Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Abstinence-only education programs don't work

President Obama proposed eliminating federal funding for abstinence-only education, apparently because of the overwhelming evidence that the programs have failed spectacularly everywhere they've been tried. The White House wanted to redirect those funds to broader teen pregnancy-reduction programs.

If there are two things conservative lawmakers love most, it's cutting government spending and eliminating wasteful programs, right? Wrong.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday night approved an amendment providing tens of millions of dollars to fund abstinence education programs for teens.

The proposal, offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would provide $50 million per year through 2014 exclusively for abstinence education programs. The measure would effectively reinstate the controversial Title V program, which offered $50 million per year to states for abstinence education, but prohibited them from tapping the funds for other sex-ed subjects like contraception. The same prohibition would accompany the Hatch amendment. [...]

The vote was 12 to 11, with Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) voting with every Republican to secure passage of the measure.



Hatch, defending the truly ridiculous government spending, said, "Abstinence education works."

That's true, if you live in a fantasy world in which reality has no meaning.

The facts have been stubborn on this. The nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that abstinence programs do not affect teenager sexual behavior. A congressionally-mandated study, which was not only comprehensive but also included long-term follow-up, found the exact same thing. Researchers keep conducting studies, and the results are always the same.

This isn't complicated. Simply telling teenagers not to have sex doesn't affect behavior, doesn't prevent unwanted pregnancies, and doesn't stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Teens who receive comprehensive lessons of sexual health, with reliable, accurate information, are more likely to engage in safer, more responsible behavior.

And yet, every Republican -- you know, the guys who want to cut government spending -- insisted on throwing another $50 million -- of our money -- at programs we know produce the opposite of the desired result. The measure would have failed, were it not for two conservative Democrats who decided to help them.

The provision may eventually be scrapped as the bill progresses, but that it passed at all is an embarrassment.

Posted via email from Jim Nichols


Following up on an item from yesterday, it appears that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's conservative line on global warming isn't done alienating its one-time supporters.

Nike will relinquish its spot on the board of directors at the Chamber of Commerce to protest the business lobby's opposition to climate-change legislation.

"We believe that on the issue of climate change the Chamber has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors," the company says in a statement obtained by POLITICO. "Therefore, we have decided to resign our board of directors position."

Nike has long been a strong advocate for government action to combat global warming and has said it "fundamentally disagrees" with the Chamber's position on the climate bill. The company helped found Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, a coalition of businesses supporting congressional action to address climate and energy legislation.

The move comes on the heels of Exelon, Pacific Gas and Electric, and PNM Resources all quitting the Chamber over the group's efforts to derail energy reform. Nike is withdrawing from the COC's board, but will remain with the association, with the stated intention of "advocating for climate change legislation" from within the Chamber.

Either way, it's additional evidence that the business community is hardly united on the subject of climate change, and the Chamber of Commerce's reflexive, conservative line, premised on the rejection of scientific evidence, is proving to be unacceptable in several corporate circles.

What's more, Amanda Terkel highlighted a strong editorial on this from the New York Times today: "The United States Chamber of Commerce's Web site says the group supports 'a comprehensive legislative solution' to global warming. Yet no organization in this country has done more to undermine such legislation..... [Responsible chamber members] see a carbon-constrained world coming and want to get out ahead of the curve -- not behind it like the chamber."


Posted via email from Jim Nichols

@JimN2010 Ideologues are the problem not the solution....

A great example of why Republican Ideologues have done damage to the quality of life for citizens was in the Henry Citizen Newsletter #123 on July 31 where the husband of a teacher wrote in about the impact of furlough's on their family.  He ended up having to take the day off of work to assist in getting the class ready, and pointed out that they have spent money out of pocket to buy white boards, supplies, and decorations for the classroom.   Private citizens footing the bill for our obligations as a state is unacceptable. 

This isn't the first time I've heard about situations like this.  In fact there are many examples of budget cuts directly impacting citizens.  This is unacceptable, government has an obligation to meet is commitments to the citizens of this state.  Don't get me wrong, nobody will be happy with every program; and certainly procedures, processes, and bureaucratic nightmares can and should be fixed. 

These kinds of headaches are faced in the corporate world as well--government isn't unique in these headaches.  That is one of the reasons why I'm campaigning on the need to start looking at modern findings in behavioral economics and cognitive science.  As I asked around to some of the Legislators, lobbyist, and activists who spend a lot of time up at the Gold Dome about which Legislators were looking into this kind of approach--everyone scratched their head and said they weren't aware of anyone approaching government this way. 

That is unacceptable--its time for policy to join the 21st century!  It is also a great example of why a new generation of leaders who are bringing new ideas and new approaches to the Gold Dome are needed. We create programs and process that are more efficient and effective--not by working at cross purposes with our natural biology but by harnessing our natural predispositions and human nature.  We can create more efficient and effective government--but underfunding our state is not going to make that happen.

Republicans like Ronald Regan and George H. W. Bush raised taxes to deal with structural deficits--so this isn't a democrat or republican issue.  Its a prime example of how ideologues have taken over the Republican Party.  The number of "Independents" running around these days is another one. 

If we want to cut programs--fine, make it happen.  The fact they a Republican Majority has failed to make that happen is proof that the people don't want their services and programs cut.  That's why I support instant runoff voting so that more Libertarians can get elected if that is the will of citizens in those districts.  This would hold the Republican majority accountable for their claimed "small government" approach.  But if you can't get the programs cut, then you have to pay the bill in a sustainable, responsible manner.  Its like gravity, you can't get away from it.

Therefore Legislators have an obligation to pass responsible solutions that are sustainable--and protect our long term prosperity.  Last minute cuts and plugging holes in the budget with a stimulus program that we can't expect every year is not sound economic policy and has a huge impact on the quality of life of citizens in this state.  Rep. Davis has done the best he could, but his commitment to ideology before pragmatic solutions and compromises is part of the problem. 

I'm running because this state needs solutions not two more years of gridlock and broken government. 

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

@JimN2010 Republican ideologues have created a mess of State Government

It appears that the former Chairman of the Henry County Republican Party, Charles Mobley, has decided to tag me the tax increase king.  This kind makes my case for me: Republican ideologues do a lot of damage when they are in government and can't be trusted to promote fiscally responsible solutions.  Its not that they are bad people--they just don't get it! 

Its pretty straight forward--Republicans are in the majority and have proved politically incapable of scaling back spending.  This proves the irresponsibility of Republican leaders who continue to promote tax and spending cuts that further deteriorate the quality of life for citizens in this state putting their safety and prosperity at risk. 

Steve Davis and the Republican majority have created a structural deficit in this state and I'm headed to the State House to clean it up   Its not rocket science--you have to pay for the spending the citizens have demanded of their state government.  Its unfortunate that the Republican leadership has declined so far--we deserve responsible leadership from both sides of the aisle.  Doing the right thing won't be popular with Republican ideologues.  They've created the problem, its time to clean up their mess. 

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Newsmax article talks of overthrowing Obama in coup...

From Josh Marshall over at TPM:

A new Newsmax column advocates a military coup to unseat Obama or usher in a period of "shared responsibility" between military government and a ceremonial Obama presidency. "A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible."

The author, John L. Perry, claims not to be 'advocating', only describing what he says is already being considered and is the best option available. But give it a read and you be the judge.

And just so we're totally clear, no, I'm not expecting any military coups. This is just one more nugget to add to the backdrop list of incitement now coming from the right.

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Everyone Younger Than You is Spoiled: the Foibles of Amateur Accounting

Jeff Lundy:

Sociologist Katherine Newman is working on a fascinating study of a new phenomenon called “delayed adulthood.” According to Newman, parents are bemoaning the extended amount of time their kids are taking to “grow up” in First World countries (e.g. U.S., Japan, Norway, Spain, etc.). Along with this phenomenon of “delayed adulthood,” Newman similarly finds media articles dotting the globe that discuss how parents regard their children as increasingly “spoiled.”

I can’t wait to read Newman’s book on this phenomenon when it comes out. However, from a personal standpoint, I think younger generations are already well aware that older generations (particularly boomers) think we’re a bunch of slackers. In fact, I’ve gotten so tired of hearing this from my elders that I’ve spent some time contemplating why older generations think us younger generations are so spoiled.

While there are many things that must feed into this complex phenomenon, I think that a major culprit here is our elders’ amateur financial accounting. In fact, I’ve isolated four main issues with the economic accounting of older generations that I believe leads them to think of us youth as spoiled (and which us youngins’ should remember for when we get older). To spare your attention span, I’m spreading the four issues over two posts. So if you want the exciting conclusion to this week’s post, you’ll have to come back next week.


Inflation is a pretty familiar concept. We all know that things cost “more” now than they used to. Even in my short life I’ve seen the nominal price of using a payphone move from 25 cents to 50 cents. Dispensed sodas once were 50 cents, and now they are damn near $1.25. Still, despite everyone’s vague sense of increasing prices, few people (in any generation) actually have a strong grasp on what inflation is, or a specific idea on exactly how much things have changed over time.

As Dan has pointed out in previous posts, the exact way to measure inflation is questionable, primarily because it’s a diffuse phenomenon with a number of different causes. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does the best it can to track it. And using the BLS inflation calculator as a reference point, we can see the first factor that leads older generations to go wrong: discounting inflation.

Why is Inflation Accounting a Problem for Older Generations?

Take a classic example. My soon-to-be mother-in-law has offered to fund part of my upcoming wedding. I am very grateful for her contribution. However, like any good boomer she cannot help but point out how “exorbitantly” priced our wedding is, and just how “spoiled” we are. She loves to point out, on many occasions, that “all her parents ever gave her was $900 for her wedding.”

$900 does sound pretty reasonable compared to the nearly $3,000 we’re asking her to give us. But, of course, there’s inflation.

My mother-in-law was married in 1974. When you put that into the BLS’ inflation calculator, you find out that $900 in 1974 dollars turns out to be $3,892 in 2009 dollars. And, if you want to be nitpicky about it, I’m certain that the percentile rank of her current household income is certainly higher than her parents’ percentile rank, and also that her inflation-adjusted expenses are much lower (she has only one child – not four, like her parents – as well as various other factors that reduce her costs).

This case is a perfect showcase for the problems of discounting inflation. In it we see how a boomer thinks she’s suffering to give us more than we deserve, when in fact she is giving us less than her parents did, even though she is “better off” than they ever were.

My future mother-in-law is just one example of not adjusting for inflation; but as you will see, it isn’t just your “average boomer” who is making this kind of error. Take my Dad, for example.

My father is an auditor for the Department of Defense. He’s also a Certified Public Accountant. My dad knows how to keep track of money, like few others. But strangely, he is no more immune to the problem of miscalculating inflation than your average lay citizen.

One of my Dad’s favorite stories is about how, when he just got out of college, he bought himself a brand new dark-green Mustang. He says he could only afford enough gas to take him to the grocery store, but he stilled loved that car. Frequently at the end of this story he does his diligence (as a good boomer) to chide his children for their frivolous lifestyles. You probably see what’s coming – further investigation into the inflation-adjusted value of a 1972 Mustang casts doubt on which generation of Lundy has self-indulged more.

The cheapest Mustang my father could have purchased in the year 1972 cost $2,679 . Plug that into the inflation calculator and we find out that in today’s dollars that equals $13,666.

Now, it’s been about 5 years since I left college. To equal my father’s Mustang purchase during my post-college years, I would have to spend around $2,733 per year in big-time-fun expenditures (not counting things like going to the movies, which I know my father did as well, and probably just as frequently). Seeing that my annual income has never been higher than $18,000 a year since leaving college (and very frequently much lower), it seems hard to believe that I would spend, at a minimum 15% of my yearly income on some fun trip or other big-time leisure expenditure. But of course, I don’t have to guess about this matter. I didn’t spend this amount. And for the few “big fun” expenditures I did make (e.g. hiking the John Muir Trail two summers ago), most of this was paid for out of my own (meager) resources, and the rest was helped out by the usual money given to me by my family for Christmas, birthday, etc.

Let me make it clear: I don’t mean to whine. I do recognize the privileged life I lead (and have led). However, as we see from these examples, taking account of inflation would probably help older generations to fully account for the privileges they also enjoyed in their childhoods, and in their current lives.


It’s easy to see how inflation might trick someone who is looking retrospectively at the past. Without memorizing a list of inflation factors for every year since your birth, it’s hard to have a realistic sense of how much you need to adjust for changes in the nominal prices of goods. However, one of the more mystifying errors older generations commit is their lack of accounting for substitution.

Substitution is not a hard concept to grasp. When life circumstances change, people tend to buy a different “basket of goods.” So, for instance, when a couple goes from living alone to having children; their basket of goods sees a drop in movie-going expenditures, and a precipitous rise in diaper and bottle purchases.

The same principle of substitution can be loosely applied to generational changes. Kids today just aren’t into pet rocks as much as they were in the 1970’s. Conversely, the interest of today’s youth in constantly texting one another would certainly stump the kids on That 70’s Show.

Why is Substitution Accounting a Problem for Older Generations?

Discounting substitution is caused by a sampling error: older generations only see the “inexplicable” things that younger generations do buy, but not any of the things that younger generations are no longer buying.

To put it in practical terms, my parents look at my desire to buy clothes from Banana Republic with horror. All they ever wore were “cheap, worn-out Levi jeans.”

But what my parents don’t see are all the 75-RPM records and 8-track tapes I’m not buying. In fact, I don’t ever buy music. I download it from a bittorrent site. Or I hear it free from a streaming Pandora radio station. Or I hear it free from videos posted on YouTube (you get the idea).

So with all those record purchases of my parent’s youth that I’m not buying, I’m taking that money and buying what’s fashionable now. But again, it’s much harder to see something I’m not buying, than something I am buying. So my generation looks spoiled to elders, both because older people don’t like the kinds of things I buy, but also because they don’t see all the “essential costs” my generation no longer makes.


Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Should Obama be killed Poll... sigh...

A blog called The Political Carnival is getting credit this afternoon for calling out the ridiculous "Should Obama be killed?" poll that showed up on Facebook over the weekend (and is now being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service).

GottaLaff, one of the blog's authors, pointed out the offensive post last evening. Today, says GottaLaff, the Secret Service tracked her down to say thanks for having posted a screen grab of the poll.

Facebook, the company, had nothing to do with the poll, according to spokesman Barry Schnitt. It's no longer on the site.

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Interview with Matt Weyandt

Matt Wyendt Interview by Jim Nichols  
Download now or listen on posterous
002_B_007_Jim Nichols_Matt Wyendt interview_2009_09_16.mp3 (21508 KB)

I sat down recently with Executive Director of the Democratic Party of GA Matt Weyandt--hope you enjoy.
If you've missed it, after the shout-down fest of August I decided to start sitting down to actually talk with people about politics, policy, and whatever else I happen to bring up.   That whole authoritarian tactic of shout down mob rule ain't really my style.
I've had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with three people who have taught me a lot about politics and policy in the real world--rather than some abstract ivory tower, or Utopian society. 
If you missed my earlier interview with Economist Dean Baker you can check it out here.
You can catch my interview with GA AFL-CIO President Richard Ray here:  part one      part two 
I'm going to be working to add some more interviews soon.  If you have any ideas of who you want to hear from... or if you'd like to talk shop with me yourself, please let me know.

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

The Trucks won't load themselves... the Douglas Adams edition...

I'm headed to work.  Here are your quotes for the day...
He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.     ---Douglas Adams
In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.     --Douglas Adams  

Posted via email from Jim Nichols

Four Arguments for the Free Market

Somewhere in his exposition of liberal theory from Hobbes to Marshall (my copy is elsewhere at the moment [EDIT: Page 104, about Malthus' idea that competition served as a social regulation mechanism, Parsons doesn't actually use the phrase free market]), Parsons notes that the importance of the free market for liberal* theory has a lot to do with the way it prevents anyone from exercising power over anyone else, and less to do with the way it maximizes productivity. Parsons is not the only one to make this argument – it shows up also in a lot of the work in the “corporate governance” tradition in the mid-20th century, authors like JK Galbraith and Carl Kaysen argue that the rise of large corporations is potentially dangerous because such corporations have discretion in a way impossible under a competitive market.

More generally, I think in sociology we can sometimes forget that the Free Market has been praised, defended and fought over not simply because of its virtues in allocating resources. Rather, I can think of four analytically distinct arguments in favor of relatively unfettered markets as the best way to organize economic life**:

  • 1. Market allocate scarce resources efficiently. This is the most commonly used argument, and is associated most strongly with the entire neoclassical economic tradition. Supply matches demand, markets clear, everybody maximizes their welfare. Hooray! It’s most closely related to the next argument.
  • 2. Markets take advantage of all of the information in society. This view is expressed most clearly in Hayek’s famous essay, The Use of Knowledge in Society. Hayek argues there that centralized planning systems cannot adequately capture all of the everyday and local sorts of knowledge about production techniques, materials, demand and more possessed by workmen, shopkeepers, etc. all the way on up. Top-down coordination fails because information is too expensive to centralize, and the free market reigns supreme because it lets society have a kind of distributed cognition. It’s mostly an argument against central planning.
  • 3. Markets generate the perennial gale of Creative Destruction, that is, innovation that produces wondrous new goods and cheaper and better ways to do everything. This view obviously comes straight out of Schumpeter and his classic work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Schumpeter argues that markets are good not because they allocate resources efficiently on a moment to moment basis (and thus refutes argument 1 above), but rather because they promote innovation. Businesses with some limited monopoly power emerge naturally, and are healthy, as they provide some stability in the face of the perennial gale, while simultaneously investing in the R&D that produces it. Capitalism = Innovation. Innovation = Win.
  • 4. Markets limit discretion and power. This argument is most famously explicated and belittled in Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. According to free market liberals, in a competitive market, no actor has the power to set prices (see any microeconomics textbook), and thus no actor has power over any other. The system runs itself, no one fights, and no one tells anyone else what to do. Polanyi calls this a “stark utopia”, and argues that it is as unreal and destructive as the communist utopias inspired by Karl Marx and lambasted as impossible by liberals. As mentioned above, authors concerned about the rise of the large corporation in the 20th century also draw a lot on this notion of the market. Anti-trust law, for example, is seen not just as a way to make the market more economically efficient, but also to prevent the enormous build-up of power in the hands of the corporate elite.
  • Ok, so there you have it. Four arguments in favor of the Free Market (along with some bits of some counter-arguments). Enjoy! And leave a comment if you think I’m missing any, or grossly mis-characterizing the ones I have.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Pigou, Glenn Beck, and the false case against cap-and-trade

    Basic economics says that if we want to discourage a negative externality, like pollution, we need to put a price on that externality. One way is through an emissions tax; an alternative, with very similar economic results, is a system of tradable permits. All this goes back to Pigou; Greg Mankiw has urged economists to join his Pigou Club of those who support externality taxes.

    Now, a key point in all this is that the emissions tax or, equivalently, the rent on emissions permits, does not represent a net loss to society. It’s just a transfer from one set of people to another — from the emitters, and ultimately those who buy their products, to whoever collects the taxes or gets the permits, and ultimately whoever benefits from the revenue or rents thus generated. The only net loss is the Harberger triangle created by the reduction in emissions — which has to be set against the benefits of reduced pollution.

    And the burden on households from cap and trade depends on what’s done with the rents. In the original Obama plan, the rents would be used to pay for middle-class tax cuts; in Waxman-Markey, many of the permits are initially granted to utilities — but since these utilities’ profits are regulated, many of the rents would end up being passed on to consumers through lower prices.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Health Care Reform will pass-- Therefore the fiscal conservative position is to support a Public Option in the bill

    Ezra Klein - CBO: A Strong Public Plan Saves Lots of Money: According to Congress Daily, the CBO says attaching the public plan to Medicare rates will save even more money than originally thought:

    In a bid to wrangle concessions from the Blue Dog Coalition on healthcare reform, House leaders Thursday released CBO estimates for liberals' preferred version of the public option that show $85 billion more in savings than for the version the Blue Dogs prefer. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., a Blue Dog co-chair, said any possible new momentum toward a public option tethered to Medicare rates is, in part, "because of the cost issue" and the updated CBO score.

    The original House bill required the public plan to pay providers 5 percent more than Medicare reimbursement rates. But as part of a package of concessions to Blue Dogs, the House Energy and Commerce Committee accepted an amendment that requires the HHS Secretary to negotiate rates with providers. That version of the plan will save only $25 billion. In total, a public plan based on Medicare rates would save $110 billion over 10 years. That is $20 billion more than earlier estimates, a spokesman for House Speaker Pelosi said.

    In other words, the conservatives want to spend $85 billion more than the liberals do. Moreover, the CBO is estimating savings to the government. That is to say, the $85 billion reflects reduced federal spending on subsidies because premiums in the public plan will be lower. Savings to individuals and businesses paying lower premiums will be much larger than $85 billion, and politically, much more important. Meanwhile, a new New York Times poll shows that the public option is stil la god 20 percent more popular than health-care reform in general.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    The Shameful Obama Administration

    Brad Delong:

    I did not work to elect Barack Hussein Obama so that his Justice Department could do things like this:

    Lizardbreath: US District Judge Colleen Kottar-Kelly just ordered the release (don't get excited, it's not going to happen unless the Justice Department decides not to appeal) of Fouad al-Rubiah, one of the prisoners at Guantanamo. Read the opinion -- there are a lot of redactions, so you can't get the details, but we took a middleaged aircraft engineer who flew to Afghanistan for charitable purposes a short while before 9/11, cobbled together some insane story out of interrogations from unreliable informants, and tortured him into confessing to it. If I follow the course of events correctly through all the redactions, we then continued to torture him because the story we told him to confess to didn't make any sense. And now we've asked a judge to keep him imprisoned on the basis of the confessions that the US interrogators found unbelievable.

    Particularly grotesque was this quote from al-Rubiah, explaining one of the arguments interrogators used to convince him to confess:

    In about August 2004, shortly before my CSRT hearing [an administrative review of Al Rabiah's detention], my interrogators told me the CSRT was just a show that would allow the United States to 'save face.' My interrogators told me no one leaves Guantanamo innocent, and told me I would be sent home to Kuwait if I 'admitted' some of the false things I had said in my interrogations. The interrogators also told me that I would never go home if I denied these things, because the United States government would never admit I had been wrongly held.

    In case anyone was wondering, the hearing that Judge Kottar-Kelly is referring to in the opinion, in which the Justice Department took those irresponsible and indefensible positions, took place in August '09. On Obama's watch. This has to change somehow.

    Afterthought:Remember, the fact that this case made it to a habeas hearing means that it's one of the US Government's strongest cases -- they've let some people go, and are dragging their feet even harder on other cases. This evidentiary pile of garbage was pretty close to the best we've got against any of the detainees. Who've been imprisoned and tortured for better than seven years now.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Do the right thing Obama; though I doubt you will...

    [S]ooner than he may prefer, Mr. Obama will have to face up to what he has so far avoided: the need to raise taxes broadly to rein in deficits.

    The deficits are not of his making. Some two-thirds of the $9 trillion shortfall resulted from policies that predate his administration; most of the rest is the cost of policies that both parties consider necessary, like continued relief from the alternative minimum tax.

    But when he inherited the burden of the budget mess, Mr. Obama also inherited the responsibility to clean it up. Neither economic growth nor spending cuts will be enough to fix the projected shortfalls. Nor is there enough to be gained by confining tax increases only to families making more than $250,000 a year, a campaign promise that Mr. Obama still says he will keep.

    Assuming the economy has begun to recover by 2010, next year would be the natural time to start raising taxes. That’s because the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2010. If Congress does nothing, taxes will revert to higher levels for everyone; if it extends all of the cuts, taxes will stay low for everyone; if it extends some and lets others expire, taxes will stay low for some taxpayers and go up for others.

    Since 2010 is also a Congressional election year, lawmakers will be reluctant to raise taxes at all, and certainly not without considerable support from the White House, which is already worried about the 2010 elections.

    Under these political pressures, Congress might be tempted to extend all of the Bush cuts at least through 2011 — and that would be a dangerous move because time is not necessarily on Mr. Obama’s side.

    No one is angling to raise taxes during the recession, but the longer it takes to show real progress on deficit reduction, the greater the possibility that the nation’s creditors will demand higher interest rates on loans to the Treasury. That would worsen the deficit by raising the nation’s borrowing costs. And with the recovery of both the financial system and the housing market dependent on low interest rates, an unanticipated or uncontrolled rate increase would be a crisis in its own right.

    The question then is not whether taxes must go up, but when, how and how much. The White House budget director, Peter Orszag, has said the administration is working to bring the deficit down in the 2011 budget, due early next year. But when asked recently by The Wall Street Journal for details, including the possibility of higher taxes on families making less than $250,000, Mr. Orszag said that the administration was not yet giving any specifics on the next budget.

    In the meantime, the tax code remains inadequate to the task of raising sufficient revenue — and high-income taxpayers are about to benefit once again. Next year, a misguided law enacted in 2006 will take effect, giving high-income taxpayers the chance to shelter much of their money from future tax increases.

    The law will let high-income taxpayers transfer traditional individual retirement accounts into so-called Roth I.R.A.’s. Unlike regular I.R.A.’s., no tax is due when money is withdrawn from a Roth. That often makes Roths a better deal, especially if you believe that tax rates will be higher in the years to come — and they are bound to be higher. Taxpayers who switch to Roths will have to pay tax upfront on the amounts they transfer, so the government will get a jolt of revenue. But later, the transfers will be a money loser for the government as high-income Americans and their heirs make tax-free withdrawals that would have been taxable at tomorrow’s higher rates.

    The Obama administration may not want to talk about the need for broad tax increases while other issues dominate the agenda. But if the administration and Congress do not act rationally and in a timely way, they risk being forced to act by circumstances beyond their control. In that event, the economic harm to Americans would be far greater than simply acknowledging the obvious and acting accordingly.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    The Sources of the Budget Deficit

    Two key political points on the recent deficit numbers. One, per Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden, is that this is primarily about Bush legacy policies and the economic downturn rather than the results of any new post-election initiatives:


    We’re not just seeing here that Bush’s policies were irresponsible, but an illustration of what was so irresponsible about them. When a giant recession comes, you wind up running large deficits. Then you need to pare back afterwards and start reducing your debt-GDP ratio. And it’s really unhelpful to heard into that situation with a pre-existing large debt overhang.

    The other point is what Tim Fernholz says here—large looming structural deficits are a reason to start reforming the health care system ASAP not a reason to delay action. It’s very fair to say that the proposals on the table in congress don’t go as far as would be ideal in terms of changing the long-term cost equation. But that’s a reason to put additional constructive ideas on the table and open up political space for bolder action. Stalling the legislative process—and ultimately hoping to derail it—will only make things worse.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Oxendine wants to put tax burden on working families

    Gubernatorial Hopefuls Talk about Income Tax Elimination Rather Than Real Solutions

    When someone demands that Congress abolish the federal income tax, we typically consider that a fairly extreme position. But then again, we don't run in the same circles as Georgia gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine, who feels that his peers in the anti-tax community are too wishy-washy if they don't also call for a repeal of state income taxes. 

    He">recently said, "I think it's very hypocritical for state officials to be running around bad mouthing the federal government for having an income tax when the state of Georgia does the same [thing]. As governor, I want to get rid of the state income tax." Oxendine thinks that states like Georgia must lead the way and eliminate their state income taxes.

    In Georgia, inadequate tax revenue is a threat to justice -- quite literally, in the sense that the state is not able to carry out the basic administration of justice through its court system. As the Wall Street Journal reports, "the wheels of justice in Georgia are grinding more slowly each day" because "Cuts in spending for the state court system have led to fewer court dates available for hearings and trials, creating a growing backlog of cases."

    Now, just three months into the state's fiscal year, already under-funded state agencies are being asked to cut another 5 percent from their 2010 budget. Now is likely not the time to eliminate the state's largest source of revenue.

    Former Ohio Congressman John Kasich is running for Ohio Governor and is also promising to repeal the state's income tax. However, the severity of Ohio's budget situation has apparently provoked some caution. The Columbus Dispatch recently reported "Kasich also said that the state's dire budget situation would make it difficult to begin phasing out the state income tax in his first term." He apparently assumes that the state's current budget crisis is the last the state will ever face, freeing it to abolish a major source of revenue in the future.

    Of course, abolishing a state's income tax is a terrible idea even in times of surplus because income taxes are fairer than any other type of revenue source. A recent ITEP report makes this point in analyzing a recent proposal in Missouri to eliminate corporate and individual income taxes and replace the revenue with an enormously expanded sales tax. The Missouri proposal (which was not enacted) would have effectively slashed state taxes for wealthy residents while sending the bill to working families who spend most of their income purchasing necessities.  

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Germany set for centre-right coalition

    Germany was on course on Sunday night for its first centre-right government in 11 years after voters gave chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her Free Democratic allies a majority in parliament.

    Victory of the conservative-liberal alliance – which had campaigned for tax cuts and a return to nuclear energy but also social justice and tougher rules for finance – ends four years of awkward co-operation between the CDU and its rival Social Democratic Party in a grand coalition.

    “We achieved something fantastic,” said Ms Merkel, now facing a second four-year term. “We achieved a stable majority in Germany for a new government . . . We can party tonight but there is a lot of work waiting for us. Let us not forget that we have a lot of problems to solve.”

    The change of government could herald a more confrontational phase in German politics as a stronger left-of-centre opposition links up with reinvigorated trade unions against the centre-right coalition.

    The CDU and FDP were expected to win 332 seats in the 623-strong Bundestag, or lower house, giving the alliance a 20-seat majority.

    The results were a slap in the face for the country’s two largest parties. The CDU obtained its lowest score since the first postwar election of 1949 while the SPD lost 11.3 points to reach a postwar low

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Leaders of Honduras Coup vow to close Brazil embassy

    Honduras’ de facto government threatened on Sunday to close Brazil’s embassy for harbouring ousted President Manuel Zelaya and moved to suppress dissent, defying international pressure to give up power.

    The government, which took power after a June 28 coup, also denied entry to an Organisation of American States delegation that had hoped to help broker a solution to the crisis.

    The moves were aimed at stifling opposition and sending a clear message that it would not allow the leftist Mr Zelaya’s return to power under any circumstances, but they will also likely bring further international condemnation.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would ignore a 10-day deadline set by de facto leader Roberto Micheletti to decide what to do with Mr Zelaya, who is holed up with his family and some supporters in Brazil’s embassy in the capital.

    ”Brazil will not comply with an ultimatum from a government of coup mongers,” Mr Lula told reporters at a summit of African and South American leaders in Venezuela.

    Mr Lula also demanded an apology from Mr Micheletti, but the government instead warned that Brazil would lose its right to have an embassy in Honduras if it ignores the deadline.

    Mr Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup on June 28, but he secretly returned from exile last Monday, sparking a tense standoff with the de facto civilian government that has promised to arrest him on charges of treason.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Dozens killed in Philippines floods

    My Dad had waist deep water at his place in Manila.  If anyone has seen US reports on the flood, send them my way.
    I caught this report from the Financial Times:
    Rescuers from the army and civilian agencies struggled for a second day on Sunday to reach flood victims in the Philippines after a tropical storm swept through the main island of Luzon, leaving at least 95 dead and temporarily displacing more than 337,000 people.
    Hundreds of people remained stranded on rooftops of their flooded homes in several low-lying residential communities in the capital Manila as authorities scrambled to borrow or seek donations of motorised rubber boats to add to those being used by the navy, coast guard and local governments.

    Government troops, the police and civilian volunteers had by Sunday night rescued more than 5,000 people. Some 68,550 people were being housed in 118 evacuation centres, the government’s disaster management agency said.

    However, delays in the rescue of flood victims in the capital triggered a wave of public anger directed at the government and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was already suffering from record-low popularity ratings.

    Television reports showed people still on rooftops, waving and shouting for food, water and warm clothes, while army and civilian helicopters dropping food and relief goods. Radio and television stations were also airing messages and text messages from flood victims.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    World Consumption Plunges Planet Into 'Ecological Debt', Says Leading Thinktank

    Yesterday was ecological debt day.

    Rich consumers are still voraciously gobbling up the world's resources, despite the worst recession in a generation, with their appetite pushing the planet into "ecological debt" from today, according to a report by think-tank the new economics foundation.

    This "ecological debt day" marks the point in the year when consumption around the world exceeds the Earth's annual "biocapacity" — so for the remainder of the year, we will be eating into environmental resources that will not be replaced, according to nef's calculations.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    @JimN2010 Why i'm not a Republican activist...

    The question of why I decided to become Chairman of the Democratic Party--within a certain range of voters this is becoming a very common for me to be getting.  As I've mentioned 1 reason is just generational.  I came of age politically with the Bush Administration.   But I'll continue to give examples as I go along so that people have a better understanding of my political leanings and determining factors regarding my policy preferences.
    I believe in open government and therefore I'm intrigued by this concept of being a legislator that "thinks outloud," using blogging and twitter to crowd source, open up my own thinking, random questions I still have unanswered, and the things that i'm reading/are influencing me.  Voters are then able to help persuade me/influence my policy priorities and agenda via email/comments/tweets with their own research/findings.  That is at its core what this is about--not political power, not putting my reelection above true representation, but a dialogue and debate over good, pragmatic, policy rather than ideology.  
    I have an inherent distrust of government so open government is one of my priorities--thinking outloud, and in public; might be a little messy or seem strange to some voters; but I think open government is at its core one of the most important goals and priorities we as citizens should have.
    Here's another recent example...  Republicans over the past decade have prioritized political power over good policy (see reason 1 above)
    In many cases, Republican lawmakers asked Democratic leaders to make specific concessions on health care reform. When Dems like Max Baucus agreed, the GOP balked anyway.

    But there are other areas in which Democrats simply embrace policy ideas endorsed, or even created by, the right. For quite a while, conservatives liked the idea of giving an Independent Medicare Advisory Council more power to determine what the program should pay for. It's a straightforward, money-saving measure. When the Obama administration agreed, Republicans decided they didn't like their own idea anymore.

    The same thing is happening with an individual mandate, which Republicans trashed during the first day of Senate Finance Committee debate yesterday.

    Advocates of a coverage mandate say it is needed to ensure that young, healthy people get insurance and contribute to the system. They say this will ease costs associated with an influx of less-healthy people who are expected to get coverage under the Baucus legislation.

    Republicans, who are trying to slow Democratic efforts to pass a health overhaul by the end of the year, rushed to criticize the proposal.

    Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Finance Committee's senior Republican, said the mandate is among the reasons that he couldn't support the bill despite months of negotiations with Mr. Baucus. "Individuals should maintain their freedom to chose health-care coverage, or not," he said.

    "This bill is a stunning assault on liberty," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's second-ranking Republican.

    That's pretty strong rhetoric under any circumstances, but it's especially striking since the GOP used to think individual mandates were fine. Indeed, Sam Stein noted yesterday that the idea was "once considered so non-controversial that it was endorsed by several major Republican officials."

    As recently as a month ago, Chuck Grassley, the same senator bashing the idea of a mandate yesterday, announced that the way to get universal coverage is "through an individual mandate." He told Nightly Business report, "That's individual responsibility, and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility." Earlier this year, Grassley told Fox News that there wasn't "anything wrong" with mandates even if some may view them "as an infringement upon individual freedom."

    Now, apparently, he disagrees with himself. There's a lot of that going around.

    Congressional Republicans could probably save themselves a lot of trouble by simply saying, "Whatever Democrats are for, we're against," in response to every question.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    The Age of American Unreason -- @JimN2010 why I'm not a Republican Party activist

     p. 10   The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
    [T]here are ways of trying to strangle ideas that do not involve straightforward attempts at censorship or intimidation.  The suggestion that there is something sinister, even un-American, about intense devotion to ideas, reason, logic, evidence, and precise language is one of them.  Just before the 2004 presidential election, the journalist Ron Suskind reported a chilling conversation with a senior Bush aide, who told Suskind that members of the press were part of what the Bush administration considers "the reality-based community"--those who "believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality." But, the aide emphasized, "that's not the way the world really works anymore.  We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.  And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too...We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."  The explicit distinction between those who are fit only to study and those who are history's actors not only expresses concept for intellectuals but also denigrates anyone who requires evidence, rather than power and emotion, as justification for public policy.".  

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Health Care Reform

    Charles Chamberlin nails it--as usual... Trigger This
    Lets face facts...
    1) there will be a health insurance reform bill that will pass and be signed
    2) the fiscal conservative position will be to pass the cheapest, most cost-effective, efficient bill possible
    3)Fiscal conservatives support a strong public option so that tax dollars don't get needlessly wasted--we have a long term deficit problem people!!!
    The Marxists and other Utopian ideologues of all political leanings can opine all they want.  For the rest of us who have to live in the real world we have to take a more pragmatic approach.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    GA Gov. race poll ---Barnes and Oxendine

    GA-Gov: Strategic Vision Drops In, Gets Same Results As Everyone
    This one doesn't require too many words to explain: Republican pollsters Strategic Vision (who, in an unrelated note, just got spanked by the AAPOR) goes into Georgia, and basically gets the same numbers as everyone else. Roy Barnes and John Oxendine continue to lap the fields in the primaries. It has been a while, however, since a pollster has looked at the general election match-up between these two, as there is nothing to indicate that these won't be the nominees.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols


    I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Here in Georgia its not politically correct to point out things like this but...

    Much more than in most other countries I’m familiar with, there’s a deep gulf in the US between ‘left’ intellectuals and the more leftish of the major political parties, that is, the Democrats. In part, of course, this is because, even after Blair, Keating and others, the Democrats are a long way to the right of their counterparts in other countries. I think this is in part what the netroots people are on about when they deny being leftwing: by the standards of mainstream party politics in the US, they take a consistent leftwing position, but that doesn’t resemble the viewpoint of people who would be considered, and consider themselves leftwing. The difference between being engaged with mainstream party politics, even from a highly critical viewpoint, and regarding it as an irrelevant sideshow put on by the ruling class fundamentally affects intellectual debate.
    Its such a strange culture to live in day in and day out--where Obama really, truly, is a left wing marxist radical, the world is flat, and evolution a hoax.  Though it does explain Sarah Palin....

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Dean Baker on Chile and Social Security

    The Washington Post beats up on a book on globalization by Jon Jeter, a former WAPO reporter. The book is largely critical of the recent course of globalization, the reviewer clearly less so.

    In the last paragraph the reviewer takes Jeter to task for praising Chile's globalization with a human face, without mentioning, among other things, that Chile was the first country to privatize its Social Security system. While this may have been an unfortunate omission, it is worth noting that Chile recently partially reversed this privatization, increasing the guaranteed benefit in the system.

    The reform of the privatized system was a central theme in the last presidential campaign (Chile is now a democracy, the privatization took place under a dictatorship), with both major candidates supporting reform, including Sebastian Pinero, the brother of the labor minister who had overseen the initial privatization.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Interview with Richard Ray part deux

    Richard Ray Interview by Jim Nichols  
    Download now or listen on posterous
    001_A_013_Jim Nichols_Richard Ray interview_2009_08_26_01_c_02.mp3 (21698 KB)

    Part two of my sit down with Richard Ray of the GA AFL-CIO

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    interview with Richard Ray part 1

    Richard Ray Interview by Jim Nichols  
    Download now or listen on posterous
    001_A_013_Jim Nichols_Richard Ray interview_2009_08_26_01_c_01.mp3 (17396 KB)

    In my newly started saga to go talk to interesting people who have intresting things to say--I sat down a few weeks back with Richard Ray, the President of the Georgia AFL-CIO.   Here's part 1....


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Myths of the AIG Collapse

    Barry Ritholtz

    AIG FP remains somewhat somewhat unknown to most people. Numerous issues associated with the collapse seem to be — still — misunderstood by many professionals, analysts and pundits.


    Hedge Fund: AIG FP was a derivative writing quasi-hedge fund within AIG. They were essentially a writer of highly leveraged, naked options. Indeed, their leverage was simply unconsionable.

    Exempt: Thanks to the CFMA, these derivatives were exempt from ALL regulation and supervision — no exchange oversight, no disclosures of risk, no transparency, no counter-party information, and most damaging of all, these derivatives required zero reserves in case of a claim. No other financial instrument receive this treatment;

    No Reserves Required: If AIG was forced to maintain reserves, would they have been able to write 3 trillion dollars in derivatives? (The fees on this $3T was $3 billion). Even a 5% reserve requirement would have meant having to put up $150 billion dollars;

    Lehman Did Not Kill AIG: Even if Lehman Brothers was saved, AIG would still have had enormous exposure — over $3 trillion dollars! — and carried tremendous risk. They had huge leveraged exposure to mortgages, especially credit default swaps written against sub-prime mortgages. The housing collapse was going to do in AIG regardless of whether Lehman was rescued or not.

    No Supervision: FP benefitted from being part of a highly regulated, triple AAA rated Insurance business. However, the derivative exemption prevented any of the state insurance supervisors from requiring normal reserves;

    Only a Few Employees Did In AIG: The firm had over 86,000 employees, but the FP division was a mere 400 people.

    Chalk another win up for the Free Lunch crowd!

    Posted via web from Jim Nichols


    The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked
    characteristic of mankind. Very few of us realize with conviction the
    intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, temporary nature
    of the economic organization by which Western Europe has lived for the
    last half century. We assume some of the most peculiar and temporary of
    our late advantages as natural, permanent, and to be depended on, and we
    lay our plans accordingly. On this sandy and false foundation we scheme
    for social improvement and dress our political platforms, pursue our
    animosities and particular ambitions, and feel ourselves with enough
    margin in hand to foster, not assuage, civil conflict in the European
    family. Moved by insane delusion and reckless self-regard, the German
    people overturned the foundations on which we all lived and built. But
    the spokesmen of the French and British peoples have run the risk of
    completing the ruin, which Germany began, by a Peace which, if it is
    carried into effect, must impair yet further, when it might have
    restored, the delicate, complicated organization, already shaken and
    broken by war, through which alone the European peoples can employ
    themselves and live.

    In England the outward aspect of life does not yet teach us to feel or
    realize in the least that an age is over. We are busy picking up the
    threads of our life where we dropped them, with this difference only,
    that many of us seem a good deal richer than we were before. Where we
    spent millions before the war, we have now learnt that we can spend
    hundreds of millions and apparently not suffer for it. Evidently we did
    not exploit to the utmost the possibilities of our economic life. We
    look, therefore, not only to a return to the comforts of 1914, but to an
    immense broadening and intensification of them. All classes alike thus
    build their plans, the rich to spend more and save less, the poor to
    spend more and work less.

    But perhaps it is only in England (and America) that it is possible to
    be so unconscious. In continental Europe the earth heaves and no one but
    is aware of the rumblings. There it is not just a matter of extravagance
    or "labor troubles"; but of life and death, of starvation and existence,
    and of the fearful convulsions of a dying civilization.


    Posted via web from Jim Nichols

    Israel Committed War Crimes in White Phosphorus Strike

    So says the UN

    A UN fact-finding mission has accused Israel of committing war crimes by using white phosphorus in built-up areas in the Gaza War, and called for the weapon to be banned in urban warfare.

    The investigation, set up by the controversial UN Human Rights Council, concluded that Israeli forces were "systematically reckless" in the use of white phosphorus in the conflict.

    "The Mission believes that serious consideration should be given to banning the use of white phosphorus in built-up areas," the 575-page report said.

    Posted via web from Jim Nichols

    ‘Hamid Karzai Has Stolen the Election’

    Jimmy Carter:

     "Now the question is whether he gets away with it."

    Posted via web from Jim Nichols

    Democracy in Action... Sunday sales...


    Douglas County voters said "no" to the sale of alcoholic drinks on Sundays.

    The referendum was defeated by a margin of 1,670 "no" votes to 921 "yes" votes. There are 69,026 registered voters in Douglas County, according to Georgia Secretary of State's office, but only about 4 percent voted Tuesday.

    Tuesday's special election would have affected restaurants and bars in unincorporated Douglas County. Douglasville has an ordinance allowing Sunday sales.

    4% of the voters...   I wonder how many voting age citizens there are in the district?

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    2 + 2 = 4

    On an RNC conference call today, Politico’s Ben Smith asked former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum why he believes it would be an “abomination” for Congress to use the budget reconciliation process — which requires 51 instead of 60 votes — to pass health care reform, considering that the Republican Congress also used it to pass bills, such as President Bush’s tax cuts.

    Santorum tried to name every way he could think of that might justify his position, including: 1) unlike health care, a tax bill is a “revenue bill” and “affects the budget,” 2) health care is “major policy initiative,” and 3) the reconciliation process will make a “huge and complex” bill even “more complex.”

    When Smith pointed out that Republicans used the reconciliation process to push through drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — which is also arguably a major policy initiative that isn’t just a revenue bill — Santorum tried to argue that it wasn’t AS major, so it was accceptable:

    SANTORUM: Well, again, you’re talking about a situation where, again, the biggest thing about drilling is certainly it has an impact on a small chunk of land in northern Alaska, and it has an impact on the federal revenue, but it’s not a particularly complex thing. You’re talking about drilling holes, as opposed to rejiggering and rewriting and reconstructing the entire health care system of this country. And the impact on the 350 million Americans for drilling a few holes in Alaska is fairly minor, as far as how it affects their daily lives. As opposed to — and by the way, it’s fairly minor on the economy, certainly in the short term, a little more in the long term. But again, nothing compared to what we’re talking about here with health care.


    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Just a reminder...

    As I've mentioned a number of times.  November 2008 wasn't a mandate for Obama---it was a repudiation of conservatives...

    Matt Latimer

    On Sarah Palin:

    [T]he president [George W. Bush], ever the skilled politician, had concerns about the choice of Palin, which he called “interesting.” That was the equivalent of calling a fireworks display “satisfactory.” “I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?” Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment. “This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party...

    On John McCain:

    I was once in the Oval Office when the president was told a campaign event in Phoenix he was to attend with McCain suddenly had to be closed to the press. The president didn’t understand why when the whole purpose of holding the event had been to show Bush and McCain together so the press would stop asking why the two wouldn’t be seen together. If the event was closed to the press, the whole thing didn’t make sense. “If he doesn’t want me to go, fine,” the president said. “I’ve got better things to do.” Eventually, someone informed the president that the reason the event was closed was that McCain was having trouble getting a crowd. Bush was incredulous—and to the point. “He can’t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?” he asked. No one said anything, and we went on to another topic. But the president couldn’t let the matter drop. “He couldn’t get 500 people? I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford.” He shook his head. “This is a five-spiral crash, boys.” We tried to move on to something else. But the president wouldn’t let go. He was stuck on the Phoenix event. At one point, he looked off into space and said to no one in particular, “What is this--a cruel hoax?”

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Feel free to share your own thoughts with me @JimN2010...

    Homeowners association headaches...

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    How is the best way to record a phone call?

    Thats not a zen koan...
    I have a few phone interviews coming up but I've got to figure out the best way to record the conversations so that I can post them up for you guys to hear.
    I was going to just try my cell phone on speaker and record that way... but does anyone have any other ways that might work better?

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    A Crowd of 37.8 Million

    Talking Points Memo   Talking Points Memo

    A Crowd of 37.8 Million

    By Josh Marshall

    Crowd size controversies are as American as apple pie when it comes to major political events and protests. Let's start by stipulating to that fact. But I don't think I've ever seen one of quite these dimensions -- where the reasonable and disinterested estimates (mid-to-high 5-figures) are so dramatically dwarfed by the fantasies of the organizers and participants (1.5 to 2 million).

    There was event organizer Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, who announced to the crowd that ABC News had estimate the crowd size at 1 to 1.5 million -- something that was totally false and a pained ABC News rushed to print with a denial of ever had said such a thing.

    If you've never been to Washington before or a major political rally it's probably really hard to get a sense of how big a crowd is. After all, even 50,000 is a lot of people. But a lot of the people there, certainly the organizers of the event, aren't that wet behind the ears. Kibbe had to know that 1.5 million was 20 or 30 times as many people as were actually there. So I wonder how much of this wasn't a deliberate effort to float patently absurd numbers which would then be knocked down by the media in order to whip up more fantasies of grievance, bias and oppression to the Tea Bag stew.

    Over the weekend I noticed a lot of right-wing sites linking to a post comparing the amount of trash left behind by the allegedly equivalent sized crowd at the inauguration and the Tea Party protest. In itself it's sort of the standard order partisan gotcha stuff that both sides do. But what struck me is that it's only a meaningful gotcha for the home team if you actually believe there were like 20 or 30 times as many people there as there actually were.

    Is it creation science creeping into innumeracy? In some ways it's the best representation I've seen yet of the alternative universe some of these people are living in.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Why has behavioral economics been so much more influential in mainstream economics and popular debate than economic sociology?

    Perhaps this question is too easy, and admits too many good answers, but I wonder if there is something to be learned by asking it. Both subfields/perspectives have come to the fore in the last 30 years (with 1981-1985 being the genesis of the new economic sociology, roughly, and behavioral econ starting perhaps in the late 70s with Kahneman and Tversky). Both position themselves as strong critiques of prevailing economic orthodoxy, and both are grounded in critiques of the neoclassical homo economicus. But reading stories about the failures of recent economic theory to predict or help in the current crisis, and the likely directions forward, it’s clear that behavioral econ will be a big star (for example, Akerlof and Shiller’s new book uses behavioral explanations for the financial crisis). Economic sociology, on the other hand, has not really showed up, in spite of the many works written by economic sociologists of potential relevance, or that look at the crisis head on. We’re just off the radar – too small, or too wacky, or too impenetrable. I’m not sure.

    I’m not writing this post to complain about Sociology’s policy irrelevance, but rather to question what makes the two critiques differently influential. One obvious place to look, sayeth my sociological training, is the institutions and actors and resources pushing for each. But I have a nagging feeling that there is something deeper at play here, something to do with the accessibility of arguments about individual rationality vs. those about the social constructions (in various ways) of economic actors. Economists have long had the nagging feeling, sometimes stated sometimes not, that their models of human action are too stripped down and too perfect. Behavioral econ offers a way forward that adds some seeming realism to those models by adding in the most obvious calculative errors, but does not fundamentally criticize an individuals-first world-view. The semi-rational man replaces the rational one, bubbles form and burst, recessions and depressions are explained, and the underlying ontology of the world persists.

    Economic sociology, I would argue, claims that the individual is not the building block of society, but rather that individual actors are incomprehensible outside of their networks, and that the individual and society co-constitute each other. That is, like the broader discipline, sociologists argue that individuals are not prior to the social. How exactly we do this varies. Granovetter strongly opposed norm-driven models that replaced the undersocialized economic actor with an oversocialized Parsonian one, whose actions were determined by society’s needs. More recent work, influenced by the Actor-Network tradition in science studies, examines the construction of economic actors through overlapping webs of organizations and technologies, eschewing discussions of “society” entirely for a focus on the local (although a local that can be quite large). Either way, the economic actors of economic sociology are not simply rational agents with trembling hands, but rather a different sort of thing, constructed actors with histories and contexts. That historicity (which is not the opposite of reality! cf. Murphy 2000) challenges dominant liberal notions across American society (at least).

    Perhaps this difference can help explain (in addition to all those classic arguments about dollars and prestige and whatnot, although prestige itself is endogenous here) why so many of the same substantive conclusions are reached by behavioral economists and economic sociologists and yet the former have become prominent while the latter remain a bit more underground.

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    The language and logic of Leninism

    Conservative David Frum wrote a great piece on entertainer Glen Beck recently-- GOP Surrenders to Beck’s Mob Rule
    Go figure... David Horowitz goes to the defence of Beck.
    Frum in response to Horowitz justifiably bemoans the essence of the tactics of many modern conservatives
    My original piece observed:

    When Glenn Beck made his Fox debut, some shrewd conservatives responded with a wink. Maybe the show was paranoid and hysterical. Maybe Beck was none too scrupulous about facts and truth. But why be squeamish? The other side did as bad, or nearly. And see how usefully he mobilized the base!

    David’s response:

    I don’t have a big quarrel with Frum’s view that Beck’s view of Cass Sunstein is “over the top” or off target. … Frum is right that Sunstein is not a raving leftist. … [But] Our country is under assault by a determined, deceitful and powerful left which will stop at nothing to realize its goals. Facing them, I would rather have Glenn Beck out there fighting for our side than 10,000 David Frums who think that appeasing leftists will make them think well of us. No it won’t. It will only whet their appetite for our heads.

    In other words: Horowitz agrees that Beck’s attack on Sunstein was false. Yet that falsehood does not worry Horowitz. The country is “under assault.” (As the broadcaster Mark Levin has said, President Obama is “literally at war” with the American people.) In a war, truth must yield to the imperatives of victory. Any conservative qualms about the untruth of Beck’s defamation of Sunstein amounts to “appeasement” – an appeasement that will end with the left decapitating the right. This is the language and logic of Leninism. There is no truth or falsehood comrades, there is only service to the revolution or betrayal of the revolution.

    Three thoughts in reply.

    First, even in Leninist terms, Beck’s attack on Sunstein was stupid and counter-productive. Every legal conservative who cares about the issues of regulation and deregulation agrees that Cass Sunstein is the very best choice for the OIRA job to be hoped from a Democratic president. Had conservative opposition somehow derailed the Sunstein nomination, President Obama’s next appointment would almost certainly have been worse – very possibly, a lot worse.

    Second, this right-wing Leninism exacts a terrible moral price. Notice that David Horowitz calls the left “deceitful” in his blogpost. Presumably that’s a bad thing. Likewise, when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at President Obama, he did not intend that as a compliment. So truth is important to conservatives, or at least we talk as if it were. Yet now David Horowitz tells me that it’s 10,000 times more important to “fight for our side.”

    Third – how do we define “our side”? Horowitz harshly condemns Obama appointee Van Jones. Van Jones was eventually forced to resign not because of any of the allegations Glenn Beck hurled at him, but because the Gateway Pundit blog unearthed evidence that Van Jones had consorted with 9/11 denialists. So that’s the other side, right? Except… the American politician who most closely associates with 9/11 denialists is Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul. And who acts as Paul’s chief TV enthusiast and publicist? Glenn Beck of course.

    David Horowitz has strong feelings about 9/11 and the post-9/11 world. He helped to lead the campaign against Ward Churchill, the disgraced University of Colorado professor who argued that the United States had brought 9/11 on itself. Question for David: If Ward Churchill is “the other side,” on which “side” do we find Ron Paul? And isn’t that the same “side” where we find Glenn Beck?

    Why would David Horowitz want to place himself there?

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    the economic crisis and theory

    David Laidler: Lucas, Keynes, and the Crisis

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols and helath care reform’s battle against health care reform misinformation

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    The 9/12 Protest

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    File under: suckers...

    Doug Henwood made this point on his radio show the other day but...
    Have you noticed how many "Liberal" organizations are sending out emails to their activists saying... "help stand up to the health insurance companies!"
    Hate to break it to you but you're standing up for them....
    No public option.....require everyone to buy from insurance companies... a $3,800 penalty in the Baucus plan if you don't.  Subsidies only for incomes up to $66,000 (some bills go as high as $88,000). 
    The funny thing is conservatives truly think that Obama is going to put an end to private insurance.
    Anyone who is actually paying attention knows that he is solidifying the private insurers hold on the American health care market.
    It ain't going to be pretty... 

    Posted via email from Jim Nichols