The Stimulus worked

I meant to post this before Thanksgiving, but it's still worth doing.  The NY Times ran a nice story summing up opinions from private-sector economists (i.e., people paid to be accurate about their opinions rather than just make an ideological point) who largely agree that the stimulus has been quite effective and that our economic situation would be a good bit worse had we not passed this.  Most estimate that unemployment would have been about 2% higher (that's huge!) and that GDP growth would've been 2% lower.  Those figures are nothing to sneeze at.  The problem is that Obama gets no credit for averting economic catastrophe when the economy is still in such poor shape.  "It could've been a lot worse" just isn't much of a rallying cry.  It is, however, an important thing to know.  And it is, of course, worth noting that the modern Republican party has basically taken it as dogma that the stimulus was a bad thing.  Wouldn't want evidence to get in the way of ideology.


What to do about Afghanistan?

Short answer: I don't know.  What to do in Afghanistan strikes me as an extraordinary difficult foreign policy decision and I've yet to read or hear something that thoroughly convinced me one way or the other.  Perhaps that's because being open-minded means accepting that there are no good answers to Afghanistan and there is huge uncertainty about whatever path we choose.  I felt like my studied ambivalence on the issue was validated by Fred Kaplan's latest column in Slate where he confessing to not having a strong opinion about what to do despite writing a column titled, "War Stories."  Kaplan's column nicely lays out the various pro, cons, and uncertainties about the various approaches.  Kaplan's admitted uncertainty and ambivlance is, of course, hugely refreshing in a columnist, and I think in this policy area quite appropriate. The problem for Obama is that, as Kaplan sums it up:

My guess is that President Obama held so many meetings with his national-security advisers on this topic—nine, plus a 10th on Sunday night
to get their orders and talking points straight—because he wanted to
break through his own ambivalences; because he needed to come up with a
reason (not just a rationalization) for doing whatever it is that he's
decided to do, some assurance that it really does make sense, that it
has a chance of working, so he can defend it to Congress, the nation,
and the world with conviction. Let's hope he found something. A
columnist can be ambivalent; a president can't be.

Though my strongest impulse is to question the wisdom of a troop escalation (especially after listening to this amazing edition of Bill Moyer's Journal which featured archival tapes of LBJ discussing whether to escalate in Vietnam), I find it hard to second-guess too strongly any decision Obama makes in this area.  Nobody can argue he isn't giving the matter thorough consideration.

Republicans decrease the intelligence of the American people

Latest polling from the Post: less people accept global warming.  The poll question asks simply whether the earth is getting hotter, not whether humans are causing it.  There's pretty much 0 scientific controversy about that first point.  Even the skeptics (almost none of whom are actually climate scientists) admit to that.  Not surprisingly, the increasing stupidity of the American public (you can never really underestimate that) is driven by the Republican party:

The increase in climate skepticism is driven largely by a shift within
the GOP. Since its peak 3 1/2 years ago, belief that climate change is
happening is down sharply among Republicans — 76 to 54 percent — and
independents — 86 to 71 percent. It dipped more modestly among
Democrats, from 92 to 86 percent.

Of course Democrats have their flaws, but Republicans willful denial of scientific reality is positively medieval.  

Obama and Wall Street

Steve Pearlstein has a really interesting column today arguing that Obama is much too beholden to Wall Street.  There's small, but meaningful steps he could be taking, but isn't.  I have to admit, I agree.


What you missed

So, I was trying to clean up my blog interface a little tonight and delete all the posts that I meant to do during my blog hiatus and never got around to actually blogging about.  Some of them, I couldn't bring myself to delete, so rather than say anything particularly interesting about these, I'm just going to present the link and brief summaries that I never quite blogged about but were definitely worth it:

  1. What we can learn from Portugal's drug decriminalization policy.
  2.  It is, in fact, insane to expect doctor's to effectively treat people without actually having any sleep.
  3. Some interesting theories from evolutionary biology as to why men and women respond to pornography so differently.
  4. My favorite: 7 myths of energy independence.

No back to your regularly-scheduled blogging.

Oh, no, what about terrorists learning our secrets?!

One of the dumber arguments against trying KSM in New York is that somehow terrorists are going to learn all of our top secret methods (who knew the U.S. uses waterboarding?).  The truth is federal judges routinely bend over backwards to protect any information the government deems secret.  Glenn Greenwald strenuously makes the argument here (actually, I don't think there's any arguments Greenwald doesn't make strenuously):

Once conservatives became embarrassed by their cowardly warnings
that we would all be killed if we held a 9/11 trial in New York, they
switched to a new argument:  trials in a real court would lead to the
disclosure of classified information that would help the Terrorists…

To see how false this claim is, all anyone ever had to do was look at the Classified Information Procedures Act, a short and crystal clear 1980 law that not only permits, but requires, federal courts to undertake extreme measures to ensure the concealment of classified information, even including concealment from the defendant himself

Even during the Bush years, numerous defendants accused of terrorist
acts were tried and convicted in federal courts — John Walker Lindh,
Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ali al-Marri, Jose Padilla.  Those
spewing the latest right-wing scare tactic (Osama bin Laden will learn everything if we have trials!)
cannot point to a single piece of classified information that was
disclosed as a result of any of these trials.  If that were a
legitimate fear, wouldn't they be able to?  Like most American
institutions, our federal court system is empowered to shield from
public disclosure anything the government claims is secret.

Next totally false conservative argument?

Time to end the filibuster

Just how ridiculous has the filibuster become?  Theoretically, the filibuster is unlimited debate, such that the majority can never take a vote while being stymied by the minority holding the floor during debate.  The only way to end this "debate" is to have a super-majority of 60 votes.  This weekend, Republicans used the filibuster to try and prevent the health care reform bill from even being debated– the Democrats' 60 votes this weekend were simply votes to allow debate to begin.  Absurd!  Last week, Politico (of all places) actually ran a really smart essay on why we simply need to end this filibuster foolishness:


Both parties have historically used the filibuster, but its overuse by
modern Republicans stands at outrageous proportions. Not only has the
number of filibusters increased dramatically — from never more than
seven a year in the 1960s to a record 137 in the last Congress — so,
too, has their banality.

For example, this month the Senate unanimously passed an extension of
unemployment benefits. It took the breaking of three filibusters and
five weeks of debate to pass the bill while, at the same time, 200,000
Americans lost their benefits. Even pettier is the GOP’s repeated use
of holds. Thomas Shannon, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to
Brazil, is a career Foreign Service officer and served in the Bush
administration. But that has not stopped two Republican senators from
holding up his nomination, for unknown reasons…

In effect, majority rule in the Senate has been supplanted by
undemocratic, supermajority rule. The filibuster has become a tool to
block not just bad legislation but all legislation; it has become so
endemic that it is now an institutionalized way of doing business,
casting its shadow over everything the Senate does.

Solutions to the filibuster problem exist; what is lacking is political will…

Yet while Democrats rail against the GOP’s use of the filibuster, they
seem wary of doing anything about it — no doubt fearful that when they
are out of power, they will be unable to wield the filibuster against
Republican proposals. Yet the longer they allow the GOP to thwart their
agenda, the greater the likelihood that Democrats will soon find
themselves in the minority.

The GOP’s continued misuse of the filibuster represents the single
greatest threat to the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda and its
political future. Biting the bullet on modifying its use will not be
easy, but the longer Democrats empower Republicans by accepting
institutionalized obstructionism as the status quo, the more likely
they are to confirm the worst suspicions of their opponents and
disappoint their most ardent supporters.

It's a great essay.  Read the whole thing.  Also, Dana Milbank, who seemed to have long ago given up on useful journalism, has a nice article pointing out the extreme nature of Republican hypocrisy on filibustering judicial nominees.  Of course, hypocrisy and politics are virtually synonymous, but what the Democrats have been practicing on the issue is AA hypocrisy whereas Republicans are Major League All-Stars. 


All those Senators who speak with such reverence for the founders are clearly full of it.  If the founders had any intention of making the Senate a super-majoritarian institution, they sure would have done so.  To permanently turn the Senate into a super-majority legislature based on a procedural rule is surely more of a subversion of the Constitution than pretty much any decision by an "activist judge."  Time for the filibuster to go.


Totally unrelated posts

For some reason, I feel like combining the following:

1) From Matt Yglesias, a nice graph showing how the Murder rate in the US is much higher than most comparable nations:

He's got a nice explanation for Finland, "What's up with Finland? I think it's that they have a lot of guns up there and also that it's the drunkest nation on earth" but nothing about Poland.  What's with the Poles??

2) For fans of the Wire only, this is terrific (and definitely not meant for workplace viewing):

Are Republicans really this nuts?

Via TPM:

The new national poll from Public Policy Polling (D)
has an astonishing number about paranoia among the GOP base:
Republicans do not think President Obama actually won the 2008 election
— instead, ACORN stole it…

The poll asked this question: "Do you think that Barack Obama
legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think
that ACORN stole it for him?" The overall top-line is legitimately won
62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the
race, with 52% — an outright majority — saying that ACORN stole it,
and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is
31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and
Democrats are 86%-9%-4%.

In answer to my title, I think the answer is no.  There's answers to poll questions and what people actually believe.  This is a case where I think there's a real difference.  I think the Republicans are registering their (misplaced) antipathy towards ACORN rather than a genuine belief that the election was stolen.  I suspect if you dug down further with more questions, you'd find this to be the case.  Nice poll result to embarrass Republicans, but I don't think it really tells us anything beyond confirming how problematic opinion polls can be.

In defense of Sarah Palin

No, not really.  But I did find this Media Matters takedown of the sexism of Newsweek's cover story of Palin quite compelling.  

There are a
lot of legitimate
to criticize Sarah Palin, her new book, and her policies, but you don't have to
stoop to sexism to do it. Newsweek's November 23 issue, however, does
just that by publishing on its cover a photo of
Palin in short running shorts and a fitted top, leaning against the American
flag. Making matters worse is the equally offensive headline Newsweek
editors chose to run alongside the photo — "How Do You Solve
a Problem like Sarah?" — presumably a
reference to the Sound of Music song, "Maria," in which
nuns fret about "how" to "solve a problem like Maria," a "girl" who "climbs
trees" and whose "dress has a tear."

Now, this
photograph may have been completely appropriate for the cover of the magazine
for which the picture was apparently intended, Runners World. But Newsweek
is supposed to be a serious newsmagazine, and the magazine is certainly not
reporting on Palin's exercise habits.

Like her or
not, Palin is a former governor and vice presidential
candidate. She deserves the same respect every single one of her male
counterparts receives when they are featured on
the cover of the magazine. I must have missed the cover of Vice President Joe
Biden in short shorts or of Mitt Romney in a bathing suit.

I have to say I was a little surprised to see this on Newsweek's cover this week (which disappeared before I read it– Alex?!), but I didn't stop to think of sexist this is until reading the above post.  Good points.

What is God telling Sarah Palin to do?

Love Sally Quin's snarky take on God's "plan" for Sarah Palin:

 In her new book Sarah Palin writes that one summer at Bible Camp she
"put my life in my creator's hands and trust Him as I sought my life's
path." For Palin, this grand divine plan was "a natural progression."
She writes. And later, "I don't believe in coincidences."

Which leads me to ask:

What does she believe is God's plan for her? Does she have any free
will or is everything preordained. Can she see something coming and
change her mind despite God's plans for her?

Did God plan for her to become Governor of Alaska. If so, did God
plan for her to step down. Did God plan for her to run for Vice
President? If so why did she and McCain lose?

God plan for her to have a child with Down's Syndrome? If so why did
she consider an abortion? Did God plan for her to have a huge wardrobe?
Then why did she apologize for it?

Did God plan for her to do the Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson
interviews and be humiliated by them. Did God plan for her to allow
herself to be forced, against her will to do those interviews? If so
then why complain?

Did God plan for her daughter Bristol to get pregnant while she was
a teenager? Why was she then not thrilled. Did God plan for Bristol to
get engaged and then break up, only to be left a single mother,
dropping out of school?

There's plenty more, but you get the point. 


Given that I took all 3 of my kids to finally get the H1N1 vaccine yesterday, it's about time I link to this Slate story I've been meaning to.  I think one of the under-reported facets of the flu story is the fact that H1N1 has basically completely crowded out the seasonal flu virus.  In short, if you've got the flu, you've got H1N1.   Of course, my seasonal flu vaccine is thus pretty much worthless, but I've mostly been worried about getting the boys the H1N1 vaccine as 1) they are the primary vectors I need to worry about, and 2) Alex has a reasonable probability of breakthrough seizures if he gets the flu and David has underlying respiratory issues that could make it worse. 

Anyway, Marc Siegel's story in Slate is an interesting look at why there's been such shortages of the vaccine.  I found the most interesting criticism to be not technical, but in health care bureaucrats being too conservative.  

The slow process is compounded by the fact that our health officials
believe too much in the old technology. The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services decided
to finish making the seasonal flu vaccine before transitioning to the
new vaccine, even as evidence suggested that the new pandemic was going
to crowd out the yearly flu. "It is difficult to turn production to new
directions based on inertia," says Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist and
nationally recognized flu pandemic expert at George Washington
University. But it is just this inertia that makes redirection in
vaccine production so crucial.

Last March, as the emerging
influenza flu strain took hold in Mexico, infecting thousands before
taking hold in the United States, studies showed that this new flu was
dominant: It was found in more than 90 percent of the flu cases in
Mexico. This new crab grass taking over the lawn was predictable. Since
most people (especially the young) had never been exposed to this virus
before, there were few barriers to transmission.

Instead of
switching immediately to the manufacture of a new pandemic vaccine, the
seasonal flu vaccine was completed first. By early fall, 115 million
doses of the seasonal flu vaccine were rolled out, and compliance was
at an all-time high, thanks to a massive national campaign to promote
compliance. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said
during a Sept. 10 press conference that "getting vaccinated for
seasonal flu right now is good advice." Accordingly, more than 60
million rolled up their sleeves and got the vaccine by October, despite
the fact that there was no seasonal flu to be found. Lost in the frenzy
for flu shots was the fact that the yearly flu season didn't typically
peak until late January or February, while pandemics characteristically
do not obey the boundaries of traditional winter flu seasons.

Meanwhile, apparently many Americans have been listening to Bill Maher and Glenn Beck rather than public health and medical professionals for their health care advice.  

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