Putting politics second: Bush, 9/11 and Benghazi

Given all of the political posturing that the Republicans are doing over Benghazi (seriously Republicans) it is tempting to turn in kind and talk about how President Bush failed so miserably in the months leading up to 9/11.

But you know what? I really don’t blame President Bush for 9/11. Saying “we should have connected the dots” in hindsight is easy…and guess what? For this to be valid, one would have to look at all the times when “similar data” lead to…well…nothing. Some things are inherently unpredictable, and 9/11 is probably one of them.

Presidents see lots of things. So, don’t count me in the “Blame President Bush for 9/11 crowd”, though I will hold him responsible for Iraq, reckless tax cuts, etc.

May 13, 2014 Posted by | bush-era, social/political, world events | , , | 1 Comment

Floods, internet taxes and other topics

Taxes: we are seeing some cracks in the Republican caucus. Some businesses are putting pressure on Republicans in Congress to back the internet sales tax laws. I agree with the business types who say that this will level the playing field.

Michael Reuter wrote an interesting op-ed in the Peoria Journal Star about preparing for flooding. The gist: these big floods ARE more common and by making some changes (e. g. giving the river some wetlands where it can spread out a bit in places and therefore take up some of the water volume) we will be better off in the future and, perhaps, even same money in the long run:

[…]2. It’s time for a different, coordinated, system-wide approach that reduces losses while improving the health of great rivers like the Illinois. In the future we must be proactive and innovative. There is a payoff: A study by the National Institute of Building Sciences estimated that for every dollar we spend on hazard mitigation efforts, we save $4 in future damages.

3. Work with nature, not against it. We need dams and levees but nature is an essential part of the solution, too. Large cities are demonstrating how to use nature to slow stormwater runoff with less money than required for hard infrastructure. On the Lower Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened floodplains and floodways to create room for the river during catastrophic events – an approach that avoided devastating losses to farmlands and urban areas in 2011.

4. Demonstrate potential solutions. While The Nature Conservancy is focused on developing and maintaining critical fish and wildlife habitat at Emiquon, part of our plan is to provide room for the river to help curtail damages during major floods. Every flood is different, but in general, by allowing floodwaters to spread out onto this vast area, Emiquon can help lower flood levels in nearby communities, including Peoria some 40 miles upstream. Even a few inches can prevent millions in damages, but ultimately additional floodplain areas along the Illinois and other rivers are needed. Farsighted public policies would provide fair economic incentives to those farmers and landowners who want to be part of the solution, potentially saving taxpayers substantial money.

Note: the economic calculations aren’t that easy, given that flooding is a stochastic event and we have to take the time value of money into effect: spending X now to prevent damage in the future (thereby saving repair and recovery costs) might save us money in the long run, but how much (if at all) depends on how long it is before the next major flood.

Speaking of disasters: Matthew Yglesias caught a lot of heat by suggesting that not every foreign country have their businesses and factories held up to the same safety standards of the United States. Yes, extra safety can be thought of as a luxury and one can overdo it. But his piece was related to the collapse of a Bangladesh factory which killed 100’s. Here he explains himself and what he was thinking. And yes, the factory in question didn’t follow local codes.

On the other end
A Texas member of the House of Representatives wonders if windmills will lead to more warming of the earth? His reasoning: windmills take energy out of the wind, which cools the planet. Or something.

My beef: why didn’t he run his idea past an engineer or scientist first? Yes, windmills take energy from the wind (and energy to the wind is being supplied by the sun) and it is nice to see what the potential “upstream” and “downstream” energy effects are. But people will look a lot smarter if they consult an expert prior to opening their mouths. Instead, they don’t feel the need to consult.

President Obama: 2013 Correspondence Dinner:

My favorite parts:

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night gave President Barack Obama a chance to take humor-laced shots at those things in Washington that rub him the wrong way — Republicans in Congress, the media, his critics — and he also directed plenty of friendly fire at himself.
“I look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,’” Obama quipped at one point, reflecting on how he’s aged into a second term. […]

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask,” Obama said. “Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” The line earned Obama one of his loudest applauses of the evening from the 2,700 in attendance at the Washington Hilton.
Along the same lines, Obama vowed to take his “charm offensive” on the road to “a Texas barbecue with Ted Cruz, a Kentucky bluegrass concert with Rand Paul and a book burning with Michele Bachmann.”

Senator McConnell had a sense of humor and posted this photo:


Some Paul Krugman
There is a difference between cherry picking facts that support your cause and ignoring ones that don’t and picking what you write about:

One criticism I face fairly often is the assertion that I must be dishonest — I must be cherry-picking my evidence, or something — because the way I describe it, I’m always right while the people who disagree with me are always wrong. And not just wrong, they’re often knaves or fools. How likely is that?

But may I suggest, respectfully, that there’s another possibility? Maybe I actually am right, and maybe the other side actually does contain a remarkable number of knaves and fools.

The first point to notice is that I do, in fact, perform a kind of cherry-picking — not of facts, but of issues to write about. There are many issues on which I see legitimate debate, from the long-run trend of housing prices to the effects of immigration on wages. And in happier times I would probably write more about such issues than I do, and the tone of my column and blog would be a lot more genteel. But right now I believe that we’re failing miserably in responding to economic disaster, so I focus my writing on attacking the doctrines and, to some extent, the people responsible for this wrong-headed response.

But can the debate really be as one-sided as I portray it? Well, look at the results: again and again, people on the opposite side prove to have used bad logic, bad data, the wrong historical analogies, or all of the above. I’m Krugtron the Invincible!

Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy. Too many influential people just don’t want to believe that we’re facing the kind of economic crisis we are actually facing.

And Krugman really doesn’t think highly of President Bush:

I’ve been focused on economic policy lately, so I sort of missed the big push to rehabilitate Bush’s image; also, as a premature anti-Bushist who pointed out how terrible a president he was back when everyone else was praising him as a Great Leader, I’m kind of worn out on the subject.

But it does need to be said: he was a terrible president, arguably the worst ever, and not just for the reasons many others are pointing out.

From what I’ve read, most of the pushback against revisionism focuses on just how bad Bush’s policies were, from the disaster in Iraq to the way he destroyed FEMA, from the way he squandered a budget surplus to the way he drove up Medicare’s costs. And all of that is fair.

But I think there was something even bigger, in some ways, than his policy failures: Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.

Think about his two main “achievements”, if you want to call them that: the tax cuts and the Iraq war, both of which continue to cast long shadows over our nation’s destiny. The key thing to remember is that both were sold with lies.

I suppose one could make an argument for the kind of tax cuts Bush rammed through — tax cuts that strongly favored the wealthy and significantly increased inequality. But we shouldn’t forget that Bush never admitted that his tax cuts did, in fact, favor the wealthy. Instead, his administration canceled the practice of making assessments of the distributional effects of tax changes, and in their selling of the cuts offered what amounted to an expert class in how to lie with statistics. Basically, every time the Bushies came out with a report, you knew that it was going to involve some kind of fraud, and the only question was which kind and where.

I do object to the phrase: “rammed through”: this is what people say when they are on the losing side of a vote. On these issues, President Bush was a good enough politician to sell this deal (the economic one).

April 29, 2013 Posted by | bush-era, climate change, economy, environment, political/social, politics, politics/social | , , | Leave a comment

I feel bad

Well, I slept much of the day away; I have a mild fever. If I am not a lot better tomorrow morning, I’ll have to cancel.
If I feel ok, I might walk/jog the 10K course with Tracy and keep her company.

When Barbara had this, she was affected for about 12 hours.

Not knowing what to do

On policy grounds, it appears that Paul Krugman makes sense in this criticism of President Obama’s putting “the chained CPI” on the table. But every time I say “ok, the purity trolls are right; Obama is selling us out”, I end up with egg on my face. I’ve learned to NOT underestimate him.

So, on one hand, I want to be objective and critical where required. On the other hand, he appears to know what he is doing.

It is a fine line between earned trust and being a “bot”; I stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to President W. Bush after the State of the Union in 2003 when he said that we were going to war with Iraq.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Barack Obama, bush-era, political/social, politics, sickness | | Leave a comment

Friday 9 November 2012: It is a wrap!

Well, no workout today. But I did do a lot of data gathering for my statistics take-home exam.
There is plenty of data out there; getting it into a format that spreadsheet can calculate can be a pain in the neck though.

Some of the data is “cooked” (fake); some of it is real life. It will be fun to see what becomes of it. Of course, I am going to do the exam first.

Tomorrow: 15K running road race followed by a football game. Illinois is playing Minnesota and someone has to win. I think. 🙂 Neither team has a Big Ten win this year Minnesota has one Big Ten win, Illinois has zero.
Tonight: men’s basketball game.

Political fall-out: my goodness, do the conservatives I see on facebook (either directly or indirectly) live in a bubble. They see conspiracies everywhere (e. g. General Petraeus’ affair admission is an excuse to keep him from testifying about Bhengazi, my commenting about my beard is racist (?), (I joked to a conservative friend that one could look at his photo and mine and tell who voted for who; he is bald and clean shaven and I am in “bearded mode” and his friends called me “racist”???)

Oh well, I have to remember back in 2004, many of my liberal friends thought that the Ohio election was stolen. Though there were some irregularities, the election wasn’t stolen and I (and statistically literate people) admitted as much. I suppose it is human nature to lash out irrationally when one gets a political disappointment, especially an unexpected one.

Only the nerds and the sports bookies knew what was coming.

Of course there is a huge difference between 2004 and 2012: in 2004, we were angry at President Bush for what he HAD done (invaded a country that had not attacked us nor had WMD’s, given tax breaks to the wealthy during the war, authorized torture) and in 2012, many Republicans were angry at President Obama for what he….well…didn’t do but *might* do or “did in their imaginations”. Oh well….

November 9, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, bush-era, college football, politics, politics/social, statistics | 1 Comment

6 October 2010 pm

Video: watch Christopher Hitchen’s most popular smack-downs:

There is a lot from the New York Times today:

Democrats do ok when registered voters are polled. But we do not-so-great when “likely voters” are polled.

The White House (and OFA) are acutely aware of this. They are trying to fire up liberals and new voters. This is the public face of this; there are some private moves too.

Here is the idea: all too often, voter outreach is aimed at those who, well, were going to vote anyway. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten material for Democratic candidates. Folks, that is wasted money.

OFA (Organizing For America, the off shoot of the Obama 08 group) recognizes that and is using programs specifically to target reluctant voters or voters who need some prodding.

Sure, they’ll contact me, but only to raise money and to look for volunteers.

Republicans seem to hate trains. 🙂 Personally, I’d love to see them catch on; it would be great to hop on a train to Chicago and then hit high speed rail to Texas. Right now, air travel sucks and I don’t see it ever getting any better.

Ok, the above is just a difference of opinion over policy.
The following is beyond silly: Republicans are seeing “signs” in the fact that, at a recent talk, President Obama’s Presidential Seal fell off of the lectern. Hey, I didn’t see the big deal in the first President Bush barfing in Japan or the second President Bush forgetting that a door didn’t open at all.

October 6, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, atheism, bush-era, High Speed Rail, political/social, politics, politics/social, pwnd, religion, Republican, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics | Leave a comment

Former Bush Adviser Hubbard Weighs in on Tax Cut Debate | PBS NewsHour | Sept. 22, 2010

In the first of several conversations on whether Bush-era should be extended, Gwen Ifill speaks with Columbia University’s business school Dean Glenn Hubbard, who helped craft the cuts when he served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | bush-era, business & economy, deadline, Democrats, extension, glenn hubbard, gwen ifill, jim lehrer, newshour, north america, poor, Republican, rich, tax cuts | Leave a comment