Saturday, December 31, 2011

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

By Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 12 most overlooked stories of 2011

The New Republic lists the year's "most overlooked stories," one of which is "Obama’s Failed Fireside Chat."

Historians may someday recall that on July 25, 2011, the bulk of the American people stopped listening to Obama when he spoke about the economy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

31 unanswered questions

Slate lists 31 questions submitted by readers to The Explainer that still haven't been answered.

My favorite:

17. Why don't they ever use “presents” in advertisements? It’s always about “gift”-giving, and “gift” ideas, never a “they'll love these as presents.”
IN THE COMMENTS: My mom, Ann Althouse, answers that question:
"Gifts' is clearly the better word. Lots of crisp consonants. One short vowel.

"Presents" has a near homophone: "presence." So it can be confusing. It also has other meanings. And if people are reading the ad, their brain might pronounce it "pree-ZENTS" and that would make it hard to construct the meaning.

"Gift" also has much nicer connotations. I think of "gift of God" and a "gifted artist." There's something exalted and in touch with the divine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why conservatives shouldn't support Newt Gingrich, and libertarians shouldn't support Ron Paul

1. The Wall Street Journal, in a piece on Gingrich's unconvincing defense against the attacks over his work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (see my live-blog of the last debate at "9:31"), perfectly sums up the lack of principle at the core of his candidacy:

The real history lesson here may be what the Freddie episode reveals about Mr. Gingrich's political philosophy. To wit, he has a soft spot for big government when he can use it for his own political ends. He also supported the individual mandate in health care in the 1990s, and we recall when he lobbied us to endorse the prescription drug benefit with only token Medicare reform in 2003. . . .

If Americans elect a Republican in 2012, it will be someone who can make the case for reviving economic growth, but also for restraining and reforming government so it doesn't bankrupt the country. If Americans want more "bold" government experiments, they'll re-elect Barack Obama.
That sentence I put in bold seems like the key to understanding Gingrich's approach to government. And needless to say, anyone who becomes president has many, many opportunities to use government to their own political ends! So I can't understand why conservatives would view him as the serious conservative candidate in this race. Frankly, I can't understand why Republicans would nominate him at all. He's far from the most electable or the most conservative candidate.

2. Libertarian blogger Alex Knepper makes the case against Ron Paul:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nicholas Kristof on North Korea after Kim Jong-Il

Posted on Facebook by Kristof:

North Korea is by far the most repressive and totalitarian country I've ever visited; it makes Syria or Burma seem like democracies. In North Korea, homes have a speaker on the wall to wake people up with propaganda in the morning and put them to sleep with it at night. The handicapped are sometimes moved out of the capital so they won't give a bad impression to foreigners. And triplets, considered auspicious, are turned over to the state to raise. And now this nuclear armed country is being handed over to a new leader, presumably Kim Jong-un, still in his 20's. The last transition was a dangerous time, as Kim Jong Il tried to prove his mettle by challenging the world, and this one may be as well. Look out.

Christopher Hitchens on North Korea

"The life of the human being . . . is completely pointless. The concept of liberty or humor or irony or happiness or love doesn't exist. You are there simply as a prop for the state. And though it used to be, as with any slave system, that they would feed you in return for your services, that compact broke down a couple decades ago. Now they don't feed you either."

Kim Jong Il is dead.

The murderous dictator of North Korea has died at 69 or 70.

A comment in my Facebook feed says this almost makes up for the loss of Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel.

I'm afraid that of the three of them, Kim Jong Il will be the easiest to replace.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead at 62.

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday of pneumonia due to esophageal cancer. (New York Times link.)

His last published article — an extended refutation of the adage, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" — conveys the agony he was in at the time:

I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.
Last year, he wrote:
In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? … To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
He wrote about death and the afterlife in his memoir from last year, Hitch-22 (at 337, taken from The Quotable Hitchens, at 85):
I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on — only henceforth in my absence. … Much more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave.
He wrote this about George Orwell (in Why Orwell Matters, at 211, taken from The Quotable Hitchens, at 210-211):
[W]hat he illustrates, by his commitment to language as the partner of truth, is that "views" do not really count; that it matters not what you think, but how you think; and that politics are relatively unimportant, while principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them.


(Photo by meesh via Wikimedia Commons.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Live-blogging the last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses

I'll be live-blogging here once the debate starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Keep reloading for more updates.

For more live-blogging, I recommend checking TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, and Althouse (my mom).

9:03 - The moderator tells Newt Gingrich: "You're now physically at the center of the stage, which means you're at the top of the polls." That's the first time I've heard them admit that this is how they choose where to place the candidates.

9:04 - Gingrich is asked about electability. He says he'll win against President Obama in "seven three-hour debates." Huh?

9:06 - Ron Paul gets the second question! That must be a first. He's asked if he'll support whoever ends up being the Republican nominee. "Probably anybody up here could beat Obama." I didn't hear him answer the question.

9:07 - Rick Santorum is asked why he's doing so badly when he's spent more time in Iowa than any of the other candidates. "I'm counting on the people of Iowa to catch fire for me." He says he presents a "clear contrast" with the others because he's been a consistent conservative. If that's so clear, yet he's going nowhere, doesn't that imply that hardcore conservatism isn't the voters' top priority?

9:09 - Mitt Romney is asked why he would be better than Gingrich at "making the case" for Republican policies when debating President Obama. This is essentially inviting Romney to attack Gingrich. Romney doesn't take the bait; he strings together a bunch of his talking points that we've heard in past debates, which are all about his positive qualities, not shortcomings with Gingrich.

9:11 - Michele Bachmann: "I spent 50 years as a real person." Has she been a robot for the past 5 years?

9:12 - Moderator to Rick Perry: "You've admitted yourself that you're not a great debater. . . . You'll be going up against Barack Obama, an accomplished debater." Perry: "I'm kinda gettin' so I like these debates. I'm looking forward to debating President Obama, and I'll get there early, and we will get it on." He's much more lively than he's been in some of the past debates. [UPDATE: Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo says:]

Apparently Gov. Perry saved all the energy from the first 57 debates and packed it all into that one answer.
9:14 - Jon Huntsman: "I am the consistent conservative in this race. . . . We are getting screwed as Americans."

As always, I'm writing these quotes down as I hear them (without the use of a transcript or a rewind button), so they might not be verbatim.

9:18 - Romney seems to be self-consciously shifting to the general election, talking about how he repeatedly "found common ground" with the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in Massachusetts. Gingrich takes a similar tack, invoking "bipartisanship" and talking about the times he "worked things out with Bill Clinton."

9:22 - The moderator says that after the commercial break, they'll talk about something that hasn't been talked about in any of the past debates.

9:27 - Romney is asked about the fact that his business laid a lot of people off. Romney handles this deftly. He says we're getting a preview of the general election, when Obama will ask him the same thing. "I'll tell him, 'How did you handle General Motors when you were running it? You closed down factories. You closed down dealerships.' He'll say: 'We had to do that to save the business.' 'Same with us, Mr. President.'"

9:31 - Paul savagely goes after Gingrich for his lobbying, saying he's been involved in "government-sponsored enterprises" that are dangerously close to "fascism." Gingrich defends government-sponsored enterprises since they do a lot of wonderful things. Bachmann says she's surprised Gingrich is still defending Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Gingrich says Bachmann made "wild allegations" by saying he lobbied for Fannie and Freddie. Bachmann: "You don't need to be within the technical definition of 'lobbyist' to be peddling influence to Washington." [UPDATE: The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks Gingrich's defense was so weak it shows he doesn't really want to win:]
[A]nyone who actually wanted to be president and had made $1.6 million lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have come up with a better defense of it by this point than Gingrich's two-pronged "government-sponsored entities do lots of good things" and "I was a national figure doing just fine so I couldn't have been a lobbyist" line of attack. Clearly it's more important to Gingrich to insist on his righteousness than to come up with a defense that might sound semi-plausible, even if it had the collateral impact of conceding he did something slightly dodgy. I'm fairly certain that last night's excruciating (for Gingrich supporters) Fannie/Freddie exchange officially doomed him as a candidate. Well, that's not entirely true. I think his candidacy was already doomed, but this made the doomed-ness really hard to deny.
9:39 - Paul says he "never voted for an earmark," but he will accept the earmarks he gets. "When you fill out your taxes, you take the deductions." He says he would be a completely different president from everyone else: he wouldn't try to be powerful.

9:43 - Perry says we should have a "part-time" Congress so that members of Congress would work at other jobs and "live within the laws they pass." Moderator: "They worked 151 days last year. How much more would constitute part time?" Perry says 140 days every other year!

9:47 - Romney is asked what sector of the economy will be the most dominant in the next 10 years. Romney says he has no idea; the market will decide that. He criticizes Obama for trying to pick and choose winners in the economy, especially the energy sector. [CLARIFICATION: I shouldn't have said that Romney said he has no idea. He said there's no need for government officials to figure out the answer to that question, but that if he has to make a prediction, he expects the dominant sectors to be manufacturing, high tech, and energy.]

9:49 - Gingrich calls for an "uprising" to "rebalance the judiciary." He criticizes "law schools" for making courts feel "empowered" to write the law.

9:51 - The topic that hasn't been talked about in any past debate is the judiciary. This is a dull topic; it just prompts everyone to say judges should be restrained and must follow the Constitution.

9:53 - Paul correctly says it would be an "affront to the separation of powers" to follow Gingrich's preposterous proposal to abolish courts that issue rulings that offend him.

9:55 - Romney points out that we already have a check on the courts: if they incorrectly interpret a statute, Congress can amend the statute to clarify what it's supposed to mean. That's an important point, but it's also a way to avoid talking about Gingrich's proposal to stamp out supposedly bad judicial rulings on constitutional interpretation. Romney has a clear strategy tonight: never attack.

9:56 - All the candidates are asked to name their favorite Supreme Court Justices. Santorum: Thomas. Perry: Alito, Roberts, and Thomas. Romney: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia. Gingrich: same as Romney. Paul won't answer, because "they're all good and they're all bad." Bachmann: Scalia. Huntsman: Roberts and Alito.

10:04 - The moderator asks Paul about the fact that he would be running "to the left of President Obama" on Iran. Paul says our current policy encourages countries to acquire nuclear weapons. "What did we do with Libya? We talked them out of having nuclear weapons. And then we killed 'em!" He praises Obama for apparently backing off from sanctions on Iran.

10:07 - Santorum on Iran: "They've been at war with us since 1979." He calls Iran a "radical theocracy" and says they're founded on "martyrdom." "Their objective is to create a calamity. . . . We need to make sure that they do not have a nuclear weapon."

10:11 - Bachmann: "I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul."

10:18 - Hunstman goes way overtime in a rambling answer on foreign policy. Moderator: "OK, 2 dings in that one."

10:21 - Gingrich: "I'm very concerned about not appearing to be zany."

10:33 - Perry: "If I'm President, and I find out that the Justice Department has a program like 'The Fast and the Furious,' and my Attorney General says he didn't know about it, I will have him resign immediately." Santorum agrees.

10:38 - Gingrich sticks with his past comments that he'd give some kind of amnesty to an illegal immigrant who's been here for 25 years and has ties to the community, but puts more emphasis on cracking down on "sanctuary cities" and dropping federal lawsuits against states for excessive immigration enforcement.

10:43 - Romney is asked why he flip-flopped on gay rights, and Romney denies the charge. He says he's always been against discrimination based on sexual orientation . . . and opposed to same-sex marriage.

10:47 - Bachmann attacks Gingrich for missing an "opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood."

10:50 - Gingrich defends himself for supporting Republicans who have supposedly favored partial-birth abortion: "I don't see how you're going to run the country if you're going to go around figuring out who to purge." Too bad he doesn't understand that point when it comes to the courts.

10:52 - Romney: "President Obama has unveiled himself as someone who's not the right person to lead the country." Interesting word choice.

Everyone is gaining in Iowa . . .

. . . except Newt Gingrich.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who does Newt Gingrich think is "the greatest president of the 20th Century"?

"Stop Telling Women To Do Startups"

That's the headline of this piece, in which Penelope Trunk (who's founded three startups) argues:

If you are worried that women don’t feel capable of doing whatever they want, you can stop worrying. Women outperform men in school at such a huge rate that it’s easier to get into college as a male than a female. And women take that to the bank by earning more than men in their 20s. Women would probably continue out-earning men except that when men and women have kids, women choose to downshift way more often than men do.

Clearly, women have a choice. There are plenty of opportunities out there for women if the women would just continue working in their 30s the same way they did in their 20s. So clearly, women don’t want to. Women are choosing children over startups.

So it seems that women are making decisions for themselves just fine. It’s just that they are not the decisions that men make. This should not surprise anyone. Men and women are different. So what?

On top of that there is evidence that the members of the VC community go out of their way to attract women. Of course, this makes sense. VCs look for underserved markets. Women are likely to address different markets than men, and since there are so few women founders compared to men founders, it’s likely that women are addressing an underserved market. So VCs want to talk to women.

So VCs are definitely giving women a fair shake, it’s just that women don’t pitch. And women are definitely feeling that they can do whatever they want, it’s just that women aren’t choosing to create tech startups. . . .

I have an idea: How about giving some respect to women who grew up in the 1970s, with feminist revolution baby boomer moms, and are still brave enough to say “I don’t want to work full time. I can work full time. But I don’t want to.“
The whole thing is worth reading. Of course, the real point is much broader than just startups and venture capital.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tonight's Republican presidential debate

I won't be able to live-blog tonight's debate. I'll update this post if I have anything to say when I watch the debate later.

I recommend checking TalkingPointsMemo, National Review, and Althouse (my mom) for live-blogging.

You should be able to watch the debate live online, starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, on ABC News.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why does Obama think ATMs take jobs away from bank tellers?

President Obama said in his recent speech in Kansas:

Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere in the world. And many of you know firsthand the painful disruptions this has caused for a lot of Americans. . . .

If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs or the internet. Today, even higher-skilled jobs like accountants and middle management can be outsourced to countries like China and India. And if you’re someone whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don’t have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages and benefits — especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union.

Now, . . . there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everyone else. . . .

It’s a simple theory – one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked.
If you're going to make such a stark claim and phrase it in pragmatic terms of what has "worked," you should at least make sure the facts are on your side with respect to your own specific examples. But Matthew Yglesias disproves Obama's claim about ATMs replacing bank tellers with one simple chart (from this site):

Yglesias explains:
[I]t's true that since the recession started, we've seen fewer people on the job as tellers. But that's not a decades-long technologically induced trend. It's a recession. The [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics] continues to project long-term growth in the number of bank tellers presumably because banks like to open branches to attract deposits. It's true that bank tellers as a share of the labor force should shrink but that's different. Banks are doing more with a little bit more, not doing more with less.
Of course, one question is: why didn't Obama have anyone fact-check his speech? But more importantly, this shows Obama's attachment to left-wing ideology. He has faith that technological progress destroys jobs. If you're strongly inclined to see advances in technology as setbacks to society, then it's easy to believe that the idea of an efficient free market doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What are liberals' and conservatives' favorite TV shows?

Here's a survey of liberal Democrats' and conservative Republicans' favorite TV shows. (via) Liberals prefer Letterman and Conan; conservatives prefer Leno.

Entertainment Weekly's headline says:

Lefties want comedy, right wingers like work
That leaves out the fact that liberals like sitcoms about work: The Office, Parks and Recreation, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Mickey Kaus picks apart President Obama's call for "American business leaders to understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders."

Here's what Obama said in his recent speech in Kansas:

[R]ebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot, and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success. And it will require all of us to take some responsibility to that success. . . .

[I]t will require American business leaders to understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel put it best: “There’s another obligation I feel personally,” he said, “given that everything I’ve achieved in my career and a lot of what Intel has achieved…were made possible by a climate of democracy, an economic climate and investment climate provided by…the United States.”

This broader obligation can take different forms. At a time when the cost of hiring workers in China is rising rapidly, it should mean more CEOs deciding that it’s time to bring jobs back to the United States – not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for the country that made their business and their personal success possible.
Kaus's whole post on that section of Obama's speech is worth reading. He makes several points, but here's the main one:
How likely is this to happen on the scale that is necessary? Something close to zero. It’s one thing to rely on the generosity of rich people when it comes to funding new hospital wings and small magazines. It’s another when it comes to the basic success of the American economy—which (reminder) has been reliably achieved over the centuries because we have relied on sturdy, universal drive of self interest.
Kaus's "(reminder)" is a devastating rebuttal to Obama's economic worldview. Obama doesn't seem to understand how markets can do good through lots of people acting in their self interest, so he feels it must be the obligation either of charitable individuals or benevolent government to make sure the system is "fair." Of course, as Kaus says, charity can be very effective. But the president isn't going to inspire people to be more charitable than they already are. The only way any president can increase the level of charity is through economic policies that cause people to have more money to give away.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Herman Cain drops out

With about as much dignity as he could have mustered, given the circumstances:

As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign. I am suspending my presidential campaign because of the continued distraction, the continued hurt caused on me and my family — not because we are not fighters, not because I'm not a fighter. It's just that when I went through this reassessment of the impact on my family first, the impact on my supporters, . . . as well as the impact on my ability to raise the necessary funds to be competitive, . . . we had to come to this conclusion, that it would be best to suspend this campaign. has a different take:
Herman Cain suspends campaign to spend more time with your wife

"The House of the Rising Sun" over the years

Leadbelly, 1944:

Frijid Pink, 1970:

Old computer equipment, 2011:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ramesh Ponnuru makes the conservative case for Mitt Romney.

In a long endorsement of Romney in National Review (which endorsed Romney in 2008), Ponnuru argues:

Governor Romney’s political career may not reflect the ideal balance between conviction and calculation. But a presidential primary offers a choice among imperfect alternatives, not embodied ideals. Weighed against the available alternatives, Romney comes out ahead — way ahead — because he is the only one of the primary candidates with a good shot at achieving a prerequisite for advancing a conservative agenda as president: namely, actually becoming president.

Huntsman is highly unlikely to win the nomination because Republican voters divine in him a disdain for them, and return it. The others, even if they got the nomination, would be almost-certain losers in a general election. They are either too out of sync with the electorate, too personally erratic, or both.

Representative Bachmann says that President Obama is certain to lose reelection, so Republicans should feel free to nominate the candidate of their dreams, without regard to electability. The president certainly looks beatable. But writing him off is unwise. His approval numbers are weak but not disastrous, the Republican party remains unpopular, incumbency almost always carries advantages, and the composition of the electorate is likely to be much more Democratic than it was in 2010. If the bottom drops out of the economy, perhaps as a result of Europe’s disorders, then maybe even Gingrich or Perry could win the race. But the stakes are too high for that kind of gamble.

Even if one of them did win the White House, what we have seen of their campaigns suggests that his presidency would be a bumpy ride. In Perry’s case, the problem would be an apparent unfamiliarity with national issues that looks good only in comparison with Herman Cain’s proud ignorance. Gingrich, meanwhile, is a constant reminder that political leaders can have too much, as well as too little, imagination. His recent proposals on immigration are classic Gingrich: innovative-sounding, accompanied by high-tech gadgetry, and wholly absurd. Local community boards will decide which illegal immigrants to expel! We will be “humane,” while denying temporary workers the vote and stripping their children of citizenship!

The last time Gingrich held office, he reached a depth of unpopularity that suggested that the public did not merely disagree with his policies but disliked him as a person. . . .

There is another issue with Gingrich, the broaching of which risks cruelty but cannot be avoided in the cold analysis Republicans have to perform. We don’t know whether Gingrich’s marital history will weigh heavily on voters, but we know it won’t help. The contrast to President Obama’s family will tell against him. Gingrich’s election would represent several firsts. He would be the first president with multiple ex-wives, and the first president with any ex-wives who speak negatively about him on the record. He would bring with him the first first lady who could be labeled a “home wrecker.” . . .

[Romney is] reasonable, articulate — phenomenally articulate, by the standards of recent Republican presidential candidates — and reassuring.

Newt Gingrich says the primaries are effectively over.

"I don’t have to go around and point out the inconsistencies of people who are not going to be the nominee. They are not going to be the nominee. . . . I’m going to be the nominee. . . . And the guys who attacked each other in the debates up to now, every single one of them have lost ground by attacking. So they should do what they and their consultants want to do. I will focus on being substantive and I will focus on Barack Obama."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does it make sense for conservatives to complain about almost half of Americans paying no federal income taxes?

Nope, says National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru.

One especially clever point by Ponnuru, in response to the argument often made by conservatives that "the more people fall off the income-tax rolls, the more will support federal activism":

The story . . . relies on implausible psychological assumptions. It assumes that people who pay payroll taxes but not income taxes make a sharp distinction between the two. But what if they, or many of them, simply think that they have paid taxes? It assumes, further, that immediate circumstances matter more than long-term ones. When conservatives argue for tax cuts for high-income voters, or against tax increases for them, we often point out that some people who are “rich” today will not be in ten years, and vice versa. We argue, further, that high taxes reduce the incentive to work, save, and invest, which presupposes that people can anticipate the taxes they will pay if they gain income. But if they can anticipate future taxes, then the fact that they do not happen to pay income taxes at the moment should not matter.

That point has special relevance for parents who are paying no taxes because of the child tax credit. That credit will not be available to them when their children have become adults. Parents are almost by definition more oriented to the long term, on average, than other voters. They ought to be able to see that their taxes are going to go up when their children grow up, and that if they vote for big government now they will have to pay the bill later. . . .

To seek to raise taxes on poor and middle-class people would be a terrible mistake. The idea is bound to be unpopular. And it would alter the character of conservatism for the worse . . . [by] becom[ing] a creed openly focused on helping one group at the expense of another, a kind of mirror image of egalitarian liberalism.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Newt Gingrich supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance as late as 2005.

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

Newt Gingrich has attacked Mitt Romney on the issue of the individual health insurance mandate, while chalking up his own past support for the idea as an indiscretion in the 1990’s. But as it turns out, those 1990’s stretch all the way to 2005 — and beyond, to 2008 — when Gingrich gave as passionate an explanation of the mandate idea as any current supporter could ever muster. . . .

At a forum in 2005, alongside then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), Gingrich explained the tradeoffs that both the right and the left would have to make in health care: For the right, some transfer of wealth is involved in providing health care for the working poor, the disabled, and other groups. And for the left, individuals should still have control over their health care, rather than total government management.

“I mean, I am very opposed to a single-payer system — but I’m actually in favor of a 300 million-payer system. Because one of my conclusions in the last six years, and founding the Center for Health Transformation, and looking at the whole system is, unless you have a hundred percent coverage, you can’t have the right preventive care, and you can’t have a rational system, because the cost-shifts are so irrational, and create second-order problems.”

This led Gingrich to a few conclusions of how to implement such a system: Convert Medicaid into a health insurance voucher system as it applies to the working poor (on the rationale that the creation of food-stamps do not involve the government running its own grocery stores); Create very large risk pools for individuals to purchase insurance (i.e., exchanges); and minimize insurance companies from cherry-picking customers.
I'm interested not just in the fact that Gingrich took these positions, but in the way he argued for them. Even while supporting a supposedly liberal policy, he used self-consciously tough language:
But my point to conservatives is, it’s a model of responsibility. If I see somebody who’s earning over $50,000 a year, who has made the calculated decision not to buy health insurance, I’m looking at somebody who is absolutely as irresponsible as anybody who was ever on welfare. Because what they’ve said is, a) I’m gambling that I won’t get sick, and b) I’m gambling that if I do get sick, I can cheat all my neighbors.

Now when you talk to hospitals, a very significant part of their non-collectables are people who have money, but have calculated that it’s not worth the cost to collect it.

And so I’m actually in favor of finding a way to say, if you’re above whatever — whatever the appropriate income level is, you oughtta have either health insurance, or you oughtta post a bond. But we have no right, we have no right in this society, to have a free-rider approach if you’re well off economically, to say we’ll cheat our neighbors.
You can see him make those remarks starting around 3:45 in this video. He starts out by admitting it might sound "un-conservative," but arguing that it's analogous to welfare reform:

Gingrich's argument is a good example of what I see as the fundamental divide in how liberals and conservatives think of themselves, or at least how they hold themselves out to the public. Liberals present themselves as caring. Conservatives present themselves as tough. I don't know of any other unifying theory that explains why conservatives/Republicans disagree with liberals/Democrats on so many disparate issues — economic, social, foreign policy.

Since Gingrich is committed to his image as a conservative, even if he takes a seemingly liberal or moderate position on health care, he isn't going to frame it as being concerned for those who lack health insurance. It's about cracking down on people who abuse the system. That's how conservatives like to talk, so I'm sure at the time he thought he was making a brilliant point that was consistent with conservatism. But for conservative Republican primary voters who are driven by opposition to Obama's health-care reform, I'm not seeing any reason to choose Gingrich over Romney.

UPDATE: Politico has a similar article:
If Republicans are flocking to Newt Gingrich to get away from Mitt Romney’s health care problems, they could end up with a nominee with … awfully similar health care problems.

Or maybe worse: While Romney signed a state mandate into law, Gingrich once went a step further and advocated a federal one.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to know if you're intellectually honest

Paul Graham writes:

Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.

The other alternative would be that you independently considered every question and came up with the exact same answers that are now considered acceptable. That seems unlikely, because you'd also have to make the same mistakes. Mapmakers deliberately put slight mistakes in their maps so they can tell when someone copies them. If another map has the same mistake, that's very convincing evidence.
Graham doesn't use the phrase "intellectual honesty," but that's what he's getting at. Oddly, there are some people (including Matthew Yglesias) who deny that there's any such thing as "intellectual honesty," unless it's used as a synonym for just plain "honesty." I think that's a big mistake.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Old and new ideas

"The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."

Ironically, this was said by John Maynard Keynes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Live-blogging tonight's Republican presidential debate on foreign policy

[Here's the transcript.]

Keep reloading this page for updates!

8:11 - Wolf Blitzer gives an example of an introduction, saying: "I'm Wolf Blitzer, and yes, that is my real name." Mitt Romney says that "Mitt" is also his real first name. Not according to Wikipedia! [UPDATE: TalkingPointsMemo, which makes a lot of money by posting attack ads against Romney, is running this headline:]

Mitt Romney Flip Flops On His Own Name
8:15 - For the first time, Newt Gingrich goes first. He says he wouldn't "change" the Patriot Act, but would "look at strengthening it."

8:17 - Ron Paul mentions Timothy McVeigh as an example of a terrorist who was dealt with in the criminal justice system. Gingrich says, as if this were a knock-down argument against Ron Paul, "But Timothy McVeigh succeeded!" Is Gingrich suggesting that McVeigh shouldn't have been criminally prosecuted?

8:20 - Jon Huntsman says that Tom Ridge was a "great Secretary of Homeland Security." I don't remember many people saying this at the time.

8:22 - Rick Perry says he would criminalize TSA pat-downs and privatize the TSA.

8:23 - Rick Santorum agrees with Perry. "We should be trying to find bombers, not bombs."

(As always, I'm writing down these quotes on the fly, not using a transcript, so they might not be verbatim.)

8:24 - The moderator asks Santorum what kind of profiling he'd support. Santorum says you should look for "Muslims," as well as "younger males." Ron Paul says: "What about Timothy McVeigh?" That sounds like an example of the kinds of people Santorum wanted to focus on! He was a young man.

8:27 - Herman Cain calls Wolf Blitzer "Blitz." A little later he makes fun of himself for the slip, saying he meant "Wolf." Wolf Blitzer says: "Thank you, Cain!"

8:31 - Michele Bachmann hones her answer from the last foreign-policy debate about why she supports continuing to give aid to Pakistan. She points out that we need to maintain our relationship with Pakistan because they give us intelligence information about terrorism. Perry disagrees, without explaining what he thinks is wrong with Bachmann's reasoning. After Perry says he wouldn't give any financial aid to Pakistan, Bachmann's says that's "highly naive."

8:36 - Romney supports spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan for years to come. "We need to bring them into the 21st century — or the 20th century, for that matter." Huntsman "strongly disagree[s]." There's a very long back-and-forth between Romney and Huntsman, which might be a first in all the debates. Romney emphasizes listening to the generals, whereas Huntsman says you still need to make your own decision as commander-in-chief.

8:41 - Gingrich: "We were told that killing bin Laden in Pakistan brought our relations with Pakistan to a new low. Well, it should have!"

8:48 - There's a bizarrely long lull while they wait for someone in the audience to ask a question.

8:50 - Paul: "Why does Israel need our help? They need us to get out of the way."

8:51 - Paul reveals Israel's open secret, saying they have "200, 300 nuclear missiles."

8:53 - Perry says he would "sanction the Iranian central bank." Doesn't "sanction" as a verb have the opposite meaning from "sanction" as a noun?

8:56 - In response to a question by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Santorum strongly supports humanitarian assistance to Africa in fighting AIDS. He rebukes the candidates who oppose foreign aid (Perry, Gingrich, and Paul).

9:05 - Blitzer asks Gingrich if he would bomb Iran. He says only as a last resort, and only to change the regime.

9:06 - Huntsman is asked if he would support cuts to the defense budget. He says we can't have any "sacred cows" in reducing the debt. "Everything's gotta be on the table. The Defense Department has gotta be on the table." If we can't find any cuts there, "we're not looking hard enough."

9:21 - Adam Sorensen of Time Magazine points out that Cain is "still giving the 'I'll wing it' answer on every question."

9:27 - Paul: "The federal war on drugs has been a failure." Blitzer asks if this means we should legalize all drugs. Paul says he would at least legalize medical marijuana. He adds that prescription drugs are more dangerous than illegal drugs. "And believe me, the kids can still get the drugs."

9:31 - Is there some rule that every debate needs to bring up immigration, but only near the end? There seems to be some consensus that immigration is so important that it always needs to be debated, but it's unimportant enough to wait till the audience has stopped paying attention.

9:34 - Gingrich seems to be doing about half of the talking in this debate. Paul seems to be speaking more than Romney or Perry.

9:41 - Blitzer says we'll have "much more" after a commercial. The debate has been going on for over an hour and a half — I don't know if I can take "much more."

9:54 - Wolf Blitzer asks all the candidates to quickly answer a question about what national-security issue no one is talking about that they wish would be talked about. Santorum says South America. Paul says Afghanistan. Perry says China. Romney agrees with Santorum: South America. Cain: cyber-attacks. Gingrich agrees with Cain and adds: electromagnetic pulse attacks. Bachmann: Iraq. Huntsman: the United States economy.

Now that the debate is mercifully over after 2 whole hours, a couple non-live points:

Perry said that Hezbollah and Hamas have infiltrated Mexico to try to enter the United States:

Josh Marshall at TPM thinks the most important event of the night was Gingrich's comments on immigration. Marshall says:
Newt’s edging into the GOP danger zone here on immigration. He really did say he’d provide a path to legality, though not citizenship, to a substantial number of the current undocumented population. Bachmann called him on it. And he denied he said it. But Bachmann, I think, was right. He did say it.

Now, [that's] an immensely logical thing for Newt to say — that you’re not going to be uprooting and separating families who’ve been here for a quarter century.

But this is toxic in GOP primary politics. It helped sink Rick Perry.
The New York Times seems to agree that that's the big story. The NYT is currently reporting on its homepage:
Newt Gingrich suggests some illegal aliens should be allowed to stay in the United States.
Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review says on Twitter:
Someone should tell Gingrich that some of those immigrants will build mosques.
My mom, Ann Althouse, gives the transcript of the interchange between Gingrich and Bachmann on immigration, and concludes:
That one-on-one really highlighted Gingrich's superior intelligence and sophistication. Clearly, Gingrich has the ability to reach out to many Americans who feel empathy toward the people who are in the county illegally and to take a middle position that balances a large set of interests. I like that, but obviously the red-meat fans have something to complain about. He put some vegetables on their dish.

Mickey Kaus debunks the New York Times article on the "near poor."

The New York Times ran a prominent article last week on "near poverty":

They drive cars, but seldom new ones. They earn paychecks, but not big ones. Many own homes. Most pay taxes. Half are married, and nearly half live in the suburbs. None are poor, but many describe themselves as barely scraping by.

Down but not quite out, these Americans form a diverse group sometimes called “near poor” and sometimes simply overlooked — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood.
As a commenter on Kaus's blog points out, it's amazing that driving a non-new car is now considered a sign of poverty or anything close to it.

Here are my favorite points by Kaus (with all emphasis in the original):
– “Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round.” The Times thinks this 28 percent figure is surprisingly high. (“These estimates defy the stereotypes of low-income families,” says the Census official). Does 28% seem high to you? To me it seems low.

– “Bruce Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago, warned that the numbers are likely to mask considerable diversity. Some households, especially the elderly, may have considerable savings.” The “near poor” category also includes unemployed 23 year old college graduates from wealthy families, stockbrokers who had a really bad year, moderately paid workers who live in Silicon Valley (where, thanks to the cost-of-living correction, you can make $51,000 and still be “near poor”). Indeed, the vast diversity of the “near poor” category makes it virtually useless. It is a granfalloon, Kurt Vonnegut’s term for a false class of people.

– . . . [A]s society grows richer, you’d think more people would be able to take a year off and live off their assets. Yet they show up as poor—because the poverty numbers measure income, not wealth. (I qualified for the low-income Earned Income Tax Credit once when I owned a house in Georgetown. There was no asset test.) I’m not saying these people are a significant portion of the statistically poor. But they’re probably a growing portion (maybe even the “fastest growing portion,” to use the standard journalistic con that makes the growth of a small population seem significant). . . .

– I’m also suspicious of the way the fancy new poverty measure takes into account regional variations in the cost of living and medical expenses. I live in an expensive part of an expensive region because it is worth it to me. I could live in North Dakota. Does that make me “poor” or have I chosen to consume in one way (nice town) rather than another?
IN THE COMMENTS: Remembering how American "poverty" looked in the Soviet Union.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why do protesters chant, "This is what democracy looks like"?

Julian Sanchez has an evolution-based theory:

For most of human history, we’ve spent our whole lives in social clusters of a few hundred people—we’re basically hardwired for groups of that size. That makes it easy to look at a throng of a few thousand out at a rally and tell yourself . . . : “This is what democracy looks like.”

Except, of course, it isn’t really. Or at any rate, it’s only a tiny part of what democracy looks like.

A small group of people self-selected for their commitment to some set of shared goals and values may be able to pick a set of slogans to chant in unison, or resolve their limited disagreements by consensus process. But real democracy in a pluralist society involves deep and often ineradicable disagreement—and not just on the optimal uses of public parks and other commons. It’s true, of course, that concentrated and wealthy interests routinely capture the apparatus of government, and use it to serve ends inimical to the general good. But a frame that sets up an opposition between “the 99%” and “the 1%” —or, if you prefer, between “Washington/media elites” and “Real America”—suggests a vain hope that profound political differences are, at least in some spheres, an illusion manufactured by some small minority. . . .

To imagine protest not as prologue to politics, but as a substitute for it, suggests a denial of the reality of pluralism, and an unwillingness to find out what democracy actually looks like.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Matt Lewis Newt-ly calls out Bill Sher for failing to understand the appeal of Newt Gingrich.

Matt Lewis talks like Newt Gingrich while calling out Bill Sher for failing to understand Gingrich's appeal:

Here's the post Matt Lewis is referring to: "How to talk like Newt (in 7 easy steps)."

I noticed that in the last debate, Gingrich would qualify all his statements with "explicitly." By my count from searching the transcript, he used that word 4 times (and no one else used it at all). It's a way to sound intellectual without necessarily saying anything.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Airlines vs. customers

2 stories, both from today:

1. Airline makes passengers pay more money to finish flight.

2. Passengers make airline give them more money to leave plane.

The first story reminds me of an episode of The Office where Michael Scott has started his own paper company, and he realizes that he's only been able to make lots of sales because his prices are so low he won't be able to stay in business much longer. We see Michael calling a customer on the phone, saying:

Hi, Jerry. Michael Scott. Well, this is slightly embarrassing. Um, I'm going to have to ask you to pay me a little bit more money for that delivery we dropped off yesterday. [pause] Yeah, we did. We got the check. But we're just going to need a much, much bigger check.

A template for the mental-health industry

Alex Knepper writes (on Facebook):

You can't be a self-actualized human being while afflicted with crippling boredom. It's affecting millions -- you are not alone. And we know that there are chemicals in the brain that relate to boredom, so, since it's chemically-caused, you can't be held responsible for it. If you want to reverse this disorder, you may benefit from our very expensive drug. Make sure to see an expensive Mental Health Advocate to see how you can pay to get this drug and correct your disease of boredom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Newt Gingrich Speaks Well. But Is He Smart?"

An excellent question by John McWhorter.

Gingrich is good at taking fairly standard conservative views and dressing them up in academic-sounding verbosity. I don't find that very impressive.

In this video, Glenn Loury and my mom, Ann Althouse, start out talking about Rick Perry's infamous moment of forgetfulness, but then broaden the topic to how much intelligence matters in a president:

The fact that there are many smart people who shouldn't be president is true but beside the point. Intelligence isn't a sufficient condition for being a good president, but it's a necessary condition. In other words, a smart president might be mediocre, but a dumb president isn't going to be good. Another example of a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition: I wouldn't vote for a presidential candidate who can't speak English or who can't read. Still, most literate English-speakers aren't qualified to be president. Here's a theme I plan to return to in a future post: we're observing a job application process, and we (Americans) get to hire someone for the job. Most job requirements aren't guarantees of doing a good job, but they're still requirements.

New York Times: Obama's young volunteers/supporters from 2008 are unenthusiastic about reelection campaign.

The Times talks to young people in Nevada, which has an unemployment rate of 13.4%. Two of the people quoted:

Jason Tieg, 22, a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho, voted for Mr. Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008. But now, struggling to find a part-time job to help him through school, he is not even sure he would do that again. “I got a job in July as a custodian on campus, but I lost it again when they needed to cut down.”

“I don’t know if I’ll support him next year,” he said. . . .

Maureen Gregory, 23, a Las Vegas native who turned up at an interview at Madhouse Coffee loaded with buttons, T-shirts and posters from the campaign[,] . . . sneaked away from school every day to work at an Obama campaign headquarters [in 2008]. “Sometimes I didn’t get out until midnight,” She [sic] said. She, too, could not imagine devoting that much time to him again, as much as she admires Mr. Obama.

“I didn’t think it was going to be so bad,” she said. “I’m looking for something to do. Even part time. I was definitely hoping Obama could do more.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hermain Cain's worst gaffe yet?

Maybe. There are so many contenders.

Do government regulations "kill jobs"?

Yes, but they also create jobs:

"If you’re a coal miner in West Virginia, it’s not a great comfort that a bunch of guys in Texas are employed doing natural gas," said Roger Noll, an economics professor at Stanford and co-director of the university’s program on regulatory policy. "Some people identify with the beneficiaries, others identify with those who bear the cost, and no amount of argument is ever going to change their minds."
And to the extent we can trust self-reporting by employers, it seems that not many jobs are killed by regulations:
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that very few layoffs are caused principally by tougher rules.

Whenever a firm lays off workers, the bureau asks executives the biggest reason for the job cuts.

In 2010, 0.3 percent of the people who lost their jobs in layoffs were let go because of “government regulations/intervention.” By comparison, 25 percent were laid off because of a drop in business demand.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Live-blogging the Republican presidential debate on foreign policy

Keep reloading this post (or the homepage) for updates. You can also find live-blogging on TalkingPointsMemo.

CBS News starts out with a long clip show of some of the most intense lines from previous debates, including the spats between Mitt Romney and the Ricks (Perry/Santorum) about whether Romney would be allowed to finish speaking. So they're shamelessly admitting what everyone knows: that the networks thrive on getting the candidates to attack each other.

8:05 - The first question goes to Herman Cain: what would you do to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? This debate is going to be all foreign policy, in contrast with all the previous debates, which have been mostly about domestic policy. Cain is probably under the most pressure in this debate, since there are so many questions about whether he has any foreign policy competence. Cain is sounding very polished and confident. [UPDATE: As you'll see in some of the commentary I've quoted near the end of this post, my remarks here were not prescient. Overall, Cain's performance in debating foreign policy tonight seems to have been rated very poorly.]

8:06 - Romney says that Iran is President Obama's "greatest failing" in foreign policy.

8:07 - A moderator calls time on Romney in the middle of his sentence, and Romney forcefully says that he still has time left because he sees the yellow light. The moderator says: "I stand corrected." [ADDED: Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo says:]
Mitt stands down [moderator] Scott Pelley as a meta-signal that he can stand down Iran.
8:09 - Newt Gingrich: "There are many ways to be smart on Iran, and relatively few ways to be dumb, and this administration skipped all the ways to be smart." Gingrich makes a point to praise Cain's and Romney's answers on Iran.

8:15 - Santorum, in his answer on Iran policy, pointedly contrasts his own record with President Bush, saying that Bush wasn't willing to spend the money to implement Santorum's policy. Most of the debates have rarely mentioned Bush, but clearly Santorum believes that criticizing Bush is a way to win over Republican voters.

8:18 - Jon Huntsman: "I don't want to be nation-building in Afghanistan, when this nation so desperately needs to be built." He deemphasizes foreign policy as a whole, saying the main issues are the economy and education.

8:24 - Perry says he'll start out by giving "zero" foreign aid to all countries. "Then we can have a conversation" about whether to give any foreign aid to anyone. He strongly opposes foreign aid to Pakistan.

8:25 - I'm pretty sure Romney, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich all got multiple questions before Michele Bachmann got one.

8:26 - Bachmann: "President Obama has been willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street, but he will not stand with Israel. Israel looks at President Obama and they do not see a friend."

8:27 - Gingrich passionately agrees with Perry's answer on foreign aid. He accuses Pakistan of hiding Osama bin Laden.

8:28 - Santorum disagrees with much of what the others have said about Pakistan: "Pakistan must be a friend. . . . We need to continue the aid relationship. The aid is all spent in the United States; it's not sent over there."

8:34 - A moderator asks Gingrich: "Would you care to address Gov. Romney's ability to think outside the box and challenge national-security perspectives?" Gingrich: "No." The moderator points out that he did just that in a recent radio interview. Gingrich: "That's because I was on a radio show. We're having a debate to see who should run against President Obama."

As always, I'm writing down these quotes on the fly and probably won't catch all of them verbatim.

8:39 - Moderator to Perry: "As you said in the last debate, you advocate the elimination of the Department of Energy—" Perry: "Glad you remembered it!" Moderator: "I've had some to think about it." Perry: "Me too!" This, of course, gets a huge laugh. The moderator asks him how we're going to deal with nuclear weapons if we abolish the Department of Energy. Perry doesn't answer the question.

8:41 - Cain: "I do not agree with torture. Period." But he'll defer to the military's definition of torture. The moderator follows up to ask what he thinks about waterboarding. Cain: "I think it is an enhanced interrogation technique." He would bring back waterboarding.

8:42 - Bachmann also supports waterboarding. She says Obama seems to want (?) to lose the war on terror. Bachmann has clearly decided she needs to be as vociferously anti-Obama as possible.

8:42 - Ron Paul: "Torture is illegal . . . by our laws and international laws. Waterboarding is torture. It's illegal under our law and international law. It's also immoral. And it's also very impractical. There's no evidence that you get reliable evidence." [ADDED: Here's the video:]

8:45 - Romney agrees with Obama's policy of killing American citizens who are fighting with anti-American terrorists. The audience boos. Moderator to audience: "We will not have booing."

8:47 - Gingrich makes a powerful statement that the correct action in war is "to kill people who are trying to kill you," not about giving those people due process rights. He emphasizes that this is consistent with "the rule of law," because war is separate from the criminal justice system. His answer draws some vague heckling from the audience. [ADDED: Here's the video:]

8:50 - TPM posts a somewhat comical freeze-frame of Romney at the debate, supposedly watching Perry.

8:52 - After Romney gives his answer to a question on China, Huntsman makes an extremely wonky correction to Romney: "I don't think you can take China to the WTO on currency-related issues." Subtext: Romney is a former governor with no foreign-policy expertise; Huntsman was also a governor, but he's seasoned in foreign policy.

8:56 - Perry is asked whether his policy of bringing all foreign aid down to zero applies to Israel. Perry says yes. "In fact, we oughta do that with some of those agencies that I was trying to think the name of." (Yes, he did say "think the name of.")

9:03 - Josh Marshall writes:
I think we have to face the reality that with Rick Perry remaining lucid and not forgetting where he is, the entertainment value of these debates really goes off a cliff.
9:05 - Paul is asked whether we should invade Syria and try to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. Unsurprisingly, he says no. Moderator: "But what about the 3,500 people dead [in Syria]?" Paul points out that the Soviet Union and China killed "hundreds of millions of people," and we didn't see fit to invade them.

9:08 - Senator Lindsey Graham, who's in the audience, asks a softball question about whether the candidates would maintain Obama's policies about "enhanced interrogation techniques" and trying some of the inmates at Guantanamo Bay in civilian court. Can the candidates say anything other than that they'd reverse Obama's policies? That's exactly what Cain says.

9:13 - Bachmann makes a highly incendiary charge against Ron Paul: that he was against authorizing the military to kill bin Laden. Paul says he supported "going after bin Laden," and was only "upset that it took 10 years."

9:14 - Josh Marshall points out something about CBS News that I had also noticed: the online streaming debate after the one-hour mark has been "almost unwatchable." [ADDED: Here's someone on Twitter who also calls it "unwatchable." Nate Silver of the New York Times gave up on watching after the first hour.] It keeps stopping and starting — and you don't get to hear the part that was going on while it stopped, so you miss out on big chunks of the debate and only get to hear partial sentences. Marshall says that National Journal's feed is better, but I'm not able to play that feed at all. I'm using a MacBook Pro with almost no other applications running, and I'm sure Marshall, one of the most successful bloggers in the world, has a decent internet setup.

9:15 - Romney says we should return Medicaid to the states, which would save $100 billion a year. (I thought this was the foreign-policy debate.)

9:20 - Bachmann says we need to eliminate every program President Lyndon B. Johnson gave us as "the Great Society." "If you look at China, they don't have food stamps. They save for their own retirement." Of course, Social Security is us saving for our retirement. It's just a way to pool everyone's money for some of those savings.

9:26 - Huntsman: "I've negotiated with Pakistanis, both in government and in business." This might be Huntsman's strongest debate. I'm not hearing him give his usual delicate circumlocutions.

The debate is over. As the camera pans away, I notice that Gingrich was positioned closer to the center than Perry, indicating that Gingrich is rising and Perry is slipping. (I'm pretty sure the lesser candidates like Huntsman and Santorum have always been at or near the end, and Romney is always in the middle.)

Josh Marshall, a committed Democrat, praises Santorum's performance. Half an hour into the debate, he wrote:
I don't agree with much that Rick Santorum believes in foreign policy, though his answer on Pakistan was pretty reasonable. Yet it's clear that he's one of the few guys up there who thought about any of these issues before he realized that he'd have to answer questions about them in a foreign policy debate.
At the end, Marshall added:
Santorum is far and away the most lucid and knowledgable person on foreign policy.
The prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson pans Cain on Twitter:
It is safe to say Herman Cain is the biggest loser tonight. What a damn shame. Just wow.
Similarly, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic says:
Herman Cain seems much less confident, charismatic tonight. Equally uninformed as before.
Cain did often seem like a deer in the headlights (though it was hard to tell because of CBS News's spluttering feed). Someone on Twitter named Sean Agnew seems to agree:
I don't want Cain answering the 3am call. #sorry
Stephen Hayes, who works for The Weekly Standard and Fox News, responds to an answer by Cain that I either wasn't paying attention to or couldn't hear in full because CBS News doesn't know how to do a live online feed:
Really? President Cain would have supported both Hosni Mubarak in Egypt? And Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen? Sheesh.
Ben Smith at Politico says on Twitter:
Perry guy who sent a despairing 'sad' email after last debate now writes: "happy days here again! breaking out the bourbon!"
On Twitter, "Jason (the Commenter)" (who also regularly comments here) puts 4 of the candidates on a spectrum:
Hates torture to loves torture: Paul, Huntsman, Cain, Bachmann.
In the comments, Jason makes a very important point, which I had missed:
The biggest fail of the evening was Cain, who said that nine countries have nuclear weapons. You can only get that number if you include Israel, and they are adamant about neither confirming or denying that rumor. He threw them under the bus.
Another thing I didn't notice: many people on Twitter are saying Perry coined a new word tonight: "forewithal." Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker says:
Perry comeback? On the one hand, he made a great joke. On the other he called into question alliance with Israel and said forewithal.

Which American city overpays the most in federal taxes, relative to the federal benefits it receives?

San Francisco. Another one of the most overpaying cities is New York City.

Carbon monoxide

It's good for you! (via)

Friday, November 11, 2011

David Brooks dissects America's norms on "inequality"

They're complicated. A sample:

Academic inequality is socially acceptable. It is perfectly fine to demonstrate that you are in the academic top 1 percent by wearing a Princeton, Harvard or Stanford sweatshirt.

Ancestor inequality is not socially acceptable. It is not permissible to go around bragging that your family came over on the Mayflower and that you are descended from generations of Throgmorton-Winthrops who bequeathed a legacy of good breeding and fine manners.

Fitness inequality is acceptable. It is perfectly fine to wear tight workout sweats to show the world that pilates have given you buns of steel. These sorts of displays are welcomed as evidence of your commendable self-discipline and reproductive merit.

Moral fitness inequality is unacceptable. It is out of bounds to boast of your superior chastity, integrity, honor or honesty. Instead, one must respect the fact that we are all morally equal, though our behavior and ethical tastes may differ.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Martial arts don't prepare you to defend against real-world violence.

So says Sam Harris, explaining how to deal with violence.


Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a “fight.” Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Live-blogging tonight's Republican presidential debate

[Here's the transcript.]

8:20 - I finally found the live video online. I missed the first 20 minutes of the debate because CNBC is foolishly not streaming it.

8:21 - Herman Cain is asked about "character issues." The audience boos. "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations." Of course, he pivots to saying what people care about is the "issues."

8:23 - Mitt Romney is asked: "Would you keep [Cain] on if you had bought his company?" Romney wisely refuses to answer. When the moderator says, "I'm going to switch back to the economy," the audience cheers.

8:24 - Jon Huntsman on Occupy Wall Street: "I want to be president of the 99%. I also want to be president of the 1%." He doesn't like OWS's anti-capitalism, but he does agree with them that we need to stop "bailing out corporations." Huntsman is right.

8:26 - Romney says Democrats incoherently think "they like jobs, but they don't like businesses."

8:28 - Newt Gingrich blames the news media for not "reporting accurately how the economy works." The moderator presses him to specify what the media reports inaccurately about the economy. Gingrich says, for example, the media never asks the OWS protesters: "Who's going to pay for the park you're occupying if there are no businesses?"

8:33 - Cain is asked about the fact that the rates could be increased on his 9/9/9 tax plan after it gets passed. Cain's answer: "Tax codes don't raise taxes, politicians do." He claims, absurdly, that "the people" will prevent the rates from ever increasing.

8:36 - Michele Bachmann says "we all need to sacrifice," so she would make sure everyone pays a federal income tax. So I guess she doesn't think people deserve to keep all their money, as she said in an earlier debate. This is also a blatant flip-flop from her pledge not to raise taxes, since she's talking about raising many people's federal income taxes from zero.

8:44 - Question to Romney: "Not one of the points in your 59-point economic plan mentions housing. Can you tell us why?" Romney: "Yeah, because it's not a housing plan."

8:57 - A moderator asks each candidate to explain how, after repealing Obamacare, they'd fix the health-care system. Each candidate gets 30 seconds! Gingrich says he'd need to take two whole "Lincoln-Douglas style debates" in order to answer this question. Moderator: "Do you want to answer the question tonight?"

9:04 - Romney gives us a bizarre non sequitur: 18% of our GDP is spent on health care; the most any other country spends is 12%. Therefore, Romney says, we need to switch to a "market" system. But we're the country with market-based health care; those other countries spend less by having universal health care!

9:06 - As one moderator is saying they're about to go to commercials, another moderator cuts in to make fun of the health-care question: "Before we go, I want to give every candidate 15 seconds to solve the deficit problem."

9:15 - Romney criticizes President Obama for being driven by a desire to get re-elected.

9:17 - My brother Chris IMs (and gives me permission to quote):

Perry just had the worst moment of any candidate in a debate I think I've ever seen!
Perry started out by saying he was going to list 3 agencies that should be abolished. He said "Education, Commerce" — but then spent a very long time trying to think of the third one. Another candidate suggested: "EPA." Perry jokingly said, "Yeah, the EPA." The moderator asked Perry if he seriously meant the EPA, and he said no. Finally, he admitted he just couldn't think of the rest of his message. Perry ended his segment by actually saying out loud: "Oops!"

HuffPo already has a series of Twitter posts skewering Perry's embarrassment:
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your .... uh, oh God, give me a moment." #PerryStatements

"Mr. Gorbachev: Tear down this .... what's the word for it? Ummmmmmm...Wait, I know this one." #perrystatements

"Read my lips: No new .... uh....I honestly can't remember" #PerryStatements

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto....uh, um, you know, the person that is "me" but, you know, not "me"?? #perrystatements

Rick Perry: There are three agencies I want to eliminate: Commerce, Education ....and the Department of My Campaign Is Over
Shortly after Perry's blunder, Rich Lowry of National Review says (in 2 Twitter posts):
this may be the debate when it became a contest btwn cain and gingrich to be the alternative to romney

to think rick perry getting into the race may have played into paul ryan's decision to stay out
9:31 - After several other candidates have spoken, Perry gets his next question, and he finally explains that he was trying to think of the Department of Energy. Meanwhile, he came out in favor of cutting defense spending.

9:36 - The top headline on TalkingPointsMemo right now, with a photograph of Perry at the debate:
Um, Um, Um ...
9:43 - WaPo's The Fix says (in multiple Twitter posts):
The Perry thing will be replayed relentlessly over the next 24-48 hours. Not going to be good. But Herman Cain is happy.

Perry people will start jumping ship -- or at least giving negative background quotes -- in 4,3,2...

The remainder of the debate after Perry's brain freeze will be ignored in post-game analysis unless some major news is made.

Biggest problem for Perry will be donors. Hard to recruit big $ people to the cause after such a big swing and miss.
My mom, Ann Althouse, has posted the video of Perry followed by a reader poll. She asks the appropriate question: "How horrible is it?"

The debate is now over. I wasn't able to pay attention to anything else after the Perry disaster.

Rich Lowry points out something very significant, which I hadn't noticed:
no one bothers attacking rick perry any more
Jonah Goldberg says:
On the plus side, Perry's campaign can at least have an open casket.

Turtles that look like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Here they are.

Is Jon Huntsman the "conservative" candidate?

Michael B. Dougherty argues that Huntsman is the strongest conservative candidate for president, but he just isn't expressing it well:

Dougherty points out that Huntsman's speaking style might be turning off Republicans voters because he "speak[s] like a diplomat" and uses "circumlocu[tions]." I've noticed that Huntsman will often phrase his statements in terms of the overall discussion. This creates a distance between himself and his words. I wrote in one of my debate live-blogs:

Huntsman [says]: "This country needs more workers. Can we say that? This country needs more workers." When he asks if "we" can say that, he intends to present himself as someone who has the courage to speak the truth, but he ends up sounding like he's weak, tentative, in need of others' approval.
Huntsman needs to learn to get to the point — without asking for permission to do so.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why are journalists wildly inconsistent in whether they're willing to report on sex/harassment scandals?

Mickey Kaus has a unifying theory: Journalists are moderately liberal patriots.

The problems with poverty statistics

The U.S. Census Bureau's September report saying that poverty is soaring may have been "off the mark."

The New York Times explains:

Concocted on the fly a half-century ago, the official poverty measure ignores ever more of what is happening to the poor person’s wallet — good and bad. . . .

[S]afety-net programs have played a large and mostly overlooked role in restraining hardship: as much as half of the reported rise in poverty since 2006 disappears.
The Times also says the Census Bureau's report ignored the fact that "rents are higher in places like Manhattan than they are in Mississippi."

There are "fewer people in abject destitution, but a great many more crowding the hard-luck ranks of the near poor, who do not qualify for many benefit programs."

The Census Bureau will release a new report on Monday, hopefully correcting some of these errors.

This other New York Times piece looks at other measures of poverty from the past few years. Some of the findings:

Poverty is declining among women ages 25-39.

Five million children in America have risen out of poverty in the past 10 years.

Poverty is declining among Hispanics, and declining dramatically among blacks. Poverty is increasing among Asians.

Poverty is decreasing in rural areas and increasing in urban areas.

Poverty appears to be increasing among the elderly, but this "could be a statistical anomaly. Many elderly people use retirement savings but do not report that money as income."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do birds follow grammar rules?


Could Republicans win in the long run by losing the presidency in 2012?

Alex Knepper makes the Republican case for "supporting" President Obama's reelection. Excerpt:

Instead of flailing through a doomed McCain presidency, the Republican Party went through a few years of soul-searching. It has miraculously shaken off the Bush brand and is newly focused on economic liberty and the debt crisis — and that’s just in a few years’ time. If, say, Herman Cain is nominated and loses to Obama, it could possibly serve as the wake-up call that the party base needs to discipline itself, setting up a candidate like Chris Christie to easily walk to victory in 2016. (Worse, if Herman Cain wins, we will fail in our goals of addressing the debt crisis and rolling back left-wing policies. He is awful at public relations management and has not proven himself as a political leader.)

Moreover, it’s not as if — despite his oft-stated wishes — Obama can single-handedly enact harmful policies. The worst of the Obama era — four years or eight — is over. The Republican House already acts as a buffer on his left-wing dreams, and if we focus on re-taking the Senate, he will be rendered virtually impotent. He is no Bill Clinton: he’s not going to co-opt conservative ideas and spin them into left-wing victories. He’s not smart, savvy, or pragmatic enough to do it — he’d have already done so if he were. He’d simply have a failed second term, setting up a Republican to cruise to victory in 2016 — and the field next time is bound to be better, with people like Christie, Jindal, and possibly Ryan raring to run.

Sometimes, when you lose, you win. We have a competent slate of candidates waiting for us in 2016, should we lose to Obama. Since none of the Republican candidates this year are acceptable, I feel that I have no choice but to support Obama’s re-election and wait for 2016.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Frog fail"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rick Perry's "flat tax"

It isn't flat.

Perry says he's against progressive taxation and wants a tax code "that you can put on a postcard." But his own plan doesn't eliminate the federal income tax rates. He keeps those rates but adds an alternative flat tax, which you're apparently free to choose or reject. So he seems to want to complicate the federal income tax. You might still be able to write his plan on a postcard, by writing out the 6 tax brackets plus an alternative flat tax. On the other hand, that means the progressive tax could also fit on a postcard.

There's no significant difference between Perry's plan and the current income tax as far as simplicity or length. The real difference is that, as the first link explains, Perry's plan would be a huge tax cut for the rich, which would decrease revenue, which would increase the deficit.

Perry says that reducing tax revenue would be a good thing, since then we'll need to reduce federal spending. "All of these tax cuts will be meaningless if we do not control federal spending." So he seems to subscribe to the "starve the beast" theory. Well, that theory has been tried, and it doesn't work.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Days after the last Republican presidential debate, I still can't stop laughing at this video from TalkingPointsMemo:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anderson Cooper's "47 percent" tax lie in the debate

In last night's debate, Anderson Cooper asked this question:

Congresswoman Bachmann, you said in the last debate that everyone should pay something. Does that mean that you would raise taxes on the 47 percent of Americans who currently don’t pay taxes?
Greg Sargent says:
I don’t really consider it part of my job here to think about where candidates messed up, especially since a lot of their factually incorrect statements are just playing to their audience, and you sort of have to expect a lot of that. But Anderson Cooper, the CNN moderator, has no excuse: his claim that 47% of American pay no taxes was inexcusable. Just terrible. The correct stat is that 47% of US households don’t pay federal income taxes, which is very different. It’s bad when politicians get basic factual stuff wrong; it’s terrible when CNN does. To me at least, the debate had a clear loser, and it was Anderson Cooper and CNN for that question.