Category Archives: Look About

Ezra Klein And The Seeds Of Cynicism

One of Ezra’s regular commenters is running for Congress, and had this to say:

You are way off, Ezra. The time breakdown on fundraising during a campaign is more like 50-70%. It’s absolutely horrifying. I used to be a policy wonk who could talk the most minute details of big bills and who actually read most of the health care bill. Now that I’m running in the XXXX XXXX (Dem primary), I spend all my time meeting with prospective donors and cold-calling past Dem donors. It’s sad that when I’m the closest I’ve ever been to shaping policy, I’m also spending the least time in the past decade focused on immersing myself in it.

I’m not surprised. I long ago lost faith in the system, and have said for a very long time that it is structurally incapable of fixing its problems. The more I study (and having just finished Hayek’s “The Fatal Conceit” I’ve studied from the master), I think that fundamentally the problem is not solvable.

But Ezra hasn’t reached that point yet. He’s still wondering why the power-brokers don’t want to break down the system which gives them power:

What I can’t understand, though, is why the drumbeat for public funding of elections isn’t loudest within Congress itself. After all, congresspeople regularly say that they hate this part of the job. When they retire, they complain about it constantly. And yet, they don’t seem particularly interested in changing it, even though they would be the most direct beneficiaries. I guess the answer is that once you’ve constructed a fundraising network you have an enormous advantage over competitors who have to do all that work from scratch, and so blocking campaign finance reform makes continued reelection more likely. But can that really be worth the day-to-day misery?

Now, the difference between Ezra Klein and I in this case is hope. He has hope — albeit false hope — that the system is fixable. I’ve lost that hope and think it’s just time to stop asking the system to fix problems in the first place.

Michael Cannon of Cato is a healthcare buff and more of a regular foe of Ezra Klein, and he has predicted that “Ezra Klein will die a libertarian. And it won’t be a deathbed conversion, either.” There may come the day when he battles so hard — in vain — to fix the system that he realizes that he’s tilting at windmills. Perhaps Cannon is correct. Klein is young enough — and smart enough — to learn that yes, in fact, politicians care so much about retaining their power that they’ll endure all sorts of misery to continue to “serve”. Raised in close view of the dysfunctional government of California, and now seeing the dysfunction of the Senate first-hand in the health-care debate, he’s unlikely to maintain his faith much longer.

Klein approaches the healthcare debate much the same way that I once advocated for the FairTax. He assumes that the issue is important enough to transcend politics and interest groups. He assumes not only that Congress can create a fair, compassionate, cost-effective government run system without unnecessary rationing, but also that they’ll actually ignore all their incentives to saddle it with restrictions, appease interest groups, and throw so many government (& union) provisions into the works to push the cost into the stratosphere. Much like I once thought that the idea of the FairTax was so compelling that Congress would respond to voters and common sense and act counter to their own electoral interests to enact it “as written”. He’ll be proven wrong, of course. My only hope is that it doesn’t require such a monstrosity to be enacted to make him see the error of his ways.

Gary Johnson – Who Is He And Why Should I Care?

It’s a good question. He’s the former governor of New Mexico, but given that I can count the number of times I’ve visited that fine state (and their excellent green chiles) on one hand, that means little to me. So why would I care about Gary Johnson?

Well, the sad answer is that we live in a never-ending campaign where the groundwork for a presidential run begins to be laid days after the election of the last guy. As much as I hate politics and categorically distrust politicians — I believe that no single elected official can stop the US train from barreling off the cliffs in the [relatively near] future — I do think that the right politician might at least delay that inevitable outcome.

Is Gary Johnson that politician? I’m not sure. I know very little about him. What I do know is that many people who I’ve long respected in the pro-liberty movement are excited about him. An even cursory reading of his history suggests that he’s about as libertarian-leaning as one can expect from a major-party politician, and he’s been described as a “Ron Paul Republican”. He may be running for President in 2012, and given some of the prominent alternatives (Palin, Tax Hike Mike, Romney) might be the best hope for liberty.

So that’s all well and good, but like me, you’re probably wondering “How can I learn more about Gary Johnson?” Well, our good friends over at United Liberty just interviewed Gary for their podcast on many prominent political issues of the day. Head over for a listen. After all, 2012 is only three years away!

Hey Ezra, Strawman Much?

Ahh, the infamous strawman. Take one aspect of an argument, assume it is not part of a cohesive whole, and argue against it as if it negates everything else at hand. I.e. libertarians and conservatives argue that capping drug prices just MIGHT reduce drug innovation, and Ezra Klein acts as if we’d keep everything else equal in the system:

For a long time, I took questions about stifling innovation very seriously. So did a lot of liberals. But then I realized that the people making those arguments wanted to do things like means-test Medicare, or increase cost-sharing across the system, and generally reduce costs in this or that way, which would cut innovation in exactly the same way that single-payer would hypothetically cut innovation: by reducing profits.

I also found that I couldn’t get an answer to a very simple question: What level of spending on health care was optimal for innovation? Should we double spending? Triple it? Cut it by 10 percent? Simply give a larger portion of it to drug and device manufacturers? I’d be interested in a proposal meant to maximize medical innovation. I’ve not yet seen one.

It turned out that concerns about innovation weren’t really about innovation at all. They were just about attacking universal health care ideas of a certain sort. Which is why I stopped taking them seriously.

No libertarian in the world will argue that government spending can’t achieve certain goals. After all, government spending got us to the moon. If you set the goal of American society, as Kennedy did, as getting to the moon within a decade, then you forcibly take the money to pay for the goal [since Americans weren’t exactly going there of their own accord], you can probably get there.

Likewise, if government really put its mind to drastically advancing medical innovation, and threw out, say, $50B a year for drug research to stem the growth of most types of cancer, I’ll bet within two decades they might have results. While money doesn’t exactly solve everything, government subsidies can certainly accelerate development. Granted, that cancer research might be at the expense of heart disease research, and AIDS research, and diabetes research, and just about everything else [excepting penis enlargement research, of course, because that’s always a growth industry].

But now I’m getting away from the point. Why is this a strawman? Because opponents to gov’t healthcare view the death of medical innovation as one bad side effect of a wider bad policy, not the most important argument against gov’t healthcare.

Look at it this way. We don’t argue that there is no innovation in the digital music player industry because gov’t doesn’t spend enough. After all, we’ve got all different flavors of iPods, the new Zune, all manner of knockoff players and tiny upstarts, not to mention the fact that just about every new cellphone or car stereo can play MP3’s. Ten years ago, when I was in college, MP3’s were limited to those of us savvy enough to navigate Napster, hook our computers up to our stereos, and had a fast enough internet connection to make the whole deal worthwhile. Today MP3 players are ubiquitous and digital music threatens to destroy the entire existing business model of music production.

I’m not going to address the conservative rebuttals, but I’ll take a look at this from a libertarian perspective. Libertarians aren’t opposed to profits. We are not opposed to competition. We are not opposed to market-based prices that may, in some cases, not cover the costs of drug development. We don’t view medical innovation as a simple question of “should WE spend X or 2X or 3X?” Not because we don’t have an opinion on optimal spending — we may or may not — but because we oppose to the WE. We implies collective action, and usually implies forced collective action.

The WE, of course, has a lot of unintended consequences to it. If the WE becomes too large [cough]medicare[/cough], it tends to crowd out private spending. When private spending is crowded out, prices become opaque. They cease to be a clear sign of market value and cease to be a proper incentive for producers. As I said above, $50B a year in research money would entice quite a few drugmakers to focus R&D onto cancer. But is that the optimal amount to spend? Would that be useful or wasteful? What is the opportunity cost of pulling that money out of the economy through taxation and redistributing it through the government? All these questions distort the free market, and when you try to distort the free market you end up with problems.

There are two SIGNIFICANT government distortions specifically into drugs: the patent scheme and the FDA.

The FDA:

Simply put, the FDA’s job is to restrict access to medicine until in meets very stringent guidelines. The doctrinaire libertarian position on the FDA is that it needlessly delays medicine that has some efficacy and takes away freedom of choice from individuals who may wish to take personal risks by purchasing that medicine despite the FDA’s lack of recognition.

The doctrinaire libertarian position is a moral position on individual choice, but the economic case is much simpler and stronger. FDA regulation artificially raises the cost of creating new medicines. If your R&D division knows that of all the medicines they research, only 40% will be effective, and only 10% will be approved through FDA trials, you know that 75% of effective drugs they create cannot be purchased. This means that they must more than double the price of drugs to cover R&D on those which wouldn’t be effective, and then quadruple the price beyond that for those which would have been effective but not meet FDA approval. Prices charged for drugs are dependent as much on covering the cost of failure as the cost of success.

Patents:

From a doctrinaire libertarian perspective, you can go two ways on patents. First is that intellectual property isn’t property, and patents are simply government distortion into the market that should be distorted. I like the argument, but even as a doctrinaire libertarian, I’m not far enough behind the anti-IP program to defend it (see mises.org for that one). The opposite (yet still doctrinaire libertarian) argument is that intellectual property should not be arbitrarily time-limited by the government, and that the patent protection time is too short.

The second argument is an explanation for the price of drugs. When you develop a new drug, have to recoup the development & testing costs of that drug, need to recoup all the development costs of the failed drugs, you need to forecast the expected use of that drug between the time it launches and the time your patent expires. Once that patent expires, you’re fighting generics for market share. If you think that 10,000 people per year might need your drug, and you have patent protection for 5 years, you know what price you need to set to recoup your investment and make a profit. If your patent protection extends for 10 years, though, you can set the price at roughly 1/2 the level and still make your profit.

Either way, from an economic standpoint the extension of patent protection might reduce costs and improve pharmaceutical innovation. Reducing patent protection might increase short-term costs (reducing them long-term) but at the expense of pharmaceutical innovation. There are trade-offs and issues no matter what you do.

The solution:

Frankly, the solution isn’t to ask what WE should spend on health care or medicine, just as WE don’t ask what WE should spend for iPods, HDTV’s, heads of lettuce or pickup trucks. The difference is that in those products, we have a functional market. In a functional market, competition and choice lead to efficiency and an optimal mix of innovation vs. price.

The solution is NOT price controls. Economic history shows that price controls lead to shortages.

The solution is NOT rationing. Rationing doesn’t control prices but controls expenditures (unit volume). Rationing increases prices and/or leads to shortages.

The doctrinaire libertarian solution is to reduce the role of the FDA and put more responsibility on the individual to choose health care options, and to ensure that intellectual property laws are set optimally to protect innovation. The free market is known for reducing prices and increasing innovation. Perhaps we should have more of this “free market” thing.
» Read more

Libertarianism Explained

From Coyote Blog:

Democrats: The people in power can’t be trusted.  You need to remove them and put our guys in charge

Republicans: The people in power can’t be trusted.  You need to remove them and put our guys in charge

libertarians: People in power can’t be trusted.  You need to remove their power and be in charge of your own damn self

Yep, that about sums it up.

Newspapers Report Green Shoots — In Sep 2008?

Want a laugh? Well go back one year to this column, and ruminate on whether it could be possible for the author to be any more wrong…

There have been 11 recessions since the Great Depression. And we’re nowhere close to being in the 12th one now. This isn’t just a matter of opinion. Words — even words as seemingly subjective as “recession” — have meaning.

Whatever the political outcome this year, hopefully this will prove to be yet another instance of that iron law of economics and markets: The sentiment of the majority is always wrong at key turning points. And the majority is plenty pessimistic right now. That suggests that we’re on the brink not of recession, but of accelerating prosperity.

Yes, folks, that was Sep 14, 2008!

He goes on to talk about how employment, industrial production, and the housing market really aren’t that bad and not in for anything severe.

I’m all for optimism. Any chance I can get some of whatever Luskin was smokin’?

I think Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture puts it best:

If you had a time machine, knew the future, and purposefully tried to write something where every word was literally wrong, you could not have done a better job.

Go read the whole thing. Then decide whether you can take the MSM’s announcement of green shoots seriously.

Radley Balko Responds To Commenters

Radley Balko wrote a post explaining why the boycott of Whole Foods, a company that does everything the left wants employers to do for their employees and community, was moronic. He was linked by a few higher-profile lefty sites, and attracted some pretty hardcore vitriol.

So he responded. Or, more accurately, he reached out through his computer screen and pimp-slapped his critics with a barrage of snark-laden argument.

Go and read, it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

Popular Mechanics Separates CSI Fact from CSI Fiction

CSI, Forensic Files, The First 48 and other television programs of this genre are among my favorites. Investigators study a crime scene and learn all sorts of valuable information from blood spatter, shoe prints, tire marks, hair fibers, ballistics, and trace evidence. We are to believe that “the evidence doesn’t lie” and that these noble CSI crusaders seek only the truth and determine this truth by their many years of expertise in all areas of science.

That is what we are to believe but is this reliance on forensic science in solving crimes misplaced? The cover story in the August 2009 article of Popular Mechanics makes the argument that the “science” in forensic science isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

On television and in the movies, forensic examiners unravel difficult cases with a combination of scientific acumen, cutting-edge technology and dogged persistence. The gee-whiz wonder of it all has spawned its own media-age legal phenomenon known as the “CSI effect.” Jurors routinely afford confident scientific experts an almost mythic infallibility because they evoke the bold characters from crime dramas. The real world of forensic science, however, is far different. America’s forensic labs are overburdened, understaffed and under intense pressure from prosecutors to produce results. According to a 2005 study by the Department of Justice, the average lab has a backlog of 401 requests for services. Plus, several state and city forensic departments have been racked by scandals involving mishandled evidence and outright fraud.

But criminal forensics has a deeper problem of basic validity. Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sound compelling in the courtroom, but much of the “science” behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations. Many well-established forms of evidence are the product of highly subjective analysis by people with minimal credentials—according to the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, no advanced degree is required for a career in forensics. And even the most experienced and respected professionals can come to inaccurate conclusions, because the body of research behind the majority of the forensic sciences is incomplete, and the established methodologies are often inexact. “There is no scientific foundation for it,” says Arizona State University law professor Michael Saks. “As you begin to unpack it you find it’s a lot of loosey-goosey stuff.”

This kind of pokes holes into the notion that the evidence doesn’t lie.

Here’s the money quote of the whole article:

[The National Academy of Science report concerning the state of forensic science used in the criminal justice system] specifically noted that apart from DNA, there is not a single forensic discipline that has been proven “with a high degree of certainty” to be able to match a piece of evidence to a suspect.

That’s right; according to the NAS report, ballistics, trace evidence, and even finger print analysis are far from perfect.

A 2006 study by the University of Southampton in England asked six veteran fingerprint examiners to study prints taken from actual criminal cases. The experts were not told that they had previously examined the same prints. The researchers’ goal was to determine if contextual information—for example, some prints included a notation that the suspect had already confessed—would affect the results. But the experiment revealed a far more serious problem: The analyses of fingerprint examiners were often inconsistent regardless of context. Only two of the six experts reached the same conclusions on second examination as they had on the first.

Ballistics has similar flaws. A subsection of tool-mark analysis, ballistics matching is predicated on the theory that when a bullet is fired, unique marks are left on the slug by the barrel of the gun. Consequently, two bullets fired from the same gun should bear the identical marks. Yet there are no accepted standards for what constitutes a match between bullets. Juries are left to trust expert witnesses. “‘I know it when I see it’ is often an acceptable response,” says Adina Schwartz, a law professor and ballistics expert with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The good news, according to the article, is that there are certain forensic techniques which are considered good science:

Techniques that grew out of organic chemistry and microbiology have a strong scientific foundation. For example, chromatography, a method for separating complex mixtures, enables examiners to identify chemical substances in bodily fluids—evidence vital to many drug cases. The evolution of DNA analysis, in particular, has set a new scientific standard for forensic evidence. But it also demonstrates that good science takes time.

So should these other methods which do not have a strong scientific foundation all be junked? Not even the critics of these methods in this article are willing to go that far. The article goes on to explain that these methods should be explained in their proper context to jurors (i.e. strengths and weaknesses, variables which can affect the results, and whether the evidence is exclusionary or qualified supporting evidence, etc.). All of this should be disclosed up front rather than relying on a defense attorney who likely does not have a background in forensic science to identify each problem with the presentation of the evidence.

Of course with the damning NAS report, others like it, and more exposure to the weaknesses of forensic science used in the courtroom by mainstream publications like Popular Mechanics, criminal defense lawyers everywhere now have this in their arsenal to create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors until expert witnesses are required to give full disclosure regarding the techniques.

Obesity! (Women And Minorities Hardest Hit)

Chalk this one up to the sloppy language and anthropomorphism. Marc Ambinder is responding to points Megan McArdle made about obesity, and he takes a few steps too far (via Democracy in America):

If you tend to blame individuals for their choices, then your answer will be no. But the crucial fact is that obesity does not treat everyone equally. It discriminates according to status, class and geography.

Obesity does not discriminate. Obesity is not a virus, it is not a sentient bacteria targeting the poor. Obesity is a non-contagious condition. Obesity doesn’t “treat everyone” unequally.

The fact is that some groups are disproportionately obese. And there are countless reasons for this, whether genetic, educational, environmental, socioeconomic, etc. To try to discuss those reasons would be well beyond my depth. But from a rhetorical standpoint, it has to be made clear that anthropomorphizing a condition like obesity doesn’t make Marc’s point any stronger.

This may be criticized as nit-picking, and potentially justifiably so. Sloppy language, though, encourages sloppy thinking. That’s the last thing we need in this health care debate.

Kevin Drum Astonished That People Disproportionately Like Subsidized Stuff

Satisfaction levels of Medicare beneficiaries are pretty high. This surprises Kevin Drum:

There’s a pretty obvious political dynamic that’s responsible for this. Seniors, who actually use Medicare, know perfectly well that it’s a good program. They can see any doctor they want, they get care when they need it, and the quality of service is high. So why do younger Americans have such a negative attitude toward Medicare?

Answer: because conservative politicians have been bellowing for years about what a terrible program it is. And since younger workers don’t actually use it themselves, the bellowing works. They figure it must suck.

In reality, Medicare works fine. Not perfectly, but fine. It offers service at least as good as private insurance despite serving the highest-risk population there is, and it does at least as good a job of reining in costs — slightly better, in fact. Sure, it could be improved, but it’s already probably better than the employer insurance that you have right now. I’d switch in a second if I could.

Medicare isn’t a bad system at providing medical care. Most doctors/hospitals accept it, as they typically know that they’re not going to get into fights with the government over whether or not they’ll get paid. Seniors thus don’t have a lot to worry about — they can go to the doctor whenever they need and get the care they require.

All that, for a Medicare Part B premium of a mere $96.40 per month. That’s roughly 1/10th of the premium my [large multinational] employer pays for my healthcare, and smaller than the additional portion I pay out-of-pocket for coverage of my wife and kids.

Does anyone think that the $96.40 premium covers the cost of insuring the average senior? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t be calling it an “entitlement” or worrying about the unfunded liabilities of Medicare going out over the next few decades. We wouldn’t be getting hit as workers with 2.9% of our incomes taken in taxes to pay for the Medicare system.

So are seniors pleased with the system they have? They get cheap premiums and adequate care, all on the backs of the taxpayers. Who wouldn’t be pleased?

“The Free Market In Action”

Kevin Drum observes the lobbying fight between merchants and credit card companies. Card companies charge fees to merchants for the ability to accept cards, but if competition makes them unable to fully pass those fees along, they end up eating out of profit margins. So merchants want to get Congress to slap restrictions an the card companies to reduce fees.

So what does Kevin Drum do? He champions the “free” market! (Bold added, italics original.)

In fact, I’d go further: let’s kill two birds with one stone and just abolish interchange fees altogether. Card companies would then be forced to charge higher annual fees to credit card users — fees that (a) would fall solely on the people actually using credit cards and (b) would make it obvious just how much credit cards actually cost. That strikes me as an excellent idea. Credit cards aren’t a free lunch, and there’s no reason that consumers should be fooled into thinking they are.

And if that means consumers end up using credit cards less — well, what’s wrong with that? It’s the free market in action.

So right now we have a position of freedom: credit card companies compete with each other on low annual fees and other benefits. They can afford to do this by charging merchants interchange fees, who must weigh the costs of the fees with the potential lost business by not accepting cards. It’s not a nice system for the merchants, but they can walk away from the cards if they want (and some do so, annoyingly IMHO).

So merchants want to run to Congress to slap regulations on the companies. And Kevin Drum wants to go one step farther and — with the force of government — remove the fees entirely.

He then suggests that when the government has FORCED the new business model upon merchants and card companies, changes in behavior of card users are “the free market in action.”

It is a market in action, Mr. Drum, but it’s certainly not a free one.

Discretionary?

cbo-spending

Ezra Klein says there’s we shouldn’t act as if defense spending (considered discretionary in the budget) in unable to be cut:

My friend Chris Hayes likes to say that “non-defense discretionary spending” is the most pernicious phrase in Washington. It means, essentially, that there’s spending, which we can cut, and then there’s defense spending, which we cannot cut, and shouldn’t even talk about. Defense spending, however, accounts for about 20 percent of federal dollars. Add in the wars of the past few years and it’s accounted for even more than that. Saying you can’t touch defense spending is like going on a diet but letting the milk industry say that you can’t cut back on dairy.

There aren’t “defense dollars” and then “non-defense dollars.” There are only dollars, and we need to figure out how best to use them.

Hmm… Defense spending is 20% of the budget. And I might find myself in agreement with Klein that perhaps we can defend our nation for a hell of a lot less money than that.

But there’s another distinction here. “Discretionary”. Klein doesn’t ever address the fact that this is an antonym (in the case of a federal budget). There are two types of spending. “Discretionary” and “entitlement”. And entitlement spending is more than twice as large as “non-defense discretionary spending”.

Klein says “there aren’t ‘defense’ and ‘non-defense dollars'” — only dollars. Well, if 42% of our budget is entitlement spending — and that’s a number that’s going to rise significantly with Obamacare — why is it that we should assume that nothing there can or should be cut? You want to put defense spending on the chopping block, Ezra? I’m down with that. I’ll see your proposition and raise you entitlement spending. You ready to call, or are you just bluffing?

United Liberty

I wanted to give a shout out to co-blogger Jason Pye, who is currently editor of UnitedLiberty.org, a [fairly] new libertarian group blog.

United Liberty is, much like The Liberty Papers, a “big-tent” libertarian site. They’ll run the gamut from anarcho-capitalists to Ron Paul Republibertarians. They include portions of their site for “headlines” and other news-related items, and I’m sure they’ll have great analysis, as Jason will be posting somewhat over there, and I’ve seen a few posts from Chris Moody of Cato and our own Doug Mataconis. As Jason says, “We want to be inclusive, not exclusive. If you believe in liberty, you have a home at UL.”

When you get a chance, head over and check it out. In addition, they do have some openings for contributors, so if you’re spilling over with things to say in support of liberty but don’t have a venue, let him know.

One Form Is Not The Same As Another

Kevin Drum, on time filling out forms:

So once you do your taxes you only have about two additional hours of government form filling out to do each year. To be honest, that’s less than I would have guessed — but that’s probably because I’ve been fooled by the fantastic increase in private sector forms that make up the unseen superstructure of the internet age. Here’s my guess for me personally: one hour spent filling out government forms in 2008 (an accountant does our taxes) and, oh, let’s say 10,000 hours spent filling out various annoying and idiotically designed online forms that allow me to buy things, access sites, write blog comments, take stupid quizzes, and order new services that allow me to continue living my convenient 21st century net-centric life.

OK, maybe not 10,000 hours. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend 30-40 hours a year filling out various online forms for one thing or another. How about you?

So let’s see here… He pays an accountant to do his taxes, but not to fill out forms so he can “take stupid quizzes”.

Why would that be?

My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that if he fills out the tax form wrong, the state can throw him in jail.

Because, you know, if you don’t like online forms to do things like “write blog comments”, it’s pretty easy to opt out. That’s kinda why I don’t comment on blogs that require me to register, because frankly I don’t want to waste that time.

It’s a little different than forms that I must fill out to, you know, WORK (and pay income tax) or DRIVE.

Drum wants to equate private-sector annoyance with that of government. But last time I checked, TypeKey doesn’t have the power to incarcerate me. I’d say that kinda means I don’t have to fill out their form, doesn’t it?

Kevin Drum on Doha

Kevin Drum actually makes sense on this one!

Trade talks aren’t quite that bad. But they’re close. The Doha round in particular lives or dies based on the willingness of rich nations to substantially reduce tariffs and subsidies on agricultural products, and seriously, what are the odds of that? We can’t even have a serious discussion about reducing subsidies on corn ethanol, possibly the stupidest use of taxpayer dollars in the past century, let alone reducing farm support payments to ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland. Meanwhile, the European attitude toward farming makes ours look positively levelheaded and beneficient. Paris would probably go up in flames if EU farm payments were ever rationalized.

So: what are the odds of making progress on agricultural issues? Especially these days, you’d need scientific notation to express it properly. Might as well wish for a pony instead.

He makes sense… And yet…

…and yet he’ll still put the same idiots in charge of agriculture in charge of our health care system.

And he doesn’t see the inconsistency in such a position.

The Trouble With Boston

The parent company of the Boston Globe newspaper, the New York Times; has threatened to shut the Globe down if they cannot get at least $20 million in savings out of the paper for next year.

[The story] quoted an unnamed person saying that in the meeting, management said that without the concessions, The Globe would lose $85 million in 2009.

The Times Company chairman, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and Catherine J. Mathis, chief spokeswoman for the company, each declined to comment or confirm the article.

The company paid $1.1 billion for The Globe in 1993, the highest price ever paid for a single American newspaper, and it was highly profitable through that decade. But in recent years, the erosion of advertising and newspaper circulation has been more severe in the Boston area than in most of the country.

Advertising revenue for the industry fell 16.6 percent in 2008, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The Times Company also wants to end a provision in The Globe’s contracts that gives certain employees lifetime job guarantees.

Well, first of all, seeking $20 million in cuts, in a paper that is losing $85 million a year seems… Absurdly inadequate I think is the phrase I’m looking for?

Also the fact that there are still lifetime job guarantees in today’s economy ought to be a pretty strong indicator of a company that isn’t exactly caught up to the realities of business today.

Though it’s not mentioned in the story, I happen to know those lifetime guarantees are printers union jobs. I’ve known a few people who had them. They also had (and have) RIDICULOUS pensions as well. People retiring at 55 (30 years as a master printer plus 7 years as an apprentice and journeyman, hired on right out of highschool) with 120% inflation indexed pensions and full gold plated medical for life.

Any concession they wrung on those lifetime guarantees would almost certainly NOT include losing those pensions and medical benefits of course.

Aside from the structural problems however, the article credits the decline in advertising revenues; saying only that the Boston market was harder hit than New York.

Really? Because other papers in the market aren’t seeing nearly the decline that the Globe is…

In fact, the Globe has been in decline faster and steeper than the other papers in the region, for about 16 years now. In 2008 the Globe’s average weekday circulation fell to 350,605, down from 382,503, or 8.3 percent. Sunday circulation fell 6.5 percent to 525,959.

The competing newspapers for the Boston Area, the Boston Herald, and the Patriot Ledger (and to a lesser extent, a smaller local paper, “The Enterprise”), are doing alright… as much as any newspaper is anyway. Both are down about 4%, HALF the decline of the Globe; and counter to the general trend in the newspaper business (actually in most any business) of the second and third papers in a market (which they are) losing more circulation in a downturn than the market leader.

The important thing there is, the Herald and Ledger are both TRULY local; and more conservative than the Globe, especially on social issues. Though they are now owned by the same publisher (as of 2006, The Enterprise), they maintain their respective moderate center right, and moderate center left stances.

In addition to the general downturn in newspapers over the past 20 years, the Globe has lost more and more circulation, as it has moved further and further left; and especially as it has been controlled more and more by the editorial voice and opinions of the NY Times corporation.

The Globe is very clearly a left newspaper. They spent most of their 137 year history as a center left paper, drifting gradually more to the left since the depression; until they turned SHARPLY left, with the takeover by the NY Times (though they are in fact still not as far left as the Times).

Ok, Boston’s something like the tenth most liberal major city in America, in the second most liberal state* right?

Well… Not really.

Massachusetts has a reputation as a very liberal state, and Boston a very liberal city; and to an extent that’s true. Certainly it is reflected in the states voting record, and much of it’s congressional contingent.

However, regarding Massachusetts as a liberal stronghold, fails to take into account the true nature of the states liberalism.

The vast majority of the Boston area is blue collar, and low level white collar, union, catholic, old line northeast democrats; with a significant minority of what we used to call Boston Brahmin democrats (rich, socially and politically conservative on a personal basis; but they support liberal politicians to seem “progressive”, to make sure “the right people” run things, and because democrats are easier to buy off).

Outside of the immediate Boston area, Massachusetts is basically politically identical to western Pennsylvania. It’s union Democrats, and center right Republicans; pro gun, pro hunting, pro business, and anti-leftist. Hell, still today, Western Massachusetts, and the adjoining parts of Connecticut and New York, are the firearms manufacturing capital of the western world.

I was born and raised in Boston, and just south of it. I know it. I lived it for more than 20 years (combined). I was born in Southie’ and have lived in Southie, Roslindale, West Roxubry, Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton, Quincy, Canton, Randolph, Newton, Dover, and Marlborough (not in that order).

I’m Boston Irish; with an Irish immigrant father, and a second generation mother. We’re walking stereotypes. My family are all either cops, criminals, lawyers, politicians, teachers, nurses, firemen, civil servants, or tradesmen (or sometimes more than one of the above). Blue collar and low level white collar, social and political conservative, Democrats (well… I’ve got an aunt and an uncle who are ridiculous lefties, and a pair of uncles who are to the right of Pat Buchannan… but they’re outliers).

Let me tell you, people from the area may vote Democrat; but they aren’t anything like the Democrats in San Francisco or LA.

What Boston area Democrats are, is machine voters. Democrats bring back more pork, more jobs, grant more favors etc…

If you want to be a part of the machine, you become a democrat, that’s how it is.

If you want a building permit, you go to your cousin, the selectman, and he talks to the zoning commissioner for you. Of course, all the selectmen for your area are democrats. If you want a construction contract, you go to the public works commissioner, your brother in laws old friend; also a Democrat. In fact all the public commissioners are Democrats too.

That’s how it is.

These folks aren’t leftists by any stretch, and in fact aren’t particularly socially liberal.

Just ask a gay man from Boston how easy it was to come out; or BE out, outside of downtown, Newton, Cambridge, and Brookline. Ask him if he would walk in Southie alone at night; or EVER hand in hand with his boyfriend.

So when the Globe is run by clearly anti-American, anti-religious, anti-catholic, anti-israel, pro-islam, New Yorkers (even though it has local editorial and reporting staff)… Well, people just don’t like it.

The Herald on the other hand does just fine with a center right viewpoint, a great sports page, a strong focus on being local issues, and criticism of Washington, no matter who is in power.

Funny enough, that suits Bostonians just about right.

* An aside for those of you counting more liberal cities and states: San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, New York and Newark (not necessarily in order); and for states, California.

HT: Doug Mataconis

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Live Chat With Mayor Cheye Calvo Tonight @ 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) @ The Agitator

Check in this Thursday night at 8pm ET with your questions for Cheye Calvo, the Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor who was subject to a violent, botched drug raid last year.

Calvo’s pushing legislation that would bring transparency to how Maryland’s police departments use their SWAT teams.

I’m hoping to be home in time to participate in this chat because I am very interested in what Mayor Calvo has to say. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the mayor spoke at a Cato Policy Forum on September 12, 2008. The full 90 minute podcast can be downloaded here; the podcast below is a much shorter (just under 9 minutes) interview with the mayor following the Cato event.

Post Chat Report:
The chat with Mayor Calvo ended just a few minutes ago. The mayor stayed about a half hour over the scheduled chat to answer more questions from participants. I managed to have a couple of questions answered and the other questions which were asked were also very good. The chat was very informative and worthwhile. Readers who would like to read the full chat can click here.

The mayor answered questions about his ordeal with the SWAT team raiding his home as well as some legislation he is pushing in the State of Maryland. The proposed legislation would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the Attorney General, local officials and the general public. These reports would provide the number of raids, general locations, purpose, authorization, and results of raids. The overall goal is to provide additional oversight.

For more information about this legislation and how you can help, go to MakeMarylandGreat.com.

Kevin Drum Completely Blows It On Payroll Tax Cut

Kevin Drum, responding to Matt Yglesias’ suggestion that a payroll tax cut would be worthwhile in the “stimulus” bill:

Agreed, but isn’t the $500/$1000 refundable tax credit in the current package essentially the same thing? Technically it’s a credit against income tax, but in practice, since it’s refundable, it’s a flat tax rebate for everyone who’s employed, which makes it roughly the same as a temporary payroll tax cut. The only real difference is that a flat tax credit is relatively more generous to the working poor than a payroll tax cut — which is a good thing — and internally it gets charged to the general fund rather than the Social Security trust fund — which doesn’t matter one way or the other. What’s not to like?

Okay, let me count the ways…

1) As a matter of stimulus, this is far from immediate. Any impact won’t be felt until at least March/April 2010. It’s not money in peoples’ pockets now, it’s a tax provision that’s pushed out into the future. An immediate cut in payroll taxes puts money in peoples’ pockets today — and being “found money” — is more likely to be spent quickly.

2) $500/$1000 isn’t that much. While he lauds it’s effect on the working poor, those of us with higher incomes paying payroll taxes are paying far more than that. Again, if you want “stimulus”, I can stimulate the economy a lot more with $3000-4000 in my pocket than I can with $1000.

3) He discounts the effect of reducing they employer’s portion of payroll taxes. If an employer can save 6% per employee (Social Security, not counting Medicare) right up front, that may make it a lot easier to keep those marginal employees on the payroll. We’re talking about a significant employer savings.

So why is a payroll tax holiday a lot better than the refundable tax credit? It’s immediate, it gets money into the economy now, it’s larger, and it helps retain jobs. None of these things are true of the refundable tax credit. So what’s not to like?

The Silver Lining Of Libertarianism

Kevin Drum wonders why Republicans are recalcitrant obstructionists:

Republican senators have a modest proposal for Hilda Solis: that if she’s confirmed as Labor Secretary, she recuse herself from any advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act.

That’s quite the suggestion. Rather like asking Robert Gates not to advocate for the armed forces, or Judd Gregg not to champion American business, or President Obama’s environmental picks not to support stricter fuel-efficiency standards. But then, Republicans’ opposition to unions is close to clinically pathological.

These guys just don’t know when to quit. Don’t they ever get embarrassed by this stuff?

You know, one of the advantages to being a libertarian is that I’ll never have to complete intellectual backflips to support my guys playing political games while then deriding my opponents’ guys for playing political games. Changing your morality to support your guys in power isn’t necessary when you’ll never have guys in power.

1 2 3 4