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Top Speed

April 24, 2011 1 comment

Wannabe:

The Real Deal:

(video via The Daily Dish)

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“Being Forthright Is Saying Nothing”

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s encouraging to see some actual adversarial journalism happening on this issue. Unfortunately, “adversarial journalism” isn’t redundant.

Progressives shouldn’t be hoping for more left of center journalism. Conservatives shouldn’t be thankful for Fox News. Journalists should be feared by anyone with power and responsibility.

Burlington Mall Holdup: live blogging

April 19, 2011 1 comment

So I’m in the burlington mall at work. A supposed gunman is in nordstrom.

Everyone except legal seafoods is evacuated.

1150: 3 guys with ATF jackets just walked by.

1151: no surprise everyone has a different story of what is going on.

1152: looks like it all might be a misunderstanding. Had something that “appeared” to be a weapon. Maybe an umbrella.

1159: getting free breakfast.

People waiting desperately for baked scrod

Reflections on the Day:

Now that I’m back home at my computer and not attempting to write updates through my phone I’ll reflect a bit on today’s events.

I arrived at work at about 10:20am and swiftly learned about “someone being shot at Nordstrom.” He was still loose in the mall. Human psychology never ceases to amaze me; I was struck by how immediately and regularly humor was used to defuse the situation. Emotions overlapped and fluctuated between humor, bewilderment, alarm, and curiosity. We all consciously avoided windows for the most part, we ran outside when being evacuated only to return quickly to the locked restaurant – we sought to balance safety, rationality, and (astonishingly) industry.

The unreliability of information during sensational events was obvious even at the time as stories circulated of whether someone had been shot or not, whether a jewelry store had been robbed, and whether it was a shotgun, rifle, or, later, an umbrella. Yet, more interesting is how strongly evolution has biased us against skepticism due to the danger of making a Type II error.

As easily as it was to joke and is now after learning of the misunderstanding, the gunman seemed real at the time. In fact, our belief in the reality of the gunman that shot someone was real at the time. I don’t want to make more of this event than it is, but incidents like these not only make great stories but highlight insights about the world.

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When Unbearable Debt Meets Unsustainable Political Support

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Many idealists think we can just inform the public enough to understand the best policies to govern ourselves. Unfortunately tilting at windmills seems more productive. Policies gain and maintain support not by voter knowledge but by voter experience. I don’t care how many TV specials or column inches get devoted to explaining that congestion pricing is better for drivers – it will only reach a critical mass of support when drivers experience the benefits outweighing its costs.

As a pure political argument, do you think hugely slashing defense spending is a winner? Maybe right now. What about the months after 9/11? Voters have no idea what the practical differences are of a few hundred billion more or a few hundred billion less in spending on the military. If the country feels safe they’ll support a low level of defense spending (assuming that the level is compatible with actual and perceived safety). Are high tax rates politically sustainable? If there is strong economic growth, yes. Of course if they’re too high and they weaken growth they’re not sustainable. Bill Clinton easily won reelection and somehow maintained higher tax rates that many currently think would be politically reckless to advocate. Those tax rates even gave us a surplus and would do a lot to balance our budget. What’s the difference? Clinton didn’t explain it better – he presided over a growing economy. Clinton even won large percentages of wealthy voters (not majorities though). Today, growth is anemic.

What does this tell us about any debt reduction plan? Since future congresses will have to keep any policies in place that balance the budget, the policies can’t be incompatible with voters’ improving experiences. Paul Ryan’s medicare “fix” isn’t bad because it is unfair or ideologically conservative – even if you forced everyone to read and love Atlas Shrugged it wouldn’t fix the deficit. When the elderly start getting vouchers that decrease in value (they grow at the rate of inflation but healthcare grows faster) they’ll see their situation as steadily deteriorate and vote to change the policy.  That doesn’t mean that benefits need exponential growth to maintain support, but shifting the cost to consumers also doesn’t work. Public debt means higher taxes and less ability to spend elsewhere while private debt directly consumes personal wealth that reduces demand and economic growth. That’s why costs need to be contained not payments. Ezra points out that smaller versions of Ryan’s plan failed:

Various states have gotten waivers to radically remake their Medicaid program, and the consumer-driven model that Ryan is proposing for Medicare has been attempted in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and Medicare Advantage. None of these programs have worked, which is why we’re in our current predicament.

Voters need to feel that their overall well-being is improving which means holding down costs in a way that doesn’t prevent economic growth. A growing economy makes every policy sustainable; the trick is to pick solutions that don’t kill economic growth. Paul Ryan correctly realizes that medicare can’t be an open-ended commitment because doing so would eventually harm the economy. His numbers don’t add up, the distribution is unjust, and its prospects are inconceivable but we can debate the merits of it as policy. He should be commended for offering something tangible even as we reveal its flaws. Are there other solutions?

The Kaiser Family Foundation compares some proposals. Many Democrats think strengthening the Independent Payment Advisory Board holds promise. Introducing a dedicated VAT to government healthcare spending always made sense to me – that way it explicitly ties what we’re willing to spend to what is politically sustainable.

Politicians should remember that the single best thing they could do to reduce the deficit is choose policies that maximize economic growth (even if that means taking advantage of cheap borrowing now). Yet, our debt is so large more must be done. Since the major problem is too many retirees relative to able workers, we could change one policy that no one seems to notice would dramatically help. Increase the number of young workers… otherwise known as immigrants. Obviously immigrants age too so it’s not a magic bullet, but anything that keeps the dependency ratio at a reasonable level would be enormously helpful.

Another aspect of immigration policy that needs consideration (since we can’t feasibly let in enough migrants completely solve everything) are temporary workers. Temporary workers are great because they come at almost no cost to the taxpayer. We don’t have to educate them and we don’t have to pay for their retirement, but they grow the economy and pay taxes. As Matthew McConaughey might observe, high school girls and temporary immigrants have a lot in common: they “stay the same age.”

Much more needs to be done, but anything that passes must maintain support.

Moving Across Cultures

March 24, 2011 4 comments

One could devote an entire blog and more to cultural differences, but I’d be content for Americans to recognize and adopt this one simple behavior. In the US (at least everywhere I’ve been) people lazily obstruct the escalator lanes.

My time living in London was a revelation.

You’d think the nation that birthed the phrase “time is money” would already appreciate the benefits of escalator etiquette. Slide over.

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Here’s a Tip.

March 5, 2011 6 comments

 

(20% to the Daily Dish)

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To the summit of Mt. Washington… and back.

February 10, 2011 1 comment

I’ll be away for the weekend to hike Mt. Washington. Stay warm while I’m away.

[update 02/15]: I survived!

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Where to Read Good Egypt Coverage

January 29, 2011 3 comments

I’ve found The Daily Dish an essential hub for cataloguing coverage from all over the media.

Marc Lynch’s FP blog provides expert analysis.

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Tucson Tragedy Roundup

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Sorry for my lack of postings recently. I needed a bit of a mental break and have been feeling a little under the weather. Also, I didn’t want to react too reflexively to such a horrible atrocity. Here’s a small collection of some commentary from around the web I found worthwhile to think about.

Ross Douthat (01/09/11):

But if overheated rhetoric and martial imagery really led inexorably to murder, then both parties would belong in the dock. (It took conservative bloggers about five minutes to come up with Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican politicians.) When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.

We should remember, too, that there are places where mainstream political movements really are responsible for violence against their rivals. (Last week’s assassination of a Pakistani politician who dared to defend a Christian is a stark reminder of what that sort of world can look like.) Not so in America: From the Republican leadership to the Tea Party grass roots, all of Gabrielle Giffords’s political opponents were united in horror at the weekend’s events.

Jonathan Chait (01/12/11):

Likewise, consider Obama’s observation that the tragedy could usher in greater civility “not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.” I completely agree with the logic of that statement: If the Tucson shootings got us thinking about the need for greater civility, and greater civility is a good thing in itself, then we should pursue it even if it turns out to be unrelated to the shooting. In the same way, an alcoholic who gives up drinking after wrecking his car would have my full endorsement even if he turned out to be sober when he got into the accident.

But, of course, there are lots of things the Tucson shooting got us thinking about even if they don’t turn out to have caused it—like the need for tougher gun laws or better mental health care. It’s possible that neither of these things would have saved lives this past weekend. But, in the aftermath of Tucson, we can be forgiven for thinking they might make our nation a little better. (The same probably goes for a conservative movement that’s less infatuated with the language of armed rebellion.)

Glenn Greenwald (01/12/11):

What Galston is doing here is what the American political class reflexively does in the wake of every tragedy:  it immediately seeks to exploit the resulting trauma and emotion to justify all-new restrictions on basic liberties (such as the right not to be locked away against one’s will in the absence of a crime or a serious threat to others) and all-new government powers. Every traumatic event — in the immediate, emotionally consuming aftermath —  leads to these sorts of knee-jerk responses.  The 9/11 attack immediately gave rise to the Patriot Act, warrantless eavesdropping, a torture regime, due-process-free imprisonment, and ultimately an attack on Iraq.

Andrew Sullivan (01/12/11):

One would have thought that Palin, like any responsible person in her shoes right now, could have mustered some sort of regret about the unfortunate coincidence of what she had done in the campaign and what happened afterwards. Wouldn’t you? If you had publicly defended a map with cross-hairs on a congresswoman’s district, and that congresswoman had subsequently been shot, would you not be able to express even some measure of regret at what has taken place, even while denying, rightly, any actual guilt? Could you not even acknowledge the possibility that your critics have and had a point, including the chief Palin-critic on this, who happens to be struggling for her life in hospital, Gabrielle Giffords.

Conor Friedersdoft (01/09/11):

The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense. The problem isn’t their tone. It’s that the substance of what they’re saying is so blinkered that it isn’t even taken seriously by their ideological allies (even if they’re too cowardly, mercenary or team driven to admit as much).

They’re in a tough spot these days partly because it’s impossible for them to mount the defense of their rhetoric that is true: “I am a frivolous person, and I don’t choose my words based on their meaning. Rather, I behave like the worst caricature of a politician. If you think my rhetoric logically implies that people should behave violently, you’re mistaken – neither my audience nor my peers in the conservative movement are engaged in a logical enterprise, and it’s unfair of you to imply that people take what I say so seriously that I can be blamed for a real world event. Don’t you see that this is all a big game? This is how politics works. Stop pretending you’re not in on the joke.”

Matthew Yglesias (01/09/11):

The idea that it’s even coherent to talk about “politicizing” the attempted assassination of a politician strikes me as questionable. But since typically people die without being assassinated, and there are still always allegations of nefarious “politicization” of their deaths, I’d like to go on record as saying that when I decided to write about politics and policy for a living that wasn’t just a weird coincidence. I actually really care about these things. They’re very important to me. And if I die tomorrow or next week or next month or next year or (hopefully!) decades from now and still-living allies want to take the occasion to try to advance progress on the issues I care about, I would applaud that.

Andreas Kluth giving a historical perspective (01/09/11):

But it seems that a taboo had been broken, a precedent set. Something unthinkable had become thinkable: Political violence.

A decade after Tiberius’s murder, Gaius Gracchus (pictured above) followed in his brother’s footsteps. He, too, got himself elected tribune. He, too, intended to launch reforms.

And again, a mob of senators and their supporters came for him. Gaius fled to a grove and killed himself, as the attackers murdered his supporters.

Another outlier, they told themselves. An exception. Never to be repeated.

And yet, it was repeated. Over the next century the Romans — a people always well-armed, often for the right reasons — began flashing blades to intimidate other Romans in any disagreement. The tone of debate changed. The incidents of political violence became more frequent, and worse.

A taboo once toppled is difficult to re-erect.

Ezra Klein (01/12/11):

But will congressional aides make for good bodyguards, even if they get “a bit of training?” I doubt it. Because field organizers actually don’t know how to find the one nut who will pull a gun every few decades, they’ll start throwing out lots of people who seem a little off. Better than safe than shot at. But if you’ve ever been to a community meeting, “seems a little off” pretty much describes the whole room. And people who “seem a little off” should have access to their member of Congress, too.

[…]

And all this would solve … what? In the past three decades, there haven’t been five members of Congress shot by constituents. There haven’t been two. There’s been one. And it’s not at all clear that most of these proposal would’ve even prevented that shooting.

I don’t want to downplay the horror of what happened in Arizona. But attaching a police officer to every congressional event or trying to train aides who’re supposed to be listening to constituents to instead try and assess the threat level they pose is not the right way to grieve. We’ve suffered a tragedy, but there’s no evidence, at least as of yet, that legislators are in much everyday danger. That’s in stark contrast with, say, people who live in Detroit, who perhaps could use more security.

I think President Obama hit the right notes in his speech last night. Most importantly: “If, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy–it did not–but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.”

It is clear that uncivil discourse didn’t cause this assassination attempt and I think incivility can, at times, be valuable rhetorically. Yet, more civility among our public officials and public discourse is worth striving for if only to focus our attention on policy differences not personality or partisanship. I think that places me closest to Conor in worrying more (not only) about substance than tone.

Should policy changes result from this atrocity? Possibly but only if we deal with the real dilemma of balancing Greenwald’s fear of reflexive restrictions of liberty with the sober policy assessment that Chait proposes. I admit I’m a bit skeptical of how dispassionate our policy makers can be, but that doesn’t mean any policy changes are automatically harmful or unnecessary.

Dealing with political assassination without diverting police resources away from vulnerable communities to protect against political lightning strikes is difficult. Kluth reminds us that political assassination can have critical repercussions to the health of a republic. In Rome, it prevented reformers from acting. Changing how we replace our public officials if dead or ill is a prudent protection against political saboteurs. I haven’t thought enough about it to offer much, but making sure their replacement would be acceptable to the elected official seems reasonable.

Not to be petty, but in order to contrast a bit with the understandable religiosity of last night’s memorial let me thank the heroism of the people that fought back against the gunman and the goodness of the medical community that is doing their best to care for those injured. People cause tragedies and people need to fix them.

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Happy New Year!

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment
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