Friday, August 31, 2012


When I was a pup, I had intuitions that sometimes fell into left-wing territory and sometimes right-wing territory, though I didn't know enough politics to understand that this was the case. As I began emerging from the Cave, I began to realize that the GOP always said it was a good time for tax cuts. Slow economy? Tax cuts. Fast economy? Tax cuts. Budget deficit? Tax cuts. Budget surplus? Tax cuts. Each time they offered it as a solution to a problem and not simply a principled commitment to lower taxes in all cases. Though I was a neophyte, this made me suspicious. I grew wiser. I realized the GOP, in recent years anyway, doesn't offer solutions to problems; they simply have an agenda.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Piece Of Shit

Vito Lopez.

Roy Attempts Rebuttals

As he notes, Avik Roy is one of Romney's advisers on health care. His rebuttals are not too convincing. The worst, unsurprisingly, is his remarks on Bowles-Simpson. He tries to finesse Ryan's comments into something other than what they actually were. Ryan made it seem as if Obama didn't act on a proposal on his desk. But Ryan (not 'them', 'we'!) and others voted not to put it on Obama's desk. Then Ryan actually says Obama did nothing to try to work on the deficit, but Obama tried many things. It's not his fault if the most dysfunctional Congress in a long time, perhaps ever, didn't create legislation. Roy ignores or downplays these stark facts.

Chait on Ryan

Jonathan Chait says he doesn't have the willpower to cover all Ryan's inconsistencies but goes on to cover many. Very persuasive.

"Ryan began by castigating Obama for borrowing money to fund a stimulus. He then castigated Obama for making his “first order of business” the passage of health-care reform rather than economic rescue, when Ryan himself had just told the audience that the first thing Obama had done was actually to pass a plan intended to rescue the economy. Having argued that Obama erred by distracting himself with health care rather than devote all his energies to the recovery, Ryan immediately promised he and Romney would repeal Obamacare — wouldn’t that also possibly distract from their own economic focus?
In the same vein, Ryan told unemployed Americans, “if you're feeling passed by, you have not failed, your leaders have failed you” — and then, moments later, sneered that Obama saw economically struggling Americans as “victims of circumstances beyond our control.” Ryan believes fervently that Obama’s failures are the sole exception to the general rule that individuals are the masters of their own economic fate."

Cohn On Ryan

Cohn gives the rundown on what people think are the big whoppers in Ryan's speech. In my view, the thing about the plant in Janesville isn't a lie, just a stupid gotcha. Ryan didn't say Obama closed it. He said Obama said it would be open with government help. That can be read as re-opened. So he's blaming Obama for it not being open even if Obama didn't close it. It's not a lie, just silly. If Obama had said "plants like this one" instead of "this plant" there would be nothing for Ryan to complain about. Also, Cohn points out that Bush policies are to blame for much of the running deficits, and that's true to some extent. But Obama continued many of those policies, including the "surge" in Afghanistan and the Bush tax cuts. Perhaps his arm was twisted to some extent, but I don't see how we can exclude that fact. The worst two are the B-S b.s. and the last about helping those in need. It is very underreported how drastically Ryan's budget - which the House passed, remember, thought it died in the Senate - cuts programs that benefit the poor, both in the short and long run.

People Die All The Time When They Don't Have To...

Especially in the U.S., the richest, most powerful country in the world!


There's been a lot of clamor for more stuff on Paul Ryan. He gave a speech last night at the Republican convention. More blogging on this to follow, but start with some good stuff from Yglesias. In general, I'd bet low information voters (and plenty of high information ones) use heuristics and rules which do not readily allow for matters of degree to make a difference. Things like: Debt bad! Taxes bad! Spending cuts bad! This sort of thinking is very bad for politics, since circumstances are complicated to begin with and change all the time AND it's not like we ever got anything exactly right in the first place. It's important to keep things in perspective.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Good Ideas In The GOP Platform

According to Matthew Yglesias. I agree about many of them, but look out for coded words.  "[R]eform of the 42-year old National Environmental Policy Act to create regulatory certainty for infrastructure projects" can mean different things depending on which party you're talking to.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Campaigns And Policies

Mel Martinez says Romney will flip-flop on immigration. If he's right, many will focus on Romney's repeated flip-flops. But what caught my eye was the following perplexing and disconcerting thought:
"KEYES: In the primaries, he was advocating a position of self-deportation. Do you think he’ll stick to that?
MARTINEZ: I don’t think so, no I really, really don’t. I think that campaigns are not the best place to make good policy, and primaries are probably the worst place. "
What a strange idea. If campaigns are not the place to lay out policies, then why have them at all? And how else will we learn about the candidates? How can we hold them accountable to their promises when they get elected? After all, Romney doesn't have much of a record on immigration. What else besides campaign promises do we have to go on? It could be that Martinez means that there is a lot of work to be done crafting the details of what will become actual legislation which cannot be addressed in campaigns. But it sounds worse than that. It sounds like he's saying it's a mistake (!) to articulate your position on policy during a campaign. Bizarre! I wonder how many candidates think the same way...


Worried about employers dropping insurance coverage?  Don't believe the hype:

"Which makes this Towers-Watson survey all the more surprising: The consulting firm polled 512 companies that employed more than 1,000 workers each. These are companies that spend at least $5 million in health benefits annually. They were asked how likely it was that they would drop coverage in 2014 and send employers to the new health care exchanges being created to accommodate the law.
Not a single employer said that scenario was “very likely.” A mere 3 percent ranked it “somewhat likely.” The vast majority — 77 percent said — it was “not likely” that they would stop offering health insurance."


William Dickens rips it on helping the poor.

"Go through the list of government programs and look at the criteria for receiving money or the formulas for determining the size of benefits: TANF -- temporary and exclusively for families with children with benefits depending on the number of children, Food stamps - much more generous for families with children than for those without, EITC - depends on family size, only goes to those who work and the amount initially grows the more you work, WIC - nutrition support for pregnant women and infants, SCHIPS - health care for low income children who don't qualify for Medicaid, Disability Insurance programs - for the disabled. In terms of major government support programs that leaves four. The typical American does not consider recipients of Medicare and Social Security to be undeserving. That leaves Medicaid and unemployment insurance as the only major transfer programs that are conditional only on income and assets (and in the case of UI previous work experience) with no bias towards families or the disabled."

Where Do You Start?

I'm certain she would deny bigotry.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Romney Defends His Likability

Everybody likes the frat boy at the virtually all white at the time school:
“I was voted the president of my fraternity,” he said. “They don’t call them fraternities at Brigham Young University. They’re called Service Clubs. It was the Cougar Club. But you don’t get voted to be head of your group if you don’t get along with people, if you don’t connect with people.”
It's also weird that this is his example of people electing him to some position.

P.S. Don't vote on character issues. Vote based on policy promises during the campaign and past record.

Ezra Klein On Race And The Election

Good stuff.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


You can learn things while you sleep.

Amateur Hour: What Is The Budget Deficit?

People do not seem to have a good grasp of what the federal deficit is. In my estimation, they do not know why it is bad when it is bad either. In order to do my small part, here is a short primer on what the deficit and debt is. If people like this post, I'll do another one on when deficits and debts are things one should be concerned about and why.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


"Based on ballistic tests and other evidence, "it appears that all nine of the victims were struck either by fragments or by bullets fired by police," Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Saturday."

Read more:

Kieran Healy is on point.


Mitt Romney's father was born in Mexico. (He also ran for president.) John McCain was born in Panama. I wonder how many birthers know about that? My guess is that if told, they would immediately and correctly isolate the reasons why those facts are irrelevant given other relevant facts. But that doesn't happen for Obama. Absent better explanations, one is justified in supposing birtherism's source is in part racism, in combination with a few other nutty cognitive biases.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What's Important About The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

People are up in arms about it, but keep the following example in mind. "S" is a family member of a friend. S was born with a genetic predisposition to develop MS, and it is common for people with his form of MS to develop cancer. Luckily, this form of cancer is treatable with a low rate of death for people who get treatment. Before the ACA, people in S's condition went broke trying to pay for health care, received worse quality of treatment, or would simply forego part or all of their recommended treatments due to being unable to afford health care without insurance, or due to being unable to get insurance due to "preexisting conditions" such as MS. After the ACA, S can get treatment. Without it S can't. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, it is a choice as to whether or not we help people with medical conditions beyond their control. It's that simple. Obama and co. chose to help. Romney chose to help in Massachusetts years ago, but thinks it's a bad idea to provide help for everybody now. The standard Republican line now is to go back to choosing to forsake people like S. Teams don't matter; policies do. People like S are what is important to keep in mind about the ACA.

Cheating To Win

"The tactics used to bring the pain that leads to increased blood pressure are startling, too. According to BBC sources, they run the gamut from not releasing urine to cracking or breaking toes with a hammer. In between, athletes have tried sitting on a drawing pin, using tightened leg straps and sitting on their own scrotum."
A lot of able-bodied athletes take a lot of health risks to compete, so it's hard to see this as any worse. But do they have the potential of making the same big time money for excellent performance? An honest question.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Historic Election

Every election is the most important election of our lifetimes, at least so we often hear. There's a case to be made that this year is doubly important, however. Some political science research on elections indicates that economic factors matter more than just about anything else, and that levels at the time of an election do not matter as much improvements (or decreases) in rates. For instance, high unemployment isn't a problem if you started out with very high unemployment, but is a big problem if you started out with low unemployment. Where you start and where you finish are both important factors. You want a downward slope with unemployment and upward slope with personal income. That is why Obama has even a chance to win this year - he started off with catastrophic numbers and now we have only very bad numbers.

It is plausible that whoever wins this year is going to have better numbers in 2016. The nationwide economy is simply too big of an engine for a president to bridle (or to jump start). Barring further catastrophe (always a chance for further catastrophe) unemployment will be better than the 8.3% it is now, GDP will be growing at a faster rate, consumption and investment will pick back up, and so on.  That is probably true no matter who is in office. But we can be sure that voters will look favorably on whomever is in office at the time. If Obama wins, the odds of Democrats being rewarded goes way up. The stimulus will not be viewed as a failure as it commonly is now, the notion that government activism is appropriate in cases of severe recessions of the sort we are in now will be vindicated in the eyes of many, and so on. If Romney wins this year, he is virtually a lock for re-election as an incumbent. Most likely many will credit tax cuts and cuts in entitlement spending as partially responsible for better fortunes.

If we look at an eight year horizon instead of four years, there is a lot riding on this election. Supreme Court Justices will need to be appointed, health care costs and perhaps the implementation of the ACA (a.k.a. Obamacare) have to be addressed, tax reform of one sort or other is certain to be an important issue, along with the increasing importance of climate change and the need for environmental reform. This is a pretty important election.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I don't have anything to add, but it didn't come from nowhere.

Reasonable But Wrong

Matthew Yglesias attempts to make the same point I made here, but it's wrong. Ryan says he did not intend to get stimulus money and that the stimulus is all waste, and not merely pushing around resources. Ryan really is being hypocritical.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

That Word Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

Biden pandered. Giuliani calls it "racist." You don't hear him complaining about Romney's ads regarding welfare, or about how those in the South claim the Civil War was fought over state rights. When Republicans pander, it's often to white people with attitudes of hatred and blame for minorities.  When Democrats pander, it's to the poor with attitudes of victimization from the rich.  If you genuinely can't tell the difference between these types of pandering...well, let's just say it might be time for a little self-reflection.

You Try To Give Your Opponents The Benefit Of The Doubt...

...but reality slaps back.  See this and this for context.

Yep, That Covers Just About Everything

The stakes for Medicare this election.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Ole Kentucky Monkey Cage

A lot to be frustrated about here, but one often overlooked aspect is the loss of human capital. We hope that intelligent and productive people rise out of their educational swamp in these places, but many probably don't, and we all lose out when productive people are not put in a position to use their skills as best they can.

No One Ought To Be Afraid Of The Big Bad Ryan

There's a lot of commentary about how Paul Ryan (R-WI) is a threat due to his combination of affability, intelligence, and good looks. Don't believe me? Check out this Onion piece.  But, for whatever reason, there's no evidence that Ryan comes across that way to Joe Voter. I don't know why; I don't know how people form attitudes based on someone reading a speech on tv (apart from race, gender, and maybe accents - we know what effect those traits have). But non-partisan folks really aren't excited about him. VP picks don't make much difference in an election, and Ryan won't either.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some, Not All, Of These Are Good Ideas...

...but that's sort of the point. If you huff and puff about the deficit and debt non-stop, you come across as a hypocrite when you vote to add to it. If you reasonably claim that deficit spending (in the form of tax cuts or whatever) is sometimes justified, you can have reasonable discussions about when, how much, etc...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's Not A Consistency Thing, In This Case

Don't have a problem with Ryan opposing stimulus bill but still trying to bring some of those funds to his constituents. He might think it's a bad idea but try to make the best of it. I don't even have a problem with his stated justifications:

"Yet, in Ryan's letter to the Labor Department in October 2009, he backed the Energy Center of Wisconsin's grant application for stimulus money 'to develop an industry-driven training and placement agenda that intends to place 1,000 workers in green jobs."'

After all, he might claim that though government money can create jobs on occasion, it is a zero-sum game where the benefits in Wisconsin are balanced by losses elsewhere, and that it was his job to represent his constituents first and foremost.

My main problem is that he would be wrong that the stimulus was (and still is) zero-sum given the relevant economic conditions (i.e. lack of aggregate demand, balance sheet recession, zero lower-bound on interest rates). He's got the economics all wrong, and that's partially been to blame for continuing problems.

No Turning Back

Now that Ryan has to appeal to an entirely different set of constituents, the attempts to walk back his austere policy proposals has begun. Too bad for R and R the House already voted on and passed his budget proposal and Romney has praised it on several occasions.