Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Iran-Contra

Remember when President Reagan sold all those weapons to Iran and then funneled the proceeds to a Latin American paramilitary group? Good times. It's been on my mind for a couple of reasons. First, Reagan has been absolutely lionized by the right, especially since his death. And it seems that this shameful episode has been completely white-washed. When the Iran-Contra hearings were taking place I was just old enough to begin to have an awareness of politics and political figures. I remember seeing him on the TV every day, saying "I don't recall, I don't recall" and I was absolutely bewildered that you could just lie and get away with it. I didn't have any concept of left-wing and right-wing, or even Democrat and Republican. It was just the audacity of him pretending not to know anything about it that struck me. I was so incredulous that I remember asking my folks about it - "You can just lie and get away with it?" Maybe this first impression of Reagan is one reason why I've never been able to idolize him.

A second reason it's on my mind is that I was imagining what the reaction would be if Obama had authorized such acts. A little thought-experiment for right-wingers: if you woke up tomorrow morning and read that Obama had sold weapons to Iran and funneled the proceeds to a left-wing paramilitary group in Latin America (say, FARC), what would your reaction be?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Canadian Healthcare

A favorite tactic of Republicans opposed to healthcare reform is to find a few scare stories from Canada and the UK to try to put the fear of change into the American people. Nevermind that it's easier to find healthcare horror stories from the US. The fact is that Canadians and Britons like their healthcare and don't particularly appreciate having it misrepresented, even if they do see ways that it could be improved. In the Globe and Mail today, a Canadian economist and a former health policy adviser succinctly lay out the reasons why the Canadian system is better. Here's the gist:
So to sum up. We live longer than the Americans do. We are less likely to die at or soon after birth than the Americans are. All Canadians have medical insurance, whereas a huge number of Americans don't. And we pay less as a society for health care than they do in the United States. Four numbers paint a stark picture. And when you strip away the anti-medicare ideological rants and falsehoods on display in Washington, Canada's approach to health insurance would probably sound pretty good to many Americans.

I don't see how anyone could look at these facts and conclude that the US system is better.

Chait on Ayn Rand & Co.

This TNR piece by Jonathan Chait is excellent. He gives an overview of Rand's background and beliefs, including some very unusual details about her and her original followers, then procedes to eviscerate her political philosophy. It gets especially good near the end.
The economic right may believe religiously in their moral view of wealth, but we do not have to respect it as we might respect religious faith. For it does not transcend--perhaps no religion should transcend--empirical scrutiny. On the contrary, this conservative view, the Randian inversion of the Marxist worldview, rests upon a series of propositions that can be falsified by data.

He then goes on to show exactly how the Randian worldview fails. This reminds me just how good Chait can be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Just Cold Makin' Stuff Up

We apparently live in an age where any outlandish lie about Obama and the Democrats can gain media traction. Here's one now! So I decided to come up with some outlandish lies about Republicans just to see if I could get them to catch on. Keep in mind, these are all lies written by a treacherous liberal. You shouldn't believe them...but you will! So here's a peek at the upcoming Republican policy platform:

The GOP will take your children away and force them to live in a moon colony. How will you feel when you see your kids flying away on a moon rocket? I bet you'll feel bad.

The GOP will force old people to work on cactus plantations in the desert southwest. Something about that just doesn't sit right with me.

You know that favorite TV show of yours? The Republicans want to cancel it.

The Republican health plan requires all Americans to take Dr. Sanjay Gupta as their personal physician. Sorry, that doesn't sound like the land of freedom to me.

The GOP will require all domestic pets to be added to a communal soup pot.

Every morning the Republican leadership gathers and prays - for you to die!!

An old man and his grandson were walking along a dirt road, fishing poles resting against their shoulders, the early morning quiet but for their laughter. Just then Republican Senator Chuck Grassley stepped out of the bushes and snapped their fishing poles in half with a derisive sneer. Then he threw the shredded remnants of a health reform bill in their faces. That just seems way beyond the pale.

The GOP will require each family to have at least one child named "Mega-Dittos." That child will, of course, be sent to the moon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Some Insurance Basics

Despite the detailed and heated health care debate, I haven't read much discussion of what insurance is and why we have it. It's worth discussing briefly, as it gets at some of the fundamental need for reform.

Insurance in theory is a pretty great idea. When you pay your periodic fire insurance bill, you're basically paying for a portion of all the fire damage that occurred during that time period, in the understanding that if you ever suffer fire damage then you too will be covered. That's a really rough sketch of the idea, but it's basically about looking after each other and your own self-interest.

This works fine, in theory, until the people controlling the inflow and outflow of money realize that they're sitting on a huge pot of money that can be played with and invested, and that their profits can be maximized by increasing the in-payments, restricting any out-payments and denying coverage to anyone who looks risky. Suddenly they've gone from being a simple conduit between participants in the insurance program to being a self-interested, profit-maximizing entity.

Now, here's the thing: it's possible to have a perfectly good functioning insurance system without having a bloated middleman skimming billions of dollars for profit and denying coverage to millions of people. This morning I followed an Atrios link to this post by John Cole:

Hell, I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what value the insurance companies add at all. Seems like all they do is skim money off the top, add layers of paperwork, and then screw people when they get a serious illness.


This is precisely the function of private insurers, and there's no need for it. You could have a non-profit co-op or a public option for providing insurance. I've never heard a single good reason why it's better to have a huge, bureaucratic, profit-driven corporation that looks after only its own bottom line and sabotages the purpose of insurance in the first place.

Public Option and the Mandate

This is a good point: an individual mandate really doesn't make sense without the public option.

Zombie Death Panel

Depressing stat of the day: 45% of Americans believe the death panel lies emanating from Palin & Co. There's a quote often attributed to Twain: "A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Health Care Talking Points (I)

I've noticed that many opponents of health care reform seem to deeply misunderstand what is actually being proposed, so figured it might do both proponents and opponents some good to lay out in simple terms exactly what reformers would like to see.

First of all, no one would force you to give up your health insurance. Much of the anger out there seems to be based on a fear of not having that freedom of choice. If you like your current policy, you can keep it. You can buy all the private insurance you want - knock yourself out! What is being proposed is that people who cannot afford or cannot attain private insurance, e.g. because of exorbitant costs, a pre-existing condition, a fixed income, or whatever other reason, would have recourse to a public option. That is, they could purchase an insurance policy from the government. The government's role is that of an "insurer of last resort." The government isn't going to be running the healthcare industry, they are simply going to be offering insurance to those who need it, much like extended Medicare (a very popular *government* scheme).

Second, there would be an individual mandate saying that people have to have health insurance. This seems to be another source of anger out there, with protesters suggesting that it's wrong to force insurance on people. In fact, it's not unusual and not unprecedented - we already do this with auto insurance. If you drive a car, you are required to have a minimum of liability insurance in case you are in an accident. Similarly, people would be required to have health insurance to avoid cases where an uninsured person gets sick and ends up in the emergency room where taxpayers are liable to pick up the tab.

The third idea is that insurance companies would be prohibited from charging different premiums, or denying coverage, based on your medical history or perceived risk. This is sometimes called "community rating." This relates to the first point above in that it would lower the access bar for many people to acquire a private policy. It would also greatly lower administrative costs of insurers because they have huge bloated bureaucracies dedicated to weeding out and denying risky applicants. This last point is important - people assume that a government plan would be bureaucratic and unwieldy compared with private plans, but it's quite the opposite.

Those are the keys ideas, believe it or not: a public option, an individual mandate, and community rating. Simple as that. No death panels, no internment camps. Hopefully you'll find these notes useful in talking to people about health reform. I'll post some more points and arguments soon.

Compromise

Here's one reason to be optimistic that health reform will be passed. The American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry have thrown their mighty weight behind the cause. Every attempt at health reform in the post-war period has been stymied by the opposition of the AMA, so this is huge if they truly are on side. This has obviously made people nervous about what exactly is being compromised on to curry their favor, and with good reason. But I agree with Paul Begala that a solid foundation of reform is the critical thing right now. Some compromises will be necessary. I disagree with Begala in that I think a public option and individual mandate are the bare minimum to begin with, but we can't expect the ideal set of reforms to all come in one fell swoop.

Reducing Costs

This NYT opinion piece has some relatively simple suggestions for reducing health care costs. One example: in a nation of 300 million people, there are 32 million CAT scans each year. That's nuts - not only illustrating unnecessary procedures, but potentially harmful ones.

The Treatment

Jonathan Cohn, the guy who was on Colbert the other night, has a good health care blog if you feel like getting all wonky.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Krugman's Take

For a comprehensive take, I really recommend reading Conscience of a Liberal, but these two pieces give a very concise overview of the ideas behind health reform and the reasons that a purely market-based approach won't work.

Improving the Health Care Debate

I'm a big fan of eccentric America. You meet a bewildering variety of folks with outlandish views on everything from aliens and black helicopters to the brainwashing power of chlorinated water. It makes for good pub conversation. Having said that, I'm not sure it's a good sign that these are the people currently leading the health reform debate. In a week when you would've assumed that the administration would be receiving some plaudits for the death of the Pakistani Taliban leader or the release of two American journalists from North Korea, pundits and bloggers have been engaged in the very serious discussion of whether Obama plans to round up and execute old people.

It's difficult to try to explain the nature of this national conversation to a non-American. "Wait, Americans don't actually believe that Obama is going to execute old people, do they?" I'm at a bit of a loss trying to answer that question. I know America well enough that I'm sure there is a percentage of people who sincerely do believe that. This seems to have started with Palin's comment that her family would be forced to stand in front of Obama's death panel. You might've expected that this sensational lie would've been denounced by more of her colleagues, but instead the head of the party, Michael Steele, endorsed Palin's claim, as did the lead Republican on the health reform negotations, Chuck Grassley. I'm not convinced they really believe the claim, but top Republicans seem happy to propogate this lie to their political advantage. But assuming Grassley has actually read the legislation he is helping to negotiate, he knows it's BS.

In short, there is a ton of misinformation out there right now, from the outrageous (Obama is planning to round up citizens in internment camps) to more subtle fear-based defenses of the health care status quo. I'd just like to suggest that those of you who support health care reform talk to your friends and family about the issue, because if we don't then the people in tin-foil hats will be the ones deciding whether you get guaranteed coverage. It's critical, especially within the next four weeks of the August recess, to counter the lies and information in a blunt but civil manner. In the next days I'll post some of my own pro-reform thoughts here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

GladneyCare

An anti-health-reform protester gets in a scuffle at a town hall event, and is now soliciting donations for his medical costs because...he's uninsured. Wow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama & Gates

Apparently right-wingers are all a-flutter about Obama saying that the Cambridge police who arrested Henry Louis Gates acted stupidly. I think that arresting someone for being in their own home, after they've demonstrated that it is indeed their home, is stupid and many other things. But that's not the point I wanted to make. It occurs to me that right-wingers are usually very sensitive about government intrusion into private property, often fanatically so. If police went into John Boehner's home and arrested him for no reason, imagine the outcry - it would be called more than stupid, it would be called un-American, a call to arms, an unprecedented breach of trust. Interesting that Gates doesn't get that kind of sympathy.

Krugman & Health Insurance Reform

I did a lot of reading in Dawson City, and a great book I finished is Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman (Chapters, Amazon). It gives a good overview of American politics from the end of the Gilded Age to the present, and especially a good synopsis of the rise and fall of movement conservatism. Krugman does an excellent job of describing complex issues in simple terms, and I really recommend the book to anyone interested in politics and economics - it's only a few bucks in paperback too.

It covers a lot of ground, but pays special attention to the health care issue, which is obviously very relevant at the moment. President Obama had a press conference today that laid out the issues really well. A few points in particular reminded me of points that Krugman was making.

First, Obama is right to market the pending legislation as health insurance reform and not health care reform, as it is indeed primarily an insurance issue. Nobody is proposing government-controlled healthcare along the lines of Britain's NHS, so if you hear people scare-mongering about socialized medicine you can rest assured they don't know what they're talking about. Any public option will be a public option for insurance (so closer to the Canadian system than the British system).

Second, Obama made the excellent point that the most expensive plan with the least coverage is in fact the status quo. The US currently spends much more than other developed countries on healthcare, with less to show for it. There is simply no sane reason to stick with the status quo when we can have better coverage for less. I encourage you to contact your representatives and senators to encourage them to pass legislation before the August break.

When I'm caught up from my trip a bit more I might give a more detailed overview of the Krugman book. It gave a lot of food for thought.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Reaction

From Jeffrey Goldberg:
An African-American President with Muslim roots stands before the Muslim world and defends the right of Jews to a nation of their own in their ancestral homeland, and then denounces in vociferous terms the evil of Holocaust denial, and right-wing Israelis go forth and complain that the President is unsympathetic to the housing needs of settlers. Incredible, just incredible.

Joel Connelly on Right-Wing Hate

This is very good.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Krugman on Reagan

Here.

Vancouver Canadians

19 days. Who's in?

Bill

Watch it if you can:

Get this...

One of the Corner bloggers blames the recruiting station shootings on...pacifists:
If the Pro-Life Movement Is Responsible for the Murder of Tiller, isn't the peace movement responsible for the shootings at the recruiting station?

Every cause has extremists and lunatics, which the saner ones cannot control.


Yes, because extreme pacifists are all about shooting people.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Strangest Things

Is it really absurd to desire clean water? Even if you disagree with the ban on those detergents, isn't it a little crazy to be talking about cleaning your gun and beating people to a pulp over this issue?

The GOP has only been out of power for a few months, but it's amazing how quickly the right-wingers revert to the far-right, anti-government, survivalist rhetoric of the Clinton years.

This Glenn Beck piece has got to be seen to be believed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Haja o Que Houver

One of my all-time favorite songs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wizzywig

Gotta add this to my reading list.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Awful

Fire this cop, re-hire him, then fire him again.

More Teleprompter in the MSM

A WaPo reporter interviews Robert Gibbs, and what are her top questions? You guessed it. His response is great, and she squirms and giggles as if she suddenly realizes what a tool she is.

Make it stop.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ed Henry Is A Muppet

This Ed Henry piece is really one of the most ridiculous pieces of journalism I've read in a long time. If you caught the Obama press conference last night, you might remember Henry as the one who asked about AIG bonuses and why the administration waited two days to speak publicly about the issue. He received a succinct, somewhat curt, answer from the president: "Because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."


So anyway, today Henry files a piece on...the fact that he asked a question. It's the most smug, self-important, self-congratulatory article you can imagine and might as well be titled "Hey Mom, I asked a hard question at work today!" It's really beyond parody. Also, I love that in the photo accompanying the article, Henry looks like he's about to throw up as Obama is addressing him.
















CNN was so impressed that one of their reporters asked a question, they had him do a guest spot on AC360 talking about how awesome it was.



During the conversation with Anderson, Henry says "The interesting thing is that [Obama] used a teleprompter." Really? The interesting thing is that, like thousands of other public speakers and politicians, he uses a teleprompter? Why is that interesting? What's interesting is the willingness of the mainstream media to help propagate this right-wing meme about Obama using a teleprompter. On the one hand, it's sort of amusing and pathetic that the best they can come up with as far as criticism is that he uses a teleprompter. It makes sense as a Rovean type of strategy where you try to attack your opponent's strengths, but accusing Obama of being a poor orator is so easily disproved that it's hard to see why they're bothering with this line of attack. And even if it's all a bit silly, it's still pretty shocking to see mainstream media outlets running with absolutely false stories.

By the way, I really recommend Wonkette's hilarious takedown on Ed Henry's article.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Springtime!

Andrew Malcolm

This guy keeps showing up on my radar in various wankerous ways. Here's hoping that when the Times needs to trim some fat they look his way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blog Spring Cleaning

A couple of small changes here. I realized the feed info in the right sidebar was outdated, so if you want to subscribe to the blog, that's been updated.

Also, at the very bottom of the page you can see a feed of items I've flagged from Google Reader - posts I thought were interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cheap Tickets

I can't say I've been paying very close attention to ticket deals, but did notice in the Sunday paper yesterday that there are some pretty amazing deals for Vancouver-Amsterdam and Vancouver-London. Apparently Hawaii is cheap right now too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quite a Distinction

Woo-hoo! Sequim has made international headlines for being one of the 10 most mispronounced places in the world. It's skwim, if you were wondering. Not difficult to pronounce, just seldom pronounced correctly by outsiders.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Google Reader Gets Social

I've been using Google Reader for quite a while for all my blog-reading needs. They've been adding lots of new features, most of which I haven't yet taken advantage of. But this sounds cool. Being able to share items with friends, coupled now with being able to comment on them with your friends, is basically turning it into a blog-centric social networking tool, which I like.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Douthat to the NYT

This is great news. Ross Douthat is one of the best conservative bloggers out there, period. He's intellectually honest and always interesting, and is a truly modern face for conservatism. He's worlds better than the disaster that was William Kristol. Conservatives should embrace Douthat just as they should reject the tired Limbaugh/National Review variety of conservatism.

Ponnuru

Ladies and gentleman, I bring you American conservatism today:
The other day when I turned on the tv, the channel was set, as it often is, to Noggin, the toddler network. There was a cartoon image of our president with an announcer saying something like, "Noggin congratulates President Obama. And now here are some things that he likes." I flipped the channel before finding out whether abortion and taxes made the list.

Lovely people over there at The Corner.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Baltic Dry Index

Nothing says "Friday night" like the Baltic Dry Index.

So, the market's been all over the place. You're a-feared. It's a bit unfortunate that people pay such close attention to the daily action of the market; for one thing, the Dow Jones falling 200 points is a lot less important than things like job losses and retail sales. And investors are so crazy right now that the market is rising and falling dramatically on the smallest pieces of news. I've heard estimates that the US markets are about 30% undervalued simply because people are so panicked.

It's pretty hard to look at the stock market fluctuations and assess where we're at - like if we've bottomed out or are starting to recover. It doesn't get much (or really, any) attention in the mainstream media, but there's another index that economists pay close attention to. It's the Baltic Dry Index, and it basically tracks the cost of shipping raw materials by sea. The higher the BDI, the higher the demand is for shipping vessels to transport raw materials like coal, iron and grain. It's considered a leading indicator because increased movement of such materials is a precursor to increased growth and production. And the good news is that the BDI has been steadily climbing for a while now. Here's a look at the last 3 months:





Nice - we haven't seen that shape for a while. And unlike a good deal of current stock market activity, the BDI is a cold, hard measurement of real movement and growth, not just investor sentiment. It's just one figure among a lot of bleak news, but it's reassuring.

A Great Dane Walking a Beagle


Because it's the weekend

The Mysterious Case of the Homeless Guy with the Cellphone

This is a good example of what I'm talking about. This is what conservative bloggers were pissed about today. Michelle Obama goes to volunteer in a soup kitchen. While she's there, an apparently homeless guy takes a picture of her with his cellphone. LA Times writer Andrew Malcolm captures the moment and posts this:
It doesn't detract from the first lady's generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:

If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone?

And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?

Bloggers like Michelle Malkin and Kathy Shaidle ran with it, apparently outraged at the idea of a homeless man having a phone. Here's nice little bit from Shaidle:

Today's "poor" are the rich Jesus warned you about: fat, slovenly, wasteful of their money and other people's.
...
He spends all his (our) money on cellphones and, most likely, tattoos and drugs and booze and other crap, and has no money left for a home and food. And why should he bother? We pay for his shelter and food anyhow.


Um...so Jesus warned us about rich people, but he really meant poor people with phones? I gotta say, if you're a Christian and the thing that really works you into an angry lather is that some homeless guy has a phone, you need to re-read the gospels and figure out what Jesus was really about.

As for Mr. Malcolm's "bothersome journalistic questions," man, I guess you all are too elite to have heard of pay-as-you-go phones. And you must not understand that for a homeless person to pull himself out of poverty, get a place to live, and try to find work, it really helps to have contact information.

Tigerhawk, the Engine of America

So, TigerHawk posted this whiny YouTube video:



I'll just quote liberally from Brad's great summary and takedown:
For those of you who don’t have the stomach, I’ll boil it down for you:

* I, Tigerhawk, am a hard-working guy who makes a lot of money.

* I and others of my kind work harder than any of you out there and we are better than you are because you’re lazy.

* But despite the fact that we’re superior to all of you, you’re all being ungrateful to us… indeed, you want to raise our taxes!

* Because of this, my feelings hurt.



I agree with Brad that there's this weird undertone of anger and resentment towards poor people and the middle class among TigerHawk and his cohort. It always strikes me when I'm talking about the economy with someone and they only want to blame the mortgage defaulters and the labor unions for the current mess, ignoring the bankers and investment executives who were more concerned about their bonuses than having a sound business model. There's blame all around.

If you watch the video above, TigerHawk basically says straight up that because he is a hard-working wealthy man he is more important than people making less than $250k and that they are showing insufficient gratitude towards geniuses like him. So now you've got folks like him "going Galt" by doing what...not tipping waitstaff!. Yeah, stick it to the working class people serving you!

I completely agree with Brad's conclusion:
Tigerhawk, if it makes you feel better, I have nothing against rich people. If you’re a successful person who has contributed something to society, then more power to you.

But please. Do not ask me to feel sorry for you. You’re rich. Again, I repeat: you’re rich. And because you’re rich in the United States, you have to pay less taxes than rich people in every other industrialized country in the entire world. You also have an entire political party (the Republicans) and a large swathe of another political party (the Democrats) who are lining up to kiss your ass on a regular basis. Rich people in this country have it better than rich people in every other country in the world. You’d think they’d be a little more grateful for this fact instead of being perpetually resentful whiners.

Gordon Brown on Prop 8

I look forward to the day when one of our leaders stands up and says something like this:

Gordon Brown has condemned California's ban on gay marriage as "unacceptable" and warned people to be vigilant against all forms of discrimination...

Mr Brown said "this attempt to undo good that has been done is unacceptable".

He added: "This shows why we have always got to be vigilant, always got to fight homophobic behaviour and any form of discrimination."

He also praised equality campaigners in the UK for "changing opinion" about same-sex unions.


I hope Obama will be the American leader who firmly stands up for equal rights. There's a long way to go, but then again, it wasn't until Obama was elected that you could even imagine a US president saying something like "our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

Correlation

Brilliant.

(Via Ben Goldacre)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boneshaker Almanac


This looks good. Is it available locally, anyone know?

Losing It

Seriously, wingers are losing their shit. Just a few examples:

- Limbaugh, the winger Godfather, says he hopes the Obama recovery plan will fail.

- Glenn Beck thinks America is in its death throes and that we should all start building bunkers.

- Jim Cramer thinks Obama is a bolshevik and that Pelosi is the general secretary of the Communist Party.

- Malkin is enamored with the whole Going Galt joke, though it's not clear what talent she could possibly withdraw.

If you follow that last link, you'll see that Malkin claims that American taxpayers are fed up with Washington's "confiscatory policies". Really? Considering that 95% of taxpayers will be getting tax cuts, I very much doubt that. Perhaps not coincidentally, Obama's approval ratings are sky-high. Maybe Beck and Cramer et al. are pissed off because they make more than $250,000? In their view, the patriotic thing is to have the tax burden on the poor and middle class and any suggestion otherwise is "bolshevik".

Going Galt

Ha ha, yes, only a wingnut strike will save us now!

The only thing funnier than right-wingers getting all their ideas from Rush is right-wingers getting all their ideas from Ayn Rand.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chapters Shortcovers

Seems like Chapters is doing some pretty interesting stuff: letting you purchase books by the chapter, share various content with friends, upload your own material, get material on your mobile. Hopefully this will help them compete with Amazon.

Ridley

These Ridley Vintage Motorbikes are awesome. I'm just having a tough time deciding. The MP or the Twin?



Friday, February 06, 2009

On the Offense

Obama has been good the past couple of days:

President Obama scolded critics of his economic plan on Friday, calling it “inexcusable and irresponsible” to delay the passage of the stimulus legislation in the Senate as he named a new White House economic board to help him respond to the recession...“This is not some abstract debate. It is an urgent and growing crisis that can only be fully understood through the unseen stories that lie underneath each and every one of those lost jobs,” Mr. Obama said. “Somewhere in America, a small business has shut its doors; a family has said goodbye to their home; a young parent has lost their livelihood, and doesn’t know what’s going to take its place.”

Krugman on the Stimulus

Here.

And here:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh K-Lo

This piece by Kathryn Jean Lopez on the inauguration contains a real doozy:

We’re a nation not just where you are free to believe or not to believe; we’re a nation founded for Him — so we could praise Him, so we could do His will. Warren began his prayer as a gentle reminder to those privileged with seats and every Joe sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial...


Um, no. That's about as fundamental a misunderstanding of America's founding as you could possibly have.

On another note, and leaving aside the controversy surrounding Warren's invitation to give the prayer (I'm happy to have a diversity of people and beliefs up there), did anybody else find Warren's delivery really weird? Among some evangelicals there is a particular way of talking that suggests the speaker doesn't really believe a word he's saying - an odd combination of fake enthusiasm and smugness. It certainly doesn't work for me.

About that CBO report...

On the bus-ride home last night I was listening to a news podcast (don't remember which one at the moment, but it might've been the Anderson Cooper video podcast) and someone mentioned that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report had been released last Tuesday slamming the proposed stimulus bill as ineffective, but that it didn't get any coverage because it came out on inauguration day. This story has now been widely carried by all of the major networks and has become a right-wing talking point, the repeated point being that the CBO has supposedly criticized the stimulus plan on terms of not enacting spending soon enough. Well, guess what. There was no such report. These accusations were apparently based on a leaked portion of a simulation that had been done on one portion of an earlier stimulus draft. The full CBO report has now been released and reports that two-thirds of the proposed spending will happen in the next 18 months. What are the chances that the major networks will issue a correction? Any chance of some honestly among Republicans?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The State of Economics

Will Wilkinson makes some fair points:
What arises in my mind is the strong suspicion that economic theory, as it is practiced and taught at the world’s leading institutions, is so far from consensus on certain fundamental questions that it is basically useless for adjudicating many profoundly important debates about economic policy. One implication of this is that it is wrong to extend to economists who advise policymakers, or become policymakes themselves, the respect we rightly extend to the practicioners of mature sciences. There is a reason extremely smart economists are out there playing reputation games instead of trying to settle the matter by doing better science. The reason is that, on the questions that are provoking intramural trashtalk, there is no science.

Macroeconomics, in its current form, seems basically inseparable from politics. You see this in the current debates on the stimulus package, with right-wing economists arguing against and left-wing economists arguing against. What little empirical evidence gets introduced can seem cherry-picked. Whenever you see people neatly dividing into two groups, it's got to be more ideology than science.

Gitmo Reoffenders

So, a few days before Obama took office, the Pentagon released some numbers about Guantanamo inmates returning to terrorist activities after being released. Obama had publicly pledged throughout the campaign that he would close Guantanamo, and so the release of these numbers seemed timed to make the closure a more difficult proposition for Obama. There are a number of weird things about this - namely, that Obama had nothing to do with the released prisoners, since they were released under the Bush administration, and anyway, Obama isn't simply planning to let everyone go. The plan is just to close Guantanamo, end torture, extradite where possible, and pursue any prosecution in an above-board manner.

But now it's sounding like the numbers in the Pentagon report may not even be valid. To give one example, they consider a released inmate to be "suspected of returning to terrorist activities" if the said person has made anti-American comments since release. That's pretty weak. And if we've got the Pentagon deliberately fudging numbers in order to sabotage Obama, that's a big deal.

Shut Up & Sing

I caught the tail-end of this Dixie Chicks documentary on TV, and it made for a pretty interesting reflection on the last 8 years under Bush. It's sobering to think that it was only a few years ago that someone could have their career jeopardized and life threatened because of not liking Bush. And yet by the end of his presidency you're hard-pressed to find anyone who'd express kind words about his leadership. What a surreal few years.