Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cruising the Web

Jon Gabriel gives an economics lesson to all those journalists out there claiming Harvey and Irma may actually present an increase in economic growth because of all that people will have to spend on buying new cars or repairing their homes and businesses.

As Gabriel reminds us, Paul Krugman has often made this claim after events such as 9/11 or the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Surprisingly, this Nobel-Prize wining economist doesn't know the"broken window fallacy" that French economist Frédéric Bastiat illustrated in the 19th century.
A long time ago, a French guy named Frédéric Bastiat shattered this kind of nonsense, calling it “the broken window fallacy.” In his essay “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen,” Bastiat showed that destruction never boosts the economy.

He imagined a boy broke a window. (Something I excelled at as a kid — sorry, north Phoenix.) Now his dad needs to pay to replace it. Amateur economists in the neighborhood tell the dad that’s a tough break, but note how great it is for the local glassmaker. Why, he would go out of business if annoying kids (such as yours truly) never put a baseball through a window.

In fact, the economic growth would be even better if they sent me around to smash the windows of every house on my street.

True, the glaziers would make a few extra bucks whenever I moved into a neighborhood. That’s the economic impact that is seen.

But the impact that isn’t seen is the fact my long-suffering dad can’t spend that money on a new guitar, a dinner out, or counseling for his petty vandal of a son.

Moreover, replacing something that has already been purchased is a maintenance cost, not a purchase of truly new goods, and maintenance doesn’t stimulate production.

This idea can be broadened to all sorts of government activity. It doesn’t grow the economy to start a war, level a neighborhood for a giant arena, or tear up a rundown street to build a light rail.

After the fact, there might be an “improvement” for that immediate area, but it doesn’t account for all the economic activity lost in the process.
It would be nice if analysts understood that, as Bastiat explained, we have to pay attention to what is unseen - the spending that won't occur - and not just what is observable.

Next we'll hear from these people about the money the country is going to make off of Irma because the estimates of damage are about $150 billion less than originally anticipated.
By one estimate, the total cost dropped to about $50 billion Monday from $200 billion over the weekend. The state escaped the worst because Irma’s eye shifted away from the biggest population center of Miami-Dade County.

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Hillary Clinton is the gift that keeps on Republicans. Peter Hasson notes that she is defending her comment on Trump's supporters being "deplorables" on the Access Hollywood tape that came out. She told Jane Pauley that she was thinking about how Trump was deplorable as we saw on that tape and so the word was on her mind. The only problem for her is that the tape came out a month after she made her "basket of deplorables" comment.

John Podhoretz reviews her book and doesn't find it truly terrible. But he does note this logical mistake in her argument as to why she lost.
To say on the one hand that she won the popular vote and only lost by 77,000 votes in three states and on the other that she lost because of misogyny and racism and nativism is the stuff that would make any reader who isn’t automatically of her camp scratch his or her head in bafflement. Barack Obama won two commanding victories with absolute majorities in 2008 and 2012; how then was her defeat, the defeat of one of the whitest people in America, the result of hatred of black people? The illogic is discomfiting and circular.

And then she makes this claim:
Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she would have been called a "genius" and her campaign "perfect" if she had won the 2016 presidential election.

In an interview with WNYC, the former secretary of State reflected on being the first female presidential nominee of a major political party. She said that because of the hurdles women face, she would have been hailed as brilliant if she won.

"I thought it was pretty revolutionary that I was the first woman to have a realistic chance of becoming president,” Clinton said. “So I don’t know how any woman who is not familiar to people, since we have so many hurdles to overcome, could have even been in that position that I found myself.

“So if I had won, you know, I would have been seen as a genius; my campaign would have been seen as perfect,” she added. “I understand all of that.”
Oh, give me a break! She was favored to win in 2016 since January 21, 2013. Her campaign was thrilled that Trump won the GOP nomination. They thought she was so likely to win that they spent time in the last days campaigning in red states because she wanted to run up her total. She led in the polls just about the entire time. How would winning an election everyone expected her to win a sign of brilliance?

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Democratic senators' questioning of professor Amy Coney Barnett's religious beliefs and how they would influence her potential decisions if she is approved to be on the 7th Circuit has raised questions about whether or not those senators were imposing a religious test on her. As Kevin Daley points out, this episode also has exposed the influence of interest groups on the confirmation process. As Daley explains, neither the senators nor their staff have the time to read all a candidate's writings or speeches. So they depend on groups that summarize the candidate's words. However, it becomes a problem if that group lies about a candidate. And that is exactly what has happened as the senators based their questions on a report by the Alliance for Justice. Since the report is public, it's possible to match up the senators' questions with the report.
The Alliance’s report makes Barrett out to be something of a pro-corporate Savonarola, better suited to the cleric’s stole than a judicial robe. But the archetype they presented was effective. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, drew directly and substantially from the report in her questions to Barrett during last week’s hearing.

Her first question concerned the “super-precedential” status of Roe v. Wade. “Super-precedent” is a neologism which emerged in recent judicial-confirmation battles to describe a decision about which certain senators care intensely. Feinstein asked Barrett about a list of super-precedents which appeared in a 2013 journal article under her name, and quoted directly from the article to buttress the suspicion that Barrett does not believe Roe is part of the canon of super-precedents.

As Barrett explained in response, the list of cases Feinstein referenced was not her own list, but rather a list compiled by other scholars to which she was merely offering her own professional annotations. The claim that Barrett composed the list, and the quote Feinstein offered as evidence of her views, appear in the Alliance report.
The same construction followed in Feinstein’s very next question, which concerns a woman’s reliance interest in ensuring access to abortion. As with her first question, the senator repeated a charge which appeared in the Alliance report, and then reinforced the claim with the exact same quote which appeared in the dossier.

Feinstein’s order of questioning exactly tracks the report itself — the allegations concerning super-precedent and reliance interests appear on the same page in sequential order. The general thrust of Democratic skepticism is also lifted from the report. Lawmakers repeatedly asserted that Barrett advocates the supremacy of religious belief over and against case law when tension arises between the two. Committee Democrats, using language and citations from the report, asserted that she gave religion primacy over law in a 1998 law-review note called “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.” The article, however, does little to further the senators’ claim. In it, Barrett specifically rejects the position they accused her of holding, writing that “Judges cannot-nor should they try to-align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge.”
Republicans do the same thing, of course, though I haven't heard of their following a report that was so demonstrably dishonest. It shows what a joke that confirmation battles have become - they're basically a battle between outside groups with U.S. senators used as mouthpieces.

Senator Feinstein's over-reliance on the Alliance for Justice report has somewhat come back to bite her as Catholic groups and others have criticized the anti-Catholic tone of her questioning. It was so clear that she had misstated Barrett's writings and had no idea that Barrett had written the exact opposite of what Feinstein claimed. And now, in her response to criticism, Feinstein defends herself by quoting Barrett's writing out of context. She's probably still relying on the prevarications of the Alliance for Justice.

When I discuss interest groups with my class, we talk about why lobbyists will not lie to politicians because they don't want to lose their ability to influence those politicians. Trust is important. But I somehow doubt that Diane Feinstein is going to stop relying on the Alliance for Justice's reports on Trump's nominees. But it's all Kabuki theater. We know how these senators are all going to vote - on a completely partisan basis. They just need the figleaf of a reason to vote that way. And if that figleaf comes from a bad seed, who cares?

I sure wish that journalists took a few courses in history. MSNBC's Joy Reid would certainly benefit. She is claiming that, because of Donald Trump, this is “the worst time to be a human.” Really? Has she heard of the Black Death, the 30 Years War, World War Two? What about centuries of slavery?

Jonah Goldberg takes on the accusation that Republicans "don't believe in science." Really that just means that the accuser thinks that Republicans don't believe in climate change.
Over the last two weeks we’ve heard a lot of folderol and bambosh about Republicans, conservatives, Texans — etc. — not “believing” in science because recent hurricanes have been bad and climate change is causing it and blah blah blah.

As you can probably tell, I don’t think much of all that. We had a historic lull in hurricanes until the lull was over. Once the hurricanes started back up, so did the claim that climate change caused the hurricanes just as the scientists predicted — the same scientists who didn’t predict the lull. Similarly, California had a historic drought that recently came to an end. Most of the climate models say that California should get wetter because of global warming. But that didn’t stop President Obama and others from suggesting the dry spell was a symptom of climate change. Then, when California experienced huge amounts of precipitation, suddenly the models were prescient....

This whole “don’t believe in science” canard amounts to ackamarackus bordering on flimflam. Even if you were a 100 percent “denier” of climate change, that wouldn’t necessarily mean you don’t “believe” in science. Indeed, many of the hardcore rejectionists I know are really, really, really into the science of climate change (tell the guys at CEI they don’t believe in science, I dare you). They just tend to think the prevailing “consensus” is a politically and journalistically contrived sham. But even if you are a “denier” without being a science dork, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t believe in “science.” Rejecting one scientific finding — whether accurate or inaccurate — doesn’t mean you must reject all “science,” never mind suggest that you don’t “believe” in it.

To be honest, I don’t know what people who say “you don’t believe in science” think they mean when they say it. Climate “deniers” don’t insist the world is flat (though I have to assume flat-earthers have unconventional views on atmospheric science). They don’t refuse to take medical treatment or prescribed drugs. They have faith that the internal-combustion engine is based on sound science. Etc.

Often, when I stupidly engage people who sincerely claim that Republicans or conservatives don’t “believe in science,” I like to point out that many liberals and leftists have problems with science, too. People who want to ban golden rice or other GMOs; people who deny that a fetus is a whole human; people who insist fetal pain is a myth; people who get outraged by claims that, say, men can’t get pregnant. The list goes on and on. And yet, I don’t argue that “Democrats don’t believe in science.” You know why? Because that would be stupid.
I did enjoy learning a new word - ackamarackus. I can think of lots of opportunities for throwing that into a sentence, particularly in talking about politics.

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Wow. Who could imagine that Hollywood would have greenlighted a movie about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquidick, but apparently it's all set to go. Owen Gleibermann reviews it in Vanity Fair and it sounds as if it were a movie made by Republicans.
Around 11:00 p.m., they drive out to the beach. Ted, who’s been guzzling whiskey from a bottle, zooms away from a local cop (he doesn’t want to be caught drunk, or seen with a pretty blonde he may have designs on). He then turns his gaze toward Mary Jo — and that’s the moment he drives off the bridge. It’s a short wooden structure, with no guard rails, and after fighting his way out of the water, he walks, in a daze, back to the cottage. He may be soused, but he’s already in damage-control mode.

At the cottage, when he sees Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), his cousin, friend, and lawyer, the first thing he says is, “We’ve got a problem,” followed by a quick, “I’m not going to be president.” He’s already thinking about himself, and no one but himself. He is thinking, in other words, like a Kennedy. Joe and their other comrade, the Massachusetts Attorney General Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), both tell Ted that he needs to report the crime, and he assures them that he will. But what he knows is that reporting the crime means he’ll be tested for alcohol consumption, so he has to wait. And wait.

The film says that what happened at Chappaquiddick was even worse than we think. Kopechne’s body was found in a position that implied that she was struggling to keep her head out of the water. And what the film suggests is that once the car turned upside down, she didn’t die; she was alive and then drowned, after a period of time, as the water seeped in. This makes Edward Kennedy’s decision not to report the crime a clear-cut act of criminal negligence — but in spirit (if not legally), it renders it something closer to an act of killing.

“Chappaquiddick” is a meticulously told chronicle, no more and no less, and at times there’s a slight detachment in watching it, because it’s too tough and smart to milk the situation by turning Edward Kennedy into a “tragic figure.” In certain ways, he may well have been, and there are moments when we see the sad grandeur with which this disaster hangs on his stooped shoulders, but the movie is fundamentally the portrait of a weasel: a man who, from the moment the accident happens, takes as his premise that he will not suffer the consequences, and then does what it takes to twist reality so that it conforms to that scenario.
And just a few years later, he ran for the Democratic nomination and came close. He was lionized the rest of his life as the icon of the Kennedy party and the moral voice for all that is good and true in politics. And he remains...a man who got away with manslaughter because his family was rich and powerful. I just can't believe that such a movie got made.

This is so funny and typical of celebrities - they want to make it a crime to publish an actors' actual age.
Can California ban people from publishing the ages of Hollywood stars? A federal court is currently considering whether the state can stop the practice without running afoul of the First Amendment.

At issue is a 2016 law (Assembly Bill 1687) ostensibly designed "to ensure that information obtained on an Internet Web site regarding an individual's age will not be used in furtherance of employment or age discrimination."

But rather than address age discrimination per se, the law simply bans certain types of websites from publishing accurate age information about certain classes of entertainment workers. As such, it "sets a dangerous and unconstitutional precendent," claim lawyers for the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), "and should be deeply troubling to all who care about free speech."

The law's supporters singled out IMDb as a primary target. In addition to its massively popular free website, IMDB also offers a professional subscription service to actors, casting directors, makeup artists, and other entertainment professionals.

The way the new law was written, random websites that publish the ages of entertainment professionals are still in the clear. But any "online entertainment employment service provider" that accepts payment for its services falls under the measure's purview. For such individuals or entities, paid-user requests to remove age information must be honored within five days or else the site risks civil and criminal penalties. These providers are also barred from sharing age info with or publishing it on other sites.
Hello? Has the actors' union ever heard of the First Amendment? I realize that this is California, but it's amazing and dismaying that the legislature actually passed a bill saying this.