Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

You could call this a brief photographic essay on the importance of wetlands.

This is Panther Lake, which is located in Federal Way, Washington, back in late August:
Image credit: Cujo359

This is the same lake, from almost the same location, earlier this week:
Image credit: Cujo359

If it were from the exact same position, I'd have had to be wearing hip waders. That's the corner of a park bench in the lower right hand corner of this picture. I was standing in front of it when I took the pictures in August.

Needless to say, our summers are usually very dry, and our winters pretty wet. This has been a relatively dry winter, but with temperatures higher than normal, I expect we're seeing more runoff than usual.

Had it not been for a referendum that demanded municipalities do urban planning, there might have been houses in the middle of that lake by now. There almost certainly would have been some nearby, lakefront property being as valuable as it's become here. As it happens, we could probably stand to have another several feet of water show up there before we'd have to worry about the Little League fields next door being flooded, and several feet more before any buildings are threatened.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Do You Know?

Caption: A veal pen.

Image credit: Found it here

Paul Krugman and I agree on something. Well, sort of:

But don’t blame Rahm Emanuel; this is about the president. After Massachusetts, Democrats were looking for leadership; they didn’t get it. Ten days later, nobody is sure what Obama intends to do, and his aides are giving conflicting readings. It’s as if Obama checked out.

Look, Obama is a terrific speaker and a very smart guy. He really showed up the Republicans in the now-famous give-and-take. But we knew that. What’s now in question isn’t his ability to talk, it’s his ability to lead.

Cossack Rahm Works For The Czar

Blaming Rahm Emanuel for the problems of this Administration is like blaming the mirror for what you see there. Obama knew who Emanuel was. I suspect it's hard to not know who he is if you've been in DC long enough. He hired Emanuel anyway.

I've said all this before, but it bears repeating, apparently. There are an awful lot of people who just don't get this. Firing Rahm won't solve the problems at the White House. Not that I disagree that it should be done, but the reason Rahm was there in the first place is what people need to focus on.

Ironically, one of those reasons you hire someone like Rahm is that you don't have to deal with all those pesky details. Somehow, they just go away. Jane Hamsher provides an example:

The Obama campaign successfully telegraphed to donors that they should cut off Fund for America, which famously led to its demise. It wasn't the last time something like that happened -- just ask those who were receiving institutional money who criticized the White House and saw their funding cut, at the specific request of liberal institutional leaders who now principally occupy their time by brown nosing friends and former co-workers in the White House.

Van Jones: A Moment of Truth For Liberal Institutions in the Veal Pen

Rahm is the guy who makes Obama's problems go away. As you can see, Rahm wasn't doing this to Republicans or conservative Democrats.

I think you can work out the rest on your own.

Call For Articles By Elitist Bastards

This article is post-dated so that it will appear on the front page until Jan. 30. New content will be below.

Updated Jan. 27 - Only two days to go. If you want to submit an article, please do so soon..

It's only a week after New Years, and you've finally returned all those presents you got for Christmas, and now you're looking for something to do. I bring good news. Soon it will be time for another Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards. What's the COTEB, you ask? It's a celebration of knowledge and reason. It was started, and is still run, by Dana Hunter, who offers her reasons for starting the COTEB:

It's time we took the word "elite" back. Time we turned the tables on the "populists" and made their "anti-elitist" and "anti-intellectual" poses the obnoxious ones. What they're basically saying is, people are stupid and enjoy mucking about with stupid people because they're too stupid to appreciate intelligence.

Gather Round, Ye Elitist Bastards

That celebration might take the shape of a discussion of timekeeping, or a smackdown of hypocrits, or people who need to use their heads. It could also be an an explanation of LaTeX, or the Web and the history of science. Whatever you've got, if it's about knowledge or reason, if you wrote it and it's on the web, we want it.

So, if you have what it takes to be an elitist bastard, just submit your links to the COTEB e-mail account.

Once again, I'll be donning the funny hat and and as many pistols as I can carry as I host a cruise of the carnival. I'd love to see submissions from folks who haven't participated before, particularly if they're regular readers. If you submit your entry before January 29, that would be even better. I'll have more time to work on that narrative thing I heard about in composition class. January 29 is the deadline, however.

If you're still not sure what sort of article works as a COTEB article, click on the COTEB keyword and check out some past carnivals.

So, as Admiral Hunter says, send us your treasures, and we'll see you in a few days.

BTW, if you don't have a website, but you have an article that you've written, send it to me and I'll put it up here as a guest post.

NOTE: Yes, this is a slightly updated version of last year's announcement. You gotta problem with recycling?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nothing Really Changes

Caption: The Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC. Thanks to the U.S. Senate, there it's once again being run by a feckless incompetent.

Image credit: afagen

Nothing really changes in Washington, DC. That much is clear from today's votes to confirm Ben Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve today. The cloture vote was 77-23, but the final vote on confirmation was 70-30. These Senators could at least rouse themselves to vote against confirmation:

Begich (D-AK)
Boxer (D-CA) *
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Dorgan (D-ND) *
Ensign (R-NV)
Feingold (D-WI)
Franken (D-MN) *
Grassley (R-IA)
Harkin (D-IA) *
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Kaufman (D-DE) *
LeMieux (R-FL) *
McCain (R-AZ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sanders (I-VT)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Specter (D-PA)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Whitehouse (D-RI) *
Wicker (R-MS)

The Senators with the asterisks ('*') behind their names voted for cloture. Under the circumstances, their votes against the nomination are strictly symbolic. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) tried to put a good face on it, though, and came up empty:

“I think it’s important for him to note that he did have 30 votes-plus [sic] against him. I think the message is, take a look at Main Street, not just Wall Street,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said.

Ben Bernanke Confirmation Vote: Senate Gives Fed Chair A Second Term

Trying to make something out of nothing is certainly business as usual.

As you can see, that list is a mixed bag with little rhyme or reason, other than the Democrats are among the few who give more than lip service to the idea that the government's finances should be subject to some form of accountability. The Republicans are the ones who tend to think that obstructing anything Democrats try to do is a good thing.

The only unusual thing I note is that Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined the usual rogue Democrats in voting against cloture, even though she's not up for re-election.A bit symbolic given the circumstances, but appreciated anyway. Arlen Specter (D-PA) is, and he was not so surprisingly a no vote as well. Maybe he's feeling that primary heat.

As usual, a guy who can't do his job properly and doesn't give a crap about it is perfectly OK with the majority of the Senate. That doesn't surprise me in the least.

Ryan Grim provides perspective:

The lesson here: Centrist and conservative senators are willing to deny an up-or-down vote on policy they oppose, but progressive senators often are not. That dynamic tilts political power toward leadership and conservative priorities.

Ben Bernanke Confirmation Vote: Senate Gives Fed Chair A Second Term

That too, is the same old story. There are days when I really despise the people who run my government. You might not be able to tell, but today is one of those days.

(h/t Yves Smith, without whom I'd have been blissfully unaware of this vote, possibly for days.)

Bon Chance, Spirit

xkcd's poor anthropomorphized Spirit Mars rover wonders when it will get to go home:
xkcd Spirt cartoon. Click here to see the whole thing.

Spirit's fate is a good metaphor for the space program, which did everything we asked of it and then was largely abandoned by people who, it would seem, just don't give a crap about anything that doesn't benefit them directly right now.

Click on the picture to be taken to xkcd to see the full comic, plus the clever secret message.

Oregon Provides Another Lesson

I missed this yesterday, but it's important:

Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.

Oregon Voters Pass Tax Increasing Measures By Big Margin

Calitics' Robert Cruikshank provides the perspective:

Yesterday Oregon voters delivered a huge victory for progressives by approving Measures 66 and 67, raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 and large corporations to generate $733 million to close the state's budget deficit. The Oregon legislature had approved the taxes last summer, but a corporate/teabagger alliance organized to put it to voters in a referendum.


The opposition ran a well-funded campaign, led by Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and other big businesses. They were joined by Ari Fleischer's FreedomWorks and the libertarian publisher of the Oregonian, who used to be at the Orange County Register before it went belly-up. Together they ran a campaign arguing that the tax increases would worsen unemployment. But 55% of voters have rejected that, and instead showed that when a truly progressive campaign is waged, the right-wingers can be beaten. Even on taxes.

In what sure looks to me like a recession, with unemployment reaching higher levels all the time, the voters of Oregon decided it was time to raise taxes to pay for essential services. That's just as big a message to DC Democrats as the Massachusetts Senate race was. The message, once again, is that good policy is often good politics. Sometimes, all it takes is the nerve to stand up and say it's necessary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The State Of The Union Address

Caption: President Obama gives the State of the Union speech, Jan. 28, 2010.

Image credit: Screenshot of this video by Cujo359

I didn't watch the State of the Union address. It's just bad political theatre. What's interesting are some of the bizarre reactions to it, like this one from Steve Benen:

I'll have more on President Obama's State of the Union speech in the morning, and I'm usually awful at guessing how "everyone else" responds to speeches like these, but my first thought after it ended was, "Oh, right, this is why I voted for the guy."

We've been here before -- Obama gets in a jam, so a big speech is needed to set things right. It happened at Iowa's JJ dinner; it happened with the speech on race in Philadelphia; etc. I'm not convinced the presidency was veering off in the wrong direction, but if anything should help bring some renewed confidence to the White House, this State of the Union address should do the trick. There were high expectations, and Obama delivered.

SOTU Open Thread

You're right, we've been here before, and it's getting really old. We have been through a year of this guy saying one thing and doing another, or not doing anything. By now, his actions define who Barack Obama is. He hired Rahm Emanuel, a man who is little more than a thug, as his Chief of Staff. He talked big on health care while he was actually screwing us. He talked about closing Guantamamo Bay, while he just moved it to Illinois. Once again, his words were empty of any meaning, at least to him.

A person's actions define who he is. His words, when they're uttered honestly, say what he wants to be. When they're not uttered honestly, they're lies.

When someone says one thing and does another, you learn to ignore what he says. When are the Obama fanboys going to learn?

Has Sanity Prevailed?

Image credit: Found it here

Has sanity prevailed, or is this just a reprieve? The New York Times reports today, with what I think might actually be an ironic poke at the Senate:

With no clear path forward on major health care legislation, Democratic leaders in Congress effectively slammed the brakes on President Obama’s top domestic priority on Tuesday, saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them.

Democrats Put Lower Priority on Health Bill

After all, it's a lot of work to take a good idea and turn it into something that even its firmest supporters would have to back away from. That's what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate accomplished in those eight months, with some "help" from the Obama Administration.

Quotes from both Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi indicate that they haven't given up hope of passing something. The language they use suggests that they plan to base that something on either the House or Senate version of the bill. I'm not excited about the House bill, but it might be redeemable in a sane universe. The Senate bill is beyond redemption, and even in this crazy parallel universe I find myself in lately, it may be beyond the ability of the corporate whores in Congress to resurrect it.

The NYT article indicates that they're going to try to take the issue up again in February.

At least for now, we can rest a little easier knowing that, as bad as things are, the government isn't going to try to make them worse.

In the interest of fairness, I'll have to give a shout out to Rep. Raul Grijalva, who, along with his Progressive Caucus, have received some rather merciless criticism here in the past for being largely useless in stopping this travesty from happening. They stood firm, and made it possible for something better to happen. If my criticism helped that process along in any way, I'll happily do it again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Think About It Really, Really Hard

Caption: The Thinker. Rodin's ironic work seems somehow appropriate here.

Image credit: CJ/Wikimedia Commons

It's appalling how divorced from reality the debate on health care has become. There is this idea that somehow the Senate bill will be fixed later, and that the House should just pass it so that we can continue to have momentum. Nate Silver thinks that a bunch of little attaboys is worth more than a few huge "aw shits" when it comes to the features of the Senate bill. One blogger seems to think that not passing this bill is a sign of lack of courage. Steve Benen thinks that the House just has to trust the Senate to fix things later. I think passing it shows a sign of a lack of a functioning brain. Here's why, via Jon Walker:

According to Politico, the potential reconciliation measure contains six major components:

1. An increase in the Medicare payroll tax for the rich
2. More cuts to Medicare Advantage
3. The special excise tax deal for unions
4. Small increases in affordability tax credits
5. A fix for the Nebraska Medicaid deal
6. Closing the Medicare Part D donut hole by 2019

There will also be some other small, technical fixes and, ideally, a national exchange instead of state-based exchanges. The national exchange could easily run afoul of the Byrd rule, and might not be possible.

Tax Increases, Medicare Cuts, And Special Give-Aways To Unions: Are Democrats Actively Trying To Lose The House?

Do you see a public option in there? Do you see any way of enforcing all those marvelous insurance regulations that are supposed to make insurance so much fairer (in other words, many of Nate's "attaboys")? Do you see any added funding for Medicaid, so the burden of increased qualification doesn't fall on cash-strapped states? See anything about allowing drug purchases from Canada?

I don't either.

This is the plain truth about the Senate bill - it sucks. It cannot be fixed without utterly changing what it is. It was written by people who are completely compromised, and passed by people who will not have to deal with its effects. The House bill may be redeemable, but that's "off the table".

There will be no health care bill worth passing.

Ian Welsh's first rules of thumb for thinking is "don't trust liars." That seems like such a fundamentally simple thing that it's barely worth mentioning. I never would have thought to. Yet people seem to think that you can trust liars when they are saying what you want to hear. You can only trust liars when they have no choice but to do what they say, and even then, only if they are smart enough to know what they can't do. The Senate leadership lied when it said it needed sixty votes to pass a health care bill. They lied when they said they couldn't get sixty votes. Trusting the Senate to fix things is absurd on that basis alone.

It's also quite apparent that none of these people is thinking about what happens after the bill is passed and signed. How will the insurance "reforms" be enforced? There will be hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of complaints annually. Many of them will be valid, and some will not. Just sorting through those complaints will take hundreds of man-years. Does anyone think there's a federal law enforcement agency that can deal with that additional load without funding? Does anyone really think that in a thousand-plus page bill they just forgot about enforcement? If you think either of those things, or didn't think about it at all, count yourself as someone whose opinion on this matter isn't worth listening to.

I still have yet to encounter an intelligent answer to those issues.

We should get used to the idea that no health care reform worth passing will emerge from this session. Before that can happen, we need to change Congress. Until the current herd of prostitutes is thinned, nothing better will ever come of this process.

UPDATE: Added some evidence for why I wrote that the Senate leadership are liars. Memories can be conveniently short, and I should know better than to let those memories fade.

Quote Of The Day

Quote of the day honors go to Steve Clemons, who neatly summed up the Obama Administration this way:

Only problem was that Obama's realists don't do realism so well -- and many on his team are not sold on the discipline and importance of national priority-setting that a realist, or progressive realist, approach requires.

Obama Needs To Channel Nixon

I've mentioned the lack of quality of Obama's foreign policy and economic teams. It's hard to be a realist when you can't tell what's real, and that's where Obama is now. He's chosen fools and crooks for advisers. That doesn't speak well for him. It also makes it harder to do anything realistic should he choose.

UPDATE: Runner-up quote of the day honors belong to Jane Hamsher, for this spot on quote about another of Obama's advisers:

“Tough” is knowing you’re going to take massive shit for standing up to powerful interests and then doing it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do — that’s what Obama told people he would do when he was running for President.

You’re not a tough guy if your first thought upon assuming the power of the Presidency is to use it to punish your enemies. You’re a cowardly, petty, small-minded thug.

I’m sure Rahm spreads the knife story around to promote the myth of himself as a rebel and a fighter, but most people experience “that guy” as a brown nose for power ready to rumble on behalf of the status-quo.

Rahm Emanuel: Liberals Are “F–king Retarded”

That Obama would choose such a person for his principle adviser should tell you everything you need to know about Obama's priorities, and his convictions.

Paul Craig Roberts On The Rule Of Greed

Paul Craig Roberts, a former Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan, has written a sad, but true, article about what has become of the American economy in the last thirty years. He discusses the health care issue and the lack of funding for Medicare, the prison industry and the huge population of people who are incarcerated there, and the financial scandals of the last few years. Then he gets to the punchline:

Today the interests of American capitalists are as far removed from the interests of the population as the bureaucrats of state owned firms under socialism. Neither can fail, no matter how incompetent or inefficient, as they have the public purse as their backup.

Greed, Be Thou My God: How Wall Street Destroyed Health Care

This is the America we live in. We are ruled by the people whom the greedy people who run our television networks, financial institutions, and other powerful interests support. Our government, far from being the infinitely powerful controlling force in our lives that many fools imagine it to be, is increasingly helpless in the face of the power of the greedy. If it doesn't serve to balance out those people, we are all at their mercy.

You can either embrace that truth and learn how to change it, or continue to live with it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Audacity Of Dopes: Bernanke Confirmation In Trouble

Caption: The abandoned building is the Fisher Body Plant. Ben Bernanke's mistakes as head of the Federal Reserve are sure to create more of these.

Image credit: Jalopnik

Over at Naked Capitalism, Yves Smith reports that Ben Bernanke's re-nomination as chairman of the Federal Reserve may not be going so smoothly:

The Administration put on a full court press this weekend to shore up Bernanke’s confirmation vote, which was looking increasingly doubtful as of Friday. Over the weekend, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate said they were confident that Bernanke would be confirmed. The media took up the call, with stories appearing in virtually every MSM outlet blaring that Bernanke was in.

But how seriously should we take this declaration of victory? Contrary to the efforts to present the confirmation vote as sealed, it is not in the bag[.]

Tell Senate “No” on Bernanke Cloture

I've written about Bernanke before, and I haven't been complimentary. Even Paul Krugman, one of Bernanke's colleagues at Princeton, has started to criticize Bernanke's performance. Little wonder. He wrote this about the nomination of Bernanke today in his blog:

Nor is it necessarily the case, as Sumner suggests, that the Obama administration chose Bernanke because it favors the policies it believes he will follow. Again, it’s not that simple: administration’s choose Fed chairs to appease markets, or to avoid a fight with the other party, or because they think it will look good on TV.

Issues Versus People

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Steven Colbert summarized this re-nomination as well as anyone, I think:

Who better to solve the problem then the person who helped create the problem?... If you are cursed by a witch, you have to get the original witch to take the curse off you.

Quote Of The Day (Dec. 9, 2009)

I sent my two Senators a short e-mail asking them to refuse to confirm Bernanke. I think that failure, particularly failure on this scale, should not be rewarded.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

These panoramas are of Celebration Park in Federal Way. They were taken in mid-December. The first is a contrast to the one I took in Fall. The leaves are gone now, but in the Northwest there's nearly always green:
Image credit: Cujo359

The second is a look across some athletic fields towards the Federal Way Community Center:
Image credit: Cujo359

It's really mostly about the clouds, of course.

Click to enlarge the photos. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Of Senators And Sharpies

So, you're wondering, why am I writing about Sharpies today, when there's all this important stuff going on. Unfortunately, today my attitude can be summed up in two words: Why bother?

Ever since the MA Senate election, there has been a whole parade of seemingly clueless individuals explaining that what we need to do right now is go ahead and pass the Senate health care "reform" bill. It's like the election and the poll never happened, and one of the Democratic Senators just went to Heaven or something.

Just to make it a really special day, the Supreme Court provided yet another in a long string of decisions that have left us even more defenseless against corporate power in America. Oh, yeah, and guess how the new Justice voted. Glad we went through all that nonsense about her nomination?

Fortunately, Bill Campbell felt like writing today. He touched on quite a few things that have gone wrong lately, and some of the reasons why. It's a sobering read:

[E]ven through all the madness, the American people showed unwavering support for health care reform through most of '09. It wasn't until recent months that people had finally become disgusted with the process. Senator-Elect Brown claims that voters were turned off by the "sausage-making" of legislation.

I disagree. It wasn't the sausage-making at all. I'm a fan of Italian sausage and German bratwurst. If we would've gotten something like that--a perfect piece of spicy pork perfection--we would've been satisfied. Instead, the Dems were trying to cram a tasteless lump of lard in intestinal casings that promised to leave us fat, bloated, broke, and still in need of serious health care.

No, it was the obvious buckling the Dems did in the face of their corporate donors. It was Obama's meeting with the insurance companies, and saying, "Single-payer's off the table," before serious debate had even begun. How Big Pharma left the White House bragging that they were still going to be able to charge us whatever they wanted for their drugs. It was Max Baucus dismissing the public option because way too many private interests contribute to his campaign slush funds.

It was finding out that every delay, every compromise, every setback, every challenge the Dems faced was being thrown up by fellow Dems who were somehow on the health care industry's payroll.

You Think the Health Care "Debate" Was Bad ... Just Wait

It's about a lot more than health care, and well worth the read, but that quote describes much of my frustration. I expected opposition from Republicans. I expected opposition from the interests that are benefiting from the current system. I figured we might not get a bill passed, because there was enough conservative opposition even among Democrats. What I didn't expect, even in the most cynical places in my heart, was that the Democrats would be so universally useless in trying to get health care reform passed. That's part of what's discouraging.

The other part is that neither the Democrats nor the left-wing punditocracy today seems to get it. Read Krugman, Silver, or Yglesias, and you come away thinking that Massachusetts voters must be the most insane people on the planet for not loving the Senate's idea of health care reform. I have news for these people - Massachusetts is the one state in this country that has experience with the sort of system the Senate bill is seeking to create, and they don't like it. That is the message - if that's the best you can do, take your broke shit and go home. We'll find someone who can fix it, or at least not make it worse. Anyone who looks at the history of the race and checks the exit poll should know that. Yet these people continue to believe in unicorns.

So, maybe it's time to write about things like how to avoid losing your software's serial number, because as much as I've written about the subject of health care, and as little attention as has been paid to it and similar things that others have written, I might as well not bother. If I tell people to write the serial number on their CDs, or put them in a really safe place, it's possible someone will listen. It's quite clear that's not happening in any area of the federal government, or the seemingly insensate people who write our nation's opinion columns.

[In case anyone is worrying that I'm going to stop writing, don't. Hell, if it really bothered me that no one paid attention, I never would have started.]

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Tool For Software Management

Dana Hunter's tale about searching for a serial number to an expensive piece of computer software yesterday reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago regarding software serial numbers:

For those of you who might be considering whether or not to register your expensive Photoshop software, do it. Especially if you're prone to believing you've put the serial number in a safe place and discovering otherwise at the wrong damned time. Normally, I don't register shit. In this case, fortunately, I broke my habits, and that is why Photoshop Elements is back up and running on this machine.

Yet More Technical Difficulties

Of course, as someone who favors open source software (OSS or Free OSS, FOSS) my first preference is to avoid software with serial numbers altogether. They make the sort of tale Dana tells nearly inevitable. Expensive, useful software is likely to be in use for many years. I'm sure there are folks out there still using ten-year old versions of AutoCad, for instance, running on computers so old that they don't even have network cards. What's worse, for large organizations, keeping track of individual licenses for software, which the serial numbers represent, can be a nightmare. So they're best avoided if at all possible.

Unfortunately, there are going to be exceptions. Sometimes, only a particular piece of software will do the job in an adequate way. So, you pay, and you have to deal with the serial number problem. Worse still, some software installations require that you also have a string of numbers and letters called a "key" that is tied to that serial number before you can install the software. Standard practice among software vendors is to put that serial number and key, if any, on a separate piece of paper that will inevitably be lost.

For those occasions, I have some simple, but nearly foolproof advice. The most effective way to hold onto the serial number is to write it on the CD or DVD your software came on. If you don't have a Sharpie TM felt tip marker or something like it, buy one. They're handy for writing on lots of things, as this article demonstrates. Use your Sharpie to write the serial number on the label side of the CD/DVD. If there's a key that goes with the serial number, record that on the CD, too.

Let me emphasize that you should only write on the label side of the CD. Writing on the shiny side will make the CD useless.

I'm assuming, of course, that you're not "lending" this software CD to your friends. If you do that, you should definitely not write anything on the CD. Let them find their own serial numbers. Really. Vendors check for duplicate serial numbers, and if you are caught having the software with the same serial number on more computers than you're allowed by your software's license, they might sue you. But as long as you're not violating the terms of your software license, then the reasons the software vendor didn't put that serial number on the CD have nothing to do with you.

If you lose the CD, you can't install the software anyway. Software companies sometimes go out of business, or are bought out by companies that don't care whether customers who are using five year old versions of their product have their serial numbers or not. If you have the CD, and it has a serial number (plus key, if there is one) on it, you have everything you need.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, referring to the House Progressive Caucus's meeting about health care with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said this about their declaration that they won't vote for the Senate bill:

[A]s David [Sargent] notes, I'm not sure how much weight we should put in that 'categoricalness' of the claim since the House progressives have crossed a bunch of lines they drew in the sand this year.

What Do I Know

Where could he have gotten that idea?

I guess cynicism about congressional progressives isn't just for us pajama wearers anymore.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Care: The Lesson To Draw From The MA-Senate Race

One of the great thing about this age of the Internet we live in is that lots of organizations can commission polls by professional polling organizations. We aren't limited to the questions that newspapers and television news organizations are interested in anymore. That's a good thing.

Here's an example. After the Massachusetts special Senate election, Democracy For America commissioned a poll to find out what issues affected the outcome. These tables, which I've transcribed from the poll show the attitudes toward health care reform of the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but voted for Republican candidate Scott Brown yesterday. These are only three questions out of all of them, but for me, they're the most important:

QUESTION: Would you favor or oppose the national government offering everyone the choice of a government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans?

Note that overall, and among independents, the public option is favored more than 6 to 1. Even among Republicans, the margin is nearly 3 to 1. These are only the people who voted for Obama in 2008 and for Brown in 2010, but they represent the sort of folks who supported Obama, and in all likelihood had considered voting for other Democrats, as recently as 2008.

Now, let's look at how they felt about the individual mandate:

QUESTION: Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to buy health insurance from private companies -- the so-called mandate -- even if they find insurance too expensive or do not want it?

These swing voters are against the mandate by roughly 2 to 1.

Of course, how strongly voters feel about this issue is important:

QUESTION: Is the issue of national health care reform very important, somewhat important, or not important when deciding how or if to vote?

Roughly a third think it is very important, and others think it somewhat important. That's a fairly large block of voters who will be influenced by how Democrats do on the health care bill.

The numbers were similar among voters who stayed home.

These people represent most of the swing between the victories Democrats enjoyed in 2008 and their defeat in 2010. They also generally gave Democrats and the President low marks on their handling of the economy, which nearly half of both groups described as being very important. But a great many people did not vote for Martha Coakley because they didn't like the way health care is being handled.

I urge anyone who is really interested in how the country is thinking about this issue and the economy to check out the entire poll. I don't find them in the least bit surprising, except for the strength of feeling among Republicans for a public option, which was almost 3 to 1 in favor.

The Senate health care "reform" bill, which does not have public option, and does have an individual mandate, is still being mentioned as the one that Congress intends to pass. Why in the world would any professional politician think this was a good idea? Not only does it have the problem of being exactly what swing voters overwhelmingly do not want, it also restricts abortions by denying federal subsidies for any insurance policy that covers them.

I've explained my disdain for the argument that passing that bill was better than not passing a bill at all. That disdain covered both the fact that the bill makes the situation worse for most Americans, not better, and that I didn't think that any poor or middle class American who understood that bill would appreciate it.

So, to all you people who thought that I and anyone else with the temerity to express that opinion were just hopeless dumbasses, do you want to talk to us like we're intelligent human beings now and explain why you think the way you do? Because I'm sure not seeing it in these numbers.

Better yet, maybe you want to rethink what it is you know.

UPDATE: Over at FireDogLake, Neil has a diary listing things you can do to push the Democrats in a better direction.

It's All Over But The Shouting

It's over. Martha Coakley, the Democratic Attorney General of Massachusetts, lost to Scott Brown, her Republican opponent in the special election to determine who will be the U.S. Senator from that state for the next two years:

Scott Brown, a truck-driving National Guardsman who was virtually unknown even in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, beat Martha Coakley, the state attorney-general who had expected to inherit the seat, by 52% to 47%.

Brown, in his victory speech, referred to one of the decisive moments of the campaign, when in a debate Coakley had referred to 'Ted Kennedy's seat'. Brown said: "This Senate seat belongs to no one person, to no political party. . . . This is the people's seat."

Republicans take Ted Kennedy's seat in dramatic political upset

As I wrote earlier today, we can expect the recriminations to start in earnest now. Brown's analysis of his victory is one that I think we can safely discard. I may be overestimating the intelligence of the average voter again, but when we're involved in two wars, worried about an economy that's hemorrhaging jobs every month, and wondering if we're ever going to see health care reform, I think they could afford to ignore the fact that a politician would refer to a Senate seat by the name of the person who occupied it for 46 years.

Other "analysts" are offering up all sorts of reasons why Coakley lost. To help understand this election, it's important to look at the Pollster chart for the race:
Image credit: Pollster

Things were going great for Martha Coakley (blue line) until the end of 2009. What happened during that time? Politico's Ben Smith published a letter he received from an anonymous Coakley adviser the day before the election:

— Coakley's lead dropped significantly after the Senate passed health care reform shortly before Christmas and after the Christmas Eve "bombing" incident. Polling showed significant concerns with the actions of Senator Nelson to hold out for a better deal. Senator Nelson's actions specifically hurt Coakley who was forced to backtrack on her opposition to the abortion restriction amendment.

Coakley Adviser Memo: D.C. Dems 'Failed' Coakley

There were a number of other points, and someone interested in the sort of political infighting that often goes on during a campaign would do well to read it, I suppose. This item is the one that is actually correlated with the turn of Coakley's fortunes.

Did this cause Coakley to lose more than twenty points inside of three weeks? Probably not. Naturally, this sort of time correlation is fraught with potential error. After all, it was also the Christmas and New Year's holiday week. Few people think about politics then. Some voters didn't make up their mind until later. Based on polls during the Fall, that looked to be something like ten percent of voters. People also got to see Brown more on television, and he is apparently an engaging personality.

Still, none of those other things explain such a fall. A few points, maybe ten, but more than twenty? That's why I think the health care bill, particularly the Nelson amendment that disallows abortion payments by insurance plans that are federally subsidized, explains Coakley's defeat as much as any single cause. Considering that women represent one of the Democratic Party's key constituencies, this was a phenomenally stupid thing for the Senate to pass. But it did,and then it passed the health care bill, which had no public option but an individual mandate for insurance, before leaving town Christmas Eve.

There's another possible explanation for the fall, too, as Coakley pollster Celinda Lake explains:

Lake pointed to polling released by the Economic Policy Institute showing that 65 percent of Americans thought the stimulus served banks interests, 56 percent thought it served corporations and only ten percent that it benefited them. "That is a formula for failure for the Democrats. We have to deliver on economic policies that take on Wall Street and we have to do it for five months, not just five days. We really have to deliver on the policies," she said.
Michael Dimock, associate director with The Pew Research Center, said he's seen the movement that Lake's referring to in his organization's polling. "People are really bummed about what's going on economically...Obama and the Democrats own what's going on," he said. "Independents, almost by definition, they're not driven by ideology, they're effected by current circumstances and right now current circumstances suck. We're stuck in two wars; the economy's terrible; Washington looks like a train wreck more than ever before."

Lake said that in the end, the race was going to be close even if perfectly run. "I think this was going to be a close race no matter what, honestly. Maybe we could have pulled it out, because we could have gotten Scott Brown defined earlier and we would have had money for tracking, which we didn't have," she said. "But I think this wave was coming."

Coakley Pollster Defends Campaign Against White House

It's not entirely clear to me how much effect the economy would have had. It certainly didn't help. But there aren't any events that jump out at me from the end of December or early January that would suggest they were the trigger. The economy was bad when Coakley had a twenty point lead. Why would that suddenly be a problem? The only explanation I can think of is that January is often a time when people start looking for jobs or houses, or to make other changes in their lives related to the economy. That might have been when reality hit home. Or it could have been that there was just one bit of bad news too many on that front.

The wave Lake is referring to is the wave of Democratic defeats that have happened recently. The governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey last November were something that the White House loudly blamed on the Democratic candidates. Jane Hamsher noticed that pattern, too:

Cue the Boy Band Apologists who conclude that it’s All Coakley’s Fault, based on the whisperings of little more than their fellow members of the Boy Band. Just like [Virginia governor candidate] Creigh Deeds was a bad candidate. And [New Jersey Governor] Jon Corzine was too. And FDL destroyed [Arkansas U.S. Rep.] Vic Snyder with the very first 600 call “push poll” (most others take 80,000 or 100,000 calls to move public opinion in a single congressional district, who knew all it took was a few hundred).

Classy: DNC Throws Martha Coakley Under the Bus

Eventually, these excuses are going to wear thin, but the Democrats show little sign of comprehending yet. The obvious conclusion that their dismal handling of the economy, and their even more dismal handling of the psychology of the economy, coupled with their march toward the bottom on health care reform, ought to be clear danger signs to any politician who even pretends to be a professional.

What the White House offers is a litany of largely nonsensical accusations:

[I]n private conversations, Hill sources say White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has blamed Coakley, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for failing to see Brown’s surge in time to stop it.

Finger-pointing Begins For Democratic Insiders

If you'll recall from the chart I showed earlier, there clearly wasn't much time to spot a surge, much less do something about it. And related as that surge appeared to be to events beyond Coakley's control, there probably wasn't much she could do about it aside from disavowing support for the health care bill or other unpopular Democratic policies. Given that Coakley was still trying to get campaign cash from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee (now chaired by Obama ally Tim Kaine), that might have left her with no financial support. As the anonymous Coakley adviser writes:

— Coakley's failure to release television advertisements until 12 days before the election was the result of a fundraising problem that national Democrats failed to resolve. Meanwhile, right-wing groups pumped significant amounts of money into Brown’s campaign, allowing him to go up with ads first, including negative attack ads funded by the Swift Boat and Willie Horton groups.

Coakley Adviser Memo: D.C. Dems 'Failed' Coakley

In that article in the Huffington Post, Celinda Lake is quoted as mentioning this problem as well:

But if party leaders wanted to point fingers, they should remember that they made tactical mistakes, too, she said. Lake argued that the underfunded campaign didn't have money for tracking polls, and so didn't see Republican Scott Brown's comeback until it was well underway. The campaign also didn't have money, she said, for television ads that could have shaped a populist message and defined her opponent as a friend of Wall Street. The party establishment didn't back the campaign with significant resources until the closing days of the campaign.

Coakley Pollster Defends Campaign Against White House

The excuses from the Democratic leadership got even more feeble today. Ben Smith quotes a couple of anonymous "national politicians":

Another senior Democrat said he'd been stunned to arrive in the state to learn that Coakley had done no advertising in the African-American or Hispanic media, and "no outreach."
"The campaign found out about polling troubles from [Public Policy Polling] on January 8 or January 9," said the official. "National Dems (DNC, OfA, DSCC) [were] on the ground by that Monday."

Coakley Called Machine, Didn't Use Machine

The first sounds silly on its face - are we meant to believe that the Latino community suddenly lost interest? The polls show a precipitous drop in interest in Coakley, not a sudden loss of interest in voting.

The second paragraph would seem to be contradicted by this statement by a (possibly different) anonymous Democratic official, referring to the memo by the Coakley adviser:

This memo is a pack full of lies and fantasies — The DNC and the DSCC did everything they were asked and have been involved in the race for several weeks, not just the last one.

Democratic Party responds to Coakley memo: 'Political malpractice'

Apparently, they were there, but just not on the ground.

While the recriminations back and forth will no doubt be a fascinating psychological case study at some point in the future, for now I think we can assume that while Coakley made some mistakes, possibly even some big ones, she didn't lose that lead on her own. She had help from DC, and it wasn't the help that was on the ground on January 8th.

Afterword: The shouting still hasn't died down, but that hasn't stopped the Democrats from trying to compound their error, now that they've lost the 60th Senator:

Even before polls closed, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said "there are options to still pursue health care."

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, outlined a combination of tactics to get what his party wants out of health care reform.

First, he said the House could simply approve the Senate bill, sending it straight to President Obama's desk.

Then, Durbin said, the Senate could make changes to the bill by using the nuclear option, known formally as "reconciliation," a tactic that would allow Democrats to adjust parts of health care reform with just a 51-vote majority.

Top Senate Democrat Outlines 'Nuclear Option' Strategy for Health Care

House Democrats have largely rejected this idea for now, but I'm sure they'll fold later. It's what they do.

With that in mind Ian Welsh has made some gloomy predictions about how things will go from now through 2016. As I told him, the only one I wasn't sure of was the first, which is what Durbin seems to be proposing now. It looks like we're on our way.

For my part, I have mixed feelings. I'm glad the Democrats have finally been shown that they can't count on progressives no matter what they do, and that there is no reason that they can't fall as quickly as they rose. Still, it's a shame that Coakley couldn't have spoken out about what she must have known to be bad policy. That failure probably cost her the election.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Heavy Turnout In Massachusetts

Looks like Massachusetts is heeding my advice (tongue in cheek alert):

Turnout was reported to be heavy Tuesday as Massachusetts voters trudged through a light snow to choose their next U.S. senator.

Late internal polling by the campaigns indicated that the race between Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican state Sen. Scott Brown was too close to call.

A Suffolk University poll of three key towns Saturday and Sunday — Fitchburg, Gardner and Peabody — gave Brown a comfortable lead in each.

Massachusetts Voter Turnout Reportedly High Despite Snow

A commenter at Pharyngula wrote this on the thread about today's election:

I voted about 4:00PM. The polling place in my town was more crowded by far than at any other election in the over 20 years I've lived here. That includes Presidential elections.

Whether a heavy turnout is a good sign or not, I can't really judge. The weather is crappy but lots of people are voting anyway. If it means anything, Coakley had two sign-wavers outside the polling place, and Brown had about a dozen (raw wet weather or not).

Massachusetts: NON-pointless poll alert! (comment by Donnie B.)

Good for you, Massachusetts. It can't be easy going to the polls in lousy weather, with what most folks I've read seem to feel is a less than stellar choice. It's a close race, which I'd say is one motivator, but I can't think of any others beyond the desire to make a statement.

Steve Benen reports that there are no exit polls. It looks like it might be quite a while before results are known.

As for peoples' reading of the consequences, I think Steve Benen, not notable as a critic of the Democratic Party establishment, said it pretty well when he wrote this:

Even after Massachusetts, Democrats will have a fairly popular president and the largest congressional majority in a generation. If they want to go through the motions and see if any Republicans might be willing to play a constructive role, fine, just so long as they keep expectations low. But Dems weren't given the reins with the expectation they'd do nothing with them.

Even after Brown is sworn in, Dems will have an opportunity to deliver and make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. What better way to respond to a pounding than to bounce off the ropes, taking a few swings? Pass a jobs bill, go after irresponsible banks, bring some safeguards to Wall Street, repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Prove to the country that Dems are at least trying to legislate, and demonstrate that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president have the wherewithal to tackle the issues that matter.

Buckle Up

Actually, if Brown wins and they do that, then they have more going on upstairs than I give them credit for. I hope that, for the second time this year, my pessimism is unwarranted.

Wouldn't that be a nice change for the new year?

UPDATE: Looks like we'll have an opportunity to find out what the Democrats will do without sixty votes:

9:13 p.m. -- Coakley has conceded in a call to Scott Brown, according to a Brown aide.

9:38 p.m. -- “I have no interest in sugar coating what happened in Massachusetts. There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient" -- Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.

“In the days ahead, we will sort through the lessons of Massachusetts: the need to redouble our efforts on the economy, the need to show that our commitment to real change is as powerful as it was in 2008, and the reality that we cannot take a single thing for granted and cannot afford even a second of complacency.

Live Coverage of the US Senate Race (Boston Globe)

Let the recrimination and back-biting begin. Hopefully, they'll get on to the lessons learned soon.

(h/t Ian Welsh, who, by the way, seems to have the next few years figured out pretty well.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Be One Of Those Who Show Up, Massachusetts Edition

Caption: Martin Luther King addresses voting rights marchers in Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965.

Image credit: Screenshot of this video by Cujo359

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal." Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up.

-- President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

Yes, I love that quote. It was delivered by Bartlett during a talk at a local university. He was trying to encourage students to participate more fully in their society, particularly by voting. If there's only one quote I remember from The West Wing, I'd like it to be that one.

Maybe, given that this is the day we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, we should let him talk. In a speech he gave in Montgomery, Alabama following a voting rights march from Selma, Dr. King said this:

Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

Our God Is Marching On! (March 25, 1965)

The vote, he said in that speech, gave black people power to go with the dignity they'd won with the Civil Rights Act. He and the people who marched with him believed in the power of the vote, and they were willing to risk beatings, attacks by police dogs, and fire hoses to earn it.

It seems a shame to throw such a thing away.

I don't live in Massachusetts. I had relatives there, but I lost touch long ago. It might be presumptuous of me to tell those who live there what I would do, but frankly, I don't care. I don't know enough about Martha Coakley to know for sure whether I'd vote for her, because it's not my choice to make. What I do know for sure is this:

I'd be showing up.

We've had close statewide elections recently in both Washington and Minnesota that were decided by fewer than 400 votes. In each case, if a few hundred of one candidate's supporters hadn't shown up, that candidate's opponent would have won. Washington would have a real estate con artist for a governor, and Norm Coleman would still be a Senator. I'd say right there is reason enough to try to make the best choice.

I understand apathy in the face of lousy choices. I understand wanting to send a message that you're not satisfied with those choices. But any vote you cast is a choice, and that choice tells politicians something, whether they want to listen or not. The only thing not voting tells them is that you didn't show up.

So, if you think Coakley is the person you want for a Senator, vote for her. If you don't, then vote for Scott Brown, or for a progressive third party candidate, or write someone in. But march on the ballot box and make your voice heard. Because as far as I'm concerned, the only vote that's wasted is the one you refuse to cast.

Just be thankful you don't have to get past a phalanx of redneck sheriffs and their foul-tempered dogs.

Can I Get A TARP To Cover That Hole

I received another of those e-mails from the Obama campaign e-mail list that I can't seem to get off of. This one was ostensibly written by Vice President Biden. In part, it read:

Yesterday, President Obama announced our proposed Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee on the country's largest banks:

"My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed. And my determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people...We want our money back, and we're going to get it."

The fee would recover every penny loaned to Wall Street during the financial crisis and stop the reckless abuses and excesses that nearly caused the collapse of our financial system in the first place.

By "every penny", of course, they mean all the money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). My response was:

Yeah, great. Are you getting the other $23 trillion back, too? Are you ready to insist on audits of the Federal Reserve?

As Bloomberg pointed out back in July, TARP is really only a small part of what we taxpayers are on the hook for:

U.S. taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $23.7 trillion to bolster the economy and bail out financial companies, said Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Treasury’s $700 billion bank-investment program represents a fraction of all federal support to resuscitate the U.S. financial system, including $6.8 trillion in aid offered by the Federal Reserve, Barofsky said in a report released today.

U.S. Rescue May Reach $23.7 Trillion, Barofsky Says (Update3)

So, as usual, the Obama Administration's talk is bigger than its actions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

Ships and squirrels would seem to be the theme today...

Here's a view from the Des Moines Marina fishing pier a couple of weeks ago:
Image credit: Cujo359

It's hard to see, but there's a container ship out there, headed out of the Puget Sound.

My back yard appears to be the favorite restaurant of this guy. As regulars may remember, he's been around rather often. His friend hasn't been in evidence lately. Perhaps the romance is over.
Image credit: Cujo359

This photo is from late December. Since that weekend, it's been a lot rainier around here, so taking pictures has been a bit more difficult.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Krugman: Stop Being Mean To Jonathan

Paul Krugman decided today would be a good day to explain his profession's ethics to Glenn Greenwald:

Today Glenn Greenwald accused me of being a hypocrite for defending Jonathan Gruber, the health care economist who has become a target of some progressive opponents of the health care plan. He writes:

Paul Krugman, for instance, in 2005 angrily lambasted right-wing pundits and policy analysts who received secret, undisclosed payments, and said they lack “intellectual integrity”; he specifically cited the Armstrong Williams case. Yet the very same Paul Krugman last week attacked Marcy Wheeler for helping to uncover the Gruber payments by accusing her of being “just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals.” What is one key difference? Unlike Williams and Gallagher, Jonathan Gruber is a Good, Well-Intentioned Person with Good Views — he favors health care — and so massive, undisclosed payments from the same administration he’s defending are dismissed as a “fake scandal.”

What’s wrong with this accusation? Everything. Armstrong Williams received a contract specifically to promote Bush administration policies; his duties under the contract were to “regularly comment” on these policies on his program, and to interview Bush administration officials. In short, he was being paid to serve as a propagandist.

What was Gruber contracted to do? He emails:

More On Jon Gruber

Ya know, Professor, there's this thing called the Internet now. You can find out just by going to a government website what the government thought it was hiring Gruber to do.

That's what Marcy Wheeler did several days ago, after which Krugman slagged her work:

I sort of missed the controversy over Jon Gruber and his contract with [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)]. For those who haven’t been following this, Gruber — who is one of the three or four top health care economists in the nation — turns out to have a large research grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, for modeling the consequences of various reform plans. This has led some people, mainly Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake, to question Gruber’s objectivity.

The truth is that this is no big deal. Gruber’s grant is from HHS, not the West Wing; it’s basically the same kind of thing as, say, an epidemiologist receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health. You wouldn’t ordinarily say that this tarnishes the epidemiologist’s credentials as an independent analyst on infectious diseases, unless you want to say that nobody receiving a research grant can be considered independent.
What the folks at Firedoglake should ask themselves is this: do you really want to become just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals?

Jonathan Gruber

Here's what Marcy Wheeler actually wrote on the subject:

MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber has been the go-to source that all the health care bill apologists point to to defend otherwise dubious arguments. But he has consistently failed to disclose that he has had a sole-source contract with the Department of Health and Human Services since June 19, 2009 to consult on the “President’s health reform proposal.”

He is one source for the claim that the excise tax will result in raises for workers (though his underlying study is in-apt to the excise tax question). He is the basis for the argument that the Senate bill reduces families’ risk–even if it remains totally unaffordable. Even Politico stenographer Mike Allen points to Gruber’s research.

But none of the references to Gruber I’ve seen have revealed that Gruber has a $297,600 contract with HHS
Even assuming that Gruber is the only one in the world who can run these simulations, don’t you think it’s rather, um, dubious that the guy evaluating the heath care reform–for $300,000–is also the package’s single biggest champion?

And no one has been transparent about this contract?

Jonathan Gruber Failed to Disclose His $392,600 Contracts with HHS (Updated)

Gruber is the only economist who seems to claim that there is evidence that wages will go up when an excise tax is levied against the workers' health care benefits. This seemingly bizarre claim, based on the notion that wages will go up when health care costs go down for employers, is at the heart of the Obama Administration's justification for the excise tax on so called "Cadillac" health care plans that is in the Senate's health care bill.

If an epidemiologist under contract to HHS were to advance the notion that all that germ stuff was just hooey and we should all start making burnt offerings, and if this fit in with his President's notion that we need a national religion based on voodoo, I'd be a little suspicious when that epidemiologist repeatedly failed to mention that he worked for the government on a contract basis. Gruber's assertions, while not as bizarre, are certainly not widely supported by other economists' analysis.

So, yes, there's something to question about this. As it happens, Gruber has had similar contracts with HHS going back at least to 2000. He wasn't just hired this year to perform his data magic. Still, the Obama Administration can ultimately decide the fate of future contracts between Gruber and the government, barring Congressional intervention or a successful lawsuit. Gruber has a potential profit motive here, however unlikely it is that he might need to worry about it.

Just to repeat, because this seems to escape people like Prof. Krugman - Gruber didn't disclose his contract with HHS while acting as a proponent for the policies of the Administration that was his customer. This is a conflict of interest, whether it had any bearing on Gruber's findings or not. When he failed to tell the news agencies that specifically asked about any conflicts of interest, he deceived them and their readers or viewers. Marcy Wheeler takes up that case:

One of the biggest puzzles in Jonathan Gruber’s explanation for why he hasn’t been disclosing his $400,000 HHS contract as he has led the campaign to support the bill is timing. By his own admission, he revealed the contract for a disclosure form associated with a December New England Journal of Medicine article. That form was dated November 30.

But the WaPo did not disclose the relationship for an op-ed published almost a month after he filled out that disclosure form.

Now, Gruber says he has disclosed the contract whenever he has been asked.

Gruber told POLITICO that he has told reporters of the contract “whenever they asked.”

But in a follow-up with the WaPo, Ben Smith reports that Gruber was asked by the WaPo, and he said he didn’t have any financial conflicts.

Gruber Did Not Disclose Conflict to the WaPo

Asked directly for the same conflict of interest information Gruber gave the NEJM, he failed to provide that information to the Washington Post. Krugman, apparently, did not find this particularly troubling, either. Yet Gruber behaved one way for a professional publication and another way for one that would be read by the general public. Once again, anyone not intimately familiar with the situation, which is probably anyone who is not Jonathan Gruber, ought to be suspicious at this point.

By the way, if you want to know the justification for Wheeler's claims, go to the links I've provided and follow her links.

What does Krugman think of Gruber's theory about the relationship between excise taxes on health insurance and wages? Not too much, if what he wrote two days before is any indication:

Second, there’s the argument that any reductions in premiums won’t be passed through into wages. I just don’t buy that. It’s true that the importance of changing premiums in past wage changes has been exaggerated by many people. But I’m enough of a card-carrying economist to believe that there’s a real tradeoff between benefits and wages.

Maybe it will help the plausibility of this case to notice that we’re not actually asking whether a fall in premiums would be passed on to workers. Even with the excise tax, premiums are likely to rise over time — just more slowly than they would have otherwise. So what we’re really asking is whether slowing the growth of premiums would reduce the squeeze rising health costs would otherwise have placed on wages. Surely the answer is yes.

The Health Insurance Excise Tax

The link is from Krugman's article. If you follow it, and read as far as page two, the author of that paper, the Economic Policy Institute's Lawrence Mishel, makes this statement:

Others, including prominent and well-respected journalists, have also made the argument recently for a “health care theory of wage determination.” Proponents of this theory point for evidence to the latter half of the 1990s, a five-year period when wages were growing rapidly while growth in employer health care spending was relatively constrained. They contrast the period from 1995 to 2000 with the periods from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2006, when wages stagnated while health care costs grew much more rapidly.

There is logic to their argument, but it is only skin-deep and deeper examination will show it to be simply not true. The logic can be seen looking at trends in health care premiums and wages—wage growth fared better in the late 1990s when health care premiums grew more slowly than in the early 1990s and wages performed poorly in the 2000s, a period when health premiums grew strongly again.

However, digging just a bit beneath the surface reveals the following:

  1. Health care costs are not large enough to substantially move wages as these proponents claim;

  2. Examination of actual wage and benefit trends confirms that changes in the trajectory of health care costs did not materially affect wage trends over the last 20 years; and

  3. The wage behavior described—accelerating in the late 1990s and more slowly thereafter—actually best characterizes wage growth for low-wage workers who have minimal access to employer-based health care. Conversely, this pattern of wage-growth over time is least pronounced for higher paid workers with the most health coverage.

Clearly, this “health care theory of wage determination” is wrong, and other factors explain these overall wage trends

Employer Health Costs Do Not Drive Wage Trends

What this means, for those who aren't sure what they're reading, is that the relationship isn't exaggerated. Rather it doesn't exist. Krugman misstates this basic idea to make a dubious case. It's possible that in some instances wages will change or stagnate at least partly due to health care - after all, it's possible to be struck by lightning with a winning lottery ticket in one's hand. The times it will happen, though, will probably be isolated instances of some employers or some markets.

Sorry for the long explanation, but this has become a somewhat complicated tale. In looking around the Internet to find out what professional ethics might apply to economists, I was not terribly surprised to find out that they don't have any. There are proposed guides here and there, but as a professional psychologist notes, no accepted code exists:

And finally, this leads directly to the third problem with economics as a discipline, which is in my area of specialty: the motivations of the economists themselves. While I find the assumption of rational pursuit of self-interest to be not usually true for people in general, let us imagine for a minute that it is at least true of economists themselves. Unfortunately, if economists are constantly pursuing their own economic self-interest, then that means we can't trust what they say. Policy is constantly influenced by interest groups that are shopping in the marketplace for arguments to justify their agendas. Economists, meanwhile, are sellers of such arguments. According to economic theory, economists, if rationally pursuing their self-interest, will then sell their opinions to the highest bidders. Therefore, an unfortunate corollary of economic theory is that you shouldn't believe economists.
Very much related to all of the above is an amazing fact: economics has no code of ethics. Well of course not. A code of ethics would make rational pursuit of economic self-interest much more difficult.

Psychologist Concludes Economists Need A Code Of Ethics

Like this psychologist, I find this fact rather bizarre: economists are people who are often asked to analyze the most important questions about how we should run our society. How should banks be regulated? How much savings or unemployment is good or bad? What level of taxation is sustainable? These are important questions, yet the profession we ask them of has no code of ethics.

My profession, curiously, does have such a code, which I'll quote from here on the subject of conflicts of interest:

[IEEE members pledge to:]

2. to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist;

IEEE Code of Ethics

Which strikes me as pretty cut and dried. What is a conflict of interest? If your monetary status can be affected by your answers to a reporters' questions, that's a conflict of interest. Here's how Wikipedia defines it:

A conflict of interest (COI) occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.

Wikipedia: Conflict Of Interest

That's the meaning I learned from working in the defense industry for more than two decades. And that brings me to the thing about Krugman's attitude here that really pisses me off.

COI rules don't just apply to professional organizations. They are a part of contracting with the federal government. This National Defense Magazine article explains what is required now of defense contractors, and others with contracts with the federal government:

Treasury’s rules broadly define [Personal Conflict of Interest (PCI)] as “a personal, business, or financial interest of an individual, his or her spouse, minor child, or other family member with whom the individual has a close personal relationship, that could adversely affect the individual’s ability to perform under the arrangement, his or her objectivity or judgment in such performance, or his or her ability to represent the interests of the Treasury.”

Contractors must verify extensive financial information about their management employees and key individuals who work on covered contracts. This information sometimes mirrors data federal employees must disclose on financial disclosure Form SF-278, which solicits information about filers’ property interests and other assets, transactions of property and investments, gifts, reimbursements and travel expenses, liabilities, arrangements with employers and outside positions and pay exceeding $5,000.

Merely reporting this information to the government to determine whether an improper PCI exists is not enough. Contractors must analyze the information, identify improper conflicts and disqualify such employees from performing contract work absent mitigation measures that effectively neutralize the conflict.

Tighter Rules For Conflicts Of Interest

These rules exist so that contractor employees won't end up buying goods or services on behalf of the government in such a way that they will benefit personally. I had to follow the predecessors of these rules, as do all other contractor employees. Civil service and military personnel have similar rules they must follow.

This isn't difficult to understand - if it's possible that you will profit by your actions in a way that isn't obvious, then you should disclose that potential for profit. Gruber failed to do this when he discussed health care policy with several outlets of the popular press.

So, if Paul Krugman is to be believed, economists don't need to worry about this sort of thing, because they're not going to be worried about where their next contract is coming from. Economists are above it all.

That's why my assistant will now deal with Prof. Krugman's paper:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures


Afterword: Yeah, yeah, I know - Why am I picking on Krugman? I really didn't want to write about this anymore, to tell you the truth. But after having had to live with the notion of conflict of interest for an entire career, and to have someone so blithely ignore what it means in a national newspaper blog for a story as important as this one, is just really bloody annoying.

It's especially annoying because there are probably dozens of bloggers and pundits who will be quoting this article of Krugman's as yet another brilliant response to the irrational FireDogLake. People really ought to know what they're talking about before they talk shit about other people's work, but so often they don't. They'll just assume the guy with the Nobel knows what he's talking about. If this article serves as a counterweight in any small way, I'll be happy.

And I just love that line about how "an unfortunate corollary of economic theory is that you shouldn't believe economists."

I'm starting to take that one to heart.

UPDATE (Jan. 16): Glenn Greenwald wrote a response to Krugman today. It's well worth a read, because it explains why such conflicts of interest are such a problem, and why the inevitable protestations that they mean nothing, while they might be true, are irrelevant.