• New Obamacare Application Demonstrates the Power of Framing


    You may have heard that after receiving mountains of criticism for its 21-page first draft, HHS released a new, streamlined application form for Obamacare today. So, hooray, right? Sort of. Here’s my take on the original form:

    In fairness, there’s a single 2-page section you have to fill out, and then there are five more 2-page sections for other members of your family. So sure, it might be long if you have a big family, but a lot of it is repetition. And if you’re just a single earner? Then aside from instructions, there’s really only about four pages (five if you’re an American Indian or Alaska Native): one page of basic contact information, two pages of income information, and one page of current insurance information.

    And here is Ezra Klein’s description of the new form:

    Where the draft form was a hefty 21 pages, the new form is a svelte 5 pages….The new form is short because it’s only for a single adult. But if you head to the HHS Web site, you can find the new form for family coverage. It, too, is shorter: A mere 12 pages rather than 21. But it only includes the forms for two people. If your family includes more than two people, the form advises you to “make a copy of Step 2: Person 2 (pages 4 and 5) and complete.”

    The result is that the new form for a family of six is 20 pages long and includes a substantial amount of time spent in front of a copier.

    In other words, the new form is actually about the same as the old form. The fact that it seems shorter is merely an example of the power of framing. The default for the old form was 21 pages, which could be reduced to four if you were a single earner. The default for the new form is five pages, which can be expanded to 20 if you have a big family. Which one sounds better?

  • More Than Likely, President Obama Isn’t an Idiot


    President Obama said today that he believes there are some Republicans in Congress who’d like to compromise with him to enact “common sense” solutions to America’s problems:

    But they’re worried about their politics. It’s tough. Their base thinks that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal. They’re worried about primaries. And I understand all that. And we’re going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s going to be best for the country. But it’s going to take some time.

    Ed Kilgore isn’t impressed:

    Good luck with that, Mr. President. I suppose “permission structure” means assembling enough conservative support, and/or framing legislation so that it addresses the concerns of “the base” (e.g., border enforcement on immigration) in a way that makes bipartisanship possible. But as we saw in the supreme example of the Affordable Care Act, even adopting conservative policy prescriptions right out of the Heritage Foundation playbook, as implemented by the man who would become the next GOP presidential nomination, didn’t prevent them from being demonized as representing the imposition of an alien “European-style” “government takeover of health care” aimed at totalitarianism and the slaughter of old people.

    I’m sympathetic, because I agree. I don’t think that Republicans have declined to make a budget deal because Obama didn’t schmooze them enough, or because they didn’t understand what he was offering, or because Democrats haven’t framed their compromise proposals quite right. Republicans have declined to make a deal because they don’t like any of the deals Obama is willing to make. Full stop.

    Unfortunately, I think Ed falls into the same trap when he suggests that Obama’s dinners with senators have gone quite far enough, thankyouverymuch. Instead, he says, “I’d recommend about four straight speeches about filibuster reform, followed by four straight speeches on what the sabotaging of the Affordable Care Act will actually mean for actual people. At a minimum, a Plan B to deploy if his umpteenth effort at bipartisanship fails is in order.”

    The problem is that this almost certainly won’t work either. Obama made a full-court speechifying press on gun legislation, for example, and it had no effect at all. It wasn’t enough to pass even the watered-down Manchin-Toomey amendment, a bill that threw in so many goodies for gun owners that it might actually have been a net negative for gun control.

    All of which gets us to the guts of the problem: most likely, nothing is going to work. But if you’re the president, you can’t say that. You can’t even act like it. You have to go out day after day after day insisting that progress is possible and deals can be made. This gets you lots of flak from fellow lefties who think it displays terminal naiveté, but what choice do you have? Obama pretty obviously understands everything that his lefty critics understand—he’s not an idiot, and this is hardly rocket science, after all—but he also understands one other thing: he can’t admit it. I imagine it’s frustrating as hell. But like it or not, presidents have to keep their chin up in public and keep trying to make things happen, even if they know perfectly well that success is unlikely. Welcome to hell.

  • Renewable Energy is Merely Another Front in the Culture Wars Now


    Over at ClimateProgress, Ryan Koronowski reports on a study that showed liberals and conservatives were about equally likely to buy an energy efficient CFL light bulb if it cost the same as an old-school bulb:

    But slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says “Protect the Environment,” and “we saw a significant drop-off in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,” said study author Dena Gromet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

    This reminded me of a line in a Jonah Goldberg op-ed this morning about our “infectious pessimism”:

    The obsession with “peak oil” and the need to embrace “renewables” because we’re running out of fossil fuels are other symptoms of our malaise. Fracking and other breakthroughs demonstrate that, at least so far, whatever energy scarcity we’ve had has been imposed by policy, not nature….Humans are better understood as creators who’ve consistently solved the problems of scarcity by inventing or discovering new paths to abundance. As the late anti-Malthusian hero Julian Simon said, human imagination is the ultimate resource.

    On the right, both climate change and questions about global limits on oil production have exited the realm of empirical debate and become full-blown fronts in the culture wars. You’re required to mock them regardless of whether it makes any sense. And it’s weird as hell. I mean, why would you disparage development of renewable energy? If humans are the ultimate creators, why not create innovative new sources of renewable energy instead of digging up every last fluid ounce of oil on the planet?

    After all, there are plenty of reasons to think this is a great idea. If you’re Bill Kristol, you want to do it to reduce the world’s dependence on thuggish Middle Eastern dictatorships. If you live in Los Angeles (or Beijing), you want to do it to reduce smog. If you’re Al Gore, you want to do it to reduce global warming. If you’re James Hamilton, you want to do it because it will produce a more stable economy that doesn’t bounce in and out of recession every time oil prices spike.

    In other words, there are tons of good reasons to believe that we should be moving at warp speed to develop new sources of energy. You don’t even need to believe in peak oil if you don’t want to—though why you’d deny something so obvious is a mystery. Peak oil, after all, is only a question of when, not if.

    I happen to agree that human ingenuity is, if not limitless, pretty damn close. So why not harness that ingenuity? Digging up ever more oil from ever more difficult and dangerous places is the sign of a plodding mind, not an ingenious one. If you truly believe in pushing the boundaries of human invention and creativity, you should be the world’s biggest fan of renewable energy. That’s our future.

  • Chart of the Day: European Unemployment Hits New Record


    Eurostat announced today that unemployment in the euro area reached a record 12.1 percent in April. That’s not spread evenly, of course: unemployment was a mere 5.4 percent in Germany and a whopping 27 percent in Spain and Greece. Nor was it spread evenly across generations. Youth unemployment reached a staggering 24 percent overall, and was over 50 percent in Greece and Spain.

    Let me repeat that: in Greece and Spain, more than half of those under age 25 didn’t have jobs. This is pretty plainly a recipe for disaster.

    In other news, Eurostat also announced that inflation in the euro area had dropped from 2.6 percent a year ago to 1.2 percent in April. So I guess austerity is working. It sure has kept inflation from spiraling out of control, anyway.

  • Democrats Are Starting to Sour on Obamacare


    The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll is always interesting because they ask questions that nobody else does. This month, for example, they ask whether you’ve mostly been hearing good things or bad things about Obamacare, and far more people say they’ve been hearing bad things than good.

    Aha! It’s Fox News at work! But no. If you go to the next question, you find that Republican views of Obamacare have stayed pretty stable: most of them hate it, but they’ve hated it from the start. It’s Democrats who are slowly but steadily souring on the law. Three years ago, around 70 percent had a favorable view of Obamacare. Today that’s dropped to under 60 percent.

    Why? Hard to say, since there are no questions that delve into that. Nor is there any clue about how this breaks down between middle class workers, who are mostly unaffected by Obamacare, and low-income workers, who are. Stay tuned to see if this turns around over the next 12 months, as Obamacare starts to roll out in earnest and informational campaigns start to swing into high gear.

  • We Are All Free Traders Now


    Paul Krugman wonders why the Great Recession hasn’t set off a round of tit-for-tat protectionism:

    Why aren’t politicians — even conservative politicians — looking at the situation and saying, hmm, a tariff won’t increase the deficit, it won’t involve debasing the currency, but it could clearly help create jobs?

    One answer might be the “Smoot-Hawley caused the Depression” thing; this isn’t true at all, but it might be serving the purpose of a noble lie.

    Or maybe it’s the structure of trade agreements. The countries that arguably could really, really use some protection right now are inside the European Union, so no go. Countries outside still know that any protection they impose will lead to big problems at the WTO; the United States has to know that a protectionist response would break up the whole world trading system we’ve spent almost 80 years building.

    So here’s a thought: maybe the secret of our protectionist non-surge isn’t macroeconomics; it’s institutions.

    I agree that institutions play a role here. Inertia is a powerful thing, and there’s not much question that free-ish trade is now a well-established status quo in most of the world.

    I don’t think that really explains things, though. If it were truly just institutional inertia at work here, you’d expect to see lots of politicians calling for protectionism but not getting anywhere. The demagogues would do their demogoguing, but fealty to the status quo would be too powerful for them to have any impact.

    But that really isn’t what we’ve seen. Generally speaking, we’ve barely seen anyone even advocating protectionist measures. It hasn’t been complete silence, but it’s been pretty close. In the U.S., in particular, the worst you can say is that the forward movement toward signing more trade agreements might have slowed slightly. But enthusiasm for those trade agreements hasn’t really ebbed at all.

    No, the answer is simpler: the trade economists have won. They’ve spent decades beating into us that free trade is a net positive for everyone, and by now we’re all convinced. In fact, we’re so convinced that it barely even occurred to anyone to respond to the Great Recession by calling for us to close our borders. In the world of ideas, this has been one of the 20th century’s most complete victories.

    I’d also call attention to a point made by Tyler Cowen: over the past two decades, virtually all of the job growth in America has been in the non-tradeable sector. Because of this, the political power of the manufacturing/mining/agriculture industries has been shrinking steadily.

    Put these three things together—genuine belief in trade, the declining political influence of the tradeable sector, and the sheer institutional difficulty of limiting trade—and it’s no surprise at all that protectionism has had only a minuscule resurgence over the past few years. It’s a battle that’s largely over and done with.

  • A Quick Survey on Abortion


    Ed Kilgore has an alternate-world scenario for you to consider:

    Suppose it were possible to engineer a permanent national deal (it’s not, but just consider it as a thought experiment) wherein in exchange for a strictly enforced ban on post-viability abortions that didn’t involve direct threats to the life of the mother, we’d also start treating all forms of contraception and pre-viability abortions not only as legal, but as medical procedures that would be publicly funded just like other medical procedures, under normal (not prohibitive) inspection and regulatory regimes? I suspect a large number of pro-choice folk would go for that kind of deal, which isn’t that different from the situation in much of Europe. It would reflect the fact that most late-term abortions happen not because some bad girl has had sex and now finds motherhood inconvenient, but because she hasn’t had meaningful access to contraception, Plan B, or early-term abortions.

    As Kilgore points out, no one on the pro-life side would ever agree to this, so it’s strictly a hypothetical. But I’m curious. How many on the pro-choice side would agree to a deal like this? Basically, the deal is (a) abortions up to, say, 22 weeks or so, would be legal and easily available, (b) late-term abortions would be completely illegal unless the life of the mother were clearly and directly threatened, and (c) this put an end to the whole issue. Everyone agrees to accept this as the status quo going forward.

    Obviously this is pie in the sky. But I’m still curious. If it were on the table, how many of my readers would agree to it?

  • Finally, the End of Austerity?


    Is the world’s infatuation with austerity as the answer to the Great Recession finally over? Neil Irwin thinks it might be. The obvious big event that got everyone’s attention recently was the dismantling of the influential Reinhart/Rogoff thesis that high debt produces low growth, but Irwin argues that this is just the visible tip of the iceberg. Three other things have been pushing policymakers in the same direction:

    No blowback for Japan. ….The Bank of Japan has undertaken open-ended quantitative easing of its own in pursuit of 2 percent annual inflation in a country where deflation has been the norm for two decades….The international community isn’t coming down on Japan with anywhere near the ire that the Fed saw three years ago.

    Growing awareness that U.S. deficits are already falling. ….There is deepening recognition that—through spending cuts in the debt ceiling deal in 2011 including sequestration, tax increases as part of the fiscal cliff, and a growing economy—U.S. deficits are falling quite quickly. That being the case, Congressional Democrats are increasingly looking to hold the line and say “No Mas” to further near-term deficit reduction.

    The slow-moving disaster that is Europe. Europe has been the poster child for aggressive austerity….The result is depression in the European periphery and recession in the core….But the ECB appears set to hop on the easy money train in its meeting on Thursday. And it wouldn’t be shocking if, either this week or in a future month, the ECB seeks out some more innovative tool to funnel loans to the smaller businesses that are being frozen out from getting credit. The institution that most eagerly embraced austerity and tight money three years ago, in other words, is inching away from it as well.

    In this telling, the paper that took apart the Reinhart/Rogoff thesis was the perfect story at the perfect time. The conventional wisdom was already changing, slowly but steadily, and the implosion of R&R provided just the right catalyst to draw everyone’s attention to it.

    Of the three things on Irwin’s list (and you should probably add Britain’s performance in there somewhere), I’d guess that Europe is the most important by far. The political barriers to doing the right thing remain pretty strong, but it’s getting to the point that I suspect even Germans are starting to wonder if the game is worth the candle. There might be worse things than higher inflation or big flows of money heading south, and the specter of Europe spiraling apart may just qualify. The evidence on this score is still iffy (remember Cyprus?), and the 11th hour may not quite be upon us, but we’re getting there. The austerity experiment has pretty spectacularly failed, and before too much longer even the technocrats of the EU are going to have to face up to this.

  • Scary Chart of the Day: Chinese Oil Demand Will Rise a Lot Over the Next Decade


    Stuart Staniford extrapolates China’s demand for oil and comes up with the chart on the right. His conclusion:

    That’s another 15mbd in the next thirteen years or so. Just for China. If you compare this to things like the extra 4mbd you might hope for from tar sands in this time frame, or the 2mbd that global crude supply has increased since 2005, you can see that this is going to stress the global oil system a lot. Either the global crude supply is going to grow a lot faster than it has been, or OECD oil consumers are going to have to consume a great deal less than they are now, or China (and other rapidly growing consumers) are going to have to slow down a lot.

    Whichever is the case, it’s hard to see how any combination of the above happens on the necessary scale without prices a lot higher than the $100-$120 we’ve been paying in the last few years. The comparative truce in the oil markets during 2009-2013 seems like it cannot last forever.

    Shale oil and tar sands are simply nowhere near big enough to keep up with this. From a climate change perspective, that’s a good thing. From a global economic perspective, it’s not so good. It means that demand for oil is now permanently pushing up against supply, and will be moderated in the future primarily by oil price spikes produced when economic expansions drive oil demand above supply constraints, thus producing global recessions. But you already knew that, right?

    POSTSCRIPT: The more optimistic take on this is that sometime soon everyone will figure out that we’ve reached a point of oil-constrained growth, and this will drive huge new investment in renewable energy. The question is how long this will take. Permanently higher prices would certainly do the trick, but booms and busts have a different effect on investment and on confidence in future growth. So it might take a while.

  • Wolfram|Alpha Confirms All Our Ageist Stereotypes


    Via Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Wolfram reports on the results of the Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook project. Basically, it’s an analysis of a million Facebook users, and the vast bulk of Wolfram’s post is about the basic demographics of their sample space. It turns out, for example, that Facebook users tend to be fairly young, and the younger they are the more friends they have. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you.

    But some of it is interesting. It’s impossible to tell how representative Wolfram’s sample is of the broad Facebook universe, let alone the population at large, but let’s forget about that for now. This is a blog, not a peer-reviewed journal. So with that in mind, here are some excerpts showing how certain topics trend with age:

    Yep: old people really are tedious bores. As you get older, your Facebook updates tend to move away from interesting stuff like careers, music, and technology, and instead focus on political rants, stupid life affirming sayings, and the weather. On the bright side, old people tend to talk less about fashion, relationships, and their personal mood. All in all, it’s kind of a wash. It turns out we’re all tedious bores, we just like to bore our friends on different topics as we get older.

  • Quote of the Day: Quantifying the Idiocy of the U.S. Congress


    From Matt Steinglass, on the recent spate of proposals to defund funny-sounding research:

    The most urgent research priority for American social science is the question of why so many congresspeople are boastful ignoramuses.

    But would you use an instrumental variable approach or a natural experiment approach? What kind of scale would you use to measure boastful ignorance? Should you measure separately by gender? And what about other countries? Are their legislators boastful ignoramuses too? If not, what method do they use to keep them safely on talk radio, where they belong?

    This is clearly a pretty complex project. Perhaps we should delegate it to the UN.

  • The Price of Healthcare Success: Losing Your Funding


    This came out over the weekend, but Ezra Klein has an interesting long piece up about the next frontier in health management. Just as control of infectious diseases was the story of the 20th century, control of chronic diseases may be the story of the 21st:

    With chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease you don’t get better, or at least not quickly. They don’t require cures so much as management….Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the health policy and management school at Emory University, estimates that 95 percent of spending in Medicare goes to patients with one or more chronic conditions — with enrollees suffering five or more chronic conditions accounting for 78 percent of its spending.

    ….Health Quality Partners is all about going there. The program enrolls Medicare patients with at least one chronic illness and one hospitalization in the past year. It then sends a trained nurse to see them every week, or every month, whether they’re healthy or sick….Health Quality Partners’ results have been extraordinary. According to an independent analysis by the consulting firm Mathematica, HQP has reduced hospitalizations by 33 percent and cut Medicare costs by 22 percent.

    Others in the profession have taken notice. “It’s like they’ve discovered the fountain of youth in Doylestown, Pa.,” marvels Jeffrey Brenner, founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.

    Now Medicare is thinking of shutting it off.

    Read the rest to learn why nurse visits work, and why Medicare may be shutting them down.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 26 April 2013


    I’m told that this quilt is an Amish pattern and uses Amish colors. However, it’s the one quilt in the house that Marian didn’t make herself (she won it as a door prize, I think), so we’re not sure. In any case, the colors are so Domino-like that you might not even know she was there if I hadn’t used Photoshop to brighten her eyes a bit.

    Now then. Do you love Domino? Of course you do! Do you want me to continue Friday catblogging? Yes you do. Are you afraid I might stop if you don’t help us out with our fundraiser this week? Maybe just a little afraid? I’m not saying I would stop, mind you. That would be wrong. I’m just saying.

    Seriously, though: we do a lot of great journalism here at Mother Jones, and reader donations are a pretty important part of what keeps us going. If you can afford a few dollars, now’s the time to make a contribution. Here are the links:

    Thanks in advance. Believe me, your donations will be well spent.

  • Cap-and-Trade in Europe is Working Just Fine


    Several years ago Europe instituted a continent-wide cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions called ETS. It was decidedly imperfect, and has gone through several revisions since it started. Recently, however, energy demand has declined, which has left Europe awash in carbon permits. As a result, the price of carbon permits has dropped off a cliff, and they’re now so cheap that they’re having virtually no effect. So does this mean the whole program is a failure? David Roberts asks everyone to calm down:

    First off, the ETS is not a mess/broken/dying, it’s working like it’s supposed to. The goal of a cap-and-trade system is not to create a high price on carbon, or a low price on carbon, or any particular price on carbon. It is to reduce carbon emissions along a pathway specified by a series of targets (17 percent by 2020, etc.). The EU is on that pathway. Emissions are expected to come in under the cap, which means the cap-and-trade program is working.

    Now, as it happens, the recession is what did most of the work to put the EU on that pathway. Complementary clean-energy policies (renewable energy mandates, feed-in tariffs) also played a big role. That just didn’t leave much work for a carbon price to do. The EU doesn’t need a high price on carbon to stay on the emissions-cutting pathway, at least in the short term, so the short-term price on carbon is low. Presumably, when the EU economy picks back up, there will be more work for a carbon price to do. If so, the price will go up. Cap-and-trade programs are designed to be responsive to circumstances.

    Lemme just emphasize: Insofar as you are happy with the carbon pathway your cap-and-trade system prescribes, the fact that carbon is cheap is good news. Who wants high prices for high prices’ sake?

    Everyone has always known about the basic tradeoff between a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. The virtue of a tax is that it’s predictable: everyone knows both the current and future tax rates and can make investments based on them. The downside is that you have to take a guess at what tax rate will produce the level of carbon emissions you want, and you might guess wrong.

    Cap-and-trade is exactly the opposite. Its virtue is that it will unquestionably keep you below your carbon cap. The downside is that carbon prices will jump up and down depending both on energy demand and on technology advances. This makes business planning tricky.

    I’ve always preferred cap-and-trade because I think the virtue of targeting the thing we actually care about—the amount of carbon emitted—is more important than guaranteeing businesses a known tax level decades into the future. Businesses already put up with large changes in the price of energy itself, and I suspect they can handle price changes in carbon permits too.

    But I’ll add one more virtue that David doesn’t mention: cap-and-trade is countercyclical. During a recession, demand for permits will go down and therefore so will permit prices. This is good, because it has a stimulative effect on the economy. Conversely, during economic expansions, demand for permits will go up and so will permit prices. This is also good, because it will tend to cool down the economy a bit. In neither case will the effect be huge, but it’s still a net positive.

    I’ve got no problem with a carbon tax. The arguments between a tax and a permit trading plan strike me as pretty finely balanced. Nonetheless, the fact that permit prices have fallen during a recession isn’t evidence that cap-and-trade doesn’t work. On the contrary, it’s evidence that it’s working exactly the way it should.

  • Pigford II and the Eternal Problem of How to Prove Discrimination


    The New York Times has an epic piece today about fraud in a government program originally designed to compensate black farmers who had been unfairly denied Agriculture Department loans in the 80s and 90s. The original compensation program, usually called Pigford after the class-action lawsuit that got it going, eventually led to a second settlement, Pigford II, that covered a broader class, including women, Hispanics, and Native Americans:

    Some 66,000 claims poured in after the 1999 deadline. Noting that the government had given “extensive” notice, Judge Friedman ruled the door closed to late filers. “That is simply how class actions work,” he wrote.

    But it was not how politics worked. The next nine years brought a concerted effort to allow the late filers to seek awards….Legislators from both parties, including Mr. Obama as a senator in 2007, sponsored bills to grant the late filers relief.

    ….Congress finally inserted a provision in the 2008 farm bill allowing late filers to bring new lawsuits, with their claims to be decided by the same standard of evidence as before. The bill also declared a sense of Congress that minority farmers’ bias claims and lawsuits should be quickly and justly resolved.

    Congress overrode a veto by Mr. Bush, who objected to other provisions in the bill. But as Mr. Bush left Washington, Congress had appropriated only $100 million for compensation, hardly enough to pay for processing claims.

    Within months of taking office, President Obama promised to seek an additional $1.15 billion. In November 2010, Congress approved the funds. To protect against fraud, legislators ordered the Government Accountability Office and the Agriculture Department’s inspector general to audit the payment process.

    The problem here is one that’s common in discrimination cases: even after you’ve agreed that illegal discrimination happened in general, how do you decide which individuals were discriminated against? Proving individual discrimination is incredibly hard, because in most individual cases there are plenty of plausible reasons for the discriminatory action. This was doubly hard in the Pigford cases because the Agriculture Department simply didn’t keep records of lots of the loan applications in questions, and there were never any applications in the first place for people who were flatly turned down before they could even apply.

    Given that, you have two choices. You can either set a high bar for evidence of discrimination, knowing that it will unfairly deny compensation to lots of people who were treated wrongly. Or you can set a low bar, knowing that this will unfairly give money to lots of people who don’t deserve it. Roughly speaking, it sounds like the government chose the second course, and lots of money has been paid out to people who never farmed, never applied to farm, and never had any intention of farming. But it was raining money, so they put out their hats.

    It’s hard to know what to think of this. Obviously it’s hard to understand why the Agriculture Department didn’t adopt a stricter standard, one that wouldn’t have paid out thousands of fraudulent claims to people who didn’t deserve it. At the same time, it’s hard not to think of the flip side: all the valid discrimination cases that have been brought over the years, but tossed out because the evidentiary bar was too high and it was impossible to prove that discrimination actually took place. Those kinds of cases don’t get a lot of headlines, but they’re every bit as bad.

    So I don’t know. You’d think there would be some kind of reasonable middle ground, but we sure do seem to have a hard time finding it. And while there’s obviously plenty to criticize about how Pigford II has been handled, I have to say that I’m sure not looking forward to the inevitable ugliness this is going to generate.

  • Chart of the Day: Unfortunately, GDP Growth is Right on Target


    Analysts were hoping that GDP would grow about 3.5 percent last quarter. Instead, it grew 2.5 percent. Should we be surprised? Take a look at the chart below and decide for yourself.

  • Today in Conservatism


    Apparently this is serious, not just some weird leftover from April 1:

    The Heritage Foundation and Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity presented the second annual Breitbart Award to Michelle Malkin, syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor….The Breitbart Award honors those who advocate for the truth — a quality that Malkin exemplifies. As the founder of three successful conservative blogs — michellemalkin.com, Hot Air (now owned by Salem Communications), and Twitchy — has changed the way Americans consume media. Malkin dedicates her life to tackling the issues others often shy away from.

    So there you have it. Michelle Malkin is now officially one of the best and the brightest of conservative journalism. Seriously.

  • Keep it Short


    They say brevity is the soul of wit. Austin Frakt says it’s also the soul of persuasion. To prove it, he points us to Tim Harford, who summarizes an experiment in which various versions of a letter were sent to people who might qualify for a refund on a product they bought:

    [Four] tweaks had substantial effects: first, cutting a paragraph of waffle that had helped to bury the message about the refund; second, pointing out that a five-minute phone call would suffice to make a claim; third, sending a follow-up letter. And twice as large as any of these effects was adding a couple of bullet points in bold at the top with the key message: you may deserve a refund; if so, call us.

    Of course, we already knew this, right? It’s why journal abstracts exist. It’s why blogs exist. It’s why haiku exists. Come on! We’re busy people around here.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t explain the appeal of those endless, rambling, conspiracy theory laden letters that people like Glenn Beck and Ron Paul send out. What’s the deal with those, anyway?

  • I Am Tired of People Calling Me On the Phone


    I’ve been getting a ton of telemarketing calls lately. They’re all over the map: some are from people I’ve done business with before, some are cold calls, some are illegal robocalls, some are from opinion pollsters, etc.  But one way or another, I get at least half a dozen every day, and sometimes as many as twice that number.

    I’m curious: is this just me? Or are lots of people noticing a big uptick in this stuff?

  • George Bush Was No Dummy, But How About if We Leave it at That?


    Thanks to the opening of his presidential library, this is officially “Be Nice to George Bush Week,” and we’ve had quite a few entries in an ongoing competition among conservatives to persuade us that Bush was really a whole lot better than we used to think he was. One of the most widely linked is an essay by Keith Hennessey titled “George W. Bush is smarter than you.”

    And that may well be. I always thought Bush was a reasonably smart guy, and anyway, above a certain level it doesn’t matter much. Other character traits become a lot more important. Still, Hennessey is trying to convince us that Bush is really, really smart, and I’m afraid I remain unconvinced. Here are three examples he provides to demonstrate Bush’s high IQ:

    [He] was incredibly quick to be able to discern the core question he needed to answer. It was occasionally a little embarrassing when he would jump ahead of one of his Cabinet secretaries in a policy discussion and the advisor would struggle to catch up.

    ….We treat Presidential speeches as if they are written by speechwriters, then handed to the President for delivery. If I could show you one experience from my time working for President Bush, it would be an editing session in the Oval with him and his speechwriters. You think that me cold-calling you is nerve-wracking? Try defending a sentence you inserted into a draft speech, with President Bush pouncing on the slightest weakness in your argument or your word choice.

    ….On one particularly thorny policy issue on which his advisors had strong and deep disagreements, over the course of two weeks we (his senior advisors) held a series of three 90-minute meetings with the President. Shortly after the third meeting we asked for his OK to do a fourth. He said, “How about rather than doing another meeting on this, I instead tell you now what each person will say.” He then ran through half a dozen of his advisors by name and precisely detailed each one’s arguments and pointed out their flaws. (Needless to say there was no fourth meeting.)

    This is really unpersuasive. The first example suggests not smarts, but impatience. Bush always thought of himself as a conviction politician, so it’s natural that he’d frequently want to skip the policy details and instead focus exclusively on what he considered the “core” question.

    The second example doesn’t even come close to demonstrating smarts. It demonstrates, once again, impatience. Bush is the kind of guy who wants to say what he wants to say, and he doesn’t want a speechwriter trying to twist his words or add some nuance he’s not interested in.

    The third example—surprise!—also demonstrates impatience (justifiably, it sounds like). In this case, Bush has been in three meetings over the course of two weeks, and his advisors are wrangling over the same issues again and again and again without making any progress. So he’s tired of it. He repeats their arguments back to them, says he doesn’t need to hear them yet again, and heads off to make a decision.

    None of this suggests that Bush is a dumb guy. But it doesn’t demonstrate a ton of analytical depth either. It suggests that (a) he has a good memory, (b) he’s perfectly able to understand policy arguments when he wants to, but (c) most of the time he had little patience for this stuff and instead simply wanted to do what his political instincts told him to do. He’s smart enough, but his intellectual curiosity was limited, and his willingness to allow his instincts to be overridden by policy concerns was minimal.

    Maybe you think that’s good, maybe you think it’s bad. But it is what it is. There’s really no need to pretend that Bush was some kind of unappreciated intellectual superman.