Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, December 31, 2010

Fill In The Blank

Some day that'll be me!

Every time we try to write about the latest Megan McArdle post we find ourselves repeating past complaints. It's getting difficult to respond to boilerplate with originality.

This post is a link to yet another obscure libertarian blogger, as if being libertarian were enough qualification for pundit status. McArdle speculated on the celebrity gossip in the post and applies it to her own life, as she is wont to do. It seems McArdle is insecure about her femininity and feels the need to share this information with thousands of people. We would suggest that McArdle keep this information to herself because she is being both unprofessional and handing ammunition to her ideological opponents, but she is proud of her "feminine" style of blogging and sees no reason not to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about her life and likes and dislikes. It's All About Megan, which is why she is a libertarian in the first place, of course.

Here's yet another post that speculates on unsupported rumors just so McArdle can bash unions. What can we say except "Enjoy your lower-tax libertarian utopia!" and "Pull up those boot-straps, Missy, and shovel your own roads free of snow!"

And here's her umpteeth post on how we must have a balanced budget or the economy will crash. It's wise of McArdle to predict economic disaster since her bankster buddies ensured that disaster would happen after they were done looting the country, but it's a bit galling to see her work so enthusiastically to return us to a time when the poor begged in the streets and old people lived on cat food and died like flies every time the thermometer dropped.

But it's not all spinach; there's some fun among the depressingly servile and callous posts. McArdle admits that house prices will go down further, but sees no reason why she should regret buying a house before the prices dropped. We can think of about 50,000 reasons why she should have waited, but if McArdle is happy, then by golly so are we. It's always amusing to watch McArdle rationalize her mistakes.

Finally, McArdle has yet another post quoting and praising Little Master Douthat. She still has hope that he'll recommend her when Krugman retires, no doubt. We wish her the best of luck and can think of no better coda to this whole sorry era than to see McArdle squatting on top of the servile, deceitful heap she has devoted so much energy to climb.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2010

Batocchio has posted his Jon Swift Memorial Round Up, giving us a great way to end the year. A post of mine is included, and I can't wait to see what everyone else has contributed.

And thanks to Jon Weisel, wherever he is, who understood how much people who pour their hearts and soul into their work crave recognition.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


A cookie a day keeps the McArdle away!

Megan McArdle has written yet another ignorant post about teachers; she still seems to thing that teacher quality is the only factor in student success and utterly ignores home life and economic status. Tom Levenson does a great job addressing the subject here, in response to some Conor Friedersdorf stupidity.

A commenter tries to explain that the free market system of education will harm a lot of kids but it passes right over the heads of McArdle and her fans; if tens of thousands of kids have to suffer to hand over education to corporate control, then so be it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Practice What You Preach

Megan McArdle tries to make a funny, with her traditional lack of success.

According to Kaiser Health News, Democrats have reached Stage Eight of the Seven Stages of Legislative Grief: Rebranding. Because no matter how unpopular your legislation is, it's nothing that can't be cured by coming up with a better name. [snipped quote]

May I suggest Happy Fun Care?

It seems that her jokes are like her opinions, borrowed from someone else. The White House wants a more appealing acronym for their health care plan. McArdle can't help but be snide since being persuasive didn't work. Making up numbers and claiming they are secret facts that only you have been able to glean from drug companies' financial reports didn't work as well as McArdle evidently hoped.

I suggest that Megan McArdle live up to her beliefs that the government should get out of providing health care by following the examples of her husband's fellow tea baggers and give up her government-subsidized employer-provided health insurance, and either buy hers on the open market or pay her doctors in cash.

Responding to Rep.-elect Andy Harris’ (R-MD) hypocritical demand for government-sponsored health coverage last month, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) circulated a letter among his colleagues calling on Harris and other members of Congress who want to repeal President Obama’s health care law to forgo their own government health care plans. At least four GOP congressmen have already announced they will turn down their congressional benefits, and a recent poll found that a majority Americans “think incoming Congressmen who campaigned against the health care bill should put their money where their mouth is and decline government provided health care now that they’re in office.” In an interview with the New York Times published yesterday, Rep.-elect Joe Walsh (R-IL) has said he too will forgo government health coverage:

And get this: he’s turned down the usual congressional health care, pension and retirement packages.

“I don’t think congressmen should get pensions or cushy health care plans,” he said. His wife is not exhilarated with the latter decision; she has a pre-existing medical condition and is now forced to hunt for a plan.
It would be the noble and correct thing to do, and would do far more to save those millions of lives than a few dozen words dashed off on a blog.

Stop being a hypocrite, Megan McArdle! Give up that fascist health care and live up to your libertarian ideals! Is she a principled libertarian or merely another sponger who will happy to let others pay for her health care? McArdle undoubtedly will take the mortgage deduction as well, and says she will use public schools for her child. How are the elite Galts of the world supposed to rid themselves of the weak, mewling parasite of the world when they are one of them??

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best Of All Possible Worlds

It seems that if nobody covers Megan McArdle's latest atrocity the sun still shines and the the world keeps spinning; that is good to know because correcting her mistakes has little effect. McArdle responded to DougJ's correction of her math with a post saying that Paul Krugman has had wrong predictions too, so there. Yes, the mistake was simple math, not economic projections, but let's not be pedantic about it. McArdle is just like the great Paul Krugman, so there.

McArdle has some praise for Chris Christie, who seems to share her belief that since there are no real-world consequences for blind ideology, you can do any crazy thing you want. She also informs us that she was a first responder because she worked at the Twin Towers site, running a copy machine. We could point out that she did not, in fact, respond to anything but a job offer from a construction firm but who cares? The truth is utterly unimportant in the face of rising revenues. We don't need to wonder what The Atlantic sold to make those millions.

McArdle is a made man; nothing can affect her success because she has the full backing of The Atlantic, which is making a small fortune using her as a conduit for corporate propaganda. Criticism is utterly useless against propaganda, which has nothing to do with passing on information and everything to do with feeding the vanity and stoking the fears of the gullible masses. Criticism just reinforces the public's sense of victimization, which they deeply enjoy.

It has become clear that most people like things just the way they are. They like having progressives and Muslims to hate. They like to see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They like to kill foreigners. They like to be told to drink bad water, breathe bad air, buy bad products. Americans are, you might say, exceptionally happy with America just the way it is, and tend to see its critics as stupid party-poopers who hate America and Jesus and money.

Why are we trying so hard to warn them? Why do we bother repeating that the banks are still hiding their bad debt, that the state and local governments are still broke, that the pensions are still gone, that all that scapegoating will one day erupt in violence? It's what America wants.

Let them have it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Less Arithmetic Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle:

Megan McArdle read a post that said the number of bankruptcies was falling. She saw a chart that said the year over year rate of bankruptcy filing has gone down since 2007. She repeated the message and copy-n-pasted the graph. Of course her graph does not show the number of bankruptcies, it shows the rate of bankruptcy filings since 2007, but McArdle still insists that black is white, up is down, and total number is rate.

pragmatism 18 hours ago

who would do something like this? that would be like using this chart to show a decline in bankruptcies going back to 2007 when this chart paints a fuller picture. i know, fudging the x axis is completely different.

pragmatism 18 hours ago in reply to pragmatism
A: McMegan.

McMegan 14 hours ago in reply to pragmatism
Again, not my chart, and what I was interested in is the decline in bankruptcies that just happened, and is clearly marked on the chart. In retrospect, I agree with you that it's not a great way to present the data, but the post was about bankruptcies next year, and in fact clearly discussed the fact that bankruptcies had gone up during the crisis, no?
Flag 1 person liked this. Like ReplyReply pragmatism 14 hours ago in reply to McMegan

It's not her fault. She was just repeating what someone else said. It was right there in the post. What else do you want? And that graph-it doesn't say what it says. It says something else that supports my preconceived notion that bankruptcies, especially medical bankruptcies, aren't falling. Right? Right? What are you gonna do, argue with an Ivy Leaguer?

pragmatism 14 hours ago in reply to McMegan
agreed not your chart, but your choice amongst the universe of charts. what your choice does not show is how bk's spiked prior to the passage of reform. those people are not likely to go into bk again during the crisis, no? that's why it would have been better to show that data as well.

McMegan 14 hours ago in reply to pragmatism
Pragmatism, I assume that you are new to this blog, because this is hardly a fact that I have been at pains to conceal. In fact, I alluded to it in that very post, along with the fact that the rates had been rising for some time:

"This may be evidence on a question that has puzzled bankruptcy experts--was the precipitous decline in bankruptcies after the 2005 bankruptcy reform act real, or was it simply a lull before the storm? Everyone agrees that the initial drop was a result of a lot of bankruptcies being moved forward before the law took effect--everyone who thought they might need to declare bankruptcy did. But there has been a lot of analytical effort put into trying to figure out what was going to happen later: would they stay low, or would they inexorably go back to their old level? Obviously what you think depends on what you think the causes of bankruptcy are: if you blame low saving and irresponsible consumers, you're apt to think that bankruptcy will fall when it becomes harder to get a discharge. If you think bankruptcy is mostly the result of cruel economic forces--medical bills, predatory lenders, or what have you--then you'll expect them to go back up.

You, reader, did not understand what you read because of your preconceived liberal notions. I, however, did understand what I read--because of my preconceived notions, which have been verified by this line that goes down and that word bankruptcy in the title of the graph.

There's been some evidence for Ronald Mann's "Sweat Box" model of consumer debt. The idea is that the law wouldn't actually end up reducing the number of filings; it would just slow down the filings, so that consumers spent longer struggling, and paying high fees and interest charges to the lenders.

I know stuff about economics that you don't know.

But that looked more convincing when they were rising towards their old rates. Now that they're filing again, it may be time to revisit. of course, it's not a big fall--but as I say, the economy is considerably worse now. "

We can disregard any contrary evidence because we have perfectly good evidence that supports my ideology.

On this evidence, I submit that I correctly read the graph, did not notice that other people would incorrectly read the graph, and then wrote a blog post aimed at people who were going to correctly read the graph.

You misunderstood me. I know what I'm talking about, you don't.

pragmatism 14 hours ago in reply to McMegan
perhaps the working poor families project wrote that report aimed at people who were going to read the graph in question properly?
you call out their motives behind their choices of graphical representation, fine. what you say is true, its not as dramatic if you don't truncate the y axis. you made the same choice--to heighten the impact of the graphical representation.
(Edited by author 13 hours ago)

McMegan 13 hours ago in reply to pragmatism
No, I didn't. I grabbed a post from the blog I had been reading. I had no control over the graph. Do you not see a difference between how you build a graph, and using the one that goes with a blog post you would like to write about?

I have no responsibility. I'm just following orders. I had no control over which graph to publish. Don't you understand how this works?

All our fine and honorable Villager pundits lie to us endlessly. It's rare that we get to point it out in person, but it's also inevitable that if you lie and obfuscate for a living you open yourself up to ridicule and frequent, humiliating corrections.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Still Counting

Posting will be very light until after Christmas.

As the end of the year comes creeping up on us with little cat feet, Megan McArdle has been working on the definitive economic critique of Elizabeth Warren for almost five months. In that amount of time Glenn Greenwald could have written a couple of books, tossed off tens of thousands of blogging words and appeared on tv a few dozen times but hey, Megan McArdle is no Glenn Greenwald.

Remember this?

Considering Elizabeth Warren, the Scholar
Jul 22 2010, 11:40 AM ET 218

(Part one of a two-part series)

The progressives seem to have made Elizabeth Warren their cause-du-jour. I have a long and complicated history with Elizabeth Warren, so allow me a moment to offer my long and complicated thoughts on her. Really long. So long that I had to break it into two parts--scholarship and public life--in order to prevent the nausea, daytime sleepyness, and intracranial bleeding that might otherwise result. Consider yourselves warned.

Oooh, shiver me timbers! We have been warned, but oddly enough we are still waiting for the hammer to fall. McArdle might have found a back-door way to sneak into her Elizabeth Warren critique without anyone noticing, however, for she is currently trying to claim that medical bankruptcies weren't all that bad anyway, no matter what people who will remain unnamed might say.

Bankruptcy lawyer . . . er, "Toxicroach" argues in my comments section that if anything, medical bills are likely to be overrepresented in bankruptcy filings, relative to the actual damage they do:

People going bankrupt don't pay their medical bills because it's for services already provided. That ranks right below everything else on the priority list. Now, income lost due to illness is a common cause of bankruptcy, but health insurance or not doesn't really change that.

Of course, I've also heard that they're underrepresented because people put them on credit cards. Which just illustrates how hard it is to determine what "causes" bankruptcy. In some cases it is clear cut, but in many there is a string of bad luck and bad decisions leading up to the final outcome.

Everything is too hard and nobody knows anything. McArdle might want to read Warren's testimony before Congress to see how science tackles a problem; it seems that while we might not know everything, we can learn quite a lot and then take action to relieve suffering. Just because McArdle can't do math doesn't mean the rest of the world is handicapped in that respect.

But then McArdle would have to think about others' suffering, and she doesn't like to do that.

McArdle also prints a handy chart that shows bankruptcies falling.

She says:

This may be evidence on a question that has puzzled bankruptcy experts--was the precipitous decline in bankruptcies after the 2005 bankruptcy reform act real, or was it simply a lull before the storm? Everyone agrees that the initial drop was a result of a lot of bankruptcies being moved forward before the law took effect--everyone who thought they might need to declare bankruptcy did. But there has been a lot of analytical effort put into trying to figure out what was going to happen later: would they stay low, or would they inexorably go back to their old level? Obviously what you think depends on what you think the causes of bankruptcy are: if you blame low saving and irresponsible consumers, you're apt to think that bankruptcy will fall when it becomes harder to get a discharge. If you think bankruptcy is mostly the result of cruel economic forces--medical bills, predatory lenders, or what have you--then you'll expect them to go back up.

Since the number of bankruptcies jumped right before bankruptcy reform passed in 2005, it would be instructive to go back further to see the total picture, not just the slice that McArdle wants us to see. Click on image to enlarge.

Unfortunately I don't have time to examine McArdle's evasions in detail. That will have to wait for my response to On Elizabeth Warren: The McArdle Post To End All Posts!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Punch Douthat Show

Via TBogg, we see that Ross Douthat, hairy of face and bigoted of heart, is once again whining because the rest of the world doesn't match the little Passion Play constantly being performed his head. It does, however, match a different type of play.

This is Ross Douthat, also known as Punch, with his bestest buddy, Moral Police. They like to make sure that everyone is Christian, like Punch, because of all the religions in all the lands since the beginning of time, Christianity is the One True Religion. (TM TBogg)

Punch Douthat is unhappy. People don't respect authority the way they used to before the bad, bad 1960s.

In the last 50 years, the Christian churches have undergone what “American Grace” describes as a shock and two aftershocks. The initial earthquake was the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which undercut religious authority as it did all authority, while dealing a particular blow to Christian sexual ethics.

Ouch! The 1060s' Clown Of Sexual Liberation is hitting poor, Christian Authority Punch Douthat! Stop that, mean Mr. Sexual Liberation! Doesn't he know that civilization depends on Christian Authorities like Punch Douthat?

Over all, [the authors of American Grace] argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

Look out Judy, it's a Muslim! Whom we tolerate just as long as they don't want to build a mosque near us or worship in front of us or make us listen to those funny calls to prayer!

But there is an even bigger threat to Christian Authority than mean Mr. Sexual Liberation--Multiculturalism, which keeps trying to steal the One True Sausage! I mean Church!

The first aftershock was the rise of religious conservatism, and particularly evangelical faith, as a backlash against the cultural revolution’s excesses. But now we’re living through the second aftershock, a backlash to that backlash — a revolt against the association between Christian faith and conservative politics, Putnam and Campbell argue, in which millions of Americans (younger Americans, especially) may be abandoning organized Christianity altogether.

No, not the abandonment of organized Christian sausage! Save us, Punch Douthat!

Yay! Punch Douthat has saved us again from the evil Multiculturalism! The thanks of a grateful nation are yours, Punch Douthat!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Megan McArdle is a very fortunate woman. Her parents paid for a world-class education. Her relentless networking landed her two classy jobs. She and her spouse make around $300,00 per year. She has a new house and a kitchen full of pricey gadgets. Her husband can afford as many video games as he wants. She surely must be filled with gratitude for all the gifts that have been showered on her by life.

Or not.

After all, it's not like we've seen any verifiable increase in poverty in the last few years.

15 Shocking Poverty Statistics.

#1 Approximately 45 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009.

#2 According to the Associated Press, experts believe that 2009 saw the largest single year increase in the U.S. poverty rate since the U.S. government began calculating poverty figures back in 1959.

#3 The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

#4 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on a year-over-year basis, household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28%.

#5 The number of Americans on food stamps surpassed 41 million for the first time ever in June.

#6 As of June, the number of Americans on food stamps had set a new all-time record for 19 consecutive months.

#7 One out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.

#8 More than 50 million Americans are now on Medicaid, the U.S. government health care program designed principally to help the poor.

#9 One out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.

#10 Nearly 10 million Americans now receive unemployment insurance, which is almost four times as many as were receiving it in 2007.

#11 The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen over 60 percent in just the past year.

#12 According to one recent survey, 28% of all U.S. households have at least one member that is looking for a full-time job.

#13 Nationwide, bankruptcy filings rose 20 percent in the 12 month period ending June 30th.

#14 More than 25 percent of all Americans now have a credit score below 599.

#15 One out of every five children in the United States is now living in poverty.

That was from the Economic Collapse blog, via The Big Picture.

Megan McArdle will never be stepping over starving children in the street because the police will not let their presence inconvenience the people with money. Therefore poverty doesn't really exist, and McArdle can continue raking in the cash from the corporations that support her and her husband's lying and manipulations in their service.

It takes a very special type of person to casually dismiss children begging Santa for a coat so their mom can be warm in winter. It takes the type of person who shrugs at torture and death. Who worships affluence and power.

This is the type of person that controls our freedom and financial security. This is our "elite," whom we trust to govern us, control our economy, safeguard our rights.

Rich people hate you. Don't ever forget it. They can and will and have mentally stepped over the fallen bodies of our soldiers, our poor, our children on the way to lunch. They read about suffering and they instantly dismiss it. It means nothing to them.

You mean nothing to them.

Yet we still give them more, more of our labor, more money, more respect, more benefit of the doubt. They take it and then they sign another paper or pass another law that will make them richer and us poorer and less free.

What cannot last forever will not last forever.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Kitchen Gift Guide Review!

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again, when Megan McArdle rummages through her kitchen drawers and makes up a list of miscellaneous gadgets that she enjoys using (or so she says). We are a bit under the weather, so let's go straight to the mocking.

Microplane grater: Evidently McArdle finds grating a lemon so difficult she ends up reducing her "knuckles to a bloody, sodden pulp." A microplaner seems like a nice thing to have, but it's not going to make McArdle coordinated or save her macaroni and cheese recipe. As McArdle likes to say, garbage in, garbage out.

Silicon Pastry Mat: McArdle laments her lost pastry mat, since its loss ruined her attempt to make gingerbread cookies. We would advise simply adding flour to the work surface--gingerbread cookies can take a lot; it just makes them fatter and chewier--but why ruin her little story with facts?

Silicon Oven Mitts: McArdle uses these whenever she wants " to plunge your hand into boiling water." Someone should give McArdle a colander before she ends up on "1000 Ways To Die" on SpikeTV. Her kitchen habits are not exactly safe.

Tongs: McArdle informs us that tongs are useful things, something that most of us realized the first time we picked them up and use them to terrify our little sister. McArdle recommends that we use them for lifting small items and putting them back down, a major stroke of genius. Unfortunately she appears to be setting them down on the burner; she informs us that they will catch on fire if you, well, set them on fire. So far McArdle is suffering from kitchen fires, shattering ceramic knives, immersion in pots of boiling water, and death by grater. Maybe she should find a safer hobby, like jumping out of airplanes.

Butter boat: McArdle likes have a little ceramic container of butter sitting out, which cools itself through evaporation. We live in a very hot and humid climate, and prefer to use the fridge to keep butter from spoiling and the microwave to soften it when necessary.

Silicon rolling pin: Maybe McArdle should just give up on pie crust if it's this hard for her. Just buy it already prepared, woman! Nobody cares. You won't lose your hipster doofus (TM Seinfeld) credentials.

This makes it just slightly trickier to roll up your top crust pastry on the pin and then unroll it over the pan, but this is a very minor inconvenience compared to not having half your dough stuck to the pin, and the rest an unusable, hole-filled mess. Really, once you try this, you will never go back to wood.

We suspect that McArdle doesn't realize she needs to chill the fat and ice the water, and rest the dough for half an hour. Perhaps she dug soft butter out of its watery boat and now wonders why the dough is sticky and won't roll. Or is she so terrified of flour that she refuses to sprinkle it on the board? We demand another Blogginheads competition so we can mock more knowledgeably.

McArdle also recommends a few items like an egg separator and cookbook holder, and tells us that she uses a burr coffee grinder but all you need is a blade grinder.

Froth au Lait: A milk warmer and frother is a nifty thing to have, since it is much easier to use and clean than the frother attachment on an espresso machine. McArdle's frother looks bigger than the Nespresso frother, which can be used to just warm milk as well which a self-professed latte drinker should prefer, but evidently she thinks it has potential.

The manufacturer maintains that you can make all sorts of custards and fancy sauces in it. I can't speak to that--though in theory, something that constantly stirs your Hollandaise for you at a consistent temperature does seem like an improvement over the normal procedure of curdling the eggs and then frantically trying to get them to un-separate.

Has anyone thought of giving McArdle cooking lessons? Or is tempering eggs like math, a skill far out of reach for our heroine?

Salt Pig: No holiday gift list would be complete without McArdle advising us to buy the most common condiment on earth. Last year she famously declared we should cook with an expensive British salt and season our food with an even more expensive pink salt from the Himalayas (which actually was rock salt from Pakistan, heh). She spent the next month or so denying she had ever said any such thing, to everyone's amusement. McArdle has learned her lesson; however that lesson appears to have been "keep lying and everyone will forget what I said in the past."

As I noted last year, I've been experimenting quite a bit with varietal salts. They're an extravagence, but ultimately, they're an affordable extravagence--my modest containers of my two current favorites, Maldin Sea Salt and pink Himalayan rock salt, have now lasted for over two years. So far the flavor shows no signs of degrading.

A salt pig is good for holding these at the table (don't bother cooking with pricey salt--the cooking process alters the flavor. Just use it for finishing, or table salt). But where it really excels is on the stove, holding your salt for cooking. Many people I know swear by kosher salt, but while I find this useful for treating meat, otherwise I don't see what you gain from throwing larger crystals into a dish where they will just dissolve. I use ordinary Morton's iodized* salt.

After being so thoroughly humiliated for her salt pretentiousness last year McArdle tries to use reverse pretentiousness this year. We said that most people are happy with kosher salt, the way God and Alton Brown intended us to be, and now McArdle must tell us all that kosher salt's flakes are too big and one can just use Morton's. We admire her flexibility, if not her ethics.

The wee little piggie has a wide-open mouth and will not keep out humidity, but we'll let her find that out for herself.

McArdle also lists a gravy boat, immersion blender, scale, waffle, corkscrew, and tea press, sprinkling her reviews with little stories of her entertaining success. She does not compare items to let us know which brand is best and why--if she has it and recommends it, evidently it's the best. We bought a Screwpull when working our way through school as a waitress and it still works very well; for $12 (now $30), it was a great bargain. McArdle's rabbit is $55.

The Soadastream is, as she says, very nice if you like seltzer available at all times, but we run through the canisters of CO2 very quickly; too quickly to get new ones through the mail. You can get them refilled at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $15.

On and on and on it goes. McArdle likes All-Clad pans but thinks Calphalon Infused Anodized pans are the best. All-Clad does better in comparison tests but let's not tell McArdle. She uses a cast-iron pan for meat but evidently doesn't know that if it is properly seasoned and kept seasoned, it can cook anything without sticking (and can always go from stove top to oven). She likes electric pepper grinders but doesn't warn us that they often are underpowered and break down. And she likes an electric tea kettle but doesn't know about the extremely handy Japanese water heaters and their imitators, which can be left plugged in at all times if you so wish.

Half-educated, underskilled, gets facts wrong--what does that remind us of?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lesser Megan

We have to eat our vegetables before we get to dessert.

Shorter Megan McArdle:

How Not to Negotiate a Tax Deal in Two Easy Steps: Since progressive bitter enders have never negotiated anything, this is what they do: ask for something utterly impossible [like the kind of health care system every other major industrialized nation has] and act crazy. [It is nice to see that McArdle has moved on and no longer feel obligated to show any civility. It must have been killing her.]

Credit Card Companies Seeking to Expand Lending?: My credit limit doubled which is good, but more poor people are getting credit, which is bad.

Judge Rules Health Reform Mandate Unconstitutional: Nyah, nyah, told you so--any changes in health care status quo will kill medicine. [Our medical system will always be perfect until McArdle can no longer afford it.]

The Mysteries of Public Opinion: Dear me, I have no idea why people are worried about a cut in taxes that could undermine Social Security even though the article I link to gives that reason, as my commenters tell me.

Aren't We All a Bit Corrupt?: American bankers seem much less corrupt when you compare them to foreigners.

Columbia Eminent Domain Case Will Not Be Heard: Eminent domain favors the rich over the less fortunate. [True of course but it's a bit rich to see her worry about the immoral elite.]

Setting a Regulatory Budget: Most regulations are stupid. We should let the profit motive determine how many endangered animals are hunted. [I recommend the whole thing. It's mind-bogglingly juvenile.]

The Gift Guide review will be coming later. The milk warmer and frother she mentions is actually a great thing to have, but I am confident that the rest will not disappoint.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Business Is Booming

There is an article up on The Atlantic's new prosperity. It does not mention the "salons" and close and mutually beneficial ties with businesses. Heh.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Pressure To Conform

Let's look at one example of pressure to conform to the group that is now circulating the web:

What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama

NOT all of my white teachers viewed me as a discipline problem. To the annoyance of my fellow students, one teacher selected me regularly to lead assembly programs. A high school teacher insisted that I learn about the theater. She was an America-firster who supplied me with right-wing pamphlets and magazines that I’d read at breakfast and she didn’t seem bothered by my returning them with some of the pages stuck together with syrup.

But most of them did see me as an annoyance, and gave me the grades to prove it.

The author is establishing his authority to speak on the subject. He reminds us of racist white women and minor intellectuals.

I’ve been thinking recently of all those D’s for deportment on my report cards. I thought of them, for instance, when I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in “A New Literary History of America.” One of the country’s leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay “rowdy,” which I interpreted to mean “lack of deportment.” Perhaps this was because I cited “Huckleberry Finn” to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O’Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.

Remember, progressives can be racist too. And so can feminists.

I thought of them when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.”

Progressives can even be like Hitler! And, oddly, they support the tea baggers!

He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Silly progressives, who believe Wall Street is their friend.

And I’ve thought about them as I’ve listened in the last week to progressives criticize President Obama for keeping his cool.

Obama is cool. Criticizing him is like defending racists.

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.

Progressives are like the right, who worship machismo.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.

Tumans' speech warning America of the growing military industrial complex? That speech?* He was screaming? And progressives want Obama to be like that? The racists would win!

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.

And you don't want to be racist like them, do you?

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves.

You are here to support Obama. He is not here to support you.

They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

If you don't support Obama you will lose an important part of your base.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all.

You are a spoilt white person.

They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

Obama is cool. Shut up.

Mr. Reed is an important man. This opinion piece, written with skill and power and transparent manipulation, will scare quite a few people into shutting up.

*See Comments

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obedience and Politics

The following is in response to aimai's comments in the previous post.

Authoritarianism is the product of a certain type of upbringing. The parent demands obedience from the child by giving or (especially) withholding love from the child based on his level of obedience and how much the child satisfies the parents' needs. The parent expect the child to make the parent feel good about himself. The parent's own parents did not give him unconditional love and the parent spends the rest of his life looking for that love from other people. Since only children can experience unconditional love, they are always going to be disappointed. They will look to religion to give them that love--God's unconditional love, which authoritarian religions use to control people; follow these rules and God will love you.

Or politics. You only have to take on look at Republicans en masse to realize that they become involved because they need a group to reinforce their dubious beliefs. Facts, logic and compassion aren't on their side but they can forget all that when they are surrounded by people like them. Which is why they only want to be surrounded by people like them.

But just because authoritarianism is weaker on the left side of the continuum doesn't mean it doesn't exist at all. Liberals seek to feel good about themselves by helping others, because it confirms the positive feelings they have about themselves or because it gives them positive feelings about themselves. The first reinforces self-esteem, the second creates self esteem in people who need outside reinforcement.

If a person backs Obama while admitting that Obama has done things that are against our beliefs, it is not a sign of authoritarianism. If a person backs Obama and refuses to admit Obama has done what he has actually, factually done, then the person is denying reality and is supporting Obama out of need, not pragmatism. The difference is huge because someone who sees Obama as an equal, who knows his own needs are as important as his leader's needs, will not hesitate to push for what he wants. Someone who sees Obama as an authority that must be supported no matter what will not argue the facts, they will argue obedience to that authority.

If we examined whether Obama's policies have helped more than they've hurt, we could figure out what to do. But instead people insist that Obama hasn't done anything harmful, even when the facts say otherwise, or that the gain outweighs the harm, which has not been proven. They accept actions from Obama that they would never accept from a Republican, which of course tilts the scales in Obama's favor. Let's hear the arguments--all of them, from both sides. If the thought make people uneasy or afraid, there is a reason for that fear--avoidance of pain.

Have you read about the Asche conformity experiments?

In the basic Asch paradigm, the participants — the real subjects and the confederates — were all seated in a classroom. They were asked a variety of questions about the lines such as how long is A, compare the length of A to an everyday object, which line was longer than the other, which lines were the same length, etc. The group was told to announce their answers to each question out loud. The confederates always provided their answers before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as each other. They answered a few questions correctly but eventually began providing incorrect responses.

In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous view, only one subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer. Solomon Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question.

We put enormous pressure on ourselves to conform. We want people we like and respect to accept us and we want to be part of that group. We want people to hit the like button. So we avoid anything uncomfortable, anything that creates a dissonance between what we know is true and what we want to be true. To do that we have to lie.

We can compromise, we can negotiate, we can even submit, but we can never lie to ourselves. It makes us dependent on outside sources for self-esteem, which leaves us wide open and vulnerable to abuse, as well as abusing others to keep the lie intact. At the very least it makes us indifferent to others' suffering, being so much preoccupied with our own.

All of this discussion of Obama depends on our acceptance of him as our leader and us as his followers. The discussion is entirely confined within the borders of our system, which is set up to extract money from the poor and middle class for the further enrichment of the elite rich. It is a game the rich play to distract us from the Greater Game, their acquisition of wealth through political, social, religious and of course monetary control. I want us all to turn our backs on the present political system, do good and feel good by helping others, especially the poor during these times. It would undercut the rich, enrich our own lives, and give us a reason to hope for better times.

I also want a pony, preferably pink.

Friday, December 10, 2010

No Exit

I have not been posting much of late because I could not settle the question of supporting or not supporting Obama in my mind. I know that primarying him would not be successful and might have no effect at all. I know that most people support Obama. Politically, there is no question what must be done. But morally, it is wrong. I wrote this elsewhere in response to someone supporting Obama, but I want to repeat it here:

You are saying that we are not allowed to try to move Obama to the left. Or you are saying that we should not use the only viable means open to us--give time and money to someone other than our tribe's leader.

You are saying that our civilization is in danger and if we don't support our authority he will not be able to protect us from danger. You are saying that we must give up our principles, let the poor suffer, let the middle class become poor, let our old age pensions and medial care in old age gradually become weakened into non-existence---or the terrorists/Sarah Palin/Mike Huckabee will win.

You are saying that we must let our Leader build up our hopes for moral reform and then take them away, while scolding us for having those hopes at all. You are saying we must not speak up, must not criticize, must not use what little power we might have.

It is morally wrong to support a president who keeps open GITMO, escalates wars and begins new ones, gives taxpayers' monies to bail out banks, lowers workers' pay, and cuts taxes for the rich when the poor are desperate. You are arguing that being able to say our leader is the leader of our entire tribe is more important than doing the right thing.

You are saying that the middle class won't help the poor, the ones actually suffering right now, until the Leader's policies destroy them as well. And maybe not even then, for when it comes to supporting our Leader we would rather die than admit we were wrong and he has failed us.

We each must make our own choices but we must all acknowledge both the futility of political revolt against the elite under the present circumstances and the immorality of supporting the elite. The fact that we are trapped into immobility should give us a hint that there is something terribly wrong with the present political system, and tell us that it does not want our input, just our money and votes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

K-Lo Tweets

Oh, honey. They're not in the computer.

The Poor, Poor Rich

Megan McArdle has seen Obama's tax cuts, and after reading what everyone else thinks about them has come to a conclusion: The rich are being ripped off.

We have an awkward tax structure, to be sure--if you were designing a code from scratch, you probably wouldn't set it up this way. However, the payroll tax isn't particularly different from what the tax code looks like in many places in Europe--most people pay a broad, low rate, and then the carriage trade pays something more progressive. And it has grown over time largely in support of two social programs much beloved of progressives. If those programs were smaller, the employment taxes would be, too.

To me, [Felix Salmon's] chart shows how dependent the US federal tax take is on income taxes on higher earners, which tend to plummet precipitously in recessions, and are at historical lows simply because we're in an exceptionally bad recession.

The tax take is also at historical lows because the tax rate is at historical lows. It's very strange that McArdle does not know this.

Even the things that presumably worry progressives, like the lower revenues from corporate income taxes, are to some extent simply showing up elsewhere, as taxes on capital gains income. But you can't complain about this, and also complain that tax revenues are so low right now; broadly, the most stable taxes are also the most regressive--they're the taxes on necessities. In bad times, non-luxuries tend to get cut back and then so does your tax revenue.

This chart doesn't show the things that are really badly wrong with our tax code, like the massive inefficiency of all the deductions, and the punitive imputed marginal tax rates faced by poor workers who lose benefits as they gain a little income.

Evidently McArdle also does not know that the "poor workers" who see their taxes go up are making more money and are only paying higher rates on the amount of money in that given bracket.

An individual's marginal income tax bracket depends upon his or her income and tax-filing classification. As of 2008, there are six tax brackets for ordinary income (ranging from 10% to 35%) and four classifications: single, married filing jointly (or qualified widow or widower), married filing separately, and head of household.

An individual pays tax at a given bracket only for each dollar within that bracket's range. For example, a single taxpayer who earned $10,000 in 2009 would be taxed 10% of each dollar earned from the 1st dollar to the 8,350th dollar (10% × $8,350 = $835.00), then 15% of each dollar earned from the 8,351st dollar to the 10,000th dollar (15% × $1,650 = $247.50), for a total of $1,082.50. Notice this amount ($1,082.50) is lower than if the individual had been taxed at 15% on the full $10,000 (for a tax of $1,500). This is because the individual's marginal rate (the percentage tax on the last dollar earned, here 15%) has no effect on the income taxed at a lower bracket (here the first $8,350 of income taxed at 10%). This ensures that every rise in a person's pre-tax salary results in an increase of his after-tax salary.

For McArdle, making more money and moving into a higher tax bracket is a tragedy, not the attainment of the American Dream. It is a wonder that she does not quit her job immediately and live on the streets, where she wouldn't have to be punished for making money. Or she could go work for the Podunk Times And Courier, who would pay her much, much less and relieve her of the burdens of a higher tax bracket.

But make no mistake: Obama's tax cuts are a good deal for Democrats:

With the wailing and gnashing of teeth from many progressives, you would think that Obama had cut a deal to eliminate taxes on the wealthy in exchange for freeze-drying Guatamalan orphans in order to use them as decorations on the Family Research Council's Christmas Tree. Meanwhile, the conservatives I've seen are as proud of this deal as if they'd baked it from scratch.

I'm puzzled on both counts. Let me get the personal stuff out of the way: I think this is a terrible deal. I was rooting for gridlock to cause the tax cuts to expire entirely, which would probably have a moderately negative impact on the economy, but would at least somewhat forestall a devastating fiscal crisis down the road. If it was politically necessary to do tax cuts, I wanted them to be as small as possible, not $900 billion over two years.

Starve the government to drown it in the bathtub.

To be sure, this is a better deal, from my perspective, than it might have been. All the tax cut extensions are temporary, rather than permanent. We get a temporary extension in unemployment benefits, which I favor, given the lousy jobs picture. Some of the tax cuts, especially the temporary cut in the payroll tax, might even be stimulative. Nonetheless, I would much rather they had expired entirely than that we re-fight this battle in two years, when most of the parties are up for re-election. We may get that fiscal crisis even sooner than I thought.

But from the point of view of Democrats, this actually seems like a relatively decent looks like the Democratic proposals got more money than the GOP proposals, even if we leave the "middle class tax cuts" out of it.

Because the economic health of the nation is just another political game to win or lose.

So why are progressives so enraged? I'm not seeing a lot of complaints about austerity; rather, they simply seem to be mad that the Democrats were not able to thwart the GOP entirely. As Clive Crook says, "But is it really good politics for the party to keep telling the electorate that raising taxes on the rich is the one thing, in the end, it stands for? That nothing else comes close in the party's list of priorities? Because this is the message that comes across."

Clive, of course, is more sanguine about this deal than I am--more confident that tax reform is coming which will eventually undo it. I am not. And I would be sympathetic to progressives if they were complaining about the cost of this thing. But they're not--they're complaining about the $150 billion we're spending on Republican priorities, and saying nothing about the much larger sum we're spending on a Democratic agenda.

Republicans want to starve the government to death. Democrats want to increase government spending to make up for the lack of consumer spending so the government doesn't starve to death. The hypocrites.

Both sides, of course, are exposing themselves as the rank hypocrites they are on fiscal priorities. To say I despair for the financial future of our government is too weak.

Where was all this despair when the banks were being handed billions of tax dollars?

But McArdle isn't done yet--

Greg Mankiw and Bryan Caplan make the same point about Obama's payroll tax: it might better have been done on the employer side....

Given the terrible jobs figures, it seems obviously more important to me to pick the tax that is most likely to stimulate employment. Employed workers are mostly doing fine in this recession; it is the unemployed who need help, desperately.

Employers say that lack of demand is keeping them from hiring. This is not a secret.

USA Today wrongly told readers that: "private employers are uncertain about the economy's health and are hesitant to add jobs." The uncertainty of businesses does not explain their reluctance to add workers. If this were the case, then businesses would be increasing the number of hours worked per worker. While average weekly hours are up somewhat from the low hit last fall, they are still down by 0.7 hours from their pre-recession level. This indicates that firms are not hiring because they have no need of additional labor.

From the Washington Independent:

But I see the payroll tax as a fundamentally political move, not a serious attempt to fix the economy.

Who said it was an attempt to fix the economy, instead of an attempt to put a little money in people's pockets to stimulate the economy?

Cutting payroll taxes on workers means they will notice a little more money in their paycheck, and be happy with Obama. The unemployed won't be any happier, of course, but they have extended benefits, and few of them will realize that a differently structured tax cut might have given them a slightly better shot at finding a job.

Only if some hack lies to them and tells them it's Obama's fault that they don't have a job.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Ian Welsh has a good post up about Obama. You have to look at what people do, not just what they say. After you see someone do something you think is wrong, if you are sure you must accept that they did something wrong. If you aren't sure you must question what happened. If your new knowledge gives you pain you must let yourself feel the pain. When the pain has run its course and nothing is left to prevent you from doing the right thing, you are ready to fight.

It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City

Shorter Megan McArdle: Julian Assange is just making it harder for America to do all its good works.

Bonus Quote:

And what truly worries me about Wikileaks is not the immediate damage that has been done by the release of this sort of information, but the fact that the latest drop has created an enormous, nearly unanimous backlash in the United States.

I think our torturing, invading and killing has already done that, but that's just me.

An Apple, A Pear, A Plum, A Cherry, Any Good Thing To Make Us All Merry

Megan McArdle asks us to tell her what we are baking for Christmas this year. Her thoughts have turned towards pie baking:

asymmetricinfo Megan McArdle
Stupidest appliance ever? I want to buy one just to find out what I'm missing:

The appliance makes mini-pies, and McArdle also writes a post saying how stupid it is. So she acknowledges the pie cooker is stupid but she wants one anyway because it might not be as stupid as it seems, for some magical reason. Which explains her political philosophy.

But because I love to bake and therefore go hog-wild at the holidays, let's give McArdle a list of my holiday cooking plans:

Christmas Baking:

Cookies: Chocolate Chip, M&M, Oatmeal Raisin, Molasses, Shortbread, Peanut Butter, and Lemon-Lime

Quick Breads: Banana Nut, Cranberry Orange, Stollen (usually bought to save time), Cornbread (for stuffing), Scones

Pies: Apple, Pumpkin, Mince, Cherry

Savories: Sausage Puff Pastry Triangles, Mini-Quiche Lorraine, Pasties

Cakes: Pumpkin Spice Bars, either cupcakes or a chocolate cake

I have a tea party on Christmas Eve with the children and maybe a few relatives, so we can sit down, relax, and enjoy some of the fruits of my labor before the Santa-ing later that night and the big meals the next day.

It's insane to do so much baking but it's also fun, especially when the work is done and it's time to eat.

Go Home

This is a busy weekend for the Snark so we will be picking the low-hanging fruit today.

God only knows why, but Megan McArdle thinks we all care that she has to put up with other people when she goes out for a drink.

The gentrification boom in DC has hit up against a limited supply of bars--and neighborhood commissions that are very resistant to quickly opening more of them. The result is that no bar stays un-crowded for long; if it's any good at all, it's soon overwhelmed with a tidal wave of people fleeing the standing-room-only crowds at all the other bars. The bars aren't like this because most people in DC want to spend their Friday nights packed like cheap sardines; the bars are like this because there are so few of them in the areas where people under 35 live, that the only people who can bear to be in them are the people who will tolerate any conditions, including those of veal calves, if only they can endure them while holding a drink.

This is a new development in the areas of DC where, as it happens, Matthew Yglesias, Ryan Avent and I, all like to go out of an evening. When I moved to DC a scant three and a half years ago, there were enough bars where you could enjoy a Thursday night seated in the company of friends. Then came January 2009, when I held a birthday get-together at a previously local place on 11th street. Unfortunately, there wasn't much getting together; more than half the people were turned away because of overcrowding. Several bars had been shut down in Adams Morgan because the weren't serving enough food to comply with their tavern licenses; the result was that Adams Morgan relocated to U Street.

Since then, this pattern has been repeated over and over; any bar that opens is pleasant for a month or so, then completely, miserably jammed.

I think it's fair to say that our views on the relative importance of regulatory factors may be jaundiced by this--but in DC, regulation (and population pressure) clearly is the driving factor behind the lack of cozy, comfortable spots to get a bite and a beer.

It is very difficult to understand why McArdle thinks she is entitled to a bar that is quiet, cosy, in her neighborhood, has excellent food, and will always stay just as she wants it to stay. She may as well whine that she doesn't live next door to her favorite clothing store or bookstore or museum. She blames regulations without describing them or their history because that would mean acknowledging that regulations aren't just something handed down by a fascist, faceless government because liberals are all nanny-staters--they are often in place in answer to public problems and demands. Sure, she admits:

But it is true that London also has more quiet pubs New York--and New York, in turn, has more of them (outside of the East Village) than DC does. And this does make bars and cafes noticeably more unpleasant for the neighbors, as well as the customers. Which in turn causes residents to fight like hell to keep out any business that might attract a late-night crowd.

One possible solution is upzoning--neighborhood bars aren't so obnoxious when you're ten floors above them. But of course, the local residents tend to fight that as well

But she wants what she wants when she wants it, and like every spoiled child she doesn't understand why she can't get her own way. It's regulation's fault! Down with regulation! Get rid of them all! And when a bar moves in across the street from McArdle, she can bitch and whine about how the government destroyed her peace and quiet because governments can't do anything, ever.

Here's a suggestion for McArdle and all her little friends: Entertain at home. Our parents and grandparents did it because they couldn't afford to spend money on drinks and overpriced pub food. They watched tv, played cards, talked, and just spent time together instead of expecting to be waited on and entertained. This merry little band of bloggers bores everyone to death with their endless discussions of the best drinks and foods and cooking methods, but never seem to actually mix those drinks or cook that food. Creating something with your own hands and heart and then sharing it with your friends is infinitely more satisfying than signing a $150 bar bill and having nothing to show for it but a headache and indigestion.

Sometimes people are too tired to cook. Our generation has a way of dealing with this problem: we drive to bars. Yes, that means either taxi fees or a designated driver (we have no public transportation here). But somehow we manage to pull through.

There are a lot of people right now who can't afford to eat, let alone eat out. McArdle's attitude is that they have too much food anyway. (Note that she also complains that nobody cooks at home anymore). It is very unseemly to use The Atlantic and her privileged position to whine that there aren't enough places for her to spend all her ill-gotten money.

One final thing: McArdle came up with the same title as us. Heh.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lies Depend On Secrecy

Glenn Greenwald has a lot of great work up about the Wikileaks and the reactions to the leaks. He says in part:
It's one thing for the Government to shield its conduct from public disclosure, but it's another thing entirely for the U.S. media to be active participants in that concealment effort. As The Guardian's Simon Jenkins put it in a superb column that I can't recommend highly enough: "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. . . . Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets." But that's just it: the media does exactly what Jenkins says is not their job, which -- along with envy over WikiLeaks' superior access to confidential information -- is what accounts for so much media hostility toward that group. As the headline of John Kampfner's column in The Independent put it: "Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority." [Greenwald's bolding]

Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathize with them. By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not: hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does. Just look at how important it was for Bill Keller to emphasize that the Government is criticizing WikiLeaks but not The New York Times; having the Government pleased with his behavior is his metric for assessing how good his "journalism" is. If the Government is patting him on the head, then it's proof that he acted "responsibly." That servile-to-power mentality is what gets exposed by the contrast Wikileaks provides.

Servility to power has many rewards. There are financial rewards, because powerful people need to pay others to keep their secrets and lie to the public. There are emotional rewards as well; the servile enjoy feeling they are protected by powerful interests and are included in its elite circle. But it is a dangerous game because it depends on secrecy. Once the secrets are exposed the authoritarian followers are faced with a terrible dilemma: They must stop obeying their authority or knowingly accept the lies.

Many, many people accept the lies and demand more secrecy. Wikileaks and media critics, as well as anti-authoritarian critics of the elite, make it very hard to deny the truth, which is why so many people are angry with Julian Assuage right now. They want the lies, they want to obey, they want to feel safe and special. So we are seeing an upheaval in minds right now, the struggle between what we think we need and what we know we should want; between lies and truth. When secrecy is ripped away so is the authority, which is why our authorities are working so hard to preserve it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Department of Excuses

Megan McArdle actually wrote a post about other journalists' math errors. They say misery loves company; I guess innumeracy does as well.

Ooops, it seems that McArdle doesn't care for reminders of past errors.

It good to know that at least some journalists post corrections. It's got to be embarrassing when the WaPo company starts putting you to shame.

Last warning, Zosima. Next time I ban you.

We all make mistakes, say things we regret, make wrong choices. We apologize and try not to do it again. McArdle can't do that because she's paid to lie, so she tries to control what is said to squash dissent. She's caught in a horrible trap of her own making, a vicious circle of lying, exposure, ridicule, and humiliation.

I hope the money's worth it.

Bar None

Like Megan McArdle, I live in the middle of a big city, surrounded by a mix of commercial and residential properties. I live close to several bars and have observed my neighborhood go from slightly seedy to slightly gentrified. The yuppies (as they were called then) happily bought up the relatively inexpensive houses but immediately began bitching about the noise and traffic. So when I read this:

A nearly perfect house became available. The house we're buying is on a street that I fell in love with the first time I saw it. It's located close to Big Bear Cafe, the neighborhood's single biggest draw. Many of our friends live nearby. The engineer said he loved the house. We can live in it immediately and renovate as we have the cash. And the price is in a range that we can afford.

I knew one day I'd be reading this:

But it is true that London also has more quiet pubs New York--and New York, in turn, has more of them (outside of the East Village) than DC does. And this does make bars and cafes noticeably more unpleasant for the neighbors, as well as the customers. Which in turn causes residents to fight like hell to keep out any business that might attract a late-night crowd.

One possible solution is upzoning--neighborhood bars aren't so obnoxious when you're ten floors above them. But of course, the local residents tend to fight that as well.

Libertarianism in theory always sounds great, but in practice it is meaningless. People don't want loud bars in their neighborhood. Bars want to open in places without bars. Both can't get their way. There is no libertarian solution because we are not rugged individualists who just want to live our lives without anyone forcing us to do anything. If the laws don't allow, you can't put bars wherever you want. If you want to let bars in your neighborhood there is no way to ensure they will be tasteful and quiet. The only thing to do is hope that people won't be selfish and obnoxious, which is something that libertarians usually endorse. Just think--if there weren't so many libertarian-types in the world, libertarians could get what they wanted.

Well, whaddaya know. Sometimes life actually is fair.

Monday, November 29, 2010

By The Way

We, the United States of America, murdered tens of thousands of people. We tortured, raped and blew the damn place up. Then we reelected the torturers, murderers and rapists-by-proxy into office. When their terms expired and we elected a new president, he refused to prosecute our murderers for their crimes.

It is inevitable that people will hate us, will try to expose us to judgement and ridicule. Will blow us up if they have the opportunity. We killed and then we went shopping.

We are not going to be rich and powerful forever. When we fall the rest of the world will not mourn our passing. They won't talk about how moral we are, how we just want to do good. They won't debate whether or not we deserve to be embarrassed before the world.

We killed people and we walked away scot-free. We don't even have the grace to feel guilty for what we've done. We are indignant when others criticize us or try to harm us. We think that everyone should just forget about it and continue to treat us with respect, admiration and envy.

Actions always have consequences. Sometimes they affect you, sometimes someone else, but actions always have consequences.

Let Them Give Their Cake To The Bankers While They Starve

Shorter "Marie" McArdle: "[...]Europe cannot let its banks fail, but it also can't divert public pensions to line the pockets of bankers. Yet it may well have to do one or the other. I am also expecting finance to win."

There you go. The poor and middle class will pay so the bankers lose nothing. So let it be written, so let it be done.

I wrote a long post supporting Amanda Traub's criticism of McArdle, but since Traub immediately backed off, why bother? No cookie for you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Remember Afghanistan?

We are trying to ignore some of Megan McArdle's ignorant rantings--how many ways can you call someone stupid?--but boy, is she stupid.

James Wimberly on the fighting between police and gangs in Brazil: [snipped]

I'm skeptical that the issue is inequality, if only because there have been a lot of very unequal countries in history but not many where the police effectively ceded large chunks of territory to the rule of violent gangs--I'm struggling to think of any after Sherwood Forest, but that's undoubtedly a product of my limited historical knowledge.

Still, something clearly went pathologically wrong here. It would be nice to know what.

Her commenters educate her a little but someone who couldn't think of even one place partially ruled by local warlords isn't going to learn much anyway.

McArdle could look up information regarding Brazil's economic inequality but that would take work 'n' stuff.

The reasons for Brazil's enormous and persistent income inequality are obviously complex and can only be explored briefly in this article. The first set of reasons stem from the nature of the world economy. In recent decades, income distribution has grown more unequal in general, many of the developed economies included. The primary culprit is probably the increasing income gap between skilled and unskilled workers. But that gap is especially notable in developing countries, which typically exhibit a labor surplus, a problem that became especially acute in Brazil's case with the post-1945 surge in population growth. Brazil since the 1920s, furthermore, has gone through a phase of rapid industrialization. This process is necessarily capital- rather than labor-intensive, and industry therefore can afford to pay wages well above those of less prosperous employers. This further contributes to the wage gap.2 Because the productivity gains from industrialization tend to go disproportionately to the owners of capital, this further suppresses the labor share of national income.

Yet another factor has been the mode of Brazil's insertion into the world economy. The country's continuing heavy dependence on primary product exports, right up to the present day, has meant that Brazil was not gaining proportionately from the export of products that were high value-added. As is well known, higher value-added exports were among the keys to rapid growth (and improvement in income distribution) in the East Asian economies. Wages paid in Brazil's primary product sector have instead remained low because of the labor surplus.

The second set of reasons are historical factors specific to Brazil. They have to do with the power of its elite to influence government policy-both taxes and benefits-to its economic advantage. Government policy on taxes and public benefits has consistently favored the 5 to 10 percent of the population who control most of the wealth and have been able to control the levers of government. In practice, the federal government acts as a powerful channel for redistributing income from those on the bottom to those on the top. The general revenues of the Brazilian federal government, for example, are generated by a relatively regressive tax system, which is heavily dependent on payroll taxes and indirect taxes (Baer 2001, 79, 277; see also Weylancl 1996, chap. 5). A detailed analysis would undoubtedly show that the lowest income tax payers receive significantly less in return for their taxes, dollar for dollar, than do the middle and upper classes.

Yet another example of successful elite defense of self-interest is the government pension system (federal, state, and municipal). This is currently running a huge deficit (the deficit for the system covering federal employees is currently estimated to be $20 billion a year) which must be made up out of general revenues. (For a comprehensive survey of this topic, see World Bank 2001b.) According to the World Bank, "statistics indicate that less than 1 percent of social security spending reaches the poorest 10 percent of Brazilians, while about 50 percent is cornered by the wealthiest 10 percent" (World Bank 2001b, 3).

Other examples of regressive redistribution routinely occur at both the federal and state levels. It has been especially true in the liberal use of tax incentives, "which tend to favor the better-off classes. One instance is the heavily subsidized interest rates the federal government charged to (primarily large-scale) farmers on their loans in the 1980s. All in all, the net effect of the Brazilian government's fiscal policy is almost certainly regressive (Macedo 1991, 31; see also De Albuquerque 1991, 51).3

Further examples of the elite's success in protecting its interests are easy to find (Power 2000).4 To take a prominent recent example, the Cardoso government tried at least four times to get the congress to lower the exorbitant top range of federal pension benefits. Each time, it met defeat after an intense lobbying effort led by the beneficiaries, which, of course, included, inter alia, members of Congress. Another such case is free tuition at federal universities, which many members of the Cardoso government readily acknowledged should be changed. Because individuals often can get sufficient education to pass the entrance exam only if they can afford private tuition for primary and secondary school, this represents a significant distributional bonanza for the children of well-to-do families, the majority of whom could afford to pay part or all of the university tuition costs. The injustice of this de facto regressive system is all the more striking, given how badly Brazil's public system of primary and secondary schools has been underfunded (Birdsall and Sabot 1996). Whenever change is mentioned, however, students (and many faculty) stage enormous demonstrations-effectively frightening the government into leaving the system unchanged. The Cardoso government did not tackle the issue of universal free tuition at federal universities, for example, not wanting to risk the political costs of attempting reform.

The rich drains the country of money, the middle class goes along as long as they are still getting their cut, and the poor are left to fend for themselves, under laws and customs designed to steal their labor and work them until they die.

The Ruling Class Rules*

Speaking of No More Mister Nice Guy, Zandar has a post up about Obama's catfood commission:

"Let them eat cake" is one thing. This is far more sinister in its implications. And yet Simpson here represents the prevailing Village Serious Centrist viewpoint: Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh are exactly the same (except Maddow is a fish/inanimate object). They are extremists outside the worldview of Simpson, as is anyone who isn't a Beltway insider. Only the Serious Village People in the middle can "govern" and by govern that means make the little people suffer, because that's what the powerful are supposed to do to the small. If you're poor to the point where you actually need Social Security "handouts", then you're "greedy" and that's your damn fault. What good are you to Simpson?

Spoken like a man who really, really despises your average American like only a rich and powerful former Senator can.

And yet the larger problem is that President Obama is the one who asked Simpson to help craft this plan. He might want to do something about that.

I would only add one thing: Obama did do something about that. He appointed Simpson. Simpson does not represent the Village Serous Centrist viewpoint, he represents Obama. Our elite obviously understand that if you want to get rid of Social Security, you should pay a Democrat to do it. Better yet, a minority Democrat! That'll do the trick. Sixty-seven percent of us are authoritarian and that would include Democrats as well as Republicans. Authoritarians are easily manipulated with fear and it was easy to hold the far-right wing over our heads, just like the right used a far-left threat of socialism taking away the right's money and giving it to Black people. Same tactic, different group. It works like a charm.

Obama never would have been elected unless he went along with the banking elite. He is a very intelligent man and very ambitious. He took the money and appointed Simpson and now we are going to lose Social Security unless we find some kind of magic underpants gnome way to stop him.

This would be a really, really good time for Democrats to threaten to primary Obama. He seems to frighten easily and it might work. At the very least we might get someone who wouldn't subject us to groping when we need to go through security. I seriously doubt Obama would let that happen to his daughters, yet like all elite he is fine with it happening to ours.

And if someone pulls out Sarah Palin to defend voting for Obama, they are being dishonest. Palin is not a threat; the elite on the right do not support her, she is lazy and out of control, and she'll never be elected president. The tea baggers were elected whether we supported Obama or not. As for the Supreme Court, Obama's criteria is business-friendly, not liberal.

When are we going to do the right thing instead of the political thing? As amusing and cathartic as it is to mock the right, it does no good if the left elects people like Obama. It's just mindless meanness.

*It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Little Klein

Here at the Snark we are thankful for many important things, but we also take time to be thankful for the little pleasures in life, such as pundits who feel it necessary to explain why they were wrong without acknowledging that they were, in fact, wrong. Not since Megan McArdle first tried to explain her homicidal proclivities with 2x4s have we seen such a self-gratifying excuse for stupidity as Joe Klein's recent cri de moron. Klein, who is 64 years of age and might be assumed to have attained some small degree of self-awareness and wisdom, graces us with his correction of a teeny, tiny mistake.
Latest Column
On a mistake I made. (For Swampland regulars, this column is dedicated to implacable commenter Stuart Zechman). And Happy Thanksgiving!

My Continuing Education
No columnist nails every call. Here's one I got wrong—and why I should have known better.

Gosh, Mr. Klein must be right a great deal. He says so right there.
Columnists are paid to have opinions. Sometimes those opinions are wrong. Those two sentences are as obvious as a sunrise, but usually unspoken by my fellow opinionmongers. I can point you to many weeks of prescience and sheer genius in my work since I arrived at TIME in January 2003. But I think we'd learn more if we took a look at one of my goofs:

How modest is Mr. Klein! He could tell us tell us all the times he's right but instead he'll tell us about a time he was wrong. Not because he was forced to by Mr.Stuart Zechman, of course. He does it because he's eager to help others learn from his mistakes.
I supported George W. Bush's idea of partially privatizing Social Security, which he tried to enact after he was re-elected in 2004. This was a close call for me at the time; it seems positively idiotic now that we've experienced the Great Recession — and the idea of private investment has finally regained proper perspective. Investment is about risk; Social Security is about certainty. A fair amount of certainty is crucial when it comes to retirement. Why, you might ask, was I blind to this simple proposition at the time?

Because of his "[l]aziness, straight-shootin' obsession, late-'90s Gore/Bush pundit hysteria, boomerism, maverick-worship, warmongering"? And let's not forget Aimai's encounter with the usually-but-not-always-right Mr. Klein, so entertainly related on No More Mister Nice Guy. She saw Mr. Klein at a private event they both happened to attend and responded to something he was saying.
I was standing at the cookout minding my own business when Klein started pontificating for the rubes on how “surprising” and “shocking” it was that Grassley, of all people, should have come out and endorsed the “death panels” lie. I walked up and said “why are you surprised?” [edited to remove typo] to which he, in best pundit debater fashion (never allow yourself to admit you were just posing!), shot back “who says I'm surprised?” I said “well, you did. You just started your lecture saying “Its surprising.”” Its not surprising, the republicans have nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain at this point outside of pleasing the crazy base and attacking Obama and the dems.”

We were off and running. He then said that its true the fringe republicans were “crazy” but perhaps no crazier than the “crazy left” under Bush. I thought he meant the “truthers” so I said “name me one person in congress or the Senate who was as crazy on any topic as these Republican senators and Congressmen who sign on to the birther and deather stuff are now?” Evading this question he said “well, Glenn Greenwald is crazy—he's a civil liberties absolutist.” Now, me, I come from a long line of civil liberties absolutists so I said “I admire Glenn Greenwald's work immensley but it must be very embarrassing for you, of course,
because he's been eating your lunch for years.” (!) I think this must be something of a sore point for him. He began shrieking “Glenn Greenwald is EVIL! EVILl! you know what he did? He “sicced” his blog readers on my EDITOR and she was going through a DIVORCE at the time.” Really? I said, politely, that was very wrong, if it happened.

“We kept it very quiet” he said, backing off the claim of any real harm and, as a twofer, managing to imply that only those "in the know" had been kept informed.

There's a lot more funny but to be brief let's skip to the point:
As long as there is money to be made or friendships to be maintained on the right side of the aisle he will continue to write these “on the one hand/on the other hand” pieces so in six or seven years he can point to whichever part is more convenient to him. And woe betide the reader who takes what he writes seriously- we're just crazy, leftist, wikipedia reading hysterics.

Klein, like McArdle, cannot bear for others to point out his mistakes. They have a certain image of themselves that must be defended at all cost, no matter what humiliating contortions they must commit to ensure its continuation. When their self-esteem depends on this image, they cannot do anything else.
Well, two reasons. The first was a matter of courtesy and optimism: I always try to give a newly elected President the benefit of the doubt.

He is courteous, a courtly member of the Versailles Court. He is optimistic; this is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. Klein sits in judgement of the president but is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. One must be fair to those whom one favors with one's approval, or those from whom one withholds one's approval.
This is especially difficult — and all the more necessary — when it's a re-elected President whose policies seem misguided. I had written column after column about the bloody futility of Bush's war in Iraq — and don't get me started about the demonstrably foolish supply-side philosophy that spawned his tax cuts. Still, he was going to be my President for the next four years; my fellow citizens, and many of my readers, had voted him in. The partial privatization of Social Security was, he said, the top domestic priority for his second term. This seemed bold and politically risky.

Risky, yes. Bold, no. The middle class can't afford to support their parents. They sure as hell can't afford their parents' health care. We look towards Medicare as the finish line of a life-long sprint, hoping we'll last long enough to get the same sort of health care as the rest of the world. It's cruel to withhold it from young families and middle-aged people, but why only torture strangers when you can torture your neighbors as well?
Scaring the elderly about cuts in their retirement benefits is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but Bush truly believed that if people could invest retirement savings in the market, they would end up with larger pensions.

There's no way of knowing if this is true. Bush would never tell the truth, unless by accident.
And so did I, albeit with a truckload of caveats. I came to this belief the hard way, by overreading 30 years of experience as a journalist.

Here is where the lying begins. As soon as the pundit reveals he ignored reality in favor of fantasy we know the only thing he can do is lie. He can't tell the truth--he believed what he wanted to believe; he believed whatever satisfied his needs and wants. He believed whatever assuaged his insecurities and reinforced his prejudices.

Let the excuses begin!
Much of that time had been spent on urban issues, especially the failure of traditional liberal social programs to alleviate poverty.

As if liberal social programs could end economic inequality! It's an amazingly insulting statement. Let the rich do what they want, and when the middle class tries to help the poor, blame them for the continuation of poverty. The man deserves a round of applause for that contortion.
Indeed, welfare — Aid to Families with Dependent Children — as it was then constituted seemed a system of perverse rewards that intensified poverty, encouraging poor women not to marry, not to work, not to make sure their kids showed up at school and so forth. Their children were making and having babies prematurely, with no sense of responsibility. A discrete culture of poverty — in which people didn't look for work even when the economy surged — had taken hold. An essential feature of this culture, it seemed to me, was passivity.

I guess that racism problem was all cleared up then? And what we have now is a group of people with high illegitimacy rate--meaning Black--who are passive, lazy, irresponsible, immoral, and bad mothers and citizens. These people are unlike white people, who inherited the Judeo-Christian work ethic and morality and therefore are much better than certain other people whom we will not name to spare then the embarrassment.
One possible answer to the problem of passivity was choice: if parents were given the choice of which school their child could attend, for example, they might bestir themselves to take a more active role in their kids' education. I first saw this principle at work in East Harlem in the early 1980s, where parents were offered an array of schools with different curriculums for their children. The results were mixed, but it was lovely to see beaten-down people taking action, taking control of at least one public aspect of their lives for the first time.

Gooooo down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt-land!
Tellll ole Pharaoh
To let my people goooooooo!

I'm sorry, where were we?
I became besotted with the notion of choice, which was another way of saying I became besotted with the idea of markets. If you gave people a choice, the best public products — schools, job-training programs, health care services and, yes, retirement plans — would rise to the top, and average folks would be empowered to become more active, and therefore better, citizens. I still think it's a pretty good principle.

So if you give poor people a choice between being milked by a corporation or by spreading the cost so everyone can have better services, getting milked is the better choice? Evidently Klein believes that all corporations want to do is provide the best goods or services at the lowest price. Either Klein has the intellect of a kindergartner or he's trying to bullshit the entire planet, including himself. And failing.
But there are limits. Social-service markets have to be strictly regulated. Even in Chile's groundbreaking social-security privatization plan, which I looked at on a visit, individuals were only allowed to invest their retirement savings in a handful of very cautious government-approved plans. There was never any talk of that kind of regulation in Bush's scheme, which was one of my caveats. I missed the biggest problem of all, though, because — like most Americans — I was raised in good times. Markets could tank. Retirement savings could be wiped out. The function of Social Security was — like food stamps — to provide a floor. It needed to be recession-proof.

Over and over, our pundits confess that it doesn't even occur to them to look at the potential downside of a situation they are supposed to be analyzing. And they still keep their jobs.
And so, belatedly, I've realized that there are two types of social programs: those that are designed to raise people out of poverty ... and those, like Social Security, that provide, yes, a safety net when the bottom falls out. The programs that seek to raise the poor often work better when people are given a choice; those that provide a net need to be as simple and reliable as possible. In this case, the name said it all: Social ... Security. It was an essential lesson in the continuing education of a political columnist.

In other words, Klein thinks that except for that one exception, the time he forgot to consider whether or not the stock market could go down, he was right, while the liberals were wrong about poverty and social justice. Which makes everything even and Mr. Joe Klein just a little bit wiser than he was before.