Monthly Archives: November 2009

What We’ve Built Today

Updates are feeling groovy:

More Songs About Buildings And Switzerland

Debating Wrist Slaps

Chuck Todd V. James Fallows And A Number Of Twittering Backseat Drivers

We’ve Got A ‘Gate’! We’ve Got A ‘Gate’!

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Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing

So It Wasn’t Really The End Of Welfare As We Knew It

Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff in the New York Times:

With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.

While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.

Atrios:

I’m Not A Freeloader Like Those Other People

So many assholes in this country.

While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.

Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.

He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall

Brian Faughnan at Redstate:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is disgusting. The measure of a successful administration will be how many Americans don’t rely on food stamps, not how many more can be added to the rolls. It’s stunning that the program would be overseen by someone with so poor an understanding of priorities.

Furthermore, the federal government is making a mistake by imposing no work requirements on receipt of this assistance. Because money is fungible, there is little difference between food stamps (or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) and welfare. While it should be available for those whose subsistence depends on it, it is appropriate to protect the taxpayer interest by imposing a work requirement on those who are able to work.

Mickey Kaus:

It shows that, indeed, assiduous bipartisan bureaucratic attempts to remove stigma from food stamps have at least partially succeeded, and the program has expanded rapidly, roughly doubling since 2000. (Amazingly, the Times never bothers to tell readers by what percentage the program has grown recently, though it barrages them with unassimilable stats from select counties and tedious anecdotes.) The paleoliberal undermessage of today’s NYT piece is basically: ‘Hah, hah, you conservatives and ‘values’ Dems. When times are tough all your stigmatizing of welfare goes out the window. Americans are learning to to love the dole.’

But a stigma placed on cash-like welfare (which food stamps are) remains a positive sign of a healthy work ethic. If you came across two societies–Society A, in which food stamps were stigmatized, with families reluctant to go on the dole even if they were eligible, and Society B, in which they weren’t, you would want to bet on (and live in) Society A. It’s one thing to relax the stigma on welfare in times of epic economic decline. It’s another if the stigma doesn’t return with the possibility of employment. The CBPP chart would also have demonstrated that food stamp rolls have risen rapidly before–in the slump from 1988 to 1994–only to fall just as rapidly when the economy picked up in the mid-90s. Of course, at that time we had a President (Clinton) who was campaigning against “welfare as we know it.”** It seems unlikely that President Obama will repeat the performance. …

Matthew Yglesias:

One thing here is that I just doubt that Clinton’s campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it” was really all that decisive in the decline in food stamp enrollment. Objective economic conditions improved rapidly during this period, with the late-1990s being the only period of substantial low-end wage growth of the past several decades. Whether food stamp use declines or not as we enter an economic recovery depends first and foremost on how robust that recovery actually is.

But as for Society A and Society B, whether or not I would bet on Society A is going to have a lot to do with whether Society A is suffering from much larger quantities of undernourished children. If it’s able to scrimp on food stamps without achieving that result then, yes, its bourgeois stolidity looks promising. But if Society B is doing a much better job of ensuring that its kids are healthy, then Society B is going to have a better-educated workforce, lower crime, less disability, and a generally better-off population and economy for years to come.

Which I think leads to the conclusion that the problem with SNAP isn’t that it ought to be more stigmatized, but that it’s too much like cash welfare. It’s called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and a supplemental program to assist people with obtaining adequate nutrition is a good idea. But if you read ye olde eligibility guidelines you’ll see that “nonalcoholic beverages, snack foods, soft drinks, candy, and ice.” are all eligible. I like Fritos, I like Diet Coke, I like Twizzlers, but none of this is supplementing anyone’s nutrition. Conversely, you can’t use SNAP money to buy any “foods that are hot at the point of sale” even though this restriction has nothing to do with promoting nutrition. I don’t think we need to go all the way in the direction of turning this into a monastic “fruit, vegetables, and whole grains only” program but we could surely go a good deal further in the direction of targeting the money at actual nutrition assistance.

UPDATE: Razib Khan

Reihan Salam

UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez

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Filed under Economics, Entitlements, The Crisis

Some New Original CBO Programming

Peter Suderman at Reason:

According to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office this morning, the average price of insurance premiums bought on the individual market—that is, premiums not purchased through employers—would go up by 10 to 13 percent in 2016 if Congress passed health care reform legislation now in the Senate. This tracks with state-level reform efforts, which have almost always coincided with spikes in individual insurance premiums.

Nevertheless, advocates of reform will—and indeed, already are—arguing that the report shows that the bill will make health care both better and more affordable. How’s that?

Megan McArdle:

If the plan is the Senate plan, then according to the CBO, not much changes.  Average premiums might be as much as 3% lower than they otherwise would be.  On the other hand, they might not change at all.

That’s actually rather surprising.  We’ve been hearing a lot over the last few weeks about the transformative power of the excise tax on high cost plans, which is supposed to really incentivize the kind of delivery services reform that could hold down medical cost inflation.  Indeed, the effect is supposed to be so powerful that almost all the revenue estimated from the excise tax actually comes from employers buying cheaper health insurance than they otherwise would and passing those savings onto employees in the form of wages, which the employees then pay taxes on.  By 2019, that excise tax is supposed to be generating $34 billion a year for the treasury.

But according to the CBO, while the excise tax will exert downward pressure on large group health insurance premiums, other factors–like the requirement that children be eligible for dependent coverage up to the age of 26–will push them upward.  The result is a maximum savings of 3%, a minimum of 0%.  The CBO notes that because so many people are affected,  even small changes can produce significant revenue.

That zero does make me sort of wonder what might happen to all that revenue.  The excise tax is basically the entire revenue side (there are a bunch of provisions that also effect revenues, but they roughly balance out; if the excise tax doesn’t raise as much as anticipated, there will be no extra revenue to cover new spending, unless something else also changes).

Ed Morrissey:

As far as the insurance premiums go, this is yet another example of ObamaCare bending the cost curve … upward.  Why will premiums increase?  Guaranteed issue and expansion of third-party payer services.  Instead of exercising cost control through real reform, the new plan will intensify the existing structural problems of cost in the American health-care system.  And since the covered won’t be paying that cost themselves, the rest of the taxpayers who don’t participate in the exchange system will be left with the bill through the federal subsidy program.

Ezra Klein:

The Congressional Budget Office released a report (pdf) today estimating changes to average premiums under the Senate health-care bill. The report is going to prove very important, and is going to confuse a lot of people. So let’s be very, very clear about what it says.

The CBO’s analysis broke the health-care system into three parts: individual, small group and large group. The small- and large-group markets account for 159 million Americans, and have very little change in premiums. But what change they see is in the right direction: Health-care reform is expected to reduce premiums in the large group market by about 1.5 percent, and in the small group market by about 0.5 percent.

The individual market is where the big changes happen. In 2016, which is the year CBO examines, this market is expected to serve 32 million Americans. And in this market, average premiums are expected to rise by 10 to 12 percent. What’s important, however, is why.

The CBO sees the changes coming from three different sources. First, “the average insurance policy in this market would cover a substantially larger share of enrollees’ costs for health care (on average) and a slightly wider range of benefits.” This accounts for all of the increase in premiums. In fact, it accounts for much more than the projected increase: The improvement in the insurance obtained on the individual market would, on its own, raise prices by up to 30 percent.

But the increase is moderated by two other policy changes. First, the new rules governing the insurance market are expected to make the market more efficient, lowering prices by 7 to 10 percent. Second, the individual mandate, alongside the subsidies and the increased ease of purchasing insurance, is expected to bring in healthier folks, which should save another 7 to 10 percent. Add it all together and we’re looking at a 10 to 12 percent increase in premiums for insurance that’s about 30 percent better than what people are getting now. It’s a steal. And all this is before we get to subsidies.

The CBO estimates that 57 percent of people in the individual market will receive subsidies to help them purchase health-care insurance (folks on the individual market tend to be much lower-income, with much less stable employment). Those subsidies will reduce premium costs by between 56 to 59 percent for the average beneficiary. So in the final analysis, the effect of reform on your typical individual market purchasers is to give them insurance that’s about 30 percent better but only 10 to 12 percent more expensive, and then assure them subsidies that will lower their payments by more than 50 percent. And if you’re in the small group or large group markets, your premiums are expected to fall a bit.

Good deal, no?

Paul Krugman:

The Congressional Budget Office has released its much-awaited estimate on how the Senate health care bill would affect premiums. It’s good news from the point of view of reform advocates: premiums would stay about the same for people with group coverage, while falling significantly for most of those in the small-group or individual markets. Jon Gruber has crunched the numbers, and produces this convenient chart (via Yglesias):

[…]

But here’s the thing: senior Republican politicians suffer from reading comprehension. (To be fair, the CBO report is written in a remarkably elliptical style). Several have already claimed that the report shows that premiums will rise.

And they probably won’t get called on it. More than that, in today’s Beltway, where David Broder can say that he can’t find an expert who believes the Senate bill is deficit neutral when the Congressional Budget Office says it is, the good news in this report may well just be ignored.

Anyway, for what it’s worth the CBO has now given the Senate bill a clean bill of, um, health on both its budget impact and its impact on families.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

These projections represent averages. The CBO expects considerable variation in each group, so that some people pay more and some people pay less. And, like all CBO projections, these are subject to both enormous uncertainty and CBO’s particular set of assumptions.

But that last part is actually encouraging, because CBO tends to have very conservative (small “c”) assumptions about the ability of government reforms to save money in the health care system. If measures like greater use of information technology and comparative effectiveness data are more successful than the CBO projects–and many experts believe they will be–premiums should come down even more.

Keep in mind, too, that CBO’s numbers are for 2016. But many of the cost-saving measures in the bill aren’t expected to yield savings until after that date. In other words, the savings in the future could be even larger.

We may not get to the point where reform, as currently written, delivers $2,500 in savings to the average American, as President Obama famously (and, perhaps, foolishly) promised on the campaign trail. But this analysis suggests reform can in fact deliver some savings–and that it certainly won’t raise premiums, as so many conservative critics have predicted.

Given the myriad ways in which reform will make both the uninsured and insured more secure, that seems like a pretty good bargain.

 

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending

On The Day Before…

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

Before young officers at West Point, Obama will announce his decision about Afghanistan to an increasingly skeptical nation and a Democratic Congress that is threatening to condition its budgeting on identifiable off-ramps and timeframes.  Obama is expected to announce that he’ll order several Army combat brigades to Afghanistan — about 30,000 troops in all, most of them to be tasked with more rapidly standing up Afghanistan’s indigenous army. His speech, as described in broad terms by advisers last week, will be short and serious. His challenge is to persuade Americans that the war in Afghanistan is winnable, as Americans tend to give their presidents significant leeway so long as they believe that the president is confident in his strategy.  Officials said last week that while would outline a clear exit strategy, he would not tie troop withdrawals to any specific political developments in Afghanistan, which might run into opposition from Democrats in Congress, who are demanding benchmarks.  Nor is the President likely to impose direct conditions on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.  An official said that Obama plans to try explain the interconnection between the the stability of Pakistan and the nexus of terror in Afghanistan.  An explanation that the American people would accept has proven elusive.

Andrew Sullivan:

I’m going to give the speech a chance. It’s a very difficult situation, and, after Bush’s grotesque mismanagement, no options are anything but varieties of awful. But everything I hear sounds like conventional drift to me – Bush’s policy with a much more interesting and intelligent discussion beforehand. So instead of staying in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with no real strategy, we will stay in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with lots of super-smart defenses of the indefensible. Great.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

It’s tiresome to have to go back and rehash these old arguments.  But it’s hard to avoid when the supposed lessons of Iraq are then inappropriately transposed onto Afghanistan.  The debate over Afghan policy continues to suffer from General McChrystal’s curious decision to appoint a group of surgenik think tankers such as the Kagans, with virtually no Afghan expertise, to ghost-write a “strategy review” which has shaped so much of the subsequent public debate.  But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lengthy, critical evaluation in which the Obama administration has engaged — with many of the underlying assumptions challenged and debated, as they should be.

I’ve never agreed with the widely aired opinion that Obama should just make a decision, whether it’s right or wrong (as long as that decision is to escalate, presumably). I’m impressed that his team seems to have given serious thought to the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the legitimacy of the Karzai government, the lessons of the Soviet experience, how to pre-empt future demands for more troops, how to maximize leverage, and how to craft an exit strategy.  It doesn’t mean that they’ll get the policy right — or even that there’s a right policy to find.  I predicted weeks ago that the result of the strategy review would be a decision to add 30,000 or so troops, it wouldn’t work, hawkish critics would give Obama no credit for the decision, and next year we could have the whole argument over again.  Here’s to hoping that Obama’s speech next week proves me wrong.

Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard:

You can’t fight a successful war unless the commander-in-chief is fully committed to it. So President Obama’s chief task in his speech Tuesday night on Afghanistan is to make it absolutely clear that he is.

This won’t be easy. Obama comes from the antiwar wing of the Democratic party that opposes the use of force in almost all instances. If he were still a senator and a Republican president were proposing a troop buildup in Afghanistan, Obama would probably be against it.

Obama has spent most of his political career comfortably inside the cocoon of his party’s left wing. And he brought that faction’s culture to the White House. It has created the unusual situation of a president and his advisers who are normally, even reflexively, antiwar but who now have a war on their hands, on their watch, and as their responsibility.

It’s true that Obama championed Afghanistan as the “good war” in his presidential campaign last year. And as recently as August, he called it “a war of necessity.” But his painful, three-month deliberation on what to do in Afghanistan severely undermined his prior statements.

The point is legitimate doubts about Obama’s tenacity in Afghanistan — his level of commitment — abound in the military, among allies whom Obama wants to deploy more troops, and with the American public. More than anything else, he needs to lay those doubts to rest in his address.

He won’t succeed if he dwells on how quickly he hopes to begin winding down America’s intervention in Afghanistan. Emphasizing an exit strategy would be counterproductive. He needs to concentrate on what’s required and what he’s ordering to prevail in Afghanistan.

Spencer Ackerman on Barnes:

I recognize arguing with Barnes is like trying to beat a chimpanzee in a shit-throwing contest, but really. Obama ran for president for two years vowing an increase in U.S. troops for Afghanistan. When he was elected president, one of the first things he did was increase troop levels in Afghanistan to an all-time high. Tomorrow night he’s going to increase troop levels again by something like 30,000. That means by the end of Obama’s first year in office, he’ll have ordered more troops into the Afghan war than were there when he was elected president. Believing that Obama would oppose a U.S. troop increase under a counterfactional conditional requires actively ignoring shitloads of evidence. In fairness, if you read Barnes’s book about Bush, you’ll learn that under the ex-president’s stewardship, “al Qaeda and the Taliban had been subdued in Afghanistan,” making this whole war thing rather hard to understand.

Ed Morrissey:

This war requires a serious commitment, much more so than Iraq did.  It will take a generation or longer to stabilize Afghanistan and provide it an infrastructure to tamp down extremism and modernize a population more connected to the 14th century than the 21st.  There is a serious question as to whether any American President could guarantee that kind of commitment, let alone one that has taken almost four months to decide whether or not to properly resource a strategy he himself demanded for over two years and officially imposed eight months ago.

Blundering around Afghanistan with no commitment to do anything except leave, and leave on some unknown combination of the stars and the winds, is about as bad a choice as it gets.  It undermines the entire basis for COIN, which is to ensure stability through security and trust — trust based on our commitment to the security of the individual communities that resist the Taliban and al-Qaeda.  It’s a waste of resources, and worse yet, a waste of fine men and women in our military who want to win this fight and defeat extremism and terrorism.

Kim Holmes at The Corner:

Then there’s the matter of troop strength. News reports based on White House leaks indicate that the president will tell the nation he is sending somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 troops, possibly arguing that these are only 5,000 fewer than General McChrystal asked for.

The political calculation is that sending a smaller number of troops would pacify the Democratic party’s leftist base, which wants an immediate U.S. withdrawal. But the military calculation should take precedence.

The New York Times has revealed that Gen. McChrystal’s original assessment called for an additional 60,000 to 80,000 troops to maximize the chance of success. A decision to send in less than that incurs a greater risk of failure.

General McChrystal was quickly muzzled by a White House apprehensive that he was asking for bigger numbers of troops. Some Democrats even called for the president to fire his general if McChrystal continued speaking to the press. None of this, however, should make us forget that the president reportedly will announce that he will send in fewer troops than his commander on the ground says is needed to achieve maximum success.

Scott H. Payne at The League:

Obama is a smart guy and a very nuanced and careful thinker, but the spin on his announcement just comes off as the worst of rhetorical hair-splitting, a fundamental unwillingness to take a position and defend it. No matter what he did on Afghanistan, Obama was going to draw criticism — welcome to politics. But this kind of “everything-to-everyone-at-all-times” game that results in flaccid, DOA decision making is precisely what has deflated every corner of Obama’s base and is going to kill his presidency, in the end.

I appreciate the desire to take all perspectives into consideration when charting a course of action for the country, I think that is not just the right thing to do, but, frankly, vital to good decision making. And as far as that front end work goes, Obama is unsurpassed. But the back end, and arguably the most important component of decision making, is to then wade through all that information and analysis, sift the options and opinions, make a determination about what seems to be the right (or at least best) course of action, and then make a firm decision to follow that course.

Increasingly, it seems like Obama’s back nine is lacking in direct correlation to the impressive and charismatic appeal of his front nine. In short, the man ain’t got no follow through. But this Afghanistan announcement just stinks of the most obvious and blatant attempt to dress a half-finished process up and call it strategic wizardry. I’ll be heartily surprised if it flies very far.

Besides, what does it say when George Will and Michael Moore are on the same page and it’s a different page than you’re on? Yeah, might be something to think about.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Political Figures

I, Me, Mine, I Me, Mine, I Me, Mine

Bryan Caplan:

One of the most engaging after-lunch conversations of my life was when Robin Hanson sat me down and gave me the cryonics version of the Drake Equation.  The Drake Equation multiplies seven variables together in order to calculate the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication is possible.  The Hanson Equation, similarly, multiplies a bunch of factors together in order to calculate how many expected years of life you will gain by signing a contract to freeze your head when you die.

During his presentation, I noticed that Robin spent almost all of his time on various scientific sub-disciplines and the trajectory of their progress.  On these matters, I was fairly willing to defer to his superior knowledge (with the caveat that perhaps his enthusiasm was carrying him away).  What disturbed me was when I realized how low he set his threshold for success.  Robin didn’t care about biological survival.  He didn’t need his brain implanted in a cloned body.  He just wanted his neurons preserved well enough to “upload himself” into a computer.

To my mind, it was ridiculously easy to prove that “uploading yourself” isn’t life extension.  “An upload is merely a simulation.  It wouldn’t be you,” I remarked.  “It would if the simulation were accurate enough,” he told me.

I thought I had him trapped.  “Suppose we uploaded you while you were still alive.  Are you saying that if someone blew your biological head off with a shotgun, you’d still be alive?!”  Robin didn’t even blink: “I’d say that I just got smaller.”

The more I furrowed my brow, the more earnestly he spoke.  “It all depends on what you choose to define as you,” he finally declared.  I said: “But that’s a circular definition.  Illogical!”  He didn’t much care.

Then I attacked him from a different angle.  If I’m whatever I define as me, why bother with cryonics?  Why not “define myself” as my Y-chromosome, or my writings, or the human race, or carbon?  By Robin’s standard, all it takes to vastly extend your life is to identify yourself with something highly durable.

His reply: “There are limits to what you can choose to identify with.”  I was dumbstruck at the time.  But now I’d like to ask him, “OK, then why don’t you spend more time trying to overcome your limited ability to identify with durable things?  Maybe psychiatric drugs or brain surgery would do the trick.”

I’d like to think that Robin’s an outlier among cryonics advocates, but in my experience, he’s perfectly typical.  Fascination with technology crowds out not just philosophy of mind, but common sense.  My latest cryonics encounter was especially memorable.  When I repeated my standard objections, the advocate flatly replied, “Those aren’t interesting questions.”  Not interesting questions?! They’re common sense, and they go to the heart of the cryonic dream.

Tyler Cowen

Blog posts to giggle over; read the comments too.

Robin Hanson responds to Caplan:

Bryan, you are the sum of your parts and their relations.  We know where you are and what you are made of; you are in your head, and you are made out of the signals that your brain cells send each other.  Humans evolved to think differently about minds versus other stuff, and while that is a useful category of thought, really we can see that minds are made out of the same parts, just arranged differently.  Yes, you “feel,” but that just tells you that stuff feels, it doesn’t say you are made of anything besides the stuff you see around and inside you.

The parts you are made of are constantly being swapped for those in the world around you, and we can even send in unusual parts, like odd isotopes.  You usually don’t notice the difference when your parts are swapped, because your mind was not designed to notice most changes; your mind was only designed to notice a few changes, such as new outside sights and sounds and internal signals.  Yes you can feel some changed parts, such as certain drugs, but we see that those change how your cells talk to each other.  (For some kinds of parts, such as electrons, there really is no sense in which you contain different elections.  All electrons are a pattern in the very same electron field.)

We could change your parts even more radically and your mind would still not notice.  As long as the new parts sent the same signals to each other, preserving the patterns your mind was designed to notice, why should you care about this change any more than the other changes you now don’t notice?  Perhaps minds could be built that are very sensitive to their parts, but you are not one of them; you are built not to notice or care about most of your part details.

Your mind is huge, composed of many many parts.  It is even composed of two halves, your right and left brain, which would continue to feel separately if we broke their connection. Both halves would also feel they are you.  It is an illusion that there is only “one” of you in your head that feels; all your mind parts feel, and synchronize their feelings to create your useful illusion of being singular.  We might be able to add even more synchronized parts and have you still feel singular.

[…]

We have taken apart people like you Bryan, and seen what they are made of.  We don’t understand the detailed significance of all signals your brain cells send each other, but we are pretty sure that is all that is going on in your head.  There is no mysterious other stuff there.  And even if we found such other stuff, it would still just be more stuff that could send signals to and from the stuff we see.  You’d still just be feeling the signals sent, because that is the kind of mind you are.

Accept it and grab a precious chance to live longer, or reject it and die.  Consider: if your “common sense” had been better trained via a hard science education, you’d be less likely to find this all “obviously” wrong.  What does that tell you about how much you can trust your initial intuitions?

Caplan responds to Hanson:

If Robin’s right, then teaching me more hard science will reduce my confidence in common sense and dualist philosophy of mind.  I dispute this.  While I don’t know the details that Robin thinks I ought to know, I don’t think that learning more details would predictably change my mind.  So here’s roughly the bet I would propose:

1. Robin tells me what to read.
2. I am honor-bound to report the effect on my confidence in my own position.
3. If my confidence goes down, I owe Robin the dollar value of the time he spent assembling my reading list.
4. If my confidence goes up, Robin owes me the dollar value of the time I spent reading the works on his list.

Since I’m a good Bayesian, Robin has a 50/50 chance of winning – though I’d be happy to make the stakes proportional to the magnitude of my probability revision.

With most people, admittedly, term #2 would require an unreasonably high level of trust.  But I don’t think Robin can make that objection.  We’re really good friends – so good, in fact, that he has seriously considered appointing me to enforce his cryonics contract!  If he’s willing to trust me with his immortality, he should trust me to honestly report the effect of his readings on my beliefs.

I don’t think Robin will take my bet.  Why not?  Because ultimately he knows that our disagreement is about priors, not scientific literacy.  Once he admits this, though, his own research implies that he should take seriously the fact that his position sounds ridiculous to lots of people – and drastically reduce his confidence in his own priors.

Julian Sanchez:

I’m sympathetic to Hanson’s response, and I think Caplan’s position is mostly voodoo in philosophy drag, but let’s be clear that there are a couple different things going on here when we ask about the transformations under which I should consider myself to have “survived.”

The first question is whether it’s somehow uniquely rational to identify your “self” with a particular unique physical brain and body. To dramatize it as Bryan does, cribbing from my old prof Derek Parfit: Suppose that via some kind of Star Trek replication or some combination of cloning, highly advanced brain scanning, and neuron-etching nanotech, scientists create a precise physical duplicate of you. Just as your duplicate is waking up—so let’s be clear, there are now two extremely similar but clearly distinct loci of conscious experience in the room—you’re told (ever so sorry) that as an unfortunate side-effect of the process, your original body (you’re assured you are the original) is about to die.  Should you be alarmed, or should you consider your copy’s survival, in effect, a means by which you survive?

The gut intuition Bryan wants to work with—the crucial “common sense” move—is that, by stipulation, there are, after all two of you who now have separate experiences, emotions, physical sensations, etc., and who could each survive and go on to live perfectly good (and very different) lives.  And you could certainly lament that you won’t both get that chance.  But I think it’s a serious mistake to imagine that this settles the questions about what we have, unfortunately, chosen to call “personal identity,” a property which even in more ordinary circumstances bears little resemblance to its logical homonym. There is ample reason to think that a single brain and body can, and perhaps routinely does, support multiple simultaneous streams of conscious experience, and as Robin points out, it’s not as though “your” physical body is composed of the same matter it was a decade ago.

In reality, our ordinary way of talking about this leads to a serious mistake that Robin implicitly points out: We imagine that there’s some deep, independent, and binary natural fact of the matter about whether “personal identity” is preserved—whether Julian(t1) is “the same person” as Julian(t2)—and then a separate normative question of how we feel about that fact.  Moreover, we’re tempted to say that in a sci-fi hypothetical like Bryan’s, we can be sure identity is not preserved, because logical identity (whose constraints we selectively import) is by definition inconsistent with there being two, with different properties, at the same time. And this is just a mistake. The properties in virtue of which we say that I am “the same person” I was yesterday reflect no unitary natural fact; we assert identity as a shorthand that serves a set of pragmatic and moral purposes. Whether it’s true depends intrinsically on the concerns and purposes of the user. A chemist and a geologist will mean quite different things when they ask, pointing at a lake, “is that the same body of water we noted a decade ago?” The answer may be “yes” in one sense and “no” in another, because what they mean by “same” is implicitly indexed to their different concerns and purposes. Bryan’s flip reply—that one could thereby achieve immortality by “deciding” to identify with something permanent—misses the point: That there may be no independent fact of the matter about identity does not entail there are no facts about what’s worth caring about.The whole motive for arguing against his material-continuity standard is precisely that he has seized upon a criterion of intertemporal personal identity that does not really matter very much.

UPDATE: Will Wilson at PomoCon

UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez

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Why Jon Meacham Should Run From Liberal Bloggers In 2012

Jon Meacham at Newsweek:

But I think we should be taking the possibility of a Dick Cheney bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 more seriously, for a run would be good for the Republicans and good for the country. (The sound you just heard in the background was liberal readers spitting out their lattes.)

Why? Because Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people. The best way to settle arguments is by having what we used to call full and frank exchanges about the issues, and then voting. A contest between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama would offer us a bracing referendum on competing visions. One of the problems with governance since the election of Bill Clinton has been the resolute refusal of the opposition party (the GOP from 1993 to 2001, the Democrats from 2001 to 2009, and now the GOP again in the Obama years) to concede that the president, by virtue of his victory, has a mandate to take the country in a given direction. A Cheney victory would mean that America preferred a vigorous unilateralism to President Obama’s unapologetic multilateralism, and vice versa.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner

Joe Coscarelli at Mediate:

Let’s consider Meacham’s initially dubious case, which he spells out in a Newsweek article online now, “Why Dick Cheney Should Run in 2012,” to be published in the December 7th issue of the magazine. He begins:

  • “[A] run would be good for the Republicans and good for the country.” Insert joke: “The sound you just heard in the background was liberal readers spitting out their lattes.”
  • Greenwald? “Jon Meacham tells a funny, original joke: liberals react to his column urging Cheney to run by “spitting out their lattes,” on Twitter. Burn. Get it? Coffee.

Good for the country, you say, Mr. Meacham. Why?

  • “Because Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people.”

Nonpartisan evidence  – good start. Then:

  • “Three years out, the GOP field does not offer a putative nominee.”
  • “In an era of ideological purity within the party, Cheney is among the purest; no one can question his conservative credentials on national security, and his record in the House and as vice president places him beyond reproach from the base.”

But! “He was, it is true, second in command in years of great deficit spending…” So, kind of, Meacham admits. And:

  • “A campaign would also give us an occasion that history denied us in 2008: an opportunity to adjudicate the George W. Bush years in a direct way.”
  • I’ll take Glenn Greenwald for 140 characters, Alex: “It’s unclear to Jon Meacham what Americans think of Bush — the 2006 and 2008 elections, and humiliating poll numbers, are very ambiguous.”

Lastly:

  • “Cheney’s memoirs are due to be published—and thus due to be promoted—in the spring of 2011, not long before the caucuses and primaries begin. I’ll bet you that the Barnes & Noble in Des Moines (there’s a big one at The Shoppes at Three Fountains) is on the book tour.”

Or, as Greg Sargent of The Plum Line put it: Drudgebait. That is, a purposefully counterintuitive online argument meant to get the attention of Big Matt and run up website traffic. Gotta get those pageviews!

Adam Serwer at Tapped:

I excerpted the quote where Meacham uses “latte” as a cultural shorthand for liberal effeteness because I think it explains basically everything that’s wrong with Meacham’s column. Cheney of course, is a huge fan of skim lattes, the kind of trivial fact that might be well known if it fit the kind of political shorthand lazy journalists employ in the absence of actual, well, journalism.

The idea Meacham is trying to convey is that Cheney, unlike the latte-sipping “girlie men” who make up the Democratic Party, is “tough on terror,” while the drone assassination–happy, secret prison–running, state secrets doctrine–abusing, unreformed PATRIOT Act–supporting, torture photo–blocking, military commissions–convening, racial profiling Obama administration is made up of weaklings who just happen to have constructed a policy that looks virtually identical to the prior administration except where it is more aggressive. Meacham doesn’t realize that he’s demanding a “referendum” on policies Cheney and Obama actually agree on almost entirely in substance, with the exception of torture and closing Guantanamo Bay prison. The battle between Obama and Cheney has been partisan political theater — but Meacham, apparently lacking any real knowledge on the subject, presents “latte” as a cultural shorthand for liberalism, when it’s properly a shorthand for crappy journalism that relies on political totems rather than actual research.

Greg Sargent:

As you know, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham has taken a fair amount of flak for arguing that Dick Cheney should be taken seriously as a 2012 contender because he’s a “man of conviction” who has a “record on which he can be judged.”

Here’s a data point that makes this fantasy seem even more far-fetched than it did at first glance: Significantly less than one percent of Republicans think Cheney best reflects their party’s core values.

That astonishing number can be found deep in WaPo’s article about their new poll on the state of the GOP:

Just 1 percent pick George W. Bush as the best reflection of the party’s principles, and only a single person in the poll cites former vice president Richard B. Cheney. About seven in 10 say Bush bears at least “some” of the blame for the party’s problems.

The WaPo polling unit tells me that approximately 800 Republicans and Republican leaners were surveyed on this question; of that 800, WaPo’s polling gurus confirm, only a single person picked Cheney as the best reflection of the party’s values.

Our handy Plum Line calculator tells us that this means approximately .125 percent of GOPers picked Cheney on that question.

Steve Benen:

For that matter, is the jury still out on the Bush presidency? Meacham sees the need for additional adjudication “in a direct way.” I’m not sure what more evidence anyone would need that Bush failed in spectacular and historic ways, in practically every area of public policy. It will take many, many years to address the fiascos of the last eight years.

Meacham sees these catastrophes and thinks, “What we really need is the failed president’s vice president to seek national office.” There’s no reason to think that’s a good idea.

The Newsweek editor added, “No one foresaw Cheney’s reemergence as a force in the politics of the 21st century until it happened.” Did it? Sure, the mainstream media loves to follow Dick Cheney’s attack of the day, but when, exactly, did the unpopular and discredited former vice president “reemerge as a force in the politics of the 21st century”? I don’t remember that happening.

Indeed, rank-and-file Republicans were asked in a new poll about who best reflects the party’s principles. Just one chose Dick Cheney — not 1 percent, I mean one individual person.

UPDATE: Jason Linkins at Huffington Post

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Horton Huckabee Hears A Commuted Sentence

Josh Marshall at TPM:

You may have heard that four police officers were murdered in what under different circumstances would look like a mob assassination in Washington state coffeehouse this morning.

The man local police are seeking for questioning is Maurice Clemmons, 37, a man with a lifetime history of violence, burglary, aggravated robbery, theft and rape. Clemmons was serving what was essentially a life sentence in Arkansas before having his sentence commuted by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time,” Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley told the Seattle Times when told Clemmons was a suspect in the quadruple murder.

As far as I can tell, until today, Clemmons had never been accused of, let alone indicted for or convicted of a homicide. The record is rather one of an endless string of aggravated robberies, assaults and similar crimes.

Daniel Foster at National Review:

The clemency was granted in part because Clemmons was just seventeen at the time of his conviction. But within months of being released from an Arkansas jail, Clemmons was rearrested for parole violation. Three years later, he was released again, after an apparent procedural mistake led prosecutors to drop further charges that would have kept him incarcerated.

In Washington, Clemmons continued to run afoul of the law. At the time of the police killings, he was out on $30,000 bail on a charge of second-degree rape of a child.

Michelle Malkin:

The man being sought by police was granted clemency by former GOP Arkansas Mike Huckabee despite his violent history and vehement protestations from prosecutors and victims’ family members.

He was most recently in jail for alleged second-degree rape of a child.

This isn’t Huckabee’s first Horton moment, as I’ll remind you in a moment.

[…]

This disaster is just one of Huckabee’s ill-considered clemency legacies.

Remember Wayne Dumond?

Again, via the Arkansas Times circa 2005 — a closer look at how Huckabee tried to evade responsibility for setting a convicted rapist free…only to rape again

Matthew Yglesias:

But based on the few facts I have available, this looks like a reasonable use of clemency authority:

In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges. […]

When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons’ sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.

60 years for burglary and theft for an eighteen year-old seems incredibly excessive. In this case, of course, you can’t help but wish he were in fact still in prison. But it’s hard to see what about a record of involvement in burglaries would make you think this was a guy at risk of doing something like this.

Scott Lemieux:

Given Huckabee’s gruesome history on related matters, it’s tempting to say that he deserves any demagoguery he’s on the receiving end of because of this. But it would be wrong. As Matt says, on its face there’s nothing unreasonable about granting clemency to a someone given 6-0 years for burglaries committed when he was 17. Evidently, if you grant parole and clemency (or, for that matter, give out finite sentences) to significant numbers of people some percentage will commit more crimes, but individual cases can’t in themselves justify more draconian policies, and also don’t mean that Huckabee’s judgment at the time was wrong. Putting pressure on the the parole board to release a rapist because some wingers developed some quarter-witted Clinton conspiracy theories, on the other hand…

Dan Riehl:

Someone used the word Hucked-up on Twitter the other day. I remember commenting at the time. If anything is “Hucked-up,” this is. Huckabee may not  be the only individual guilty here and neither is Arkansas the only state. But why we keep returning this kind of scum to the street is a crime all by itself. They say the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact. Well, neither should be trumped up Constitutional Rights. Degenerates like Maurice Clemmons should be shot in the head and left for dead whenever they get caught.

Mike Huckabee’s PAC:

The senseless and savage execution of police officers in Washington State has saddened the nation, and early reports indicate that a person of interest is a repeat offender who once lived in Arkansas and was wanted on outstanding warrants here and in Washington State. The murder of any individual is a profound tragedy, but the murder of a police officer is the worst of all murders in that it is an assault on every citizen and the laws we live within.

Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, this commutation made him parole eligible and he was then paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave, and heroic police officers.

UPDATE: Heather MacDonald at Secular Right

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Joe Carter at First Things

UPDATE #2: Instapundit on Coates

UPDATE #3: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Mara Gay at The Atlantic

UPDATE #5: Radley Balko at Reason

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