Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Reverence
Truthout has republished The New York Times article Paul Krugman | Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse.
But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them, there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot – and there are no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.
Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background. One of the great things about the Internet is that it has made it possible for a number of people meeting that second condition to gain an audience. I don’t care whether they’re Ph.D.’s, professors, or just guys running blogs – it’s the work that matters.
I have already coined Greenberg’s Law Of Reverence to cover this situation. Also, when I publish statements from people like Paul Krugman, I usually try to avoid mentioning the awards that they have won, unless to disparage the award. Readers like RichardH will know what award in particular that I am not mentioning.
The American Prospect has the article Fruits of Republican Folly by Robert Kuttner.
Since Barack Obama took office, the two Republican factions have complemented each other in a successful “good cop, bad cop” effort to ratchet down public spending. Wall Street creates one sort of crisis; the Tea Party creates another; government takes the hit. Except for the short-lived stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, this is the first prolonged slump of the postwar era in which government cut rather than expanded public spending.
With everything else having been cut, the pressure has shifted to the big social-insurance programs—so-called entitlements—that have thus far been protected. Once again, the corporate right and Tea Party right have called for a grand bargain targeting Social Security and Medicare.
Can anyone please explain why President Obama is so hell bent on cutting the throats of the Democratic Party and its elected Congress People?
Can he really be so ignorant of what every postwar President of either party has known about how to deal with a slump?
To brag on his “accomplishment” as shown in my previous post What So Proudly We Hail, shows that he is either completely ignorant, smoking something that is not Federally permitted, being held hostage, or some other explanation.
Notice that I have placed this post in the category of Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior. Which translates to, please explain to me what Barack Obama is trying to accomplish. I am pretty sure, I no longer know.
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media
The PBS story, Mindless Budget Reporting: Fooling Some of the People All of the Time by Dean Baker talks about an example of Greenberg’s Law of The Media. Baker is castigating a report in The New York Times.
“A plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program — twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June — threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.”
The problem with this description of the Republican plan is that the proposed cut of $40 billion is supposed to be over a 10-year budget window, not a single year. (The Republicans want to cut the food stamp budget by 5 percent, not 50 percent.) This information is not reported anywhere in the article. As a result, even a very intelligent and extremely knowledgeable person like Krugman could read through the piece and be off by a factor of 10 in his understanding of the size of the proposed cuts.
One of the ways Greenberg’s Law is demonstrated is to give us a number out of context. You are obviously supposed to infer that the number illustrates some point that the reporter is implying, but you are never given the context to judge whether the desired inference is correct. It is unlikely that the reporter knows whether the desired inference is correct.
Baker is correct that all you know is that it is a large number. If you don’t know whether it is over 1 year or 10, or what fraction it is of the budget, or how this government spending compares to the spending of the corporate sector under similar circumstances, then you have no idea if the number is too large, too small, or just about right. However, your thinking about the matter has been prejudiced by the report. Because of this, you might come away from reading or hearing the story with less knowledge than you started with.
Sort of like all of Faux Noise, the more you watch, the less you know.
The Boston Globe has the article Charter schools in Boston score higher on key tests. If you are not a Globe subscriber, the only text you get to see is:
Boston charter schools outperform other public schools on three popular barometers of achievement — the MCAS, the SAT, and the Advanced Placement exams — but tend to have lower four-year graduation rates, according to a study being released Wednesday.
If you read the newspaper or have full access to the site, you will see the following about half way through the article:
In Boston, there are 25 charter schools.
The study examined 3,400 students who sought admission to one of the six charter high schools in Boston between fall 2002 and 2008. (The study excluded two charter high schools that closed during that period because of low performance.)
I commented on the article which reported on a study done at MIT.
If there had been more room, the headline might have said “Charter schools score higher on key tests except for the ones that don’t” It is convenient how two schools that would have lowered the averages for the Charter schools were taken out of the study. Perhaps the people conducting the study and doing the statistical analysis could have excluded a similar proportion of low performing public schools from the study.
With MIT accepting huge amounts of funds to build buildings named after the infamous Koch brothers and then this story, perhaps it is true that MIT is selling its soul to the devil in order to raise funds. Now when MIT calls me for an alumnus donation, I just tell them to put it on the Koch brothers’ tab.
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media
The overwhelming majority of voters who cast ballots this year in Rhode Island had no problems complying with a new voter identification law. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis’s office reported Friday that of 560,000 ballots cast in this year’s elections fewer than 190 provisional ballots were submitted because the voter failed to present a driver’s license, bus pass, or other form of ID. Lawmakers passed the law last year to prevent voter fraud.
This proves that 190 people who had no ID still attempted to vote despite the law. It does not tell you how many people decided not to vote because they did not have the required ID. If these people without ID who did not vote were otherwise legally eligible to vote, then I would say that these were problems. We have no idea of how many such people there were. So while the story appears to be true that the state reported few problems, that does not mean that there were only a few problems. In fact there is no report of the state trying to measure how many problems there were. It is very likely that you will not find what you do not seek.
I predict that the “information” published in this article will be used as a means to justify the continuation of the voter ID law. Perhaps a better headline would be the one I used for this article.
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media
The New Republic has the article More Wisdom from the Guy Who Brought You “Rape Can’t Get You Pregnant”.
It’s fine for magazines to debunk the pseudo-science of people in the news, but they shouldn’t use pseudo-science in one of their arguments.
In the section titled “Legalizing abortion didn’t make abortion safer” they quoted Dr. Willke as saying:
“If, in fact, the elimination of illegal abortion eliminated back alleys, there should have been a perceptible drop in the number of women dying. That didn’t happen. The line didn’t even blip from 1967 to 1973 and 1974. … It just kept going down at the same slow rate. There was no evidence of a decline in mortality from legalization.”
Then to disprove what he said the article posits:
In any event, evidence that his claim was totally bunk was readily available by 1989. In March of 1987, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study which read, in part, “Between 1972 and 1982 … [t]he overall death rate resulting from legal abortion dropped nearly fivefold, from 4.1 per 100,000 abortions in 1972 to 0.8 in 1982.”
In one case, Dr. Willke talks about the number of women dying. In the other case they quote the death rate per 100,000 abortions. Now if the death rate went down, but the number of abortions went up, then it is quite possible that the total number of deaths of women did not go down.
I am not saying that this is true. I am just saying that people should not use arguments that are so easily ripped apart. The New Republic is trying to show that Dr. Willke doesn’t know science, but they don’t show a great grasp of science themselves, or at least not statistics, math, or even numbers.
Chalk up another example of Greenberg’s Law of the Media – “If a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.”
You might find the rest of the article more enlightening. Too bad they had to spoil it with this blunder.
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of The Media
The Kansas City Star has the generally good article Doctors dispute Akin’s claim, but some supporters say it was misunderstood.
If you are wondering about the supporters’ claims to a misunderstanding,
But Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association — a nonprofit that describes itself as a pro-family organization — told The Star on Monday that “fair-minded people” know what Akin really meant by his statement. Wildmon speculated that Akin was differentiating between forcible rape and statutory rape, which can be consensual.
“What I read from some medical sources, when a woman is raped, her body shuts down in some respects that may prevent her from getting pregnant,” Wildmon said.
Wildmon adds a new wrinkle, but then goes back to repeat the same stupid statement that got Akin in trouble in the first place.
The part of the article that gets my goat is the statement:
A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, generally considered one of the few peer-reviewed research efforts on this subject, estimated that 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy.
The above statement tells you nothing about the truth or falsity of the claims of either side. To complete the above half a statistic, there would need to be a statement like, “and it is estimated that X percent of incidents of consensual intercourse result in pregnancy.” If X is significantly higher than 5%, then there could conceivably (no pun intended) be some truth to Akin’s claim. If X is significantly lower than 5%, then it might be true that rape has an enhanced rate of causing pregnancy. If X is not significantly different from 5%, then it might be tru that rape versus consensual sex has no affect on the rate of pregnancy after the act.
So the half statistic has shown that rape may lead to enhanced rates of pregnancy, or it might lead to lowered rates of pregnancy, or it might have no effect at all. In other words, you don’t know anymore about the effect of rape on pregnancy than you did before you read that statistic. You don’t even learn anything about the claim to rarity. Without knowing the number X, you can’t say whether 5% means rare or frequent.
For this reason, I give the article a 5 star rating for proving Greenberg’s Law of the Media – “If a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.”
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Counterproductive Behavior
Reuters has the article Romney says new Fed stimulus would risk inflation.
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Monday said the Federal Reserve should not go ahead with another round of monetary stimulus to boost the U.S. economy, because it would risk kicking up inflation.
“Another round of quantitative easing is not the solution for the economy, and could mean inflation down the road,” Romney told Faux Noise. “It’s not the right thing to do.”
Of course the Fed wouldn’t have to do monetary easing if the Congress would agree to a stimulus plan that included direct government spending on all the things that Elizabeth Warren would have the government spend it on.
Be that as it may, worrying about inflation at some unknown distant point in the future while the Fed has been unable to produce enough inflation now is a silly thing to be thinking about with the current problems we have. If the fed were able to produce its target rate of inflation, it would certainly be able to take action if the inflation rate exceeded its target. Given how hard it has tried to boost inflation and how unsuccessful it has been, if it finally does manage to create some inflation, all it would have to do is stop its current efforts or perhaps reverse them, to stop inflation from getting out of hand.
Given how hard the Fed has tried to boost inflation and how little inflation we have – we actually have deflation in the housing market – can you imagine the even higher deflation in the housing market that we would have had had the Fed not intervened?
Why is some inflation in the housing market good and large deflation extremely bad? For years, people have made plans based on a fairly small, but dependable rate of inflation in the housing market. The banks have always factored this into their plans as well. The inflation is what allowed homeowners to sell a fairly illiquid asset, real estate, when they had to in order to move to where the jobs are. This inflation is also what allowed homeowners to build their equity so that they would have something on which to retire. This equity buildup due to inflation was magnified to the homeowner because of the leverage they were using with the borrowed mortgage money to finance the purchase of the real estate.
Take this all away, and even deflate the asset on which they borrowed money and you have leverage working against the homeowner. They cannot move to a better job market because they would have to raise money in order to pay off their mortgage on a home that was worth less than the mortgage on it. Not only is the falling house price not adding to their nest egg for retirement, it is actually shrinking their retirement nest egg.
Excess equity in a house is also a resource you can use if there should be unexpected disasters such as unexpected illness, sudden death of the wage earner, divorce, or loss of a job and long term unemployment. If you are underwater in your mortgage instead of having excess equity, not only is the house not a resource you can tap, it is actually an extra burden to bear.
With all these actual or imaginable problems facing the middle-class, they are desperately trying to cut their spending and trying to save money in ways that compensate for the housing problem. This is why businesses have not enough freaking customer to keep their existing employees and factories busy. Giving companies even more than the trillions of cash they are already sitting on is not going to make the middle-class become better customers.
As a matter of fact, companies taking trillions of dollars out of the economy and parking them in non-productive financial derivatives until the economy turns around is one of the many factors keeping the economy from turning around.
So taking money out of the hands of the corporations and putting it back into the economy would be a good thing to do. This means raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy individuals that control them. It makes absolutely no sense to do the opposite by lowering their taxes and allowing them to pull even more money out of the economy. This pulling money out of the economy may be the very reason that the Fed’s pouring money in is having such little effect.
That the Republicans can pretend that they don’t see these realities and then propose solutions that will make matters much worse, makes you want to apply Greenberg’s Law of Counterproductive Behavior. What are the Republican’s trying to do? The answer involves the book The Shock Doctrine. You may actually have to read more than what I have posted about the book to see the connection. The short answer is that they are trying to shock the middle-class into accepting lower wages, poorer working conditions, and cuts to government investment in the education and health of the people. With globalization, they intend to make money from customers elsewhere. Or maybe they just think they can steal the existing customers from their competitors faster than their competitors can steal customers from them. Somehow, they intend to have enough customers without having to pay living wages to workers. Can they not see that a person who is a worker in one context is a customer in another?
You have to ignore this identity of worker and customer to think that Mitt Romney’s idea of business management being blindly applied to macroeconomics would be successful.
The Nation Of Change has the article The CEO Plan to Steal Your Social Security and Medicare.
Many of the same folks who brought the economy to ruin just a few years ago are now going to come up with a plan that is supposed to set the budget and the economy on a forward path. At the center of their proposal are big cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
It is an interesting article even if I do classify this as an example of Greenberg’s Law of the Media. He talks about an 0.3% change per year in the COLA adjustment for Social Security, aggregates this to 3% over ten years and then compares this to the 3% change in upper income tax rate. 3% is 3%, right? Well 0.3% a year is not the same as 3% a year and 3% over 10 years is also not the same as 3% over 1 year. Putting this aside, the rest of the article might supply you with some information you didn’t know.
Filed Under Greenberg's Law of Counterproductive Behavior
To many people, it seems paradoxical that conservatives target not the worst social programs, but the best. There is no paradox. Bad government programs are desirable from the right’s perspective – they discredit government intervention. Good government programs pose an existential challenge to conservative memes, so they are the prime target for attack.
This is exactly the kind of paradox that falls under Greenberg’s Law Of Counterproductive Behavior, which states:
If you see a behavior that seems to you to be counterproductive, perhaps you have misunderstood what the actor was trying to produce.
I recommend Black’s article to you because it has many other interesting things to say besides the one I focused on above.
As an exercise to the reader, I suggest seeing if you can name the politicians who are most guilty of being progressive auterians. Also ask yourself if you are guilty of being a progressive auterian.