elite committees aren't able to browbeat their plans through Congress. The outcome of Simpson-Bowles is a big part of the reason some in Washington have begun envying the decisiveness of East Asian autocracies, not a model for how the US can mimic their decisiveness...

Noah Smith Does the Intellectual Garbage Cleanup Today!

Noah Smith; Unleashing the hellbeasts of stone cold truth since 2011: Market priesthood: "Has economics really become less about 'free market priesthood'?

Well, I think academic econ has. But as for pop econ, there still seems to be a lot of it around. For example, Steve Levitt, one of the most popular pop economists in the world, recently had this to say about health care:

In their latest book, Think Like a Freak, co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell a story about meeting David Cameron...They told him that the U.K.’s National Health Service--free, unlimited, lifetime heath care--was laudable but didn’t make practical sense. "We tried to make our point with a thought experiment," they write. "We suggested to Mr. Cameron that he consider a similar policy in a different arena. What if, for instance...everyone were allowed to go down to the car dealership whenever they wanted and pick out any new model, free of charge, and drive it home?"  Rather than seeing the humor and realizing that health care is just like any other part of the economy, Cameron abruptly ended the meeting... 

So what do Dubner and Levitt make of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which has been described as a radical rethinking of America's health care system? "I do not think it's a good approach at all," says Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. "Fundamentally with health care, until people have to pay for what they're buying it's not going to work. Purchasing health care is almost exactly like purchasing any other good in the economy. If we're going to pretend there's a market for it, let's just make a real market for it."

This is exactly what I call "free market priesthood". Does Levitt have a model that shows that things like adverse selection, moral hazard, principal-agent problems, etc. are unimportant in health care? Does he have empirical evidence that people behave as rationally when their health and life are on the line as when buying a car? Does he even have evidence that the British health system, specifically, underperforms? No. He doesn't. All he has is an instinctive belief in free markets. Of course David Cameron didn't "realize that health care is just like any other part of the economy" after a five minute conversation with Levitt. Levitt didn't bring any new ideas or evidence to the table. And it's not like Levitt's idea was new or creative or counterintuitive. Does anyone seriously believe that the question of "why is health care different from other markets" had never crossed David Cameron's mind before? Obviously it has, and obviously Levitt knew that when he asked his question. He wasn't offering policy advice--he was grandstanding. Levitt wants to present himself as "thinking like a freak"--offering insightful, counterintuitive, original thinking. But if this is "thinking like a freak", I'd hate to see what the normal people think like!

Surely it has not escaped Levitt's notice that the countries with national health systems spend far less than the United States and achieve better outcomes. How does he explain this fact? Does he think that there is an "uncanny valley" halfway between fully nationalized health systems and "real markets", and that the U.S. is stuck in that uncanny valley? If so, I'd like to see a model. But I don't think Levitt has a model. What he has is a simple message ("all markets are the same"), and a strong prior belief in that message. And he keeps repeating that prior in the face of the evidence.

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FREEDOM FROM GIRL-COOTIES! LADYPARTS!! FREEDOM!!!: (Not) The Honest Broker: Live from The Roasterie CLXXIV: May 14, 2014

This was supposed to be part of The Honest Broker about conservative objections that ObamaCare was an unwarranted and unnecessary infringement on negative liberty--on individual "freedom". But it was unsuccessful. It ran into two things along the way. First, it ran into my complete failure while teaching Economics 2 to successfully draw a line between "negative" and "positive" liberty that would allow one to say that the competitive market equilibrium was in some sense a perfection of negative liberty and that further restrictions on it were not: I wound up convincing myself that it was the jungle equilibrium that was the perfection of negative liberty, and from that point forward it was utilitarian promotion of positive at the expense of negative liberty all the way down...

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Thursday Idiocy on Wednesday: Open Letter to Ben Bernanke: Hoisted from the Archives from 3 1/2 Years Ago...

Have any of the people who signed this amazing piece of WRONG explained why they did so, or taken any steps since to mark their beliefs to market in any way?

Open Letter to Ben Bernanke: "We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called 'quantitative easing') should be reconsidered and discontinued.

We do not believe such a plan is necessary or advisable under current circumstances.  The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

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Thursday Idiocy on Wednesday: The Astonishingly Unprofessional Allan H. Meltzer in the Wall Street Journal...


Featured: The Astonishingly Unprofessional Allan H. Meltzer in the Wall Street Journal

I confess, if I myself wanted to plant a piece by a right-wing economist in the Wall Street Journal to demonstrate that they and it are either (a) completely disconnected from and uninterested in reality and in marking their beliefs to market, or (b) completely cynical and uninterested in anything but misleading their readers, I could not come up with anything more effective than this:

Allan Meltzer: How the Fed Fuels the Coming Inflation: "As Milton Friedman said, 'inflation is always and everywhere' a result of excessive money growth....

...The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years. Over the past 12 months from March, the consumer-price index increased 1.5% before seasonal adjustment. These are warnings... the U.S. has been printing money—and in a reckless fashion—for years.

A twelve-month CPI inflation rate of 1.5%/year is a "warning" of the consequences of "printing money--and in a reckless fashion"? Shouldn't one of the interns who reads the electrons before they are committed to the database fire off an email to Paul Gigot saying: "Do we want to look that ridiculous?"?

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Thursday Idiocy: Faux Balance or a Potemkin Village for Right-Wing WIngnuts?, and Other Things...

On April 28, 2014 Gerald Seib wrote: Welcome to Capital Journal: "Another new feature is Think Tank, which offers unique news analysis from some of the capital's smartest thinkers..."

But the first post on Think Tank suggested that instead of, you know, focusing on publishing things by smart people who were primarily interested in informing readers about true facts and sound analyses, Think Tank was at best going to be an arena for faux balance, and at worst a Potemkin village for right-wing wingnuts...

But now there is a sign that the excellent and non-idiotic Tim Noah has begun a long bitter twilight internal struggle to recover it:

Tim Noah: Another Perspective on U.S. Economic Mobilit: "My fellow Think Tank-er Benjamin Domenech... formulating a conservative response to Thomas Piketty, wrote that “Several recent studies have shown that U.S. economic mobility is very good.” But these studies aren’t terribly useful. They define “mobility” as... an individual['s] predictable earnings lifecycle. Most everybody enters the workforce making nothing or next to nothing; acquires experience and makes more; tops out at some point; then retires and makes less.... A much more useful measure of mobility is intergenerational.... How “heritable” is relative income? In the U.S., it’s about 40 percent, according to a landmark 1992 study by economist Gary Solon (then of the University of Michigan, now of Michigan State), the findings of which have been reconfirmed many times since. That isn’t very good by international standards. It’s been in that range since Baby Boomers entered the workforce in the 1970s. I write about all this at greater length here...

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Thursday Idiocy: Goldwater Campaign Race-Baiting Plutocrat Tea Party ObamaCare Charles Krauthammer Fred Hiatt and More Day

Charles Koch's Character: The Assassinating!: Live From the Roasterie CXLIV: April 18, 2014

Charles Koch complains about the character assassination he experiences at the hands of Barack Obama, who he says is acting like the despots of the twentieth century like Hitler and Stalin. But why is he silent about the real character assassination he suffers? For that we have to resort to the archives, and the bemused Justin Fox:

Justin Fox (2009): on the crazed right-wingers who lead the character assassination of Charles Koch: "Update: Lew Rockwell weighs in...

on my taxonomy of Austrians:

The author hilariously sees Austrian economics as divided into two parts: the nice one, entirely in the super-wealthy Koch Brothers ambit, and the mean one, in mine! A little background: when I started the Mises Institute (an organization unmentioned by Time) 26 years ago, the head of the Koch Family Foundation angrily pledged to destroy me if I went ahead. "We have worked too hard to rid Austrian economics of Mises," he said. Hayek, he claimed, was their man, though, of course, he was far better than that, and a good supporter of the Institute. But the real problem turned out to be Murray Rothbard. It was the greatest of the Misesians and the founder of modern libertarianism whom the Koch World Empire longed to smash, and still does. Murray, founder of Cato, was the one man in the ambit to say no when the Kochs decided to jettison Mises for reasons of DC preferment.

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Thursday Idiocy!

Thursday Idiocy on Friday: Here Is the Last Time I Noted the Existence of Roger Pielke, Jr.

Joe Romm: N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage | ThinkProgress: "Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University,

whom the NYT itself quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” emailed me that the piece is “the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen.” 

When I called him up, he went further saying:

In this article, the New York Times has become an echo-chamber for the climate disinformation movement.

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Thursday Idiocy: Steve M. Does the Garbage Collection on the New Republic, Plus MOAR...

Steve M.: No, Leon, Those Issues Aren't too Lofty to Be Reduced to Data: "I was going to ignore Leon Wieseltier's get-off-my-lawn attack on young whippersnapper Nate Silver's preference for data-driven journalism, but this jumped out at me:

Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted.

But there is very much a "numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men".... Opponents... say that children suffer harm from not having two opposite-sex parents.... We can look at the lives of children raised by gay couples and compare their well-being to that of children raised by married heterosexuals. If gay marriage were harming the children of gay couples, we'd know it, but it isn't. And it's good that we have studies showing a lack of harm, because if we were high-mided and Wieseltierian and chose to remain above the tawdry collection of data on this subject, the anti-gay right would generate all sorts of anti-gay-marriage data and drive the debate with it.... There is also very much a "numerical answer" to "the question of whether the government should help the weak".... We're not discussing this on the basis of morality, as Wieseltier airily suggests; we don't simply assume that government has a responsibility to help the weak because the right incessantly argues that it can demonstrate the failure of any such efforts -- with data.

And as for genocide: Does Wieseltier seriously believe that we regard intervention as an unquestioned duty? If so, how does he explain the fact that we intervene in some genocides and not others? Why does he suppose that is? I'd argue that our leaders consider morality, but also calculate the potential cost in blood and treasure, while pondering poll numbers for or against intervention. I don't what the hell Wieseltier's explanation would be.


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Thursday Idiocy for March 13, 2014

Paul Krugman's Paul Ryan Watch...

Over at Loyal to the Group of Seventeen: : Paul Krugman's Paul Ryan Watch: Let Them Eat Dignity: “Paul Ryan’s performance at CPAC… [is] awesome, in the worst way….

The caricature of Ryan and people like him is that… they talk big about dignity while ignoring the difficulty of getting essentials like food and health care. Well, it’s not a caricature: Ryan says never mind having enough to eat, it’s about spirituality:

The left is making a big mistake…. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity, they want a life of self determination…

Um, yes, but how dignified can you be on an empty stomach? How much self-determination do you have? And who is supposed to value dignity over having enough to eat? Children…. Affluent politicians have no business lecturing people having trouble buying food or having trouble paying for health care about dignity, is just stunning. READ THE WHOLE THING

Thursday Idiocy for March 5, 2014

Truly a remarkable crop:

Yes. The Administration of Bob Jones University Is a Cabal of Evildoers. Why Do You Ask?: Live from The Roasterie LXXXXX: February 20, 2014

Richard Perez-Penafeb: Christian School Faulted for Halting Abuse Study:

For decades, students at Bob Jones University who sought counseling for sexual abuse were told not to report it because turning in an abuser from a fundamentalist Christian community would damage Jesus Christ. Administrators called victims liars and sinners.... Former students and staff members who said they had high hopes that the Bob Jones brand of counseling would be exposed and reformed after the university hired a Christian consulting group in 2012 to investigate its handling of sexual assaults.... Last week, Bob Jones dealt a blow to those hopes, acknowledging that with the investigation more than a year old and nearing completion, the university had fired the consulting group, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Grace, without warning or explanation....

Continue reading "Yes. The Administration of Bob Jones University Is a Cabal of Evildoers. Why Do You Ask?: Live from The Roasterie LXXXXX: February 20, 2014" »

The Last Thursday Idiocy: Karl Rove

Jon Chait: Rove: Obama Has Ruined Bush’s Paradise:

Karl Rove is most famous for being architect of one of the worst presidencies in American history and then a Superpac strategist/delusional Romney campaign-night dead-ender. I’m a Rove junkie, and just as a snobbish fan of any popular band must have some obscure album he finds superior to the band’s most popular work, the Rove career function I find most delightful and rewarding is his work as a Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist.... Today’s column begins with Rove’s bizarre belief that the health exchanges in Obamacare are a “single-payer” system, reflecting his apparent confusion about what this term means. (The single-payer in a single-payer system is the government, not the insurance companies in the exchanges.) But the main point is the Orwellian proposition that “Mr. Obama's pattern is to act, or fail to act, in a way that will leave his successor with a boatload of troubles.”

What kind of president would bequeath a boatload of troubles to his successor? Oh, the irresponsibility.

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Thursday Idiocy: CNN's Gingrich Has A Bizarre Email List

Eric Hanonaki: The Illuminati, "Obama's 'Secret Mistress,'" And Cancer "Cures": CNN's Gingrich Has A Bizarre Email List:

Subscribers to CNN host Newt Gingrich's email list are receiving supposed insider information about cancer "cures," the Illuminati, "Obama's 'Secret Mistress,'" a "weird" Social Security "trick," and Fort Knox being "empty."... CNN has been helping Gingrich build his list by not only employing him, but also by promoting Gingrich Productions and its website.... Gingrich Productions has sent at least 15 sponsored emails for Stansberry & Associates since June 2013. Stansberry is a disgraced financial firm that was fined $1.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." The firm sells financial products by pushing conspiracies about the Obama administration.... Gingrich's team previously claimed to distance the former speaker from Stansberry after questions surfaced about a sponsored email suggesting Obama would win a third term....

Gingrich is part of a movement where, as MSNBC's Chris Hayes noted, "much of conservatism is a con and the base are the marks."... The New Republic's Ben Adler wrote in a piece about Gingrich and fellow hucksters Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee that they "are pioneering a new, more direct method for post-campaign buckraking. All it requires is some digitally savvy accomplices--and a total immunity to shame."...

The following are the subject line and quotes from some of the sponsored emails Gingrich Productions has sent to its list in the past six months.

  • "American Doctor Releases Cancer Cure Before Government Spies Find it." An August 29, 2013, email from Health Revelations claims that "cancer was cured back in 1925," and "the annual flu shot is nothing more than a BALD-FACED SCAM." The email takes readers to a page claiming that "Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Alzheimer's" have been "DEFEATED" but suggests the government is covering up such cures.

  • "The Illuminati [Secret Society] Puts a Deathgrip on America." A December 31, 2013, Wall Street Daily email claims that the "Illuminati was behind every consequential wealth event of the past year" including bitcoin. The Illuminati is a frequent player in conspiracy theories. 

  • "Obama's 'Secret Mistress' Exposed." A December 12, 2013, email from Laissez Faire Club claims that "President Obama has made painstaking efforts to keep his 'secret mistress' hidden from the American public, and he has succeeded brilliantly... until now."

  • "WhistleBlower: 7 Deadly Drugs the Government Wants You to Swallow." The Health Sciences Institute claimed in a November 19, 2013, email that an "insider near Washington D.C. has just blown the lid off the 7 Deadly Drugs the U.S. Government can't wait for you to swallow." The email assured Gingrich readers that it's not a conspiracy theory since the "whistleblower has concrete evidence 'the powers that be' are shoving pure poison down your throat... and laughing all the way to the bank."

  • "Weird Trick Adds $1,000 to Social Security Checks . . ." A September 12, 2013, Newsmax Media email claimed that they've "stumbled upon this weird trick that can add $1,000 to monthly Social Security checks." (For more on this email claim, see here.)

  • "Fort Knox is Empty (the Gold's Missing...)." An August 20, 2013, Wall Street Daily email claimed, "Whispers are swirling around Capitol Hill that Fort Knox is empty" and "the U.S. government has been shipping gold to nations like China (as collateral for a weak dollar)."  

  • "New Scandal in the White House?" A cryptic July 11, 2013, Stansberry & Associates email claimed that there's a "big new scandal brewing in the White House" and "when this scandal is ultimately exposed, it's going to have major implications not only for Barack Obama, but also for our entire country."...

Thursday Idiocy: Stephen Williamson

Stephen Williamson: : What's a Central Bank Good For?:

Prescott is quoted....

It is an established scientific fact that monetary policy has had virtually no effect on output and employment in the U.S. since the formation of the Fed....

Everyone else simply says: "Prescott is wrong: that's not an established scientific fact at all."

But Williamson, somehow, cannot say that. He cannot say: "water is wet." He cannot say: "the sun rises in the east". Instead, he says that people like Prescott who say that water is dry or that the sun rises in the west are deep thinkers, serious scientists, and have a definite point--that water is dryish and the sunrise is westish if you look at it from a properly-sophisticated point of view.

This isn't just: "opinions of shape of earth differ". This is: "if you are a deep thinker, the world really is kinda flattish, isn't it?"

Ed... is a very deep thinker, and a serious scientist....

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Why Write Things Like This? Why Print Things Like This?: Thursday Idiocy

Robert Blackwill @ The National Interest: In Defense of Kissinger:

Kissinger judged that if Washington had mounted an all-out private and public human-rights campaign against then president Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan and the Pakistan government, which was correctly convinced that the future of the state was at stake, such a campaign would not have fundamentally altered Islamabad’s policy toward East Pakistan, and the White House’s China initiative could well have collapsed. However, as will be demonstrated at length later in this essay, that hardly meant that he ignored the plight of the Bengali Hindus. Kissinger, both while in office and in his subsequent writings, rejected the proposition that circumstances inevitably force a crude either/or choice between national interests and democratic values, and during this crisis no other nation except India did as much as the United States to directly address the human-rights tragedy in East Pakistan.

One wishes that the chasm between academic and policy-maker perspectives might have produced a certain modesty in Bass’s treatment of these events. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead The Blood Telegram offers a strident, almost willfully biased attack on the personal motives of policy makers whom Bass condemns...

But... But... But...

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Chris House: All Opinions of Shape of Earth Are Nutty: Does This Qualify as Thursday Idiocy?: Yes, I Conclude That It Does...

The University of Michigan's Chris House appears to suffer from the searching-for-false-balance disease.

It's not a big deal.

But it is a neat, clean, and comprehensible example of the damage done by the opinions-of-shape-of-earth-differ disease that Chris House and many others have: the net effect is to excuse the bad faith, ideological partisanship, and failure to do their homework on the part of those working to degrade the quality of our public sphere--and to aid in the drip-drip-drip eroding-away at the influence of those working hard to improve it. Not good. Not good...

Chris House: The Wisdom of Laureates: "Ed Prescott... [has the] most people talking...

is quoted as saying:

It is an established scientific fact that monetary policy has had virtually no effect on output and employment in the U.S. since the formation of the Fed....

Prescott is wrong.  It is NOT an established fact the monetary policy has no effect on economic activity.  The balance of the evidence suggests the opposite.  Monetary policy seems to have clear measurable effects on the economy....

Should we grant Ed Prescott, or Paul Krugman, or Robert Lucas, or Peter Diamond much more credence than other smart observers?... Nobel Prize winners have typically devoted their entire careers to a rather narrow study of a particular area.... They are also often radical thinkers.... Academics are rewarded... for having path-breaking ideas.... An academic who has one or two... might well be viewed as... worthy of a Nobel, even if most of their ideas are crazy.... The price we pay for having unusual insights might be that we often have unorthodox approaches.... Prescott didn’t win the Nobel Prize for having a balanced assessment.... This isn’t limited to Prescott. Even Paul Krugman has been known to say some rather nutty things at times.


The biggest bit that is idiocy is the claim that Nobel Prize winners in general are prone to say "rather nutty things" because saying such is closely linked to what makes them Nobel Prize-caliber. Prescott says nutty things--very nutty things, hugely nutty things, completely nutty things--about what is supposed to be the core area of his expert knowledge on a regular basis. But Krugman? Diamond? Lucas might come within two orders of magnitude of Prescott, but not one (or, if every one, only very rarely). And I see whatever wrong things Krugman and Diamond says as at least three orders of magnitude less than Prescott on the nuttiness scale.

So I (and others) asked Chris House where his ideas were coming from: what evidence made him generalize from Prescott; to the quartet of Prescott, Lucas, Krugman, and Diamond; and then to the quartet of Nobel Prize winners in general?

The conversation did not go terribly well. Samples:

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Crazies Gotta Craze: UCLA Law School Professor Stephen Bainbridge and Others: Combination Thursday Idiocy/Live from La Farine LXXXXI: February 6, 2014


Stephen Bainbridge: The media is ignoring the moral equivalence between Obamajams and Christie's bridge:

So at worst NJ Governor Chris Christie created some traffic jams as political payback.... Democrats... and their allies in the liberal mainstream media [are] all worked up.... But where were the latter when Obama knowingly repeatedly flew into Los Angeles and created massive Obamajams so that he could rake in political payoffs by the billions from his liberal Hollywood groupies.... I've had personal experience of Obama's incredibly deleterious effect on our traffic. To me, the difference between jams for payback and jams for payola is trivial. But because he's a Democrat, nobody in the media cares about the latter.

Is there any way to read Bainbridge other than that he is really, really angry that (a) a Black man (b) is President and (c) dares to visit Los Angeles (d) with secret service protection in order to (e) maintain his political coalition and (f) raise money for electoral campaigns?

Which of these six do you suppose makes Bainbridge angriest?

Yes, it's funny. But the normalization of the crazy is perhaps the most worrisome thing.

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Rod Dreher: "We'll Use... Racist Social Darwinism!": Thursday Idiocy

Yet More Thursday Idiocy: Outsourced to bspencer: Rod D: "I’m not quite sure how to talk about this Rod Dreher post because it’s so bizarre.

It reads as a whiny appeal for liberals to quit being so mean to creationists and fundies. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find it’s really a threat. And the threat is basically: “Be careful shoving your beloved SCIENCE down our throats, libs, because SCIENCE also says Black people are stupid.” To make his case, he links approvingly to racist XXXXXXXX Steve Sailer.

One of the things that keeps drawing me to Steve Sailer’s writing is that his beliefs on human biodiversity sometimes lead him to point out inconvenient truths about ideologies informing our common life.

If I’ve given you the impression that Dreher is bullying, racist sxxxhead, I apologize. He’s not. He’s heavy-hearted about what he’s telling us. He’s SAD that black people are stupid and inferior. But don’t you see that he’s left no choice but to be a racist sxxxbag when we insist on forcing our reality down his throat?

“Darwin wouldn’t be surprised to learn which race had invented rap music”–Steve Sailer

I’ve got a few issues.... One... there is no consensus in the scientific community that there are significant differences among the races. Two... there’s a long way to go from acknowledging differences to enacting eugenicist-influenced policies in response to said differences. Three: People are different, period... living full and happy lives.

So, yes, I’m going to call it: Rod Dreher’s post is at threat, and a disgusting one at that.

Washington Redskins Hire All-Star Villains: Thursday Idiocy

Once again, Jonathan Chait: Washington Redskins Hire All-Star Villains: "Ari Fleischer, center, presides over meeting of superstar political advisers tasked with saving the Redksins name.

The Washington Redskins, fighting off campaigns to force them to change their team name, have hired not only comically sleazy Washington lawyer Lanny Davis but an entire roster of Beltway super-villains. Dan Snyder... has compiled an all-star team of mendacious sleaze.... Lanny Davis, hapless Clinton hanger-on wannabe and adviser to dictators and crooks.... Ari Fleischer, the face of credibility.... Frank Luntz, crafter of useless focus groups and a spinmeister so sickeningly dishonest he even nauseates Frank Luntz.... And, perhaps most amazing, George Allen. Yes, an organization that’s fighting off allegations of racial insensitivity has decided to consult a man who was remembered as a racist by his high school classmates, remembered as an even more blatant racist by his college classmates, voted against the Martin Luther King Holiday, had a confederate flag and a noose, and then finally lost his Senate seat for being caught on camera using a racial slur.... Who’s really good at fighting off accusations of racial insensitivity? George Allen! Yeah! That guy never loses! Davis, Fleischer, Luntz and Allen — together they will join forces and rule the galaxy take a lot of Daniel Snyder's money, and then eventually lose.

The Wall Street Journal: More Unhinged Than You Can Credit Even After Factoring-in the Fact That It Is More Unhinged Than You Can Credit


Jonathan Chait: WSJ: Obama Isn’t Hitler But He’s Pretty Hitler-y: "The Journal’s editorial underscores that the widespread mockery of Perkins, far from piling on a bewildered plutocrat, actually understates the broader problem.

Perkins’s letter provided a peek into the fantasy world of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque terror are just slightly beyond the norm. The Journal editorial defines persecution of the one percent as the existence of public disagreement. Liberals are mocking Perkins, therefore Perkins is basically right. For Perkins to be wrong — for the rich to enjoy the level of deference the Journal deems appropriate — a billionaire could compare his plight to the victims of the Holocaust and nobody would make fun of him at all."

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

The SS National Review: Thursday Idiocy

Tbogg: We were dead before the ship ever sank: "I have written previously about the very distressing, by which I mean ‘high-larious’, legal woes of National Review which is being sued for letting contributor Mark Steyn defame climate scientist Michael Mann for comparing him to child molester Jerry Sandusky on the internet pages of NRO....

Rand Simberg... attacking Mann’s research and, trying to be topical, referenced the fact that he teaches at Penn State as the basis for an oh-so-clever PSU Michael Mann = Penn State football coach/kid rapist Jerry Sandusky analogy.... Mark Steyn... LOL’d and repeated.... When Mann protested, CEI backed down and deleted the offending lines but not the rest of the post.... National Review Editor Rich Lowry... under the impression that he was William F. Badass Jr.... told Mann and his attorneys to pound sand.

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Thursday Idiocy Starring Ron Fournier!

Outsourced to Scott Lemieux: We Are All White House Advisers: "Ron Fournier  has discovered that everyone now agrees with him:

For months, the White House and its allies mocked critics of Barack Obama’s leadership, arguing that no president has “Green Lantern” superhero powers. Now these same people are predicting that Obama can salvage his agenda by waving a magical “pen and phone.” The contradiction illustrates how far partisans will go to defend a flailing presidency, grasping at slogans and insult…

A contradiction! Who are those people who used to understand how American government works but now think that Obama could get his legislative agenda through a Republican House if he only had the leadership to lead, with leadership? Here’s an exhaustive list of the “same people” who have allegedly changed their minds:

White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer

I don’t recall Pfeiffer ever making fun of Green Laternists, but I’m certainly sure he alone cannot constitute all of “the same people.” But at least he said something really dumb, right?

“He is going to look in every way he can with his pen and his phone to try to move the ball forward,” Pfeiffer said. “We’re putting an extra emphasis on it in 2014.”

So a White House adviser says that Obama will try to do stuff, with no claim at all about whether it will work. But to Fournier, that’s more than enough evidence that everyone agrees with him that Obama could have changed the game by doubling down on the Overton Window, but he didn’t. even. TRY!

Brad DeLong: Chicago Macro: Yet Another Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations Post: Hoisted from Archives Early-Thursday-Idiocy Weblogging

Brad DeLong : Chicago Macro: Yet Another Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations Post: I really, really wish Karl Smith would not do this…

Karl Smith writes:

Cochrane, Krugman, Lucas, Wren-Lewis and Sumner: A Very Short Interpretation « Modeled Behavior: I think the response to Cochrane and Lucas should go like this: "When the government raises taxes to fund additional spending then in theory the effect on aggregate demand depends crucially on what the money is spent on…." When Cochrane explicitly and Lucas implicitly thinks in terms of transferring purchasing power from one randomly chosen citizen to another there is no reason to expect that this will have any effect on either the marginal utility of consumption or the marginal product of capital.

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Thursday Idiocy: Neo-Confederacy Watch

As I recall, the big beef at the time people had against against Reconstruction was the "African-Americans can vote" part...

Tim Carney: Bill de Blasio's 'march' to end inequality tramples little guy: "The potential victims of de Blasio... are the small businesses and voluntary associations that make up civil society...

charter schools... [fundamentalist] crisis pregnancy centers... small businesses... [to be forced to] provide paid sick leave... nonprofit conservancies... [that] bankroll... Central Park.... De Blasio’s inauguration set a tone of intolerance for dissent. One speaker painted de Blasio’s win as victory in the Civil War and promised 'a new Reconstruction era'. A century and a half ago, Reconstruction involved disenfranchising the losers and subjecting them to military rule. What would de Blasio’s Reconstruction entail?...

It has never been possible to say that you are against Reconstruction without also saying that you are for Jim Crow. Just saying.

Ross Douthat Fails to Realize: "Just Because I Read It on the Internet Doesn't Mean It's True": Thursday Idiocy

Andrew Gelman: Having daughters makes you more liberal. No, it makes you more conservative. No, it...??:

Sociologists Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher that reported that respondents to the 1994 General Social Survey who had daughters were more likely to identify with the Republican Party.... Economists Andrew Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee published a paper with the exact opposite finding.... I took a look at both papers and can’t immediately see a resolution.... The existence of two published results in the exact opposite direction suggest, at the very least, that any effects are likely to be lower than claimed in the published articles....

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Michel Boskin: "From the 1960’s and 1970’s on, those writing about the Netherlands often lamented the 'Dutch disease.'

There were so many generous subsidies, grants, and transfer payments--aimed at everyone from the truly needy to artists unable to sell their work--that after-tax wages were often barely higher than benefits. So people rarely returned to work after they lost or left a job, or did so in the underground economy, with its unreported cash payments.

Dutch disease - Wikipedia:

In economics, the Dutch disease is the apparent relationship between the increase in exploitation of natural resources and a decline in the manufacturing sector (or agriculture). The mechanism is that an increase in revenues from natural resources (or inflows of foreign aid) will make a given nation's currency stronger compared to that of other nations (manifest in an exchange rate), resulting in the nation's other exports becoming more expensive for other countries to buy, making the manufacturing sector less competitive. While it most often refers to natural resource discovery, it can also refer to "any development that results in a large inflow of foreign currency, including a sharp surge in natural resource prices, foreign assistance, and foreign direct investment".

The term was coined in 1977 by The Economist to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands after the discovery of a large natural gas field in 1959.

The classic economic model describing Dutch Disease was developed by the economists W. Max Corden and J. Peter Neary in 1982. In the model, there is the non-traded good sector (this includes services) and two traded good sectors: the booming sector, and the lagging sector, also called the non-booming tradable sector. The booming sector is usually the extraction of oil or natural gas, but can also be the mining of gold, copper, diamonds or bauxite, or the production of crops, such as coffee or cocoa. The lagging sector generally refers to manufacturing, but can also refer to agriculture. A resource boom will affect this economy in two ways. In the "resource movement effect", the resource boom will increase the demand for labor, which will cause production to shift toward the booming sector, away from the lagging sector. This shift in labor from the lagging sector to the booming sector is called direct-deindustrialization. However, this effect can be negligible, since the hydrocarbon and mineral sectors generally employ few people. The "spending effect" occurs as a result of the extra revenue brought in by the resource boom. It increases the demand for labor in the non-tradable, shifting labor away from the lagging sector. This shift from the lagging sector to the non-tradable sector is called indirect-deindustrialization. As a result of the increased demand for non-traded goods, the price of these goods will increase. However, prices in the traded good sector are set internationally, so they cannot change. This is an increase of the real exchange rate.

In a model of international trade based on resource endowments as the Heckscher–Ohlin/Heckscher–Ohlin-Vanek, the Dutch disease can be explained by the Rybczynski theorem.

In simple trade models, a country will specialize in industries in which it has a comparative advantage, so theoretically a country rich in natural resources would be better off specializing in the extraction of natural resources. Other models and theories suggest that this could be detrimental, for instance, when the natural resources begin to run out or if there is a downturn in prices and competitive manufacturing industries cannot return as quickly or as easily as they left. This is because technological growth is smaller in the booming sector and the non-tradable sector than the non-booming tradable sector.

Since there has been less technological growth in the economy relative to other countries, its comparative advantage in non-booming tradable goods will have shrunk, thus leading firms not to invest in the tradables sector. Also, volatility in the price of natural resources, and thus the real exchange rate, may prevent more investment from firms, since firms will not invest if they are not sure what the future economic conditions will be.

There are two basic ways to reduce the threat of Dutch disease: by slowing the appreciation of the real exchange rate and by boosting the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. One approach is to sterilize the boom revenues, that is, not to bring all the revenues into the country all at once, and to save some of the revenues abroad in special funds and bring them in slowly. In developing countries, this can be politically difficult as there is often pressure to spend the boom revenues immediately to alleviate poverty, but this ignores broader macroeconomic implications. Sterilisation will reduce the spending effect, alleviating some of the effects of inflation. Another benefit of letting the revenues into the country slowly is that it can give a country a stable revenue stream, giving more certainty to revenues from year to year. Also, by saving the boom revenues, a country is saving some of the revenues for future generations. Examples of these sovereign wealth funds include the Australian Government Future Fund, the Government Pension Fund in Norway, the Stabilization Fund of the Russian Federation, the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan, Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund of Alberta, Canada, and the Future Generations Fund of the State of Kuwait established in 1976. Recent talks led by the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia – International Oil and Gas Conference on fueling poverty reduction – point out the need for better education of state officials and energy cadres linked to a possible Sudden Wealth Fund to avoid the Resource curse (Paradox of plenty).[citation needed] Another strategy for avoiding real exchange rate appreciation is to increase saving in the economy in order to reduce large capital inflows which are able to cause an appreciation of the real exchange rate. This can be done if the country runs a budget surplus. A country can encourage individuals and firms to save more by reducing income and profit taxes. By increasing saving, a country can reduce the need for loans to finance government deficits and foreign direct investment. Investments in education and infrastructure have the ability to increase the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector. An alternative is that a government can resort to protectionism, that is, increase subsidies or tariffs. However, this could be a dangerous strategy and could worsen the effects of Dutch Disease, as large inflows of foreign capital are usually provided by the export sector and bought up by the import sector. Imposing tariffs on imported goods will artificially reduce that sector's demand for foreign currency, leading to further appreciation of the real exchange rate.

Thursday Idiocy: Right-Wing New York Times Columnists Edition

In which we learn that that Ross Douthat has never understood Plato's Euthyphro:

Kevin Drum: Secular Ethics Are Doing Just Fine, Thank You Very Much:

Ross Douthat writes that there are three spiritual worldviews in America today... hard-core biblical, soft-core spiritual, and secular. Unsurprisingly, he's bearish on the secular worldview:

The secular picture, meanwhile, seems to have the rigor of the scientific method.... But it actually suffers from a deeper intellectual incoherence... its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture... a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory. And yet it then continues to insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th-century New England preacher.... So there are two interesting religious questions... the intelligentsia’s fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism--the crèche without the star, the shepherds’ importance without the angels’ blessing — will eventually crack up and give way to something new. The cracks are visible, in philosophy and science alike. But the alternative is not...

And Kevin Drum notes:

Here's what I've never understood about the kind of argument Douthat is making: it's not as if secular ethics is a modern invention. Aristotle's ethics were fundamentally secular.... Secular ethics isn't some newfangled 20th-century experiment that's falling apart at the seams and must inevitably be replaced with a deist revival or the return of Pol Pot. It's millennia old, and doing just fine.... Sex and gender roles have changed dramatically over the past century, and that's certainly produced plenty of tension and discomfort.... For all too many devout Christians, that seems to be the real wellspring... not secularism... but changes in sexual mores.... Christian apologists would do well to keep the two subjects separate.

Indeed. The beliefs (i) that the universe has a Creator, (ii) that one sect of priests claim to know the Mind of the Creator actually does, and (iii) that they say that the Creator has Commands for us; get you precisely nowhere in terms of a foundation for moral and political absolutes without the further assumptions that this rather than that sect of priests knows what they are talking about, that it is moral to engage in reciprocal gift-exchange relationships, and that we are engaged in such a reciprocal gift-exchange relationship with the Creator.

Basically, it's turtles all the way down. And at some level the fundamentalists know that, for so many of their injunctions end " that thou mayst have eternal life" rather than "...because it is the right thing to do".

As Socrates would say, when "storing up treasure in heaven" is advocated because it is the best-performing long-run asset class to invest in, we are very far indeed from the Good...

And we learn that David Brooks has never understood Plato's Apology:

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Thursday Idiocy Continues: Maureen Dowd Manages To Make New York Mayor's Pizza Snafu About Bill Clinton's Blowjob

Outsourced to the inimitable Fourth (Fifth?) Wonkette--somebody should compare Wonkette's regenerations to Dr. Who's...

Wnkette: Maureen Dowd Manages To Make New York Mayor's Pizza Snafu About Bill Clinton's Blowjob: "Hey did you hear that New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, ate pizza with knife and fork, like a total schmegeggie?

Well, NYT supercolumnist Maureen Dowd apparently wandered away from her twitter feed last week and forgot to refresh it, as she has Thoughts about pizza, and Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky, wait what? Oh right, it’s Maureen Dowd. Of course she does:

Pizza can be hazardous to an administration. We all remember what happened when a Clinton intern delivered a pie to the Oval Office during a government shutdown.

DO WE MAUREEN DOWD? DO WE ALL REMEMBER?... Then Maureen Dowd started talking about Zosia Mamet and Girls and sporks and limousine liberals and Sandinistas and Stop and Frisk, and it is every bit as vacuous as every single tipster told us it would be, and that’s when we clicked “close tab.”