Friday, September 30, 2011

Guess who's against the "Buffett rule"

“It isn’t [my idea] to have the rich pay more taxes. It’s to have the ultra-rich pay more."

Could New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's weight help him in running for President?

Paul Campos argues that Christie's weight could help him, in addition to hurting him:

Few things are more powerfully gendered in mainstream American culture than body size: Fatness in general is considered bad—and to some extent feminizing—but it is a more complex characteristic in men, and especially powerful men, than it is among women. While it’s true that it is bad for a man to be fat, it is unquestionably good for a man—and most especially a socially powerful man—to be big. Our language encodes this judgment in countless ways: For leadership we look to the big man, the man of substance, the heavyweight contender, the man who can throw his weight around, and so on. In this sense, [John] Corzine’s ad mocking Christie [for "throwing his weight around" to get out of traffic tickets] was inadvertently reminding viewers of a powerfully positive characteristic of his opponent. Indeed, I would venture to guess that a short, slim man who wanted to run for president would face more difficulties in regard to the cosmetics of power than Christie.

In addition, Christie’s weight could help him in another way, especially in the GOP primaries. In the context of contemporary American politics, an unapologetically fat body, at least a fat male body (again, it should be obvious that putting 50 pounds on Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin would instantly destroy their presidential aspirations), could well function as a kind of symbolic flipping off of the endlessly intrusive nanny state, so despised by both libertarians and cultural conservatives. Of course, this puts someone like Christie in a bit of a practical bind, since in order to take advantage of this sentiment he has to stop being a “good” fat person—that is, he needs to become unapologetic about his body, rather than putting on the shame-ridden performance expected of fat people by the health police.

So is Christie too fat to be elected president, or to at least win the GOP nomination? In my view, the contemporary politics of fat are too complicated to draw that judgment.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Herman Cain is polling just 2 points below Rick Perry.

A statistical tie, in this FoxNews poll. Cain has jumped from 6% in last FoxNews poll to 17%. FoxNews declares that he's now in "the top tier." Wow.

And Mitt Romney is leading, though all three of them are technically in a statistical tie: Romney 23%, Perry 19%, Cain 17%, with a 5% margin of error. (Full poll results.)

The poll might be misleading, since it was taken right after the glowing media coverage of Cain for winning the Florida straw poll. But if you're Rick Perry, you have to be worried that even one outlier poll is showing you neck and neck with Cain.

Do you give to charity to help people or for other reasons?

Tim Harford wrote (in an old Slate article):

If people really were altruistic, there would be much less volunteering.

It would almost always be more effective to volunteer less, work overtime, and give more. A . . . banker can pay for a lot of soup-kitchen chefs and servers with a couple of hours' worth of his salary, but that wouldn't provide the same feel-good buzz as ladling out stew himself, would it?

In fact, the closer you look at charitable giving, the less charitable it appears to be. A recent experiment by John List, an economist at the University of Chicago, and a team of colleagues, showed that donations are less than magnanimous after all. Using controlled trials to compare different methods of door-to-door fund-raising, professor List's team discovered that it was much more effective to raise funds by selling lottery tickets than it was to raise funds by asking for money. This hardly suggests a world populated by altruists seeking to do the maximum good with their charitable cash. . . .

Even the way we choose to dole out cash betrays our true motives. Someone with $100 to give away and a world full of worthy causes should choose the worthiest and write the check. We don't. Instead, we give $5 for a LiveStrong bracelet, pledge $25 to Save the Children, another $25 to AIDS research, and so on. But $25 is not going to find a cure for AIDS. Either it's the best cause and deserves the entire $100, or it's not and some other cause does. The scattershot approach simply proves that we're more interested in feeling good than doing good.
For that last point, Harford credits Steven Lansburg, who elaborates on why the idea of "diversifying" doesn't make sense with charity the way it does in other areas:
When it comes to managing your personal portfolio, economists will tell you to diversify. When it comes to handling the rest of your life, we give you exactly the same advice. It's a bad idea to spend all your leisure time playing golf; you'll probably be happier if you occasionally watch movies or go sailing or talk to your children.

So why is charity different? Here's the reason: An investment in Microsoft can make a serious dent in the problem of adding some high-tech stocks to your portfolio; now it's time to move on to other investment goals. Two hours on the golf course makes a serious dent in the problem of getting some exercise; maybe it's time to see what else in life is worthy of attention. But no matter how much you give to CARE, you will never make a serious dent in the problem of starving children. The problem is just too big; behind every starving child is another equally deserving child.

That is not to say that charity is futile. If you save one starving child, you have done a wonderful thing, regardless of how many starving children remain. It is precisely because charity is so effective that we should think seriously about where to target it, and then stay focused once the target is chosen. . . .

If your charitable contributions are small relative to the size of the charities, and if you care only about the recipients (as opposed to caring, say, about how many accolades you receive), then you will bullet all your contributions on a single charity.
Tyler Cowen gives another reason to donate to relatively few different charities, though he avoids giving the extreme advice to donate to exactly one, in Discover Your Inner Economist (a great little book which I can't recommend highly enough):
Charities make most of their money off what is called a "house file." The house file consists of donors who have been giving loyally for years. A good house file . . . brings in much more than it costs to maintain. . . .

If a mailing brings in thirty cents for every dollar spent, that mailing probably went relatively well by the standards of the sector. A fifty-cent return per dollar spent is a smashing hit.

Why spend a dollar to get thirty or fifty cents? The answer is simple: the charity is investing in developing its house file. . . .

We now have a new way to make the world a better place. Once we have found some good charities, we should tell them not to rent out our name and address to other mailers. Virtually all charities rent out or swap names and addresses to similar groups; what better way is there to find new donors than to look for people who are already giving to related causes?

"Remove the name" requests save charities thousands of dollars on their mailing costs. (193-194)
A post on Less Wrong argued:
Imagine you are setting out on a dangerous expedition through the Arctic on a limited budget. The grizzled old prospector at the general store shakes his head sadly: you can't afford everything you need; you'll just have to purchase the bare essentials and hope you get lucky. But what is essential? Should you buy the warmest parka, if it means you can't afford a sleeping bag? Should you bring an extra week's food, just in case, even if it means going without a rifle? Or can you buy the rifle, leave the food, and hunt for your dinner?

And how about the field guide to Arctic flowers? You like flowers, and you'd hate to feel like you're failing to appreciate the harsh yet delicate environment around you. And a digital camera, of course - if you make it back alive, you'll have to put the Arctic expedition pics up on Facebook. . . .

[But] when your life is on the line, things like impressing your friends and buying organic pale in comparison. You have one goal - staying alive - and your only problem is how to distribute your resources to keep your chances as high as possible. These sorts of economics concepts are natural enough when faced with a journey through the freezing tundra.

But they are decidedly not natural when facing a decision about charitable giving. Most donors say they want to "help people". If that's true, they should try to distribute their resources to help people as much as possible. Most people don't. In the "Buy A Brushstroke" campaign, eleven thousand British donors gave a total of £550,000 [about $850,000] to keep the famous painting "Blue Rigi" in a UK museum. If they had given that £550,000 to buy better sanitation systems in African villages instead, the latest statistics suggest it would have saved the lives of about one thousand two hundred people from disease. Each individual $50 donation could have given a year of normal life back to a Third Worlder afflicted with a disabling condition like blindness or limb deformity.

Most of those 11,000 donors genuinely wanted to help people by preserving access to the original canvas of a beautiful painting. And most of those 11,000 donors, if you asked, would say that a thousand people's lives are more important than a beautiful painting, original or no. But these people didn't have the proper mental habits to realize that was the choice before them, and so a beautiful painting remains in a British museum and somewhere in the Third World a thousand people are dead.
Last year, David Sedaris wrote about how he was able to get people to donate extra money to him, beyond just paying for his books, even when he was already a fabulously successful author (via):
A couple of books ago, I put a tip jar on my signing table and I made over $4,000 on my tour. The problem was then I started hating people who didn’t tip me. I didn’t say anything to them, but I would just sit there thinking, “You cheap son of a bitch. I just signed four books and you can’t even give me a dollar?” And why should they? But I just got so involved in it. I had to stop doing it.

I told people it was all for me to spend on candy. They were delighted because it’s funny to give money to someone who doesn’t need it. If there had been a beggar outside the bookstore, at the end of the evening, he might have had 75 cents where as at the end of my best evening in Dallas–[I had] $530 in tips.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why it matters that we've lost confidence in government's ability to govern

Gallup reports:

A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.

The New York Times' Catherine Rampell says:
My concern [is] that, in order for government policy to be effective, people must believe it will be effective. This is as true for economic policy as it is for anything else.
In particular, part of the reason that economic stimulus works is that it gives consumers and businesses confidence that the economy will improve. That belief becomes self-fulfilling as they feel more comfortable increasing their purchases and investments.
Likewise, if Americans believe that Congress cannot be counted upon to do anything that will help the economy, nothing that Congress does — no matter how well designed and well executed — will succeed in helping the economy. Perception matters.
I pointed out a year ago that if people aren't aware that government stimulus is happening, this can't be brushed aside by saying it was "was the right thing to do economically" but "politically . . . nobody knew." That's what President Obama said about his tax cut. My response:
I find it hard to believe that the economics and the politics were so out of sync with each other. If the specific way the tax cuts were implemented caused people to feel like they hadn't gotten any relief, wouldn't that have undermined the goal of stimulating the economy?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Egypt, "women's rights are stigmatized as belonging to the old regime, . . .

. . . or, worse, imposed by the West."

"Jesus or jail"

That's the "choice" being given to people convicted of some crimes in an Alabama town starting this week. CNN reports:

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.

The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed. . . .

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is "blatantly unconstitutional," according to the Alabama Press-Register.

"It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn't see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend.
My question: exactly how wrong is the statement that offenders won't be "forced to attend church"?

I count two ways the statement is wrong:

1. Just because you get to choose your sentence in the first place doesn't mean you aren't forced to serve it once you actually receive the sentence. Otherwise, you could say most criminal defendants around the country aren't "forced" to serve the sentence. Most of them plead guilty because they're offered a relatively light sentence. So, they "chose" that sentence. In fact, even if you go to trial, you're still, in a certain sense, choosing an option. Even if you end up getting convicted and serving the maximum sentence, you still chose the option to take that gamble. So, you could say these are "choices" in a narrow sense, but that just shows that force can follow choice. You make a choice, and then you're forced to follow through on it.

2. The concepts of "choice" and "force" are flexible and have grey areas. No one's completely free or completely restricted. But at a certain point, we say that an option is so unappealing that it doesn't count as a real choice. There's no clear dividing line; it's a matter of common-sense custom. This is why we don't say the robber's statement "Your money or your life!" is giving the victim any real choice. If you tell someone their choice is "Jesus" (i.e. going to church) or "jail," you're not giving them a "choice" in any robust sense of the word. You're making the choice for them, since people prefer almost anything to jail.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who's winning the political center?

Republicans, argues William Galston — a worried Democrat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Women will get the rights to vote and run for office in Saudi Arabia.

Women in one of the most repressive countries in the world will have rights that women in the United States were denied less than 100 years ago. That's an extraordinary rate of global progress. (via)

ADDED: I originally wrote that this would happen "soon," but I've omitted that word since it won't happen till after the upcoming municipal elections, and the next ones happen 4 years from now. (Municipal elections are the only elections in Saudi Arabia.)

Women can't legally drive in Saudi Arabia, which obviously limits their freedom to vote. In many cases, a man's decision about whether to drive a woman to the polls will determine whether she can actually exercise the right. No one would claim that Saudi Arabia is anywhere close to a paragon of feminist enlightenment, but even a reform that might be considered weak on its own can lead to more progress down the road.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"How Did Solyndra Spend All That Money?"

Megan McArdle asks the question, and she gives some answers from a financially savvy friend of hers and also from a Solyndra insider.

McArdle concludes:

I don't think this is going to end up being a story about corruption. I think it's going to end up being a story about bad decision making: at Solyndra, among its investors, and in the Obama administration. People took large bets with low expected values, because the alternative was admitting that the money they'd already spent was gone, and not coming back. They doubled down, just like some chump who lost his stake at the Vegas blackjack tables.

This does happen in the private market, of course. The difference is, when Argonaut Ventures takes a flyer on a longshot, they're not doing so with my money. The administration was supposed to have the economic dream team. Couldn't they have spared a moment to sit down with the folks at DOE and explain the concept of sunk costs?

Tonight's Republican debate in 100 seconds

By TalkingPointsMemo:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Live-blogging the Republican presidential primary debate on FoxNews, September 22

Feel free to post any comments on the debate, whether or not they're relevant to what I said.

You can see more live-blogging at Althouse (my mom's blog), TalkingPointsMemo, Politico, and National Review.

Any quotations in this post will be whatever I write down on the fly. I'll try to keep these reasonably accurate, but they might not be exactly word-for-word.

9:03 - Rick Perry seems weary, disoriented, and halting, just one minute into the debate.

9:04 - Perry, where's your specific jobs plan? Perry says he'll show it to us . . . eventually. In other words, he doesn't have a specific jobs plan.

9:05 - The moderator tells Romney his 59-point jobs plan is very specific, but perhaps too timid. Romney gets off to an awkward start, asking if the microphone is on. "In order to create jobs, it helps if you've had a job. And I have."

9:07 - Romney refuses to answer the question how he defines "rich." He wants everyone to be rich. Sounds like a great plan.

9:08 - Bachmann is re-asked a question from the last debate (which was originally asked by an audience member): How much of his money does he deserve to keep? Of course, Bachmann says you deserve to keep all of your money. It's the wrong question. It implies that there's some bureaucrat somewhere who just loves taking people's money because they think people don't deserve all their money; so we have to debate with that person about what the right percentage is.

9:12 - The debates this year have had more discussion of welfare than we've heard in presidential debates since before 2000. Everyone seemed to decide it was no longer a salient issue at some point. Notably, the welfare reform law of 1996 needs to be reauthorized on September 30.

9:15 - Herman Cain is asked if his "9/9/9 plan" of eliminating many taxes and creating three new flat taxes will just lead to tax increases in the future. Don't worry, says Cain: there's no chance of that! Well, that's a relief!

9:18 - Ron Paul is asked what he'll do to protect the 10th Amendment. He concisely says he'll veto any bill that violates the 10th Amendment. In an unprecedented move, the moderator complains that Paul hasn't used enough of his time.

9:21 - During a commercial break, a FoxNews anchor tells us they asked viewers to answer the question of what counts as rich. The most common answer (to rephrase it in negative terms) is that anyone who makes $999,999 or less is not rich. Wow.

9:27 - Romney to Perry: "You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying" that Social Security is unconstitutional and so on. In other words, Perry has watered down his talking points about Social Security, and Romney isn't going to let him get away with it.

9:29 - Perry unilaterally shifts the debate to health care, retorting that Romney said in his book that his health care reform would be a good model for the country. I'm not clear on what Romney's point was in rebutting this.

9:30 - Does Romney believe that President Barack Obama is a socialist? Romney says: (1) The better title for him would be "Former President Barack Obama." (2) He's a big-spending liberal who's going down the path of Europe.

9:31 - Romney, apropos of nothing: "I didn't inhale." [Added: I didn't catch his setup, which made this make a bit more sense. My mom transcribes the full comment: "I spent 4 years as governor. I didn't inhale." She notes that Romney says this while glancing at Perry.]

9:34 - The candidates are asked which federal department they'd eliminate if they were forced to do so. Cain says the Environmental Protection Agency, but he emphasizes that this presupposes he'd be forced to eliminate one. Republicans seem to have softened from the old days, when they would boast of their willingness to "abolish" federal agencies.

9:36 - My mom points out that 3 of the 9 candidates are wearing yellow ties (of course, that's 3 of the 8 candidates who are wearing ties at all): Jon Huntsman, Cain, and Paul.

9:38 - Libertarian Gary Johnson (in his first debate of the race) says he'll abolish the Department of Education — and this was not in response to the question about which department he'd abolish if forced to.

9:40 - Paul repeats his "care" theme from past debates: "If you care about children, you'll want to get the federal government out of the business of educating them."

9:42 - Perry goes even more negative than he's gone before, sternly calling Romney "not conservative" on education. Perry is apparently saying this only because Romney has praised elements of Obama's education policy. Romney laughs this off: "Nice try!" He agrees with Obama's policy goal of making it easier to fire teachers. This was an odd move by Perry. I thought it was conventional wisdom that Obama has challenged the standard Democratic teacher's union orthodoxy.

9:46 - Josh Marshall said (half an hour into the debate):

I'm curious how it will play. But Romney's just running circles around Perry. He's a very different candidate than he was four years ago, let alone back in '94 when he ran against Ted Kennedy. Tight, on message.
9:50 - Romney attacks Perry for giving more money to illegal immigrants than citizens to go to the University of Texas. "It makes no sense." In fact, it makes so little sense that it's hard to believe that's even the real policy. [Added: I understand now: as this TNR article explains, Romney was referring to the fact that in-state UT students who happened to be illegal immigrants got the same discount on their tuition as other in-state students, so they paid $22,000 a year less than out-of-state students.]

9:52 - Question to Perry: How do you feel, being criticized by many of the candidates for being soft on illegal immigration? "I feel pretty normal." Perry adds that if you make arguments like the one Romney made about education for illegal immigrants, "I don't think you have a heart."

9:53 - Moderator Chris Wallace: "Senator Santorum, you don't need to butt in, because I'm about to ask you a question." Santorum sheepishly responds: "OK."

10:03 - Romney says Obama has gone wrong by publicly criticizing Israel. It's OK to disagree with an ally, but make the criticism privately.

10:04 - Romney: "It is unacceptable — and I use that word carefully — it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear power."

10:10 - Gingrich says (reasonably, in my opinion) that he'd get rid of almost all direct government-to-government foreign aid since it leads to corruption.

10:11 - Johnson: It's "crazy" for us to be giving money to any countries when we have to borrow money to do it.

10:12 - Like Romney, Huntsman can't tell if his microphone is working even though we can hear him. FoxNews seems to have some problems with its debate infrastructure.

10:13 - Huntsman: "People are ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan."

10:14 - Bachmann is asked about a comment she made saying "separation between church and state" is a "myth." In response, she says all "separation of church and state" means is that there isn't a United States-sponsored church. "We should have freedom for all people to express their belief in God."

10:16 - A self-proclaimed "gay soldier," serving in Iraq, asks if the candidates would allow him to serve. The audience loudly boos the soldier. Santorum responds that he doesn't want gays to have "special privileges." The moderator re-asks the question since Santorum didn't answer it. Santorum incoherently says he would reinstitute the old policy so that "sex would not be an issue." But it was precisely under the old policy ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell") that sex was an issue. It's the repeal of DADT that takes sexuality off the table as an issue. I thought conservatives were supposed to be attuned to the fact that government policies lead to unintended consequences.

[Added: GOProud is asking Santorum to apologize to the soldier, saying:]
It is telling that Rick Santorum is so blinded by his anti-gay bigotry that he couldn’t even bring himself to thank that gay soldier for his service.
10:19 - Paul doesn't support a law against the "day-after pill." He makes the important point that you don't always need law to make people behave well.

10:21 - Cain says he would be dead today if Obamacare had been the law back in 2006 when he was diagnosed with cancer. His reason is vague: Obamacare would have provided a "bureaucrat's timetable" for when he could get treatment.

10:27 - Bachmann attacks Perry for being influenced by a campaign contribution to support a law requiring that girls in Texas receive a vaccination for the sexually transmitted disease HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. Perry dramatically responds: "I was lobbied on this issue. I was lobbied by a 31-year-old woman with cervical cancer."

10:31 - Romney says his health care reform was "different than Obamacare" because it was "market-based." It didn't create some new government health insurance. Does Romney not realize that the public option failed?

10:33 - The sniping between Romney and Perry has started to feel worn-out. Perry is incapable of getting through his litany of issues on which Romney has flip-flopped; he stumbles over his words so much he's incomprehensible ("You were for it before you were before it . . ."). [Added later: TalkingPointsMemo seizes on this as the moment when conservative pundits turned against Perry. TPM aptly says that Perry "attempted to deliver a knockout blow against Mitt Romney’s various changes of position — only to trip over all his words as he tried to keep track of them." Here's the video, with Perry's bumbling starting after 1:25:]

10:39 - Cain: "Ronald Reagan said we were a shining city on a hill. We've slid down the bottom of that hill." Overall tonight, the candidates have been mercifully restrained in mentioning Reagan.

10:41 - Paul: "Government destroys jobs; the market creates jobs."

10:44 - Johnson: "My next-door neighbor's 2 dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this administration."

10:47 - Who on the stage would you choose as a running mate? Johnson, of course, says Paul, the only other libertarian on the stage. Santorum would pick Gingrich. Gingrich: "I couldn't imagine hurting the rest of their feelings by picking one of them."

10:49 - Paul points out that he's the #3 candidate in the polls. He'll wait until he's one of the top 2 before picking his running mate.

10:49 - Perry: "If you could take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich, I think you'd have a really interesting candidate." Romney: "There are a couple images I'm going to have a really hard time getting out of my mind."

10:50 - Romney says he'd be happy with anyone on the stage as a running mate. He's asked how can he say that about Perry, whom he's attacked as unelectable. Romney doesn't take the bait to lob yet another attack on Perry. He simply says everyone on the stage has problems that would be obstacles for them in getting elected.

10:52 - Huntsman makes my mom's point about his and Cain's yellow ties, while saying he'd pick Cain as a running mate.

10:54 - Almost everyone picked Gingrich as a running mate. Reminds me of the 2008 Democratic primary debates, when Joe Biden was able to get a whole ad out of running together all the times the other candidates said during debates that they agreed with him. If you're getting lots of praise from everyone in the debates, it means you have no chance.


Dana Loesch says on Twitter (via Jonah Goldberg):
That Gary Johnson's line is most discussed tells you how badly some of the other candidates performed.
She's also, like Romney, thinking about the image of Perry wanting to have Cain "mate up" with Gingrich:
Brangelina ... Caingrich?
My mom gives Romney the "quote of the night" award, for saying this:
I'm going to stand by my positions. I'm proud of them. There are a lot of reasons not to elect me. There are a lot of reasons not to elect other people on this stage. But one reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for, I've written it down, words have meaning, and I have the experience to get this country going again.
(You can see Romney saying this at the end of the video I embedded between 10:33 and 10:39.)

Huntsman says the audience's booing of the gay soldier was "unfortunate." "We all salute the same flag."

Frank Luntz's focus group on FoxNews is saying Romney won the debate. TPM says the focus group is calling Romney
“Presidential,” “decisive,” and “elegant.” Perry, meanwhile, is being called “too much of a waffler” by one woman in the group. The crowd also seem angry about the moment when he turned on his immigration critics and accused them (and Bachmann in particular) of not having a heart.
A new Gallup poll shows that Romney has a distinct lead over Perry and Obama in a hypothetical general election.

So, can we stop calling Perry "the frontrunner" yet?

When thinking about immigration, remember the migrants.

So says economist Tim Harford. The whole post is worth reading, but the take-away point is:

A recent survey by the economist Michael Clemens, of the Center for Global Development, points out that although the question is largely ignored, any reasonable estimate of the economic gains from freer migration would dwarf that of the gains from, say, freer trade – if we include the welfare of the migrants themselves.
This paper by Clemens argues that by placing "tightly binding constraints on emigration from poor countries," we're walking by "trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk." He sums up the paper in this article in the Guardian, saying:
The reason migration packs such economic punch is both simple and mysterious: a worker's economic productivity depends much more on location than skill. A taxi driver in Ethiopia's capital, no matter how talented and industrious, cannot earn more than a few thousand dollars a year. The same person doing the same job in New York City can easily earn $35,000 a year. The reason people will pay him that much is that his driving adds more than $35,000 of value to the New York economy, more value than his actions can add to the Ethiopian economy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does this Elizabeth Warren quote about the rich paying taxes make sense?

How does this justify anything more than obligating everyone to pay enough taxes to fund the kinds of basic services she refers to, like roads, police, and courts? I don't think even the most staunch libertarian would disagree with that.

Yet it seems clear that both Warren and the people who are circulating this quotation — including, which uses the headline, "The Elizabeth Warren Quote Every American Needs To See" — mean to imply an obligation to pay much higher taxes than that. I just don't see how that follows.

UPDATE: For more analysis of Warren's quote, see my follow-up post (and the comments on this post).

"It’s not having children that isolates people."

Could the New York Times "Well" blog have quoted a more ambiguous statement?

The quote and the whole blog post is supposed to be a vindication of being single, but you could easily take the quote out of context and make it say the opposite.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Michele Bachmann's comments about HPV vaccination will lead to more cervical cancer.

That's the implication of this New York Times article:

During a debate last week for Republican presidential candidates and in interviews after it, Representative Michele Bachmann called the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer “dangerous.” Medical experts fired back quickly. Her statements were false, they said, emphasizing that the vaccine is safe and can save lives. Mrs. Bachmann was soon on the defensive, acknowledging that she was not a doctor or a scientist.

But the harm to public health may have already been done. When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.

“These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford,” said Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the committee on infectious diseases of the American Academy of Pediatrics. . . .

The vaccine, recommended by the medical groups for 11- and 12-year-olds, protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cancer. Use of the vaccine was disturbingly low even before the Bachmann flap, health officials say. That is partly because of the recent climate of fear about vaccines in general, and partly because some parents feel that giving the vaccine somehow implies that they are accepting or even condoning the idea that their young daughters will soon start having sex.

Allegations that vaccines could cause autism have frightened some parents away from giving them to children. But the question has been studied repeatedly, and there is no evidence for such a link; the research that first promoted the idea was subsequently proved fraudulent.

Indeed, a report published last month by the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, found that the HPV vaccine was safe.

It did find “strong and generally suggestive” — though not conclusive — evidence that the vaccine could cause severe allergic reactions. But such reactions have been rare.

Historically, Dr. Willoughby said, vaccine scares have caused vaccination rates to drop for three or four years, and have led to outbreaks of diseases that had previously been under control, like measles and whooping cough. Measles cases in the United States reached a 15-year high last spring, with more than 100 cases, most in people who had never been vaccinated.

Once the disease begins to reappear, parents become worried and start vaccinating again. With cervical cancer, Dr. Willoughby said, “unfortunately, the outbreak is silent and will take 20 years to manifest.”
The Times is actually understating Bachmann's scare tactics. She has repeatedly told about a mother who came up to her after the last debate, and tearfully described how her daughter got the vaccination and then became mentally retarded. She describes it in the last 30 seconds of this video:

Notice that she doesn't say there's any empirical evidence suggesting that the vaccine might cause retardation. She just says the daughter got vaccinated and then became mentally retarded — and that people should "draw their own conclusions." Presumably, she doesn't explicitly say there's any causation because she realizes that this would be a classic "post hoc" fallacy. But she knows what conclusion some people are going to draw.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New book says women have been marginalized in Obama's White House.

Anita Dunn, the White House's former communications director, is quoted as saying the White House "fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women." (That's from this Washington Post article, which is based on excerpts of the book.)

The book also quotes an unnamed official saying that "the boys' club" was not "just Larry [Summers] and Rahm [Emanuel]," but that Obama himself was responsible: "The president has a real woman problem."

Dunn seems to have toned down her statements in an interview on Friday, saying the White House "was not a hostile environment."

Dunn added:

"The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to house [sic] full of very strong women. He values having strong women around him."
This reminds me of Ross Perot's answer to a question in a presidential debate in 1992. (Transcript.) He was asked:
I acknowledge that all of you have women and ethnic minorities working for you and working with you. But when we look at the circle of the key people closest to you, your inner circle of advisers, we see white men only. Why? And when will that change?
Perot said:
Well, I come from the computer business, and everybody knows the women are more talented than the men. So we have a long history of having a lot of talented women. One of our first officers was a woman, the chief financial officer. She was a director. And it was so far back, it was considered so odd, and even though we were a tiny, little company at the time, it made all the national magazines.

But in terms of being influenced by women and being a minority, there they are right out there, my wife and my 4 beautiful daughters, and I just have 1 son, so he and I are surrounded by women, giving -- telling us what to do all the time.
In The War Room, an excellent documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, you can see Clinton staff, including James Carville, watching that answer and laughing at Perot.

The book is Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, by journalist Ron Suskind. It will be released on Tuesday.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why do supermarkets sprinkle the fresh vegetables with water?

You're being primed (via):

Let's pay a visit to Whole Foods' splendid Columbus Circle store in New York City. As you descend the escalator you enter the realm of a freshly cut flowers. These are what advertisers call "symbolics"--unconscious suggestions. In this case, letting us know that what's before us is bursting with freshness.

Flowers, as everyone knows, are among the freshest, most perishable objects on earth. Which is why fresh flowers are placed right up front--to "prime" us to think of freshness the moment we enter the store. Consider the opposite--what if we entered the store and were greeted with stacks of canned tuna and plastic flowers? Having been primed at the outset, we continue to carry that association, albeit subconsciously, with us as we shop. . . .

[F]or years now supermarkets have been sprinkling select vegetables with regular drops of water--a trend that began in Denmark. Why? . . . [T]hose sprinkled drops serve as a symbolic, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity. Ironically, that same dewy mist makes the vegetables rot more quickly than they would otherwise.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What do affirmative action, abortion, and the death penalty have in common, aside from being controversial issues?

My mom, Ann Althouse, writes this after attending a debate about the University of Wisconsin's use of affirmative action:

The students at a university are always the students who were admitted. They feel hurt or outraged if they think the message is that they shouldn't be here. They're here, in the room, and the individuals who did not get in are not here to cry out with corresponding outrage.

It reminds me of debates about abortion. Those who were aborted are never present in the room to express their perspective on the issue. . . .

The difficult thing — and the true moral challenge — is to visualize those who are affected who are not in the room to express pain when you hurt them.
Back in 2008, I wrote:
[W]e tend to care about the harm that's done to specific, knowable people, while we give short shrift to the harm done to "statistical" people -- people about whom we can't say "We know their names," but only "We can calculate that this number of people probably would have done this in an alternate world."
I then quoted from a study by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule called "Is Capital Punishment Morally Required?" (that link goes to an abstract with a link to a free PDF):
Those subject to capital punishment are real human beings, with their own backgrounds and narratives. Some of them have been subject to multiple forms of unfairness, in the legal process and elsewhere. At least some were wrongly convicted. By contrast, those whose lives are or might be saved by virtue of capital punishment are mere “statistical people.” They are both nameless and faceless, and their deaths are far less likely to be considered in moral deliberations. It is for this reason, perhaps, that the advocates of capital punishment often focus on the heinousness of the (salient) offender, while the abolitionists focus on his or her humanity. We suspect that the discussion would take a different form if the victims of a regime lacking capital punishment were salient too, and the example of police behavior in hostage situations supports the suspicion. . . . But it does raise the possibility that moral intuitions, for many people, are a product of the salience of one set of deaths and the invisibility or speculative nature of another.
Are you thinking enough about the people you can't see or hear? Oh, and this isn't just about "people." Don't forget animals.

Anyone who likes to analyze the world in terms of "privilege" should be especially alert to this problem, since it's a "privilege" to be able to easily ignore someone else's hardship.

UPDATE: More thoughts, from Althouse and Instapundit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A silver lining to budget cuts for police departments

Budget cuts are forcing the police to come up with innovative ways to police more efficiently, possibly spurring police departments to achieve the same or even better results than in the past, at lower costs.

That article focuses on this example (though it also lists several others):

Partnering with criminologists from George Mason University, a team led by Sacramento Police Sergeant RenĂ©e Mitchell identified 42 “hotspots”—street corners that attracted the highest percentages of violent crime in California’s second most violent city.

As part of a 90-day study conducted between February and May this year, Mitchell and her team assigned officers to visit a randomized rotation of three or four of these hotspots for 12 to 16 minutes apiece during shifts. That meant police would inhabit Sacramento’s most dangerous corners about every two hours. The officers were told to be “highly visible” during these visits—to step outside patrol cars, to talk with people.

This was a change for Sacramento police. It focused on places to target rather than specific crimes, and relied on data rather than police instinct. The results, Mitchell says, were striking.

“Part I” crimes—which include violent offenses such as murder, rape and robbery, as well as property crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft—decreased by 25 percent in these hotspots. Calls for service decreased by nearly 8 percent.
The police were able to achieve those huge successes in the most high-crime areas of the city for just $75,000, which the article tell us is "less than one percent" of the police department's 2011 budget of $116 million. If my math is right, that's technically true but a dramatic understatement: 75,000 divided by 116 million isn't just less than one-hundredth; it's less than one-thousandth (about 0.065%). If you multiply the cost by 4 to estimate what this practice would cost year-round (instead of the study's 3-month period), it's only about a quarter of 1% (about 0.259%). The media expect us to think of "one percent" as "the smallest possible percentage," so they don't bother to make even smaller divisions than that.

Mitchell, the police sergeant who led the team that implemented the study, says:
“Arrests are glamorous. . . . People want to see that guns and drugs are being taken off the streets. But that’s reactive. We should be working to prevent. Our job is to reduce the opportunity for crime, not necessarily to patrol every street corner and make high-profile arrests. Sooner or later we’re going to have to face that.”
I've tagged this post with "unintended consequences." That phrase is normally considered negative, but it can be positive too.

(The article is from a brand-new site by the Atlantic called the Atlantic Cities.)

5 myths about Solyndra

The Washington Post punctures conventional wisdom from the left and right about the solar-power company, which went bankrupt after receiving loan guarantees from the Obama administration. (Background.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Live-blogging the CNN/Tea Party Republican debate

You can watch the whole debate here:

You can also check in at Althouse and TalkingPointsMemo for more live-blogging.

You can read my live-blogging of the last debate here, and if you want even more you can see all the live-blogging I've ever done with the "live-blog" tag.

8:07 - Do they only sing the national anthem at the beginning of Republican debates, not Democratic or general-election debates?

8:09 - The debate still hasn't started yet. They're just explaining how the debate is going to happen. Twitter, Facebook, blah blah blah. Boring.

8:10 - Wolf Blitzer: "It is important to know where the candidates agree on these important subjects, and where they disagree." Got that, Newt Gingrich? This is a debate. Please don't scold the moderator for encouraging you to argue over your differences.

8:13 - We're almost a quarter of an hour in, and we're just getting to the first question.

8:15 - Michele Bachmann says Obama "stole" money from Medicare to pay for his health-care reform. Interesting that she's so forceful about the government's property rights.

8:15 - Blitzer asks Rick Perry why his USA Today editorial struck such a different tone on Social Security than he did in the last debate (where he called it a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie"). He repeats the words "Ponzi scheme" and "lie" but still softens his tone.

8:17 - Mitt Romney on Perry: The problem isn't that they disagree over whether there's a financing problem. Everyone agrees that there is. The problem is that Perry has said Social Security is "unconstitutional" and "should not be a federal program." Also, the term "Ponzi scheme" is frightening to many people.

8:20 - Perry quotes Romney as calling Social Security "criminal." Romney corrects him: Romney said it would be criminal to raid the Social Security trust fund. The two had been rapidly going back and forth, but Perry suddenly has no response.

[Added later: Here's the video.]

8:22 - Jon Huntsman quotes Romney's book, No Apology, on Social Security, and says, "I don't know if this was written by Kurt Cobain or not." If this is supposed to appeal to younger voters, it's not going to work. Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo says:

Earth to Huntsman: These folks don't know who Kurt Cobain is.
Is that because they're too old or too young?

8:23 - Newt Gingrich brushes off the wild applause in response to one of his comments: "You're eating into my time."

(As always, I'm writing down these quotations as I go. I believe they're generally accurate, but they might not be exactly word-for-word.)

8:25 - Blitzer asks Rick Santorum about Social Security: "Are you with Perry or Romney?" "The question is who's with me!"

8:27 - Gingrich dismisses a woman's question about her family's financial future by saying, "That's just a Washington mythology."

8:28 - Santorum vocally complained in a past debate about not getting enough questions. CNN seems to be overcompensating.

8:32 - Josh Marshall says:
Now we're back to the antics by the also rans. But the whole thing was that Romney/Perry exchange. That book is just a massive obstacle to Perry's run. It's filled with stuff like that. It's written by someone who clearly wasn't planning on running for president anytime soon. Probably ever. Now he's stuck with it.
8:33 - Bachmann has an incisive point: we've gotten used to the idea that the government can keep "buying us more and more stuff." Who is the "everybody else" who's going to pay for all of it?

8:34 - My mom (Ann Althouse) notices that the audience seems to be responding much more positively to Perry than to Romney. Her theory:
I think CNN's scheme is to have packed the audience with the Tea Party faithful, making it a cheering section for Rick Perry. It's a bit irritating. I think Mitt knows what's happening, and he has a great opportunity to show that he can keep his bearings.
8:40 - Perry uses the phrase "risk their capital" three times in one answer. He must have a very tightly controlled set of talking points.

8:41 - Bachmann says: "Don't give the United States a $2.4 trillion blank check." That doesn't sound like a blank check to me! (Democrats were similarly oxymoronic in the 2004 race when they attacked the "$87 billion blank check" for the Iraq war. By the way, that figure sounds quaintly miniscule by today's warped standards.)

8:43 - Romney: "We've moved from a pay-phone world to a smartphone world. President Obama keeps jamming quarters into a smartphone thinking that's going to make it work. They're not connected, Mr. President!"

8:44 - Romney: "I think Gov. Perry would agree with me that if you're dealt 4 aces, that doesn't necessarily make you a great poker player." The audience reacts very negatively, supporting my mom's theory (see above). Perry responds: "Mitt, you were doin' pretty well till ya got to poker."

8:45 - Romney has a clever point about Perry's record: Perry has achieved good results in an environment where it worked well to go in expecting things to be fine. This mindset might not work so well for the position they're running for.

8:46 - Ron Paul is asked whether Perry deserves all the credit for Texas's growth. Paul, chuckling, says: "Eh, not quite!" He says taxes have doubled in the time Perry has been governor. "But I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes."

8:49 - Gingrich points out the paradox in Perry running as a conservative who created lots of jobs: "The American people create jobs, not government."

8:50 - A commenter on my mom's blog named Jim Howard says:
I'm not sure who will be the next President, but I'm pretty sure that Herman Cain will be the next VP.
I'm not so certain, but I see the point. Cain isn't running for president; he's running for vice president.

8:51 - Huntsman: "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.

8:53 - Another commenter on my mom's blog says:
Newt totally seems like a professor who's going to give me a B.
8:59 - Perry is asked about his "treason" statement about Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke. He says he only made a statement starting with "If..." I guess you can get out of any statement if you preface everything with "If..."

[Added later, video:]

9:03 - Gingrich: President Obama says he's going to get rid of tax loopholes. "Doesn't he realize that every green tax credit is a loophole?" That's why General Electric is able to pay zero taxes.

9:04 - Blitzer comes back at Gingrich: Wouldn't getting rid of those tax loopholes be a tax increase? Gingrich admits this, but incoherently says he's against tax increases.

9:10 - Perry keeps defending his HPV vaccination law by saying, "My goal was to fight cancer," and "I will always err on the side of life." Isn't that exactly the same principle used by supporters of government-sponsored health care, which Perry presumably thinks is tyrannical?

9:25 - My mom says:
Bachmann accuses Perry of being bought for $5,000 and Perry says he's insulted that she'd think he could be bought so cheaply.
Josh Marshall's take:
That was a great expression on Perry's face when he realized that the logic of his response to Bachmann was that $5,000 was way too little to buy him.
Even CNN itself is using this as a "BREAKING NEWS" headline at the top of its homepage:
Perry says he's offended if someone says he can be bought for $5,000 campaign contribution
9:30 - Santorum: "Gov. Perry gave in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Maybe that was his attempt to get the illegal — uh, the Latino vote."

9:31 - Perry defends his tuition policy in response to Santorum, taking a resoundingly pro-immigration tone: "It doesn't matter how you got here. It doesn't matter what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way." The audience loudly boos Perry here.

9:33 - Huntsman, grinning, says: "For Rick [Perry] to say we can't secure the borders is a treasonous comment." Perry cracks up.

9:35 - Romney says that Huntsman's decision to give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants "creates a patina of legality." Lose the law-prof-speak, Mitt!

9:36 - Huntsman comes back: "We could talk about where Mitt's been on all the issues, and that would take forever." It's been surprisingly rare to see the candidates attacking Romney for his famous flip-flopping. They don't want to draw too much blood from Romney; they might need him later.

9:40 - Paul: There's a big difference between "military spending" and "defense spending." We should cut military spending, not defense spending.

9:41 - Paul: "What would we do if another country, say China, did to us what we do to the countries over there [in the Middle East]?" We can't think we can occupy them with no retaliation.

9:42 - Santorum attacks Paul for a post on his website yesterday, saying that U.S. policy led to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

9:43 - Paul: "This whole idea that al Qaeda is attacking us for being free and prosperous is just not true." He paraphrases Osama bin Laden's purported reasons for attacking America. He seems to have difficulty continuing because the audience is so vocally negative. I don't know why Paul takes bin Laden at his word.

9:52 - Bachmann answers the question what she'd bring to the White House: copies of "the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights." The Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution, so that's redundant unless you want to emphasize the first 10 Amendments — most of which are about protecting the rights of criminal defendants.

9:54 - The debate is over. TalkingPointsMemo notes one ghoulish moment, which I also noticed but didn't have time to write down:
Wolf asks Ron Paul about a hypothetical 30 year-old who has no insurance and needs intensive care.

“So society should just allow him to die?” Wolf asks.

“Yeah!” someone in the audience shouts out.
There's your Tea Party debate in a nutshell.

Why does the New York Times say the chances of a "highly competitive" general election are "increasing"?

Mickey Kaus has a good catch about this New York Times article. The NYT says:

Democrats are expressing growing alarm about President Obama’s re-election prospects and, in interviews, are openly acknowledging anxiety about the White House’s ability to strengthen the president’s standing over the next 14 months.

Elected officials and party leaders at all levels said their worries have intensified as the economy has displayed new signs of weakness. They said the likelihood of a highly competitive 2012 race is increasing as the Republican field . . . has started narrowing to two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who have executive experience and messages built around job creation.
Does the Times' use of "increasing" there make sense? Would the sentence be any less true if the Times had said "decreasing" instead? Think about it . . .

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two first-hand accounts of the attacks of September 11, 2001, by the same person

Penelope Trunk wrote this on September 12, 2001 (on her blog and for Time magazine):

At the Wall St. train stop people were covered with papers. A plane crash. That's what everyone said. Then a boom. Everyone ran. I ran to my office and called my brother in the Midwest.

I wanted to be closer. At the corner of Church and Broadway, I angled my way through a large, packed crowd to get the best view. We talked about people jumping. The police stood behind the yellow tape. Minutes later, there was a boom. I thought it was a bomb, so I crouched, but people ran, so I ran. I couldn't see anything. I don't know how far I ran. Couldn't see where I was running. Didn't know if I was in a street or next to a building. Didn't know what street I was on. No one could talk because the dust filled our throats. After about ten steps I tripped over a pile of people and then people tripped on me.

I laid there. The only sound was the falling of dust and debris. No one moved under me. The weight of people on top of me got heavier. I couldn't breathe. I knew we were all going to die in that pile. I pulled myself out of the pile. My slip-ons slipped off. I stood up and saw nothing. Not even an inch in front of me. I put my hands out and felt for something. I bumped into the brick side of a building. I bumped into milk crates. I stopped. I had no idea what to do, and I knew everyone around me was suffocating. I thought about my mom and dad, they would be so sad to hear that I died. I thought about my husband. Just married and I will not get to live my life with him. I thought about my brothers. They would cry. I told myself to just keep trying to find a way to air, but I didn't believe I would live.

I bumped into something that I could feel the top of, so I lifted myself up. I worried I was going into the back of a dump truck, and I was scared I'd be trapped. I didn't know if there was fire, or a bomb. I didn't know how to protect myself — find air. Go up? — so I didn't know for sure that a dump truck would be bad. I think it was scaffolding. I think I jumped over piles of bodies by climbing scaffolding.

I pulled myself into a building. What building? I don't know. And I took a breath. I took two breaths. I was sure the building would be bombed. I looked for stairs. I kept thinking I needed clean air. I found a bathroom. I didn't realize I wanted water until it was there. Four men inside. Two fighting over the faucet. I shared the toilet with another man. We drank almost the whole bowl.

Once the four of us were calmed by water and air, we ventured outside the bathroom. We walked up stairs. Slowly. We checked doors behind us, left them all open. We got up only one floor. We waited. I cried. They shared one can of apple juice.

The intercom in the building announced stay where you are. I was so relieved to know people knew we were there. The intercom announced again and I thought another bomb would go off and I'd die. I cried. The guy with the apple juice put his arm around me. I wondered why no one else cried. The intercom announced to go down the stairs. I picked up a wastebasket: I planned to fill it with water. Planned to use it to shelter myself from the next bomb. (I still had no idea the building collapsed.)

In the lobby of the building someone gave me a Nantucket Nectar and told me to vomit. I walked outside the building with the drink in my wastebasket. There was no one around. White everywhere. The four of us had nowhere to go. I couldn't remember where I was. I walked toward the water. Police directed everyone north. I asked a woman next to me, "Where are we going?" She said, "I don't know." She had no dust. She looked so steady. I followed her. This was the beginning of her long protection.

She said, "You can walk home with me. You need a shower." I coughed. She asked why I was carrying a wastebasket. I said, "In case there's another bomb." She held onto my arm as we made our way next to the river. In Chinatown, she bought me shoes. At the Bowery we finally found a payphone that didn't have a line of people. So she called her husband and I sat down next to my wastebasket. It was the first time I sat down, and I started crying.

We resumed walking. Sometimes we ran. I made sure to keep up and I didn't tell Teresa that I was worried that I would faint. I drank Nantucket Nectar every time I got dizzy.

At 59th St. a plane went overhead and I screamed. In front of Bloomingdales. There was no one there from Wall St. I knew I looked crazy. I screamed anyway. I reminded everyone there were no planes allowed to fly. Someone said, "It's the army." I came out from under my wastebasket and kept walking. Theresa's apartment was 71st on the Upper West Side. Where everyone looked fine.

In the shower, dripping debris down my body, I remembered one more moment under the rubble. When I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't see. In the middle of the dead quiet was a voice. He said, "Is there anyone here? Can someone hold my hand?" I reached out to the voice, and held his hand. It was shaking and the skin was old. I squeezed and then I let go.
10 years later, here's her very different description of the same events:
I was there when the first tower fell. I was so close to it that I could not even see what had happened. I didn’t run. I ducked for cover. I got trampled. By the time I could stand up, everything was completely dark.

I remember the moment I realized I should close my mouth and stop breathing. Time got so slow. I remember thinking that if I had stopped breathing sooner, I would have had a few extra breaths right now. I remember thinking don't swallow, because there was too much stuff in my mouth.

I thought to myself that I had no idea what to do to save my life. I was in the dark and couldn’t breathe. I thought I’ll only be alive for maybe a minute longer, so I only have to keep trying to figure out how to save my life for one more minute. I told myself I can’t give up until I pass out. I remember that I hoped for a fast death.

Then something switched in me. I was okay dying. I felt okay with whatever level of pain I had before I died. I thought of my two brothers. I wanted them to be okay. To be fine. And I hoped someone would help them deal with my death. I thought of my husband, and I was so disappointed to not see our life unfold together.

That evening, after I had been to the hospital, after I had both eyes patched up, my husband finally told me both towers fell. That evening, I still thought the time that I was in the dark was maybe ten minutes. Now I realize that the time when I could not breathe was probably less than a minute. I had accepted the pain and my death after only 30 seconds.
Today, she posts to Twitter:
My mom called me this morning. She was crying. She said she remembers thinking I was dead. She never cries.

When we mourn the loss on September 11, what do we affirm?

Leon Wieseltier said, at a 9/11 memorial a few days ago hosted by The New Republic:

We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values. . . .

Here is what we affirmed by our mourning on September 11, 2001, and by the introspection of its aftermath:

that we wish to be known, to ourselves and to the world, by the liberty that we offer, axiomatically, as a matter of right, to the individuals and the groups with whom we live;

that the ordinary lives of ordinary people on an ordinary day of work and play can truthfully exemplify that liberty, and fully represent what we stand for;

that we will defend ourselves, resolutely and even ferociously, because self-defense is also an ethical responsibility, and that our debates about the proper use of our power in our own defense should not be construed as an infirmity in our will;

that the multiplicity of cultures and traditions that we contain peaceably in our society is one of our highest accomplishments, because we are not afraid of difference, and because we do not confuse openness with emptiness, or unity with conformity;

that a country as vast and as various as ours may still be experienced as a community;

that none of our worldviews, with God or without God, should ever become the worldview of the state, and that no sanctity ever attaches to violence;

that the materialism and the self-absorption of the way we live has not extinguished our awareness of a larger purpose, even if sometimes they have obscured it;

that we believe in progress, at home and abroad, in social progress, in moral progress, even when it is fitful and contested and difficult;

that just as we have enemies in the world we have friends, and that our friends are the individuals and the movements and the societies that aspire, often in circumstances of great adversity, to democracy and to decency.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Breaking down Obama's "jobs" plan (stimulus)

1. An "Absolute Moron's Guide."

2. A smart person's assessment.

Here are some highlights from that second link (by Megan McArdle):

The infrastructure stuff will be fine, if we choose good projects--America needs roads and airports and so forth. But as we discovered with the previous round, the better the project, the worse the stimulus. There are no terrific infrastructure projects sitting around, waiting to break ground next week . . . nay, not even if we streamline the regulatory red tape.

For that matter I'm not even sure that the president has the authority to streamline most of that red tape, and I'm highly skeptical that Congress is going to get busy undoing several decades worth of environmental and anti-corruption protections. So most of that $100 billion is not going to be spent next year--presumably, even the school rehab is going to have to wait until summer, when what we need is jobs right now. . . .
She also points out that Obama hasn't proposed any way to pay for the plan. She quotes from Obama's speech:
The agreement we passed in July will cut government spending by about $1 trillion over the next ten years. It also charges this Congress to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Tonight, I'm asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act. And a week from Monday, I'll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -- a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.
Then she quotes a Twitter post, summing up Obama's message to Congress:
"Here's the deal: I take credit for the new spending now; you take credit for making politically unpopular cuts later."
McArdle adds:
This is becoming a signature move for Obama. . . .

But it's hardly been a rousing success when Democrats tried to maneuver the Republicans into putting their sticky little fingerprints all over the unpopular parts of their plans while taking credit for the successes, which is what this boils down to. During the speech, Justin Wolfers tweeted to the effect that the GOP wouldn't dare vote against these hard-to-dislike provisions. I take it that this sentiment is common among liberals, who expressed approval that Obama was finally taking it to Republicans.

I'm less sure. For one thing, they've got a legitimate critique: it isn't paid for. Of course, if you want more stimulus, you don't want it to be paid for next year . . . but it isn't paid for at all. Select committees are turning into the Laffer Curve of the left: every time you want more money to pay for something, assign a committee to make unspecified cuts years in the future.

Republican complaints that the spending will happen and the pay-fors won't aren't unreasonable, and I suspect they'll get some traction with independents.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Solyndra probed

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The political scandal over the failure of Solyndra, the politically connected solar-panel maker, just got a lot more interesting. The FBI raided the company's Fremont, California offices yesterday and executed a search warrant.

Congress has been investigating the company, which received a $535 million government loan guarantee in March 2009 and announced August 31 that it is filing for bankruptcy. Yesterday's FBI raid is the first hint of a larger government probe, which is being conducted in cooperation with the Department of Energy's Inspector General. . . .

Solyndra was once a leading light, if you will, of the Obama Administration's signature "green jobs" dreams. The Energy Department signed off on the loan guarantee under a George W. Bush-era law, and the Federal Financing Bank, a unit of the Treasury Department, also provided a loan with a 1.025% quarterly interest rate. A parade of Administration officials praised the investment, including President Obama, who said in a speech last year at the company's Fremont headquarters that "companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future."

Solyndra never did turn a profit and laid off employees in November. But in February the company renegotiated its loan guarantee—with a hitch. Under the new agreement, Solyndra's investors would loan the company $75 million but be first in line on repayment in the event of bankruptcy, in front of taxpayers.
WSJ gives the Obama administration's spin:
Speaking about the bankruptcy earlier this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "There are no guarantees in the business world about success and failure. That is just the way business works, and everyone recognizes that." He added that "you cannot measure the success based on one company or the other."
WSJ responds:
That is all true enough, but then most businesses don't stick taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in potential losses when they fail. The problem with politically directed investment isn't merely that bureaucrats are betting with someone else's money on industries they may not understand. Such investment also invites political favoritism for the powerful few at the expense of millions of middle-class taxpayers. Americans need to know the full story of who made or influenced the decision to give Solyndra its loan guarantee, and if political pressure was brought to bear.
My mom comments on the raid:
Political connections can come back to bite you, when the politicians you were connected to need to gnaw through that connection and run like hell.

The Political Compass ideology quiz

You can take the quiz here to find out where they place you on economic and social issues.

Based on my scores, I seem to be a moderate libertarian.

Libertarianism is often seen as an extreme ideology, so is "moderate libertarian" an oxymoron? Not according to Tyler Cowen. Writing in 2007, he said that libertarian policies have increased America's economic growth, but added:

The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford. Furthermore, the better government operates, the more government people will demand. That is the fundamental paradox of libertarianism. Many initial victories bring later defeats.

I am not so worried about this paradox of libertarianism. Overall libertarians should embrace these developments. We should embrace a world with growing wealth, growing positive liberty, and yes, growing government. We don’t have to favor the growth in government per se, but we do need to recognize that sometimes it is a package deal.
In short, libertarianism has the seeds of its own destruction.

As with all these kinds of quizzes, I take issue with the premise of some of the questions. The first one is whether you agree with this statement:
If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.
This seems designed to prompt you to think in zero-sum terms about benefitting either "trans-national corporations" or "humanity." I wish there had been an option that would have allowed me to take the position that globalization should benefit both trans-national corporations and humanity at the same time. But the quiz nudges you toward answering that "humanity" should take precedence over "corporations." (The quiz writers should read the section in chapter 1 of Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies about the "zero-sum fallacy" and the chapter on free trade in Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist.)

Also, the quiz results are supposedly about your political views, but several of the social questions don't refer to any role of government. For instance, you could believe that discipline is the most important value to instill in children, and that society has gone too far in allowing people to express sexuality in public (which the quiz would count as "authoritarian" positions), while taking a libertarian position that government should stay out of these issues. You can have a moral objection to the painted nude woman in Times Square the other day without thinking the police should have arrested her. The quiz is supposed to test whether you do have authoritarian political views, but the quiz seems to make an authoritarian assumption that you'll want the government to enforce your morals.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The inventor of the eBook and founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael S. Hart, dies at 64.

Project Gutenberg reports (via):

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

Hart also predicted the enhancement of automatic translation, which would provide all of the world's literature in over a hundred languages. While this goal has not yet been reached, by the time of his death Project Gutenberg hosted eBooks in 60 different languages, and was frequently highlighted as one of the best Internet-based resources.

A lifetime intellectual, Hart was inspired by his parents, both professors at the University of Illinois, to seek truth and to question authority. One of his favorite recent quotes, credited to George Bernard Shaw, is characteristic of his approach to life:

"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people." . . .

The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job." He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children:

"Learning is its own reward. Nothing I can say is better than that."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Live-blogging Rick Perry's first 2012 Republican presidential debate

My mom, Ann Althouse, is live-blogging too. So is TalkingPointsMemo, in 4 parts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

[Added later: Here's the complete transcript of the debate, on the New York Times' website. But I don't know how accurate that transcript is; it refers to Brian Williams as being with Politico, when he's the anchor of NBC Nightly News. Here's the full video:]

Feel free to post any reactions to the debate in the comments.

8:03 - Rick Perry says Brian Williams is wrong to say most jobs that have been created in Texas are "low-wage jobs," because 95% of them were above the minimum wage. Spot the fallacy!

8:06 - Mitt Romney touts his "experience succeeding [and] failing." I'm sure some people would like to use his positive spin on "failing" against him, but it makes sense.

8:07 - Perry reveals his strategy against Romney: concede that he did well in the private sector, and contrast this with his work as governor.

8:08 - Perry has a zinger against Romney: Michael Dukakis created jobs three times as fast as Romney did in Massachusetts. Without missing a beat, Romney retorts that Perry created jobs more slowly than George Bush did (presumably this refers to Bush as Governor of Texas, not President). Brian Williams: "Nice to see that everyone came prepared."

[Added later: here's a video of the most attention-getting squabble between Romney and Perry.]

8:11 - Herman Cain has a "9/9/9" plan for the economy. Maybe he was listening to the Beatles' "Revolution 9."

8:15 - In response to a jobs question, Michele Bachmann puts the emphasis on kids and racial minorities.

8:16 - Ron Paul "doesn't believe in" any federal safety regulations. He believes only in the "regulations" of the free market.

[Added: I was writing down these quotes on the fly based on trying to pay attention to the debate while making soup for dinner. I believe my quotes are reasonably accurate, but they might not be verbatim.]

8:21 - When asked about his health-care reform in Massachusetts (as he always is in these debates), Romney not only gives his usual vow to give waivers from Obamacare to all states on day 1 and eventually repeal it. He also defends his decision in Massachusetts based on the fact that the status quo ante was unacceptable because people were incentivized to rely on emergency rooms for all health care, the costs of which were passed on to the people.

8:27 - Newt Gingrich continues his tactic from the last debate of attacking the moderators: "I'm not interested in your attempt to get Republicans fighting each other. . . . Let's not puff this up into some giant thing."

8:31 - I agree with Rick Santorum about welfare reform.

8:33 - Perry paraphrases John F. Kennedy, who "said that the most powerful welfare program is a job." I believe this is the first time in the last three debates that a candidate has referenced a Democrat in a positive way.

8:35 - Romney on President Obama: "He keeps talking about green jobs. Where are they?" Good question.

8:37 - Ron Paul calls out the moderators for only asking Romney about his health-care plan and not asking Perry about supporting Hillary Clinton's health-care plan. (Perry denies this.)

8:39 - Perry takes a gratuitous swipe at Ron Paul for quibbling with then-President Reagan. This is a transparent gambit on Perry's part to give more time to Paul and take time away from the stronger candidates.

8:49 - Perry says anyone who promotes Social Security as we know it is perpetrating "a monstrous lie" to young people. He does not exclude Karl Rove or Dick Cheney from this.

8:51 - Romney clearly places himself as the moderate candidate — who wants to save Social Security — against Perry, the extreme candidate — who wants to abolish Social Security. He seems to have read this article in The New Republic:

You must persuade the decisive portion of your party that Rick Perry is too extreme to be elected president.

Here’s your theme: Rick Perry wants to repeal the 20th century. I don’t. And neither do the American people.
[I've added this video, and commentary from TalkingPointsMemo:]
The exchange marks a crucial moment in the campaign: this is the first time Romney has deliberately staked out a centrist position in order to attack Perry explicitly from the left. This is a dynamic that’s going to have a huge impact on the character of the race from this point on, assuming Romney holds his ground.

8:58 - Romney is notably gracious in not going along with Paul and Bachmann in attacking Perry over his widely reviled HPV vaccination law.

9:01 - Paul says the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened because Americans didn't have enough guns.

9:04 - Jon Huntsman says the Department of Homeland Security has "a fortress security mentality that is not American."

9:08 - Gingrich praises Obama for showing "some courage" on education policy. I believe that's the first time any candidate has praised anything about Obama.

9:13 - Santorum makes a good argument on immigration, which I've never heard before: "It's a very good thing for the first thing you do when you come to this country to be a legal act, not an illegal act."

9:20 - A commenter on my mom's blog says:
Perry is a disappointment - not ready for prime time. His simplistic sloganeering makes Sarah Palin sound like Thomas Jefferson.
9:23 - Romney dodges the question whether he's a member of the Tea Party: "I don't think you carry cards in the Tea Party." (This sounded a little odd, since the moderator didn't use the phrase "card-carrying member.") He qualifies his answer that "I'm for the Tea Party" by saying this is true "if the Tea Party is for" smaller government and so on. In other words, he agrees with them as long as they agree with his opinions. That's a weak answer. Why not say unequivocally that he supports the Tea Party because they are for those things?

9:25 - A Facebook friend, Alex Knepper (who gave me permission to identify him and link to his Facebook), says:
REAGAN is not a synonym for GOOD, people!
9:29 - Perry blatantly dodges the question whether Bush was too quick to go to war without thinking through the risks. He blithely says he's against "adventurism" but doesn't clarify how he would apply this to any of Bush's foreign-policy decisions.

9:29 - Perry, of his own accord (not in response to any question), gives emphatic praise to Obama for prosecuting the war on terrorism.

9:33 - Bachmann firmly states that it was "wrong" for the United States to go to war with Libya.

9:36 - Huntsman: "We can't run from science." He says other (unspecified) candidates have made "comments that don't reflect the reality of the situation" including denying what 98% of scientists say on climate change and denying evolution.

9:45 - Perry slowly, dramatically lists capital crimes and says if you come to Texas and do them, "you will be executed."

9:49 - Paul has the last word, saying he rejects the idea that if he's against federal government benefits, he lacks compassion. It's compassionate to understand that the most effective way to care for children is through the free market.

ADDED: That was a solid, substantive, lively debate. The moderators did a good job of keeping the candidates reined in without cutting them off so soon that they struggled to make their points. There was a good mix of gotcha questions and broader "What do you think about this issue?" questions. The MSNBC debate led by Brian Williams far outdid the debate back in June hosted by CNN and led by John King. Between tonight's debate and the previous FoxNews debate, CNN has a high standard to meet when it hosts the next debate, on Monday, September 12.

As for the candidates, I'm not going to claim to be impartial — I'm rooting for Romney. I was hoping that finally appearing on stage next to everyone else would remove some of Perry's luster. I don't know if that happened or not. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Romney "won" the debate, but Jon Chait says Romney lost to Perry by being too reasonable:
The media seems to consider Romney the winner. Pardon the condescension, but they’re not thinking like Republican base voters. Romney approaches every question as if he is in an actual debate, trying to provide the most intellectually compelling answer available, within the bounds of political expediency. Perry treats questions as interruptions. What scientists do you trust on climate change? I don’t want to risk the economy. Are you taking a radical position on social security? We can have reasons or we can have results. His total liberation from the constraints of reason give Perry a chance to represent the Republican id in a way Romney simply cannot match.

In this way Perry eerily apes the style of George W. Bush, who was also mocked for his intellectually vapid debating style, but who succeeded in rallying Republicans behind him. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I suspect the Bush-Perry debating style broadcasts a subliminal message of strong leadership. Romney feels compelled to bind himself to the parameters of the question before him. Perry ignores them. It is, in a sense, an alpha male move. I am not going to lower myself to your premise about scientists. I am going to declare my principles.

In my view, Perry established his alpha male style, and that impression will matter more than any position or statement he’s made.