House Hurricane Sandy Relief Vote

When it came to the Fiscal Cliff, 85 House Republicans voted for the deal. (Understandably, given that it was a much better deal than they could have reasonably expected.) Today, the House voted on the remaining Hurricane Sandy relief: $50.5 billion. And only 49 Republicans voted for it. Note that in the Fiscal Cliff vote, most of the Republicans weren’t even willing to save $600 billion by taxing the rich. So you see: priorities! There is something really wrong with these people.

House Hurricane Sandy Relief Vote

That means 179 assholes voted against it. And one Democrat.

Why Are More Kids Graduating High School?

Richard MurnaneBrad Plumer at Wonk Blog tells us, High-School Graduation Rates Are Rising—But No One Knows Why. He is reporting on a paper by Richard Murnane of Harvard who looked at graduation rates from 1970 to the present. In general, graduation rates declined until 2000 and since then, they’ve be going up—fast. But here’s the thing: no one knows why it went down before. And no one knows why it is going up now. But I have a couple of ideas.

Here is the critical graph:

High School Graduation Rate

They can’t explain this graph. But they have some ideas, of course. One is that it is lead. At this point, I’m not going to dismiss any speculation that the removal of lead has made us infinitely healthier, smarter, and less violent. But most of the lead was gone by the 1970s, and I would think we would have seen an effect earlier than 2000. Another idea is students are now being better prepared for tests, so they feel more confident that they can graduate. I don’t know about that: they weren’t testing kids for graduation back in 1980. Or maybe it is just that the moon is in the seventh house or some such.

I would love to dive into the raw data, because I have a few ideas of my own. Starting in 1980, there really is no trend: kids are graduating at the same rate that they always were. But then, in the mid-1990s, graduation levels drop. I remember that time: jobs were for the asking. So it is not surprising that a lot of marginal students would decide they were better off just getting a job. Then the economy goes into recession and thanks to the stewardship of George W. Bush, we pretty much stay that way until the economy implodes. Jobs are harder to find so why not stay in school. (This second part comes from the original paper.)

The data conform very well to this narrative. But the question remains: what happened in the period 1975 to 1980? This is a weird period with low unemployment then high then low then high. Given this volatility, it is hard to imagine students being able to make a rational employment/school decision based upon the economy. I tend to think that something else must have been going on. It was, after all, a fairly gloomy period. Just the same, “morning in America” didn’t cause a further decrease in graduation rates. But that may be because those inclined to despair were already despairing.

Regardless, it is kind of nice to see this improvement. Still, it is hard for me to believe that even now almost 20% of boys drop out of high school.

Paper Tiger James Yeager

James YeagerI don’t care as much about gun legislation as a lot of liberals. The reason is simple: guns kill about 25,000 people each year in the United States. Income inequality and the recession kill a lot more than that. For example, a Harvard Medical School study found that lack of health insurance caused as many as 44,789 deaths per year in the United States. I tend to think that studies like this under-estimate the problem. But you get the idea.

Having said this, I still think we should do something. In particular, I am a big advocate for nationwide gun purchase waiting periods. But there are lots of other things that might be helpful that I think we should do. One would be a ban on assault weapon imports to this country. This is something that President Obama could do by executive action. And it looks like he is planning to do this.

These are minor things. This is not going to door to door and confiscating guns. But that doesn’t mean that the freaks are not going crazy at the very thought that there might be fewer assault weapons imported into the country. Case in point: James Yeager. He is the CEO of Tactical Response, and he said, “I am not fucking putting up with this; I am not letting my country be ruled by a dictator; I’m not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.” Here’s The Young Turks on it with the original clip and follow up (which wasn’t the last—see below):

One inch further? It isn’t surprising that Yeager got a little push back on this. But what I find interesting is how a guy that yells at his wife can end up in jail for a “terrorist threat,” but someone like Yeager only gets his gun permit suspended. Why does nothing happen to Ted Nugent when he threatens the President of the United States? I think it is because our leaders only have backbone when it comes to going after the powerless. Ted Nugent and James Yeager are not powerless, so: boys will be boys!

Make no mistake: people like Yeager are effective. They have managed to allow us to have some of the most ridiculous gun laws in the western world. But I’m curious to see what Obama presents tomorrow. Because as we’ve seen, loudmouth assholes like James Yeager are nothing but paper tigers. Threaten to take away their gun permits and they purr like kittens. And that is very clear in Yeager’s third video:


Apple?The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is cutting back production of the new iPhone due to lower than expected sales. Apple stock prices plummeted. And then all the Apple people went crazy. Impossible! Stock manipulation!

As Matt Yglesias notes: maybe! Who knows? And frankly, who cares? I’ve been very critical of Apple over the years. But this is not due to their products; it is due to their business practices. They are exhibit A in the case against software patents and look-and-feel lawsuits.

But there is another side of this. Apple products are good, but they aren’t really any better than any of their competitors. Certainly it is the case that Microsoft kept the PC in the dark ages for a good decade. But I’ve long been a huge critic of Bill Gates. The fact that PCs really sucked 20 years ago is no reason to claim that Apple has a better smart phone than Samsung. So yeah, I am a little more inclined to joined the chorus against Apple. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own Mac at home (I use it in the kitchen and it is a wonderful machine, even though it is a few years old.)

I should put my cards on the table, though. I just bought my first e-book reader: a bottom of the barrel Kindle. And I am learning to love it. For one thing, I always have my Shakespeare and various Don Quixote translations with me. And still only five ounces! Plus, it is a hell of lot more convenient to book mark than to use Book Darts, even though I do still love them. Bottom line: I’m a Luddite. And I’m happy that way.

But I’m not surprised that people are tending to go more Android than Apple. And if I were to start writing code again, I would do it for the Android. And if I had Apple stock, I would already have sold it. Regardless of what happened today.

In 2014: my first smart phone! Maybe.

The Letter E

Eis for Ennui.

French. A beautiful language rempli à la capacité [1] with subtle delights. It possesses a two-syllable word for the feeling of utter weariness and discontent caused by a complete lack of interest: ennui. Not stupid American boredom, but a sophisticated listless oppression that would be paralyzing if paralyzation didn’t involve intense emotion.

“If it weren’t for ennui, Henri might give a shit.”

[1] Filled to capacity.

Jon Stewart’s Unfortunate Clown Defense

Jon Stewart - Just a clown that holds political ralliesLast Thursday, The Daily Show did a segment on the trillion dollar coin. It wasn’t very good. Saturday, Paul Krugman—a big booster for the idea—wrote an article, Lazy Jon Stewart. I was glad. The truth is that Stewart usually does a good job of explaining what is going on in the world of politics while still managing to be anywhere from slightly amusing to hilarious. But in that sequence, there was no actual content. The joke was just, “Trillion dollar coin! Te he!”

Krugman wasn’t the only person to complain. Jonathan Chait wrote, Jon Stewart Flunks Econ. He said, “It’s hard to say exactly what Jon Stewart and his writers think about economic policy, but there is some odd vein of Hooverism that pops up from time to time.” This is correct. The one area where The Daily Show really falls down is economic and especially monetary policy. And this is really sad, because this is the area that people are most confused about. This is the area where people naturally fall into the thinking of Herbert Hoover, and all the incorrect thinking that made the Great Crash into the Great Depression.

Similarly, Ryan Cooper of Washington Monthly put it really bluntly, “Jon Stewart took a look at the platinum coin option on his show last night, and it really sucked.” Forgive me for doing this, but I think an extended quote from Cooper’s excellent article is called for:

Stewart, in quite possibly the laziest and most irresponsible segment I’ve ever seen on The Daily Show, doesn’t mention any of that background; in fact he gives a grossly misleading context. “America’s got a bit of a cash flow problem these days,” he says. “We have a 16 trillion dollar debt, our credit rating was downgraded for the first time last year. I think we can all agree it’s time to get serious and figure out a way to restore the world’s respect for the soundness of our currency.” This is just utterly wrong. There is no worry whatsoever in the markets about the soundness of the dollar. Again, demand for US debt is so strong that people are literally paying us to take their money—inflation-adjusted yields for 10-year Treasury bonds are below zero.

Then he quotes a news segment saying “a $1 trillion platinum coin could be minted, and the government could use that to pay the debt.” Again wrong. This is about paying the government’s current financial obligations, not paying down the debt.

Stewart continues: “I’m not an economist, but I say go big or go home. How about a $20 trillion coin?” He later quotes a slightly better explanation of the actual mechanics of the coin option, but only to make fun of the guy’s name. After some more jokes, he wraps up with “we don’t need a trillion-dollar coin gimmick, we need a way to make the world take the US dollar seriously again.”

Not once during the segment does he mention the actual reason for the coin proposal—the debt ceiling—neither does he correctly explain how it would work or why. It would have been okay for Stewart to dismiss the proposal, but to be blithely scornful of it while providing a terribly inaccurate explanation is infuriating.

Last night, Stewart was back and he did not fail to take the bait. He referenced Krugman’s article. And then did something else that I find annoying: Stewart gives the “I’m just a clown!” defense. Well he isn’t just a clown. And what’s worse Stewart knows this. He expects to be taken seriously. He held a political rally for God’s sake! And given everything we know about the show, we reasonably expect that Stewart will at least get the facts right. But when he doesn’t—like now—we get this tired refrain, “I’m just a clown! Pay no attention to me!” This isn’t right.

What’s worse is that The Daily Show is usually at its best putting news items into context. This can be serious or funny as hell, as when they show the total hypocrisy of Fox News. But in the case of the trillion dollar coin, there was no context. Indeed, both The Daily Show and Colbert Report have been strangely silent on what I think is the most important national story: the debt ceiling. And I have no doubt that these two shows could make the issue clear and humorous.

Update (15 January 2012 2:06 pm)

Jonathan Chait is always stealing my ideas:

But the issue is the premise. Pretending that the plan is to mint a coin and pay off the national debt is just flat out false. The premise is the true part of the story, before the punch line. And when the premise is wrong, you’re just cheating. That’s what Jon Stewart did. It’s easy to make jokes if you can pretend the butt of the joke said something ridiculous even if he didn’t. You could make fun of Gretchen Carlson every single day if you’re willing to doctor her quotes to make them sound more absurd than they are.

Also, I’m out all day. I’ll have some things up this evening.