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.