Oct 31, 2008

McCain campaign is now officially communist

See about 1:00 into the first video.

WTF?! The entire student population of a school district bused to a McCain rally!? That's Soviet-style forced attendance for propaganda purposes. That is how communist leaders boosted their cheering crowds. It also seems like a blatant First Amendment violation by the school district; parents ought to sue the school board over this.

Why is this not being decried as un-American?

Oct 30, 2008

First they came..., 2008 version

First they came for the Muslims,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for Palestinian-Americans,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Palestinian-American.

Then they came for the atheists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a atheist.*

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up I wasn't worth speaking up for.

*Well, of course I am. And therefore:

Elizabeth Dole is a stinking turd, but I really do not appreciate Kay Hagan for suing her. The premise behind the suit - that being called an atheist can be defamatory - is extremely offensive. Could I sue somebody for calling me a Presbyterian? If not, Hagan's suit ought to be summarily dismissed.

Let's make a clear distinction here. While Hagan's rebuttal ad is, in principle, also offensive to non-Christians, I understand a politician's need to address voters' concerns. It would be crazy to throw the election away to make a point. I want Hagan to win the election, and I won't object to her doing what she needs to win. The ad fits that role. But a lawsuit doesn't help to win the election. By suing Liddy Dole, she is in fact joining her in insulting all godless Americans.

Different-looking people out!

McCain's campaign is now officially fascist.

Of course, that's all Obama's fault. If he had agreed to joint town hall meetings, McCain would not be forced to call the police whenever a slightly darker-skinned person shows up.

My question to everyone who still intends to vote for McCain: Why in the world didn't you vote for Tancredo or Hunter in the primaries?

Oct 28, 2008

Mankiw bequeaths $7M to middle-aged kids for down payment on first home

I have several economists' blogs on my blogroll. I have a couple of conservative economists' blogs on my blogroll. Greg Mankiw's blog is not one of them, and for a good reason. Although Mankiw is undeniably a first-class economist in terms of his contributions to academic research, his public-policy positions could be charitably described as naive and simplistic, and most of the stuff he writes in his blog is just crap. (His position on Pigouvian fuel taxes may be a notable exception, but I take it more as a confirmation the issue is so non-controversial among economists that even right-wingers agree with the normal people.)

Did I say crap? Mankiw's recent post on his work incentives under McCain's and Obama's tax proposals makes crap look appetizing in comparison. He computes:
even under the low-tax McCain plan, my incentive to work is cut by 83 percent compared to the situation without taxes. (...) Obama's proposed tax hikes reduce my incentive to work by 62 percent compared to the McCain plan and by 93 percent compared to the no-tax scenario. In a sense, putting the various pieces of the tax system together, I would be facing a marginal tax rate of 93 percent.
and concludes:
The bottom line: If you are one of those people out there trying to induce me to do some work for you, there is a good chance I will turn you down. And the likelihood will go up after President Obama puts his tax plan in place.

Jonah the Economist does some pretty good debunking of Mankiw's fallacies, showing that Mankiw uses wrong formulas and wrong parameters, as well as a misleading source for his numbers. But the problems with Mankiw's post don't end there; his underlying logic is fatally flawed. Even if the numbers were correct (they are not), his argument would not hold water.

Mankiw's main premise is that any extra dollar he might earn would be set aside, invested, and bequeathed to his children. That is the only way he gets to apply all taxes to it. And here is how he describes the goals he has for those bequests:
To a large extent, the beneficiaries of that extra effort are my kids. My lifestyle is, as a first approximation, invariant to my income. But if I make an extra few dollars today, I will leave more to my kids when I move on. I won't leave them enough so they can lead lives of leisure, but perhaps I will leave them enough so they won't have to struggle too much to afford a downpayment on their houses or to send their own kids to college.
However, to apply a 45% estate tax under Obama's plan, he must be assuming that the amount of his bequest will exceed $7 million (in today's dollars). His stated modest goals are totally inconsistent with bequeathing that amount. Moreover, as an economist, Mankiw ought to realize that inheriting millions would greatly reduce his children's incentives to work.

Mankiw's narrative is not convincing to any reader seeking more than to validate his own prejudice that Obama will raise taxes and destroy the economy. It is unlikely that, as a star professor who obviously loves what he does, he works primarily for money. Even if he does, he states explicitly that he doesn't want any more money for himself, but only for his children. I like how he describes the purpose of the bequests, but it doesn't add up chronologically. I don't know how old Mankiw's children are, but he is 50, and his calculations assume that he will live to 85. By then, I would think his children would be at least in their 40s. If one of the most successful economists in America believes that his children will need help with down payment on their first homes when they are almost his present age, he is either extremely pessimistic or full of shit.

The very end of Mankiw's post is perhaps its best part:
And the likelihood will go up after President Obama puts his tax plan in place. I expect to spend more time playing with my kids. They will be poorer when they grow up, but perhaps they will have a few more happy memories.
Whether he arrived at this conclusion by flawed logic or not, the outcome seems the best for all parties involved (especially if "poorer" means having only $7,000,000.00 instead of $7,000,001.85). He is actually implying that he and his kids will be better off under Obama's plan (and we will too, as Jonah the Economist concludes). Could anybody refute Mankiw's main point more effectively than Mankiw himself?

I am Joe the Dictator

Having grown up under Communism, I appreciate this saying, made famous by Slavoj Zizek:
One cannot but recall here a witty formula of life under a hard Communist regime: Of the three features—personal honesty, sincere support of the regime and intelligence—it was possible to combine only two, never all three. If one was honest and supportive, one was not very bright; if one was bright and supportive, one was not honest; if one was honest and bright, one was not supportive.
Lately, it has come to my mind every time somebody has mentioned the Republican Party.

Nothing left to risk

Yglesias is quite late in discovering Doug Holtz-Eakin's strange descent into hackery. Holtz-Eakin shed his technocratic reputation back in early June when he defended the constitutionality of wiretaps, something entirely outside his area of expertise. And after some more transgressions, I blogged about his reduction to a campaign hack in July. The widely publicized Blackberry stunt sealed the case, even if he intended it as a joke. It is sad, because he used to be a respectable and honorable professional, but I don't think he has any reputation left to worry about.

Oct 23, 2008

Obsession, but whose?

Like millions of Americans, especially those in swing states, I got the infamous Obsession DVD in the mail. I had heard a lot of negative opinions about it, but I wasn't going to form my own opinion based on somebody else's, so I decided to watch the film and find out what it was like.

After an hour, I emerged from my rec room with two conclusions: (1) the film is a vile bucket of vomit, and (2) its makers are very skilled in propaganda and probably have solid professional experience in similar projects.

The film starts innocently enough, with a warning that it is not about Muslims in general and that most Muslims are peaceful and have nothing to do with radical Islamist terrorism. Then it lists some well-known attacks by al-Qaida and related groups, and thus far the exposition is mostly accurate. (The only problem is throwing Chechen terrorism in Russia into the mix. As far as I know, the only thing it has in common with al-Qaida attacks is the religion of the perpetrators.) The early parts of the film are quite reasonable and balanced; the impression is consistent with the initial warning - terrorists are exceptions, aberrations, not representative of Muslim people.

But as the movie progresses, there are more extremist Muslims shown, and their extremism gets more severe. By the end, you can easily forget that there were any reasonable Muslims. Also, about the middle of the film, comparisons with Nazism and Nazi Germany begin, and soon they become the theme of the film. The explicit message, repeated several times, is that Western democracies are as cavalier about the Islamist threat as they were about the Nazi threat in the 1930s. This point is supported almost entirely by images and suggestions; there is no critical reasoning involved - and it couldn't be, because there are hardly any similarities between radical Islamism and Nazism beside hatred for Jews and widespread fanaticism, both common features of violent, hateful movements.

Perhaps most sinister tactic employed in the film is the thesis - again mainly developed near the end - that radical Islamists are everywhere around us, infiltrating the mainstream society, indistinguishable from normal, peaceful Muslims. This is the antithesis of the initial disclaimer: although it maintains that only a small fraction of Muslims are dangerous, it implies that every Muslim is suspect because we can't tell the bad ones from the rest. That message is very dangerous, and I am not surprised that attacks on innocent Muslims were reported soon after the distribution of the film began.

To make matters worse, there is no discussion in the film about what could be done to protect the Western civilization from the Jihadist threat, except that comparisons with Nazi Germany can easily lead the viewer to conclude that nothing short of obliterating the enemy lands will do. Even without such monstrous conclusion, at best the credulous viewer is left fearful and frustrated - a perfect recipe for brewing hate.

Critical minds can experience this film like a bird pooping on their shoulder - it's yucky, but clothes can be washed or, in the worst case, tossed. But people who are less resistant to visceral persuasion may find themselves somewhat diminished as human beings, against their will, and possibly unaware of it. It should definitely not be shown to those young enough that the society chooses to shield them from pornography, but it is also not safe for the majority of adults.

Oct 22, 2008

Who is Maverick?

From Online Etymology Dictionary:
1867, "calf or yearling found without an owner's brand," in allusion to Samuel A. Maverick (1803-70), Texas cattle owner who was negligent in branding his calves. Sense of "individualist, unconventional person" is first recorded 1886, via notion of "masterless."
Negligent in branding his cattle? Not knowing whom he picks and what they do? Has to say "Oops!" and "I screwed up" a lot? It's beginning to make sense now...

Also note that the original Maverick was born 205 years ago.

Oct 20, 2008

We're rednecks, we're rednecks, and we're keepin' the n*****s down

How did Buchanan, Will and Limbaugh not think of this:

Of course! Colin Powell is a secret Muslim. Those Jamaicans, they are all Muslims. Look at the name of the Olympic champion in 100 meters dash: Usain Bolt. That's like Hussein. I bet Colin Powell's middle name is Muhammad!

And those Jamaicans who are not Muslim are pot-smoking Ethiopians. Ergo, Colin Powell is a secret pot-smoking Muslim Ethiopian! Of course he is for Obama!

(Next: Is Christopher Buckley secretly the black child William F. Buckley fathered out of wedlock?)

Dog almost bites man

John McCain had a prepared response to Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama. He told Chris Wallace that four former Secretaries of State had endorsed him - Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, James Baker, and Lawrence Eagleburger. I guess it is breaking news that Republican politicians have endorsed the Republican candidate... But wait! There is something newsworthy in that statement.

Where is George Shultz?

Has he not endorsed McCain? That would be quite interesting. He did sign that "100 Economists for McCain" letter (apparently the most famous document with a number in base 9 in its title). Was he one of the signers who didn't quite read what they were signing?

Or did McCain forget to mention him? That would also be interesting, although for different reasons. If any Republican Secretary of State's endorsement, other than Powell's, would mean anything to independents and moderates, it would be Shultz's.

Oct 15, 2008

Family Feud?

On CNN, after the presidential debate, 14 talking heads are arguing about which candidate did better at winning the votes of the undecided voters. As far as I know, not one of those people is a professional bookmaker and none of them runs a horse race betting establishment, so how can they add value predicting race outcomes?

It would be helpful if some qualified people discussed the issues raised in the debate in some depth, but most of those clowns obviously aren't qualified to say anything substantive, and the two or three who are would be beaten up by the rest if they tried.

Thus we are not allowed to get any more information than what the candidates advertise. Well, not quite... we get to hear thoughts from a group of people who have proven their stupidity by being undecided 20 days before the election and after almost 2 years of campaigning.

I just feel bad for the people who have to clean up the studio after all this bullshit was dropped in it.

I picked the wrong week to quit cutting taxes

The world has changed a lot in the last month, so let me back off my appeal to the candidates to break their tax-cutting promises. This is not the time to think about long-term fiscal responsibility. That must wait until we are out of the recession.

However, I hope there will be many years of Obama presidency after we are out of the recession, and I hope Obama will have the wisdom to break his promise then, and the charisma to convince the American people not to hate him for that broken promise.

Barack Obama stole my puppy

Barack Obama Stole My Puppy is a great new blog dedicated to collecting "personal stories of real Americans (from small towns, not those big city cesspools) of encounters with the Democratic nominee for president". How well do we really know how horrible Barack Obama is?

I thought of leaving my story in a comment, but this is a meme worth spreading, so I'll write here and I hope that at least one of the three people reading this blog will write about their own experience, and this will spread like a chain letter and soon everybody will see what a spammer Barack Obama is.

So please write your own personal stories, just don't forget to credit Barack Obama Stole My Puppy with the monstrous mutation that created this meme.

And here is my horrible, terrible, no good, bad story:

Barack Obama Made a Potty Mouth of Me

One awful day when I was the tender young age of seven and Barack Obama was a mean thirteen, we were traveling on a bus together. How we got to travel together, I don't recall. Either he threw my Mom and Dad under the bus or he ate them; the events I will describe left me so traumatized that I don't know who my parents were. And I think Barack Obama erased my memory, just so I would never remember the time I was better off than I am now.

Anyway, I was a little nervous so I was kicking the seat in front of me, when an old man who was sitting in it turned around and said "Get off my back, you bratty little fucker!" Imagine a seven-year old small town boy being exposed to those words - and Barack Obama didn't cover my ears!

A few minutes later, I was watching the young woman next to the old man playing with the old man's hair. I asked Barack Obama why the mean old man's daughter was petting his head, and he told me he thought she was his wife. I looked at him and asked, "You mean, they have sex and make babies together?" And Barack Obama said "Yeah, I think so." Eeeeygghhh! Yuck! I felt I had been exposed to a pedophile, and Barack Obama didn't even put his hand over my eyes!

Then the woman told the mean old man that his hair was thinning out, and he started yelling. He roared: "At least I don't plaster on makeup like a trollop, cunt!" Everybody in the bus turned and looked at them, which means also at us, as we were sitting right behind them. That made me nervous; I knew I had just heard something I wasn't supposed to hear. So I asked Barack Obama what a "trollop" was, and he said, smirking, "Hey, you should ask about 'cunt' first!" Can you imagine!? "Cunt first!" Until that day I was a good small-town boy who went to church and target practice every Sunday, and now I was suddenly forced to grow up and become a prisoner of sin and blasphemy - and all because of Barack Obama!

I have been a prisoner of Wicked And Revolting language - a prisoner of WAR, for short - all my life, and I am so wretched that I can't get up in the morning or go to sleep without swearing at somebody. It was Barack Obama who traumatized me so, when I was just seven, that I will never get that awful phrase "Cunt first!" out of my head. And now Barack Obama made it worse because he is running for President, and that other guy who is also running for President - see how Barack Obama influences people, they want to immitate him and do the same bad things he does - yeah, that other guy, he keeps saying something that sounds like "Cunt first!" all the time, and he looks like the mean old man on the bus, and I can't escape from the prison of turpitude in which Barack Obama locked me up that awful day when I was the tender young age of seven.

Oct 6, 2008

A tale of two debates

This sounds familiar:
[The Democrat] won the vice-presidential debate 41% to 28% among uncommitted voters according to a CBS poll. An online poll conducted by MSNBC makes the margin of [Democrat's] victory even larger: 67% to 33%. While the MSNBC poll was not a scientific poll, it did have 885,000 responses, so it was a very large poll of Internet users.

The effect of the first presidential debate is starting to kick in. [The Democrat] is surging and [the Republican] is dropping. [The Democrat] has retaken the lead in all-important Ohio by 49% to 48%
That was 4 years ago, so be careful with post-debate optimism. On the other hand, the electoral map looked quite bleak then. Kerry was 53 electoral votes behind, while Obama is 135 EV ahead today, according to the same source. There probably aren't any useful lessons about predictions in this historical snapshot.

What I find more interesting - actually, stunning - is that the poll results about the VP debate winner were so similar in 2004 and 2008. That's completely crazy. I couldn't be more biased than I was for Edwards and against Cheney, but come on, that debate was a tie. Edwards failed in every possible way to show how bad the Bush-Cheney administration was and to distinguish the alternative that he and Kerry offered. He failed to challenge Cheney and call his BS. So both of them came out looking like reasonable people with legitimate policy differences that were a matter of personal preference. An intelligent space alien who saw them for the first time would get a similar impression as in the 1996 Gore-Kemp debate. The problem is, the difference between Jack Kemp and Dick Cheney is... about nine circles of Hell. I think I am charitable to Edwards when I say the 2004 debate was a tie; it was actually the main reason I did not support his candidacy this time.

By contrast, this year we didn't really see a VP debate. We saw a feisty puppy nipping at a gigantic St. Bernard's ankle, half the time not even distracting him, and half the time being shaken away with one twitch. It may have been a pit bull puppy, and she was cute and eager to show off the tricks she learned, but she mainly got praised for not peeing on the floor. The St. Bernard was a bit old, and some say boring, but reassuringly confident and reliable. There is no doubt as to who won; the only question is, can we even call it a contest?

How, then, can we explain the similar viewer verdicts? The only explanation I can think of has to do with the contrast of the deep antipathy for Cheney vs. low expectations and a perverse, respect-less liking for Palin.

And that despite the fact that Palin's most substantive statement in the entire debate was that she agreed with Cheney's views on Vice President's Constitutional powers.

Oct 5, 2008

4 out of 5 economists recommend Obama

The Economist, a conservative publication, says so.

Cokie, you ignorant slut!

Actually, she is an ignorant jerk:
During coverage of the October 2 vice-presidential debate on PBS' Charlie Rose, Rose asked, "Did either of them make any mistakes that you noticed?" National Public Radio senior news analyst Cokie Roberts responded that Sen. Joe Biden "talked about the Bosniaks." Roberts later said: "[I]f [Gov. Sarah Palin] had said 'Bosniak,' everybody would be making a big deal of it, you know." In fact, Biden correctly referred to certain residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Bosniaks.
Why does Cokie Roberts have a job as a journalist? She is clearly not qualified to be a "senior news analyst" if she comments on things she knows squat about without doing any research. Actually, why does Cokie Roberts have any job at all? She is clearly not qualified to be a maid or a cashier if she lacks decency and respect for fellow human beings.

Oct 4, 2008

I'm bailing out on the bailout

Because of my professional qualifications, I probably understand the issues involved in the financial crisis better than, let's conservatively estimate, 98% of Americans.

But then again, because of my professional qualifications and because I understand them relatively well, I am keenly aware of just how much I don't understand.

That's why I am avoiding writing about it here. I am almost certain I'd come to regret parts of what I wrote, and, because of my professional qualifications, that regret would be much worse than if I were wrong about something about which I speak as an ordinary citizen.

That said, there are people whose professional opinion I am ready to endorse. Not because they are necessarily right (if I could tell, the preceding 3 paragraphs would make no sense), but because their knowledge and understanding of economic issues, and particularly of political economy - the way economics and social organization interact and influence each other - has consistently proven to be extremely deep and insightful. At the top of that list are Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong.

So here is a Brad DeLong interview that I find very useful for making sense of what's going on:
Q: What's the most important thing an ordinary person needs to know about the bailout plan Congress was considering this week?

A: It is not supposed to be a bailout plan. The idea is to make sure that the shareholders of banks and institutions that made stupid and unwise loans suffer enormously in terms of losses of wealth while still preserving the flow of funds through the financial sector to the real economy so that companies can create jobs.

Q: So they will suffer?

A: The CEO of Bear Stearns lost 95 percent of his personal portfolio in the forced merger of last March.

Q: What do you think of this plan? Is it what needs to be done?

A: I think the Paulson-Dodd-Frank plan as it is emerging is much, much less effective than it could be. But it is still much better than doing nothing, which is kind of like being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Q: Are there still things the government could do that would be more effective?

A: Yes, I think something like the Swedish Plan — by which the government invests in the major banks of New York and elsewhere and essentially takes them over and runs them for a few years, and then when they become profitable again sells off its stake to private investors — would be much more effective and a much better use of the public's money. Indeed, that's why the Swedes did it when they faced a similar crisis back in 1992.

Q: Some people are questioning whether there is really a crisis. Is the situation really as dire as it has been painted?

A: In the second quarter of 2007, $300 billion moved through financial markets into businesses. The businesses borrowed that money in order to expand employment. That number was halved by the second quarter of 2008. The third quarter of 2008 is sure to be less and the fourth quarter of 2008 may be zero. If you want to have an economy with a growing number of jobs, if you want to keep the jobs we have, you've got to keep the flow of funds through the financial markets from savers to businesses going. At the moment it isn't.

Q: How bad are things likely to get?

A: (With the Paulson plan the) unemployment rate will top out between 8 and 10 percent this business cycle. And (without it) the unemployment rate will be higher, but we don't know how much higher.

Q: What does that mean in terms of numbers of people who will be without jobs?

A: Each percentage point of unemployment is something like an extra 1.5 million people who have lost their jobs and can't find another one.

Q: What about the housing market? Is this likely to help stem the decline?

A: Housing prices are still a bunch higher than they were in 2000 and are probably coming down another 10 or 15 percent. The decline is likely to be a lot worse if the economy goes into depression than if it just stays in recession.

Q: Are we in a recession already?

A: I would say yes. Jim Hamilton at the University of California at San Diego, who is my guru in such matters, said there is a more than 95 percent chance that we are in a recession. And I think when they decide when the recession was, they will stay in started last December.

Q: There have been various ideas floated about how to stop the decline of the housing market. Why can't the government simply agree to take over the troubled mortgages that are currently in default?

A: This is indeed one of the plans, to revive the Federal Homeowners Loan Corporation that we had during the Great Depression. The problem is, it's very hard to design such a program that doesn't give away a lot of money to mortgage lenders who shouldn't have made the mortgages in the first place, or to home purchasers who didn't save but instead spent their incomes on other things thinking someone would rescue them if they got into trouble.

Q: Why not declare a moratorium on foreclosures?

A: If you do that, can I stop paying my monthly mortgage payment and still stay in my house? I could get an extra $2,000 a month to spend. ... It would create bigger problems than it solves because those mortgage payments ultimately flow back to investors of all kinds, state and local governments, pension funds and so forth.

Q: What steps can be taken to prevent this from happening again?

A: The first step would be to say you can't trade a derivative security without trading it through an organized derivative exchange. That is to centralize the market and make it transparent for finance, to re-regulate it in a bunch of different ways. The second thing is to say if you are a high-end financial professional or you are getting a high income from anybody, that you have to take a great deal of that income in the form of long-term stock in whatever company is paying you. So if you are giving the company bad advice, you shouldn't be away on the beach, happily living the life of Riley.

Q: Are taxes going to go up?

A: Taxes might go up a tiny bit. But our taxes are going to go up a lot more if the unemployment rate goes up to 10, and all the extra workers who now pay taxes don't and we have to shoulder their burden.

Q: So it sounds like it is actually not such a grim scenario. Unemployment goes to 10 percent and home values fall between 10 and 20 percent and then we start recovering.

A: It depends on whether you are one of those unemployed or not, if you are one of those foreclosed or not, how grim it is. Even if you are not unemployed, a labor market where there is 10 percent unemployment, you have to pay a lot more attention to your boss and accept a lot lower rates of real wage increases than you do when the unemployment rate is 5 percent. It is a different economy.

Q: Once the economy starts to grow again, will things get better?

A: Things are likely to get better. They always have.