Tag Archives: The Examiner

“Soy Un Perdedor, I’m A Loser Baby, So Why Don’t You Kill Me?”… Wait, Wrong Beck

David Carr at NYT:

Almost every time I flipped on television last week, there was a deeply angry guy on a running tirade about the conspiracies afoot, the enemies around all corners, and how he alone seemed to understand what was under way.

While it’s true that Charlie Sheen sucked up a lot of airtime last week, I’d been watching Glenn Beck, the Fox News host who invoked Hezbollah, socialists, the price of gas, Shariah law, George Soros, Planned Parenthood, and, yes, Charlie Sheen, as he predicted a coming apocalypse.

Mr. Beck, a conservative Jeremiah and talk-radio phenomenon, burst into television prominence in 2009 by taking the forsaken 5 p.m. slot on Fox News and turning it into a juggernaut. A conjurer of conspiracies who spotted sedition everywhere he looked, Mr. Beck struck a big chord and ended up on the cover of Time magazine and The New York Times Magazine, and held rallies all over the country that were mobbed with acolytes. He achieved unheard-of ratings, swamped the competition and at times seemed to threaten the dominion of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox.

But a funny thing happened on the way from the revolution. Since last August, when he summoned more than 100,000 followers to the Washington mall for the “Restoring Honor” rally, Mr. Beck has lost over a third of his audience on Fox — a greater percentage drop than other hosts at Fox. True, he fell from the great heights of the health care debate in January 2010, but there has been worrisome erosion — more than one million viewers — especially in the younger demographic.

He still has numbers that just about any cable news host would envy and, with about two million viewers a night, outdraws all his competition combined. But the erosion is significant enough that Fox News officials are willing to say — anonymously, of course; they don’t want to be identified as criticizing the talent — that they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.

Ryan Witt at The Examiner:

Today Beck was not on his radio show, but his substitute claimed that the New York Times article was just “wishful thinking” and that Beck and Fox News are, in fact, on good terms.  Beck’s website The Blaze is running an article at the top of their home page which makes fun of Carr’s article.  However, none of the factual assertions in Carr’s article are actually refuted The Blaze response.

Of course, the one group who actually knows the truth are the executive of Fox News.  Thus far no one at Fox News has released a statement either confirming or denying Beck contract, or Carr’s claims that the network is thinking about dumping Beck.  Fox News normally offers a strong defense of their own employees.  Fox News President Roger Ailes has been known to send out memos stressing the need fo unity among their employees.  By not saying anything at all, the silence of Fox News executives may speak louder than words.

Matt Schneider at Mediaite:

However, Carr later points out that Beck “still has numbers that just about any cable news host would envy and, with about two million viewers a night, outdraws all his competition combined.” One might think that would be the beginning and the end of the speculation, since what more should a television show be expected to do besides get more eyeballs watching them than any other show? However, Carr raises a separate intriguing point: not only does Fox not need Beck to continue to be successful, but Beck doesn’t really need Fox either. Therefore, unless both sides are completely happy with the relationship, maybe a separation is possible?

Then, just in case the article is completely wrong, Carr mentions “But the partnership, which has been good for both parties, may yet be repaired.” In other words, yes Beck and Fox News can survive without one another, but since the relationship is highly profitable and consistently headline generating for all involved, might Carr’s conjecture be nothing more than an attempt to stir the pot?

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

Beck, Carr guesses, is narrowing his audience down to only the diehards — because most people don’t want to hear about how the world is going to end. Not only because it’s depressing, but also since the world is not going to end. While other Fox News hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are lecturing to an audience that believes in America, Beck is talking to people who don’t believe in anything — except, perhaps, God and the end of days.

Carr spoke with several Fox News executives who said (on background, of course) that “they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.” One Fox development VP is on record saying they’ve tried to get Beck to make his show cheerier. But no one, not even Fox’s crack publicity team, is quoted defending the controversial host — or insisting that his contract will be renewed. Which means that Beck, who can see doom in every shadow, is probably getting this message loud and clear: Something could very well come to an end within the year, and it won’t necessarily be the world.

Don Suber:

Yes. He has “made it difficult for Fox to hang onto its credibility as a news network.”

How about Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic spew when CNN canceled his show?

How about CNN’s Operation Tailwinds story?

How about CNN hiring Client No. 9 to begin with?

And speaking of news credibility,. there were never 300 asdvertisers of the Glenn Beck show to “fled.”

There are only about a dozen minutes of advertising a show.

Any media expert knows this. Any amateur knows this. Apparently David Carr does not.

And left out of David Carr’s story is the fact that the White House — through New York Times darling Van Jones — organized an advertising boycott.

Of people who don’t advertise on the Glenn Beck show.

The more the media dumps on Fox News over gnats while allowing CNN’s elephants to escape, the less unbiased the media look.

From Lucianne Goldberg: “David Carr (NYT) goes after Beck’s followers. Later tweets Beck’s audience is ‘a lot more sophisticated than people think’.”

Keep thinking you know it all, lefties.

Oliver Willis:

Beck’s problem is that he took the “oooh I’m scared of Obama (and his black skin)” sentiment and thought it was a way to make himself into a national leader of more than just a fringe of the fringe. As a result, he’s made his conspiracies even more ridiculous and tried the patience of even the tinfoil-hat brigade.

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An Apple A Day, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

Ezra Klein:

File this one under “health care doesn’t work nearly as well as we’d like to believe.” A group of researchers followed almost 15,000 initially healthy Canadians for more than 10 years to see whether universal access to health care meant that the rich and the poor were equally likely to stay healthy. The answer? Not even close.

The researchers ran the data two ways: High-income patients vs. low-income patients, and highly educated patients vs. less educated patients. Over the course of the study, the high-income patients were only 35 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients, and the highly educated patients only 26 percent as likely to die as the low-income patients. And the problem wasn’t that the low-income and low-education patients were hanging back from the health-care system. Because they were getting sick while their richer and better educated counterparts weren’t, they actually used considerable more in health-care services.

The problem, the researchers say, is that the medical system just isn’t that good at keeping people from dying. “Health care services use by itself had little explanatory effect on the income-mortality association (4.3 percent) and no explanatory effect on the education-mortality association,” they conclude.

You don’t want to over-interpret this data. It’s possible that in the absence of insurance, the gap would be much wider. Indeed, there’s good evidence suggesting that’s true. Nevertheless, this should make us very skeptical about a world in which we’re spending almost one out of every five dollars on health-care services. Universal insurance is crucial both for certain forms of health care and for economic security. But as I’ve argued before, it’s probably not the best way to make people healthier. Rather, the best way to make people healthier would be to get health-care costs under control so there’s more money in the budget for things like early-childhood education and efforts to strip lead out of walls, both of which seem to have very large impacts on health even though we don’t think of them as health-care expenditures.

Arnold Kling:

And that is from a study in Canada.3. The Washington Post reports,

A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 36 percent of adults have only basic or below-basic skills for dealing with health material. This means that 90 million Americans can understand discharge instructions written only at a fifth-grade level or lower.

My guess is that if you want to improve health outcomes in the United States, ignore health insurance and focus on literacy. Even if it has nothing to do with whether or not they can follow a doctor’s written instructions, my guess is that better literacy has a positive impact on health outcomes. The question is whether educators know enough about how to improve literacy to be able to do so effectively. I hope that is the case.

Tim Carney at The Examiner:

During debate over the health-care debate, liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote that blocking the legislation would “cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.” The liberals were relying on a study from the Urban Institute saying 20,000 people die a year because they are uninsured. Free-market blogger Megan McArdle read the study and concluded:

when you probe that claim, its accuracy is open to question. Even a rough approximation of how many people die because of lack of health insurance is hard to reach. Quite possibly, lack of health insurance has no more impact on your health than lack of flood insurance.

Klein came back with this:

I don’t want to be too harsh, and I don’t want to imply that anyone is sitting around twirling their mustache thinking up ways to hurt poor people. But opposition to health-care reform (which is different than opposition to the people who would be helped by health-care reform) is leading to some very strange arguments about the worth of health-care insurance — arguments that don’t fit with previous opinions, revealed preferences, or even the evidence the skeptics are citing.

But today, with the fight over ObamaCare behind us, and the President dealing with expectations over what his bill can deliver, Klein has a blog post that goes much farther than McArdle ever did. Klein’s headline:

Health care doesn’t keep people healthy — even in Canada

The main thrust of Klein’s blog post:

The problem, the researchers say, is that the medical system just isn’t that good at keeping people from dying. “Health care services use by itself had little explanatory effect on the income-mortality association (4.3 percent) and no explanatory effect on the education-mortality association,” they conclude.

I don’t want to be too harsh, and I’ve got nothing against what Klein used to call “arguments that don’t fit with previous opinions,” so I’ll just recommend you spend more time reading Megan McArdle.

The same is true, I’ll bet, for folks like Tim Carney who like to argue that medical care is ineffective as a way to argue against subsidizing health insurance for poor people. But for the record, the best evidence we have suggests that health-care coverage does much more for the health of poorer people than it does for the health of well-compensated, highly educated people like Carney. That folks like Carney use that evidence to continue a status quo in which they have health insurance and the poor don’t is, I think, proof of how seriously they take their arguments on this score, and of what this discussion is really about — and the answer isn’t “improving the health of the population.”

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior:

I suspect we have two things going on.First, education confers status and status is related to health outcomes. For example Oscar winners live longer than those simply nominated. How this link occurs is not totally clear. It seems that the hormones associated with stress and disappointment – cortisol for example – reduce long run health. However, this may not be the mechanism. No one really knows at this point.

Second, for a long list of reasons there is correlation between education and physical attractiveness. Physical attractiveness is by evolutionary design a proxy for health. Which to say, healthier folks are more likely to become well educated.

This makes me doubt that power of health improvements from increasing education.

In general it is just damn hard to improve health outcomes. Our bodies are the product of about 4 billion years of evolution. Just making sense of how they work is hard enough. Making them work better is a herculean task.

Jim Manzi at The American Scene:

There is a debate going on in the blogosphere between Ezra Klein, Arnold Kling, Karl Smith, Tim Carney and others about, to put it crudely, whether health care really affects health that much. This is, in part, a proxy debate for whether it is worth it for the U.S. government to provide generous universal health care financing for all of its citizens (or, I suppose, residents).

Either position can be caricatured. On one hand, no sane person would want to be without the advances of modern medicine. Recently, a little girl I know had scarlet fever. A century ago, this would very possibly have meant burying a small corpse; today, it implies a 10-day cycle of swallowing medicine at breakfast and dinner. There are few people on Earth who have as much reason to be proud of how they spend their work week as pharmaceutical researchers.

On the other hand, the link from alternative methods of health care finance, through the actual differences in provision of medical care these imply in the contemporary U.S., to the actual differences in health outcomes these treatment differences would cause, isn’t nearly so obvious. The net health effect of providing universal health care coverage versus some alternative financing system is an empirical question, not a philosophy debate.

I’ve written a lot about why randomized experiments are so critical to understanding cause-and-effect relationships in social policy. In the case of health care financing, the reason is that what system of health care financing you have (high-quality “go to any doctor” plan; good HMO; catastrophic-only plan; VA; go to an emergency room because you are uninsured, etc.) is bound up with a myriad of other factors that influence health. A randomized experiment allows us to isolate the impact of the system of health care financing.

To my knowledge, the only large-scale randomized experiment in the U.S. that has tested the actual effects on health of providing various kinds of healthcare financing was the RAND Health Insurance Experiment (HIE). In this experiment, thousands of families were randomly assigned to one of five different health insurance plans that ranged from something like a plan that provides free health care, to something like a pure catastrophic-only plan in which consumers pay out-of-pocket for day-to-day healthcare. The study tracked what exact health care services each group used, and how their health varied over a period of 3 – 5 years.

Ezra Klein describes this experiment as “the best evidence we have,” and writes that it “suggests that health-care coverage does much more for the health of poorer people than it does for the health of well-compensated, highly educated people.” His statement is correct, but as a summary of the results of this experiment, seems to me to be radically incomplete. In fact, the experimenters wrote of the findings that “cost sharing reduced the use of nearly all health services,” but “the reduction in services induced by cost sharing had no adverse effect on participants’ health.” Think about that. Providing people coverage of their medical costs caused no average improvement in health.

Klein is correct that there appeared to be a net health benefit for the poorest participants, but this was for a tiny proportion of the population, and for a small subset of medical conditions. According to the study, “The poorest and sickest 6 percent of the sample at the start of the experiment had better outcomes under the free plan for 4 of the 30 conditions measured.” There are technical reasons why conclusions from such a experiment are not reliable for post hoc subgroups in the way that they are for average comparison of a test group versus a control group; but even if we were to accept this finding as valid, it’s not obvious to me that we would want to devise a health care financing system for the United States around helping 6% of the population partially ameliorate about 10% of their potential health problems, as opposed to developing some specific supplementary programs for these issues, if they could be addressed feasibly.

Klein clearly has a very sophisticated take on the issue, and wrote in 2009 that health care reform is not primarily about improving health, but in reducing how much we spend on it. As he put it, “The purpose of health reform, in other words, is to pay for health care — not to improve the health of the population.” Fair enough. But the real debate, then, would be about whether market forces or bureaucratic control would be better at reducing costs, not about which would be better at promoting health for the “poorest and sickest” or anybody else. It wouldn’t be about getting better health outcomes.

A single experiment like the RAND HIE is not definitive. Among other things: it finished in 1982, and we live in a different world; any such experiment requires replication; it might be that the important health effects take much longer than 5 years to materialize, and so on. But as an observer of the health care debates, it always struck me as fascinating that the fact that the “best evidence we have” showed that providing health care coverage doesn’t actually improve average health wasn’t treated as more central.

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Where Is Alfred Hitchcock When We Need Him?

Nick Neely at Audubon:

On New Year’s Eve, sometime after 11 p.m., several thousand red-winged blackbirds dropped lifelessly from the darkness onto suburban lawns, roofs, and roads in the small town of Beebe, Arkansas. “I thought the mayor was messing with me when he called me,” Milton McCullar, Beebe Street Dept. Supervisor, said to the local TV station the next day with a (nervous?) grin. “He got me up at four o’clock in the morning and told me we had birds falling out of the sky.” “When you first get the call, you think it’s a New Year’s joke,” said the mayor, Mike Robertson, himself. “But it wasn’t a joke.” News outlets quickly picked up the story, and today, it has twittered about. There are no conclusions yet as to why the birds perished—a hailstorm, perhaps, or even stress from nearby fireworks—and no one seems to have much to say about the incident, but for, look here, at this strange, ominous (and yes, Hitchcockian) thing.

Michael Marshall at The New Scientist:

Most such rains of animals are probably caused by waterspouts: tornadoes that move over water. Waterspouts can suck up soil and small animals in large quantities, and dump them many miles away after they dissipate. This explains why the animals most commonly reported as falling are fish and frogs, which of course live in and around water.

The blackbirds aren’t the only mystery animals in Arkansas. 100,000 fish have died in a river 125 miles from Beebe. It’s not clear what killed them but disease may be to blame. There’s nothing to suggest the two events are linked.

Besides animals, other peculiar things have fallen from the sky over the years. Scientists have long struggled to understand the “red rain” that fell in Kerala, India, in 2001. The colour has been attributed to algae, but a few researchers think the microbes in question came from space.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

When thousands of red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve in Beebe, Arkansas, it seemed like God was angry at the Natural State, especially considering the additional 100,000 dead fish in a nearby river. “I’m not drunk and I’m not on drugs,” said one local when he called the police department. “She said, ‘Oh, you’re calling about the birds.'” A handful of the fallen creatures were taken in for testing, but officials are now saying that loud noises, probably from fireworks, scared the birds, causing them to slam into trees or houses and that the weather had nothing to do with it. Extraterrestrials are still suspected.Via the Wall Street Journal:

A witness reported that the birds, which roost in the area in large numbers and don’t see well at night, were scared by the noise and slammed into houses and trees, said Arkansas State Veterinarian George Badley. A study of several carcasses showed the birds died of internal bleeding.”We’re still checking for germs and poisons, but we believe it was just trauma,” said Dr. Badley.

The total dead is somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000, but that’s not counting the 500 red-winged blackbirds found in Louisiana, in what CNN calls a “seemingly separate incident.”

Clay Dillow at Popular Science:

Later yesterday, other sources were reporting that loud noise could have been behind the Arkansas incident. Necropsies performed yesterday showed the Arkansas birds suffered internal injuries that formed blood clots that went to their brains. It’s conceivable that loud noise (NYE fireworks?) could have startled a flock, causing them to rapidly change course and plunge headlong into buildings or tall trees, sustaining blunt traumas that led to their collective death.

Of course, none of this accounts for the 500 freshly dead birds in Louisiana. Those, of course, could be completely unrelated to the Arkansas birds (don’t be fooled by randomness, people). But we like a good conspiracy theory better. Besides, what about all those dead drum? Something smells fishy indeed, but who could possibly benefit from knocking off a bunch of birds in the American south? NASA? BP? Aliens? Our money is on Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who was never really afforded an opportunity to even the score with his avian nemeses.

Roz Zurko at The Examiner:

Many people are looking to the bible for verses conveying the warnings of the apocalypse with dead birds, but according to the website God Discussion, this does not seem to be mentioned. There are bible writings that are close, but not that convey the end of the world or harm coming to mankind affliated with dead birds.

2012 Prophecies have some people concerned after the dead birds fell from the sky, according to one commentator on Fox News live. According to the God Discussion website, the first searches for this story consisted mainly of the search words “dead birds.” Later, as the day went on, the search words turned to “dead birds” and “bible.”  These dead birds have many people wondering today – what is the spiritual meaning in masses of dead birds falling from he sky?

One Connecticut housewife L. Kelly, admitted she did the same Internet search that many others did today, “dead birds” and “bible.” “It is just an eerie thing to happen, not something you ever hear about Kelly said.”  She too fell on many confusing claims, but nothing that states the bible has a quote about dead birds and the end of the world is coming.

Christopher Rosen at Moveline:

Point of truth: Here at Movieline HQ, we’re busy stocking up on batteries and canned goods in the wake of the mass bird and fish deaths that happened in Arkansas over the weekend. (Not to mention the flooding in Australia.) That said, not everyone has worked themselves up into a full blown lather of panic. Just ask born-again Christian Kirk Cameron: “I think it’s really kind of silly to kind of equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.” Wait, even Cameron is making sense? Maybe this really is the end of times.

Laura Conaway at MaddowBlog:

But take heart: Though this story seems strange and even apocalyptic, it’s not necessarily so. The Baton Rouge paper cites an official from the U.S. Geological Survey as saying that a thousand or more blackbirds have turned up dead some 16 times in the past 30 years.

 

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I Have A Dream, You Have A Dream, Glenn Beck Has A Dream

Amy Gardner at WaPo:

When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to “restore honor” to America, he will test the strength – and potentially expose the weaknesses – of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country’s politics.

Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, from the spot where King delivered it.

Some “tea party” activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September’s “9/12” march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.

But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense – or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time:

Glenn Beck’s 8/28 Restoring Honor Rally has already drawn all sorts of criticism. It’s scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – which he delivered on the steps of the memorial in 1963. Given that Beck has said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” some black civil rights feel the rally’s location and scheduling are offensive.

What’s gotten less attention, however, is the group that will financially benefit from the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). All proceeds raised through Glenn Beck’s promotion of the event go to SOWF – once costs for the rally itself are covered.

The charity, founded in 1980, provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. SOWF is very well-run, with low administrative costs and a four-star rating from the watchdog group Charity Navigator. Some 160 of its scholarship recipients have graduated from college in the past 30 years and there are more than 100 students in college now.

Joan Walsh at Salon:

Beck claims he didn’t know Aug. 28 was the anniversary of King’s most famous speech when he chose the day, and I’m not sure what’s worse — that he’s lying, or that he’s telling the truth. My gut says he’s full of crap: You don’t schedule an event at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same day of one of the most famous events ever held there, and not know of the coincidence. Besides, Beck has been comparing himself to King, and his acolytes to civil rights strugglers, at least since the Obama administration began. He’s too big a megalomaniac not to know the symbolism of his choice.

But let’s say he’s telling the truth: Can someone who purports to be knowledgeable about our political and social history really not know about the 1963 March on Washington? Was Beck even paying attention when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver just two years ago, and every news organization in the world noted it happened to be on the 45th anniversary of the King speech — that’s right, Aug. 28. It’s hard to believe.

When the “coincidence” was called to his attention, Beck exhibited his trademark megalomania and paranoia. It was “divine providence,” he said — and besides, he snarled, “black people don’t own Martin Luther King!” It seems a little tone-deaf to talk about “owning” someone when King was fighting to undo the legacy of slavery, when African-Americans were literally owned by white people. A final fun fact: Beck insists he only chose the date because that was the only open Saturday before 9/12, and of course he couldn’t ask people to rally on a Sunday, “the Sabbath.” Of course, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, but I guess Jews weren’t high on the outreach list for Beck’s big event. But that’s our Beck, who has shown he subscribes to one of the ugliest anti-Semitic canards, that Jews bear the blame for killing Jesus.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall:

We can’t ignore the controversy: Beck is holding the rally at a time and place that is sure to draw scorn from a multitude of people. He’s doing it in the middle of election season, adding additional political weight to his avowed apolitical rally. Beck is a huge talker, and talks a lot about things that no one else does.

But that’s just one side of the coin. There are a multitude of people who believe that Beck is perfectly justified in holding the rally at that time and place, and even consider it an well-executed move. He’s got solid Christian credentials, so even if the rally does leak into politics, he’s built a firm foundation on which to honor our troops and focus on values. And Beck’s talking isn’t just background noise: his audience of over 3 million cable viewers are dedicated to his cause, and eager to spread the word.

Most importantly, lets not loose sight of the forest in the trees. Beck is motivating hundreds of thousands of Americans to get off their couch and get inspired. He’s providing a venue to praise our military and focus on what’s important, and no matter what your view of his political maneuverings, he’s doing a very effective job.

David Swerdlick at The Root

Greg Sargent:

Dems are gleefully noting to reporters that Beck intends to rally the faithful from the Lincoln Memorial — the very spot where King gave his speech 47 years ago. And with turnout estimates running as high as 300,000, Dems say they hope they can wrest some political advantage from what they hope will amount to a massive show of Tea Party force that’s rife with ugly Obama-bashing.

Though there are good reasons to wonder how effective it is, Dems have doubled down on a strategy of relentlessly elevating Tea Party whack-jobbery to turn moderates independents against the GOP. Several Dems cheerfully noted to me this morning that a raucus Tea Party rally staged on the anniversary of one of the turning points in the Civil Rights movement can only help in this regard.

To buttress the case that the rally is bad for the GOP, Dems are circulating a report in this morning’s Post claiming that officials with the Republican party committees are distancing themselves from the rally:

“In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.

“But I gotta be honest with you — I don’t know about any Glenn Beck event.”

Given the awful job numbers and the nation’s other myriad problems, it’s hard to imagine that using the Beck rally to tar the GOP will do much to alter the Dems’ electoral fortunes. But the sight of Beck trying to coopt the legacy of King while crazed Tea Partyers bash the first African American president in the ugliest of terms may well go down as an iconic moment in the history of this movement.

David Weigel:

Yeah, because bashing the tea party has done them so much good so far. I remember the Democrats begging, begging for Sarah Palin to endorse Scott Brown in the January 2010 U.S. Senate special in Massachusetts, in the apparent hope that she’d pass her crazy cooties on to him. How’d that turn out for Senator Coakley?

Beck isn’t stupid, and he’s trying to cut down on the easy shots from liberals with a rule: No signs.

Digby:

If the Triumph of the Wingnut rally does attract 300,000 people, keep in mind it’s because they believe this:

Media Matters describes it this way:

In a new promo posted on a “Producers’ Blog” at his website, Beck humbly places the rally in the context of the moon landing, the Montgomery bus boycott, Iwo Jima, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other landmark historical events. It also not-so-subtly suggests that Beck is following in the tradition of Martin Luther King (which is a farce), Abraham Lincoln, most of the Founding Fathers, Martha Washington, the Wright Brothers, and other notable historical figures.

To give you some sense of the egomania on display here, it starts with the line, “Every great achievement in human history has started with one person. One crazy idea.”

And it’s “brought to you by Goldline.”

Greg Sargent says that Democrats are gleeful about the “I Have A Nightmare” gathering because they think these people will expose themselves to America as the kooks they really are and the people will reject them. But what if they don’t? There’s ample historical precedent for kooks to break through into the mainstream and it can lead to some very unpleasant outcomes. Yes, Beck is nuts. But he’s also the most important figure in the Tea Party movement, which in case anyone hasn’t noticed is in the process of taking over one of the two major parties in the most powerful nation in the world. You can deride these people, as I do every day. But it’s a mistake to not take them seriously or underestimate their appeal in times like these.

No one should ever count on the people naturally seeing through demagogues. Their power lies in their ability to be convincing even when it doesn’t make rational sense and the truly talented ones can change the world. It remains to be see if Beck and his fellow travelers have that kind of juice. But I wouldn’t be so sanguine that they don’t.

Anthony G. Martin at The Examiner:

In a demonstration of the overwhelming support of mainstream America for conservative principles, Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is drawing ‘hundreds of thousands,’ according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Early reports indicate that so large is the crowd that attendees were having difficulty hearing the speakers. A quick scan of mainstream news outlets that have done actual estimates this morning indicates that attendance at this point is between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

And attendees are still arriving at the rally, which began some 90 minutes ago.

Newsbusters is live-streaming the event.

Michelle Malkin reports that as early as 7:30 AM there were already 100,000 peope gathered at the site.

Reporters on the ground, however, state that the claim of 500,000 attendees is grossly underestimated. A more accurate assessment of the crowd may well turn out to be between 500,000 and 1 million.

Speakers at the event represent a broad cross-section of America–civil rights leaders who were present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in 1963, baseball manager Tony LaRusa, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a host of black preachers, and Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

Update–Glenn Beck is speaking.  Passionate, eloquent, fervent defense of the Founders’ vision of America–faith, liberty, truth.

Update 2–Beck concludes by saying our hope as a nation is in God–a concept that is entirely consistent with the numerous writings of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin.  They may not have agreed on points of doctrine, but  in one accord they looked to God as the author and sustainer of LIBERTY!

Update 3–Country singer JoDean Messina sings ‘America the Beautiful.’

Update 4–More music from Messina and others.

Update 5–This aerial photo indicates the crowd may well number upwards of 1 million!

Updates on the rally will be reported as they become available.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

The state-run media is predictably annoyed with this patriotic rally.

The rally is streaming live at the Restoring Honor homepage and is also playing on C-SPAN.

A crowd shot from C-SPAN


Freedom’s Lighthouse
has lovely Sarah Palin’s speech at the rally.
What an awesome speech!

Meanwhile, Al Sharpton’s counter freedom rally managed to attract only 3,000 supporters.

Doug Mataconis:

After listening to the Beck rally this morning, though, I think the charges of racism were clearly over the top. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a political rally, though. Regardless of whatever Beck might say, the political undertones were rather obvious, and the degree to which it mixed religion and politics should quite honestly be disturbing to anyone who believes in the value of secularism in politics.

I’m not sure what the impact of this rally will be. I’m sure Beck has something more planned, he always seems to, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat in NYT

David Weigel

Douthat on his blog

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place

UPDATE #2: Russell D. Moore

Joe Carter at First Things

Daniel Larison

Reihan Salam at Daily Beast

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

E.D. Kain

UPDATE #3: Nick Gillespie at Reason

James Poulos at Ricochet

John Tabin at The American Spectator

More Larison

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Filed under Mainstream, Political Figures, Politics, Race

Searching For The Spanish Word For “Optics…”

Maureen Dowd in NYT:

Her critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.

During the campaign, she was caricatured on the cover of The New Yorker as a fist-bumping, gun-toting Black Panther. Now she’s mocked by a New York Daily News blogger as a jet-setting, free-spending Marie Antoinette. (On Spain’s Costa del Sol with Sasha on her husband’s 49th birthday, she did, in effect, say let him eat cake — alone.)

Michelle Obama is the most popular figure in the administration, but last week she had her first brush with getting brushed back in the press.

Some of the women anchoring news shows on MSNBC debated whether the first lady was being “mean” to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls’ getaway to Spain, and whether it was sort of sad, as one put it, that the president, drowning in troubles, had to go to Chicago to find friends (including Oprah) to celebrate with.

Andrea Tantaros, a Fox contributor and former Republican operative, wrote a harsh Daily News blog post calling the first lady a “material girl” for going on a glitzy vacation at a luxury resort in Marbella with a cavalcade of Secret Service agents, friends, children and staff, even as “most of the country is pinching pennies and downsizing summer sojourns — or forgoing them altogether.”

In politics and pop culture, optics are all. And Michelle’s optics sent a message that likely made some in the White House and the Democratic Party wince.

Mickey Kaus:

So Michelle Obama vacations in Spain with her daughter and an expensive posse, leaving her husband alone on his birthday and undermining his party’s political chances (bad recession ‘optics’). This is the sort of story on which I suspect there are three levels of perception:

1. Unsophisticated: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’

2. Sophisticated and well informed: At their level everyone is too smart and experienced to let any kind of spat affect state affairs. These things get planned out well ahead of time by staff. Only the unsophisticated jump to conclusions on the basis of crude external appearances.

3. Real Insider: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’

Ed Morrissey:

Hey, who wouldn’t want a quarter-million-dollar, taxpayer-paid Spanish vacation? Some people just feel compelled to rain on parades, however, and the First Lady’s extravagant Spanish holiday provides a pretty big target. It’s no surprise to see a Republican strategist blast the Obamas for playing Marie Antoinette by spending almost $250,000 on a vacation outside of the US, but it’s not just Republicans scratching their heads at the “tone deaf” nature of such a high-profile outing during economic stagnation.

Michael Barone at The Examiner:

I must admit I was puzzled to learn that the First Lady was headed to Marbella this time of year. Isn’t it awfully hot on the Mediterranean in August? I gather that the hotel she and friends are staying at is isolated and luxurious, but Marbella itself — at least when I drove quickly through it in the summer of 1997 — is pretty tacky, with signs (“BANGERS AND MASH” “MAN U ON CABLE”) suggesting it’s full of downscale British tourists.

Jeannie DeAngelis:

Michelle having made what most would agree to be the wrong choice about where to be on her husband’s 49th birthday seems to be a family trait.  Maybe the First Lady was merely emulating a pattern Barack has repeatedly set forth as precedent:  Never be where you should be.  Exercise iconoclast attitudes and stun the world by doing the inappropriate

Take for instance the Spain-over-birthday attitude the President exhibited by observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in lieu of attending Ground Zero ceremonies in New York City on September 11, 2009, choosing to send Joe Biden in his stead.

Didn’t Barack Obama also spend free time vacationing, golfing, going to baseball games and entertaining a Beatle instead of addressing the crisis of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? A few days after the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion, instead of meeting with BP executives, Obama chose to eat barbeque with Michelle in Ashville, NC

Obama campaigned for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas, not far from a southern border state under siege. The President, who flew to Copenhagen to pick up an unearned Nobel Peace Prize, chose to prosecute Arizona even before personally assessing the illegal war on the border Arizonans struggle against daily.

Suddenly Michelle’s ill-timed trip to Marbella pales in comparison.

Megan McArdle:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Michelle Obama vacationing in Spain; they have the money, so why not?  But I agree with Doug Mataconis that, while there’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s really quite unbelievably politically stupid.  When we’re in the middle of the worst recession in living memory, it’s not a good idea to take a luxury vacation that most of your countrymen could never possibly afford in the best of times, at considerable taxpayer expense for the security, in a foreign country.  Whether or not people should resent it, they will, and his party’s already in big enough trouble without reinforcing the Red State sense that this administration is full of out-of-touch elites.  I’m astonished that Obama’s advisors gave this trip the green light.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Sure, the First Lady’s vacation is at most a symbolic activity (symbolic of what, exactly, is unclear, especially because the State Department had to hustle to remove warnings from its website that “racist prejudices could lead to the arrest of Afro-Americans who travel to Spain” before Mrs. Obama touched down). But the fact is that all politics is symbolic and pretty much any way you cut it, this trip is a symbol that something is rotten in DC and especially among the political class.

Way, way back in 2004, when the future was brighter than a brand-spanking new tube of Gleem toothpaste, the accomplished doctor-wife of insurgent candidate Howard Dean got it right when she pulled a Dennis Thatcher and refused to be a public player in her spouse’s campaign. That gesture of refusal took us back to the thrilling days of yore, when monarchs were deposed and limited-government, small-R republicanism was first created, a moment when originally stingy-with-the-public-purse-strings folks like Oliver Cromwell pledged not to live like kings on the public teat (boy, did that ever go wrong). Cromwell and his New Model Army, after all, had taken down a ruler who flaunted his tax-enabled excess via a court that was truly out of control (sadly, it took but a few years for Cromwell to get on that bandwagon himself). But there, for a brief, shining moment, was an idea that rulers should live like the people they govern because, after all, they weren’t any different. And the last thing you wanted was a partner who ran up the credit cards like Mary Todd Lincoln or sniffed about letting the little people eat cake.

Lynn Sweet at Politics Daily:

Michelle Obama returned to Washington on Sunday from five days on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, taking a mother-daughter trip with Sasha, 9, that stirred controversy. A White House source told me, however, that Mrs. Obama traveled to Spain to help a grieving friend deal with the death of her father.

[…]

One of the women is a longtime Obama friend, Anita Blanchard, an obstetrician who delivered Sasha and big sister Malia, 12. Her husband is Marty Nesbitt, a close Obama friend and treasurer of Obama’s presidential campaign fund.
A White House source told me the Mrs. Obama was not able to attend the funeral for Blanchard’s father at the beginning of July. Blanchard, who was taking her daughter on a promised trip to Spain, asked the first lady and Sasha to come to Spain with her. (Malia is at overnight camp.) “She felt it was important as a dear friend to do this,” I was told.
Mrs. Obama and her friends paid for their hotel rooms and other personal expenses. All first ladies, however, get 24-hour security and transportation on military aircraft. When Mrs. Obama flies on personal business, she pays what amounts to a first-class fare, but taxpayers pick up most of the overhead costs for the plane and security.
A reason Mrs. Obama stayed at the ritzy Villa Padierna in Marbella was security, I was told. Agents were able to secure the lush resort and a nearby beach.
UPDATE: Hanna Rosin and Ann Friedman at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Byron York at The Washington Examiner

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Filed under Political Figures

Economics Is Hard And Then You Die

Michael Wade at The Examiner:

A senior research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Mr. Kartik Athreya, recently penned an essay “to open-minded consumers of the economics blogosphere” in which he argued that bloggers, and other economics writers, who portray macro-economic policy as simple matters are doing us all a disservice. In short (with apologies to Douglas Adams), Athreya asserts that “Economics is hard. Really hard. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly hard it is. I mean you may think doing the Sunday Times crossword is difficult, but that’s just peanuts to economics. And because it is so hard, people shouldn’t blithely go shooting their mouths off about it, and pretending like it’s so easy.  In fact, we would all be better off if we just ignored these clowns.”

Or at least, that’s what I took from it anyway.

As examples, he specifically cites not only Matt Yglesias, John Stossel, Robert Samuelson and Robert Reich, but also the hugely popular Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong. For the most part, these are leading lights of the politically liberal point of view, but Athreya’s critique does not appear to be aimed at either left or right commentators. Instead, he questions why we should listen to anyone who assumes complicated economic matters can be so easily dispensed with:

But why should it be otherwise? Why should anyone accept uncritically that Economics, or any field of human endeavor, for that matter, should be easy either to process or contribute to?  To some extent, people don’t. Would anyone tolerate the equivalent level of public discussion on cancer research? Most of us readily accept the proposition that Oncology requires training, and rarely give time over to non-medical-professionals’ musings. Do we expect advances in cell-biology to be immediately accessible to anyone with even a college degree? Science journalists routinely cite specific studies that have appeared in specific journals. They generally do not engage in passing their own untrained speculations off as insights. But economic blogging and much journalism largely does not operate this way. Naifs write books, and sell many of them too. People as varied as Matt Ridley and William Greider make book-length statements about economics. I’ve never done that, and this is my job. This is, to say the very least, bizarre.

Although there is a bit of a “don’t cast pearls before swine” attitude to his essay, as someone who likes to write about and analyze economics, I think Athreya has a good point. It certainly isn’t uncommon for writers such as myself (not to mention those with vastly more expertise than I) to opine about economic policy in a way that assumes certain underlying premises are unassailable fact, rather than difficult and sometimes contentious theory. Whether it’s a discussion of how the Community Reinvestment Act is responsible for the collapse of Wall Street, or why universal health care would boost our GDP in the long-term, bloggers/writers of both left and right are surely guilty of assuming too much at times.

By the same token, I think Mr. Athreya is missing an important distinction. Although economics lies at the heart of what many of these writers discuss, it is in fact politics that is the real subject. As opposed to laymen arguing the finer points about advances in cell-biology, Yglesias, et al., are making political policy arguments and supporting them with economic reasoning. Even when writers such as Krugman or Delong tackle macro-economic subjects head on, they are typically doing so in order to advance a specific policy position that they prefer, rather than seeking to refine our knowledge about economics itself.

In other words, while the economic principles may be oversimplified to an extent, the same came be said about computer science when arguing the pros and cons of owning an Apple or PC. You don’t need to be a computer expert to make a choice.

Mark Thoma:

Let me start by noting that the essay is not even digitized in a convenient form — it is a pdf — and to me that says a lot about the writers knowledge of how the digital world works. Why not make it available in a convenient form (unless the goal is to overcome the fact that federal reserve work cannot be copyrighted by making it difficult to reproduce)?  (This is an irritation more generally, and the Kansas City Fed is the worst. Even the president’s speeches are offered only as pdfs — and they are locked to prevent copying — rather than in a more convenient digital form. Are they trying to discourage this information from more general circulation? If so, why?) [Update: I added a few follow up comments on pdfs at the end of the post.]

Scott Sumner:

That’s right; no need to pay attention to Gary Becker, John Taylor, Paul Krugman, and all the other quacks who lack Athreya’s sophisticated understanding of the “science” of economics.  BTW, any time someone wields the term ’science’ as a weapon, you pretty much know they are an intellectual philistine.  Am I being defensive yet?

To get serious for a moment, in this essay Athreya is confusing a bunch of unrelated issues:

1.  The style of bloggers; are they polite or not?

2.  The ideology of bloggers

3.  The views of bloggers on methodological issues

4.  Are bloggers competent to opine on important public policy issues?

I don’t recall ever reading a Greg Mankiw post that I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to write.  On the other hand I’ve read lots of Mankiw posts that I didn’t feel clever enough to write.  That’s an important distinction.  Mankiw is a great economist in the “scientific” tradition, and he’s a great blogger—but for completely different reasons.  He’s a great blogger for the same reason he is a great textbook writer.  There are other bloggers who are also very clever; Krugman, Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Steve Landsburg, Nick Rowe, etc, etc.  Several on that list also wrote textbooks.

I don’t know if Krugman has done a lot of recent research on macro, but he knows enough about the literature to offer an informed opinion.  I often disagree with the views of Krugman, DeLong, Thoma, et al, on fiscal policy, but they can cite highly “scientific” papers by people like Woodford and Eggertsson for all of their fiscal policy views.  There must be dozens of economics bloggers who either teach at elite schools, or have a PhD from elite schools, and who are qualified to comment on current policy issues.

Arnold Kling:

He is suggesting that bloggers supply more noise than signal on economic topics. I understand his point, but I disagree with it.

It is a fair point that it is tempting when writing for an audience that includes non-professionals to try to oversimplify, to make your views sound more well-grounded than they are, and to make others’ views sound sillier than they are. If you read just one economics blogger, you will get that blogger’s prejudices and blind spots along with whatever insights might be on offer.

It is possible, however, for the collective efforts of many bloggers to produce more signal and less noise. That would be the case if the competitive market serves as a check on the more unsound ideas. I am not saying that it works that way, but it might.

Athreya takes the view that the academic process of refereed journals is more rigorous and works well. I do not fully share that view. The peer-reviewed journal process may be the better than anything else someone has come up with, but it is a deeply flawed process. It rewards ritual over substance, and trend-following over originality. The process failed badly in the area of macroeconomics over the past thirty years, an era which I believe Paul Krugman is justified in describing as a Dark Age.

Athreya draws an interesting contrast between reactions to the economic crisis and reactions to natural disasters. He points out that the tsunami in East Asia and the earthquake in Haiti combined to kill hundreds of thousands and to impose hardships on many others that are far worse than what has been inflicted by the recession. Yet neither of those disasters was met by a denunciation of seismology for failing to predict them nor an outpouring of ill-informed speculation about what happened. He may be forgetting the “God’s revenge” explanation proposed for the Haiti earthquake, but his point is well taken.

My pushback would be that economists have claimed to know more about the process of recessions than seismologists have claimed to know about earthquakes and tsunamis. No seismologist has ever said that we have “conquered” such events the way that economists have in the past claim to have conquered the business cycle.

I agree with Athreya that non-economists should express opinions about macroeconomics only with great humility. Where I disagree is that I think that economists, too, need to show humility.

Brad DeLong:

I’m going to duck out of this one, and leave it to Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Narayana Kocherlakota.

He will explain to Kartik Athreya that someone who has taken a year of Ph.D. coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their Ph.D. qualifying exams) is unlikely to be able to say anything coherent about our current macroeconomic policy dilemmas:

Why do we have business cycles? Why do asset prices move around so much? At this stage, macroeconomics has little to offer by way of answer to these questions. The difficulty in macroeconomics is that virtually every variable is endogenous – but the macro-economy has to be hit by some kind of exogenously specified shocks if the endogenous variables are to move. The sources of disturbances in macroeconomic models are (to my taste) patently unrealistic. Perhaps most famously, most models in macroeconomics rely on some form of large quarterly movements in the technological frontier. Some have collective shocks to the marginal utility of leisure. Other models have large quarterly shocks to the depreciation rate in the capital stock (in order to generate high asset price volatilities). None of these disturbances seem compelling, to put it mildly. Macroeconomists use them only as convenient short-cuts to generate the requisite levels of volatility in endogenous variables…

If Narayana is right, Kartik is wrong. I’m betting on Narayana.

Matthew Yglesias:

I think there’s a lot that’s wrong about Athreya’s essay, much of it explained by Scott Sumner, but most of all I think his argument hinges on two category errors, one about what I’m doing and one about what he’s doing.

First me. Do I have anything interesting to say about economics? Well, “interesting” is relevant to audience. I should hope that PhD economists working in central banking systems aren’t learning about economics from my blog! That’s what grad school, conferences, the circulation of academic papers, etc. is for. But perhaps you’re a citizen of a liberal democracy who speaks English and tries to keep abreast of political controversies. Well you’ve probably heard politicians talking a lot about jobs and the economy. You’ve probably noticed that voters keep telling pollsters that jobs and the economy matter to them. Jobs and the economy may matter to you! You may have seen that political scientists have found that presidential re-election is closely linked to economic performance, and thus deduced that the fate of a whole range of national policy issues hinges on economic growth. Well then I bet you are probably interested in the fact that a wide range of credible experts (with PhDs, even) believe the world’s central banks could be doing more to boost employment. Is Athreya interested in this? Well, I hope he would know it whether or not he reads my blog—he’s working at a central bank somewhere and probably knows a lot more about this than most people.

But now to Athreya. His essay seems to partake of the conceit that what economic policymakers do is just economics and that for political pundits to second-guess their decisions would be on a par with me trying to second-guess someone doing particle physics. Completely apart from the fact that the “science” of economics is a good deal less developed than what you see in real sciences, the fact is that economic policy is economics plus politics. For example, according to Ben Bernanke, the Fed could reduce unemployment by raising its inflation target but this would be a bad idea because it runs the risk of causing inflation expectations to become un-anchored. That’s a judgment that contains some “economics” content but it’s largely a political judgment. It’s part of his job to make those judgments, but it’s the job of citizens to question them.

At any rate, the next time anyone finds me claiming to have broken original ground in macroeconomic theory I hope someone will call the expertise police. But you don’t need a PhD in sociology to see how it might be the case that the Federal Reserve Board of Governors would be unduly attuned to the interests of college educated Americans to the exclusion of the working class, or that the European Central Bank might be unduly attuned to the needs of Germans to the exclusion of Spaniards and Italians.

Tyler Cowen:

My view is a little different than Brad’s.  I would say that economics is really, really, really, really, really, really, really hard.  And that’s leaving out a few of the “reallys.”

It’s so hard that experts don’t always do it well.  The experts are constantly prone to correction by non-experts, by practitioners, by people who are self-educated economic experts but not professional economists, and by people who know some economics and a lot about some other field(s).  It is very often that we — at least some of us — are wrong and at least some of those other people are right.  Furthermore those other people are often more meta-rational than a lot of professional economists.

Even very simple problems can be quite hard, such as why nominal wages are sometimes sticky or why particular markets don’t always clear, in the absence of legal impediment.  Why doesn’t the restaurant charge more on a Saturday night?  You can imagine how hard the hard problems are, such as what level of public expenditure is consistent with an ongoing and workable democratic equilibrium.

Putting aside agreement and ideology, and just focusing on how one understands an issue, I’ll take my favorite non-Ph.d. bloggers over most professional economists, six out of seven days a week.  Not to estimate a coefficient, but to judge public policy, thereby integrating and evaluating broad bodies of knowledge?  It’s not even close.

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist

Atrios:

I got bored pretty quickly with that essay, a poorly written combination of “people I agree with are smart, people I disagree with are stupid” and “elites know what they’re doing so shut up Shut Up SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.”

There’s little reason to believe the high priests at the Fed had any clue what they were doing as the housing bubble was happening. More than that, there’s plenty of reason to believe that they are much more concerned with inflation than unemployment, and millions will continue to suffer because of it.

Economics provides a framework for thinking about certain problems, but there’s rarely any one “right” answer. Too often the existence of tradeoffs are unacknowledged or completely ignored. If the priests knew what they were doing we wouldn’t have 9.7% unemployment. They, uh, failed.

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

Never, and I mean never, during the financial crisis, where we’d leave work on Friday and wonder whether or not the world would collapse during that weekend or what kind of market we’d walk into on Monday, did I think “man I wish there were more academic economists around.” Academic economists had very little language with which to describe the crisis. Most of our narratives come straight from journalism or sociology. There are no “toxic assets” in economics, that evocative description comes to us from business world and journalism. Same with the culture and pitfalls of high mathematical finance, math predicated on the efficient markets hypothesis. Even now it feels kind of sad to see them try and shoehorn the entire financial crisis into agency problems. The last time we had one of these it changed economics completely with the Keynesian revolution. I am really rooting for INET to change some paradigms, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. You can barely move old-school Keynesian thought into academia, and I can easily see the journals publishing as if this crisis was just us “forgetting” some technology.

I think he took down the essay, but he mentioned how bloggers who haven’t taken the first year of Economics PhD coursework, and passed the prelim exam, shouldn’t be writing. I think I’ve pieced together the first year between some coursework and self-study, and here are my thoughts: My very first economics class ever was auditing a graduate macroeconomics class where we went through the Lucas/Stokey “Recursive Methods in Economic Dynamics” and Ljungqvist and Sargent “Recursive Macroeconomic Theory.” I still remember asking my classmates “no seriously, this isn’t what macroeconomics is, is it?” It was like they were training to be electrical engineers, but could do no actual engineering. I still am terrified of what macro graduate students are cooking.

And speaking as someone who has taken graduate coursework in “continental philosophy”, and been walked through the big hits of structural anthropology, Hegelian marxism and Freudian feminism, that graduate macroeconomics class was by far the most ideologically indoctrinating class I’ve ever seen. By a mile. There was like two weeks where the class just copied equations that said, if you speak math, “unemployment insurance makes people weak and slothful” over and over again. Hijacking poor Richard Bellman, the defining metaphor was that observation that if something is on an optimal path any subsection is also an optimal path, so government just needs to get out of the way as the macroeconomy is optimal absent absurdly defined shocks and our 9.6% unemployment is clearly optimal. (An unfair description perhaps, but I wasn’t an actual student. This is a better, though mathy, take on the problems.)

Will Wilkinson:

While I agree with Athreya that economics is very hard, it is not so hard to understand why it is so hard. His argument for why it is so hard –economics is full of phenomena ”pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects”– sounds to my ear like an argument for the unreliability of pathologically oversimplified economic models, and for the proposition that economists will more often than not fail to converge on a consensus position on which the rest of us can rely.

Economics is a grab bag of theories,  just like psychology, sociology, biology, and so on. Any intelligent person with a taste for abstraction and some degree of critical acuity can perfectly well grasp, explain, even cogently criticize most scientific theories. When it comes to formal training, I find that the rigorous standards of argumentation taught in good philosophy programs are useful generally, and certainly have enabled me to detect and explain defects in the arguments of even highly esteemed economists. More specifically, a solid background in the philosophy of science is especially useful when it comes to explaining why many economic theories fail to meet the basic standards of adequate science. Most economists, sad to say, have a woefully poor grasp of the ways the idealized assumptions of their models affect the relevance of those models to the explanation of the real economy and the evaluation of economic policy. And here we arrive at the real the issue: economic policy and who governs.

It seems to have escaped Athreya that this here country is a liberal democracy, and not some kind of bloated Singapore. His response to worries about the rule of experts seems to be that there is no reason to worry because of peer review. Yet as far as I can tell, there is no reason at all to believe that academic peer review in economics favors work relevant to policymaking in the real, embodied political economy as opposed to clever mathematical accounts of phenomena in fictional worlds that bear at best some tenuous structural similarities to this world. I guess it’s not all that surprising when someone who labors inside a technocratic institution with limited democratic accountability fails to wonder whether technocracy on average delivers better policy than democracy. (I don’t know, but I wonder!) And it’s not all that surprising that he would assume that free and open public discussion of economic policy by amateurs threatens to undermine the authority of quiet experts who, as we all know, have a stellar track record of wrangling professional consensus and truth from topics “pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects.”

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

The stupidest part of Athreya’s essay is its title: “Economics is Hard,” which automatically summons up the memory of Teen Talk Barbie’s “Math class is tough” utterance. (Sadly, Wikipedia tells me that Barbie never actually said “math is hard,” and call me a crazy mob-trusting fool, but I’m going to go with the group mind fact check on this one.) The reason why many women were upset with Teen Talk Barbie was obvious: It played into stereotypes that assumed women just couldn’t do the math. So why even bother try?

I will be the first to acknowledge that I stumble flat on my face when I hit the math sections included in cutting-edge economic theory. But that doesn’t mean I am discouraged from trying to learn more, an important part of which means learning who to trust in the cacophony of econoblogospheric debate. Whose articulations of the problem more closely resemble reality, and resonate with history? Who is best able to take the economic data of the day and slot it into a narrative that makes sense? Who is obviously a cynical, ideologically shuttered fool? I marvel every day at the power of the Internet to put me in the middle of conversations between trained economists and a vast universe of interpreters and filters. I once called the econoblogosphere an ongoing graduate-level seminar in economics, open to everyone, and see no reason to back off on that now. Sure, the democratization of information means that there is a lot of silliness out there — Sturgeon’s 90 percent of everything is crap law undoubtedly applies to Internet discussions of economics.

But pay enough attention, do your homework, and you will find yourself more able to educate your more thoroughly on topics relevant to the pressing matters of the moment than ever before.

The good stuff floats to the top. That, I fear, is not likely to be the fate of “Economics is Hard.”

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, New Media

Wonder What Henry Ford Would Say About This?

Micha J. Stone at The Examiner:

Last Friday the annual Dearborn Arab International Festival in Dearborn Michigan became the sight of a mini holy war pitting Christian against Muslim. Accusations are being made that Dearborn police have been enforcing Sharia law after the arrest of four Christian evangelists, and the confiscation of their cameras.

[…]

Thompson alludes to a video made by the group, Acts 17 Apologetics, that went viral last year after recording security at the Arab festival “ruffing up” the Christian missionaries.

Are the Dearborn Police guilty of defending Islam against the Constitution, of bringing Sharia to Michigan? Time will tell.

One thing is certain: Christians and Muslims are equally deluded, both endorse superstitious non-sense. But this is America. It is wrong for Police to confiscate cameras and interrupt our constitutionally protected right to free speech, regardless of who that speech may offend.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Under Sharia law, it is forbidden to proselytize to Muslims, and no Muslim can leave the faith. Dearborn, Michigan, is home to a substantial Muslim population, and there is strong evidence that local authorities now enforce sharia in preference to the Constitution of the United States. Thus this Associated Press story about the arrest of four Christian missionaries that took place on Friday:

Police in the heavily Arab Detroit suburb of Dearborn say they arrested four Christian missionaries for disorderly conduct at an Arab cultural festival.

Police Chief Ron Haddad says his department made the arrests Friday. The four are free on bond.

Here is video of the arrest. The “disorderly conduct” consisted of handing out copies of the Gospel of John outside the festival. Note the police demand that one of the group stop filming the arrest:

Pamela Geller at Human Events:

On Saturday, I got this message from David Wood of Acts 17: “Muslims threatened to kill Nabeel [Qureshi, an ex-Muslim and David’s colleague] and me if we showed up again at Arab Fest in Dearborn, so we went there yesterday. They didn’t kill us. Instead, police arrested us and we got to spend a night in jail (along with two others who were video recording us).”

Wondering if they were arrested for passing out fliers in defiance of the ban, I asked David about the ban. He answered, “Yes, we’re banned from handing out literature, but we didn’t do that. We followed the rules, and still got thrown in jail. They flat out lied about us. We can prove they lied with the video footage (just like last year), but the police took our cameras and won’t let us have the footage. There’s major oppression of anyone who criticizes Islam.”

Last year, Nabeel, David and friends went to the Arab Festival and filmed a video that went viral. It is amazing to see in that video what happened in America. It was free speech under siege.

Nabeel and David were harassed and intimidated, aided and abetted by law enforcement. Said David and Nabeel: “The conclusion of this video is a mob of festival security attacking our cameras, pushing us back, kicking our legs, and lying to the police. We ask you, is it a coincidence that the city with the highest percentage of Muslims in the United States is the city where Christianity is not allowed to be represented (let alone preached) on a public sidewalk?”

The video was shocking because it exposed the lack of freedoms for non-Muslims in America where Islam is involved. Muslims are given special rights, treated as a special class that gets special treatment.

mailloux at Redstate:

I had the great pleasure of seeing Pope John Paul II in 1993 during the World Youth Day events held in Denver, Colorado. I have fond memories of that time, for it was a very moving and influential experience.

But, it was also punctuated by debate. On many street corners anti-Catholic groups were handing out literature to the throngs of Catholic pilgrims who were making their way from event to event. The anti-Catholic groups were actively proselytizing by engaging World Youth Day participants in conversations both civil and not so civil.

No one in authority stopped the non-Catholic groups from their efforts to proselytize the Catholic pilgrims (many of which were high school and college age). And, speaking as a Catholic who was at the event, I’m glad for that. I took the literature, read it, and engaged in conversations. For goodness sake, they were handing me a pamphlet, not pointing a gun at me. They told me I was going to hell by virtue of being Catholic. I disagreed and stated my case as to why. There was freedom here. There were spirited conversations. There were challenges and questions proposed, some fair and some patently unfair. You could choose to engage in debate or you could choose not to. There was no, as far as I could tell, disorderly conduct. We, both the Catholics and the anti-Catholics, were Americans exercising our rights to free expression and freedom of religion.

Fast forward now to 2010, to Dearborn, Michigan, where an Arab Cultural Festival was recently held … a group of 3 Christians stood outside of the festival grounds and peacefully handed out the Gospel of John presented in both English and Arabic. They did not harass. They did not throw about epithets. They simply handed out a book for anyone willing to take one.

Allah Pundit:

Via Powerline, so insane is this that I’m paranoid there’s a key detail missing somewhere that might explain the whole thing. Could the Christians have been trespassing on private property, maybe? Sure doesn’t look like it, and in any case, they weren’t arrested for trespassing. They were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” which apparently now extends to the offense of offering religious literature to someone who might not want it.

If this is what it looks like, replete with cops confiscating video cameras to keep what happened off the record, it’s one of the most ridiculous First Amendment violations you’ll ever see.

[…]

Here’s the Thomas More Center’s press release, which notes that there was trouble at last year’s Dearborn Arab festival too. Evidently the cops were worried that the presence of Christian lit at a mostly Muslim event might produce some “excitement,” so they solved the problem by punishing the party that tried to peacefully exercise its rights. Note to the defendants: Don’t forget to ask for damages. A lot of damages.


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