Don’t Nofollow

Stop the nofollow attributeI’ve come to despise the “nofollow” attribute of links. When a link includes rel=”nofollow” in it, search engines are not supposed to follow the link or use it to increase, for example, the linked page’s Google ranking. The idea originally was to reduce spam. If spammers knew that their useless blog comments wouldn’t increase their ranking, the theory was, then they wouldn’t post useless blog comments. Boy did that not work! I have 4 levels of spam protection on this website and still I have to hand delete between 5 and 50 entries per day.

Unfortunately, few people seem to have noticed that the “nofollow” attribute is useless. Go to just about any blog and leave a comment with your website address. On almost all sites, the link will be displayed with a “nofollow” attribute. To me, that’s mighty un-neighborly. I like it when people comment here. The least I can do is admit that my blog is in fact linking to their sites. It makes me think of neighborhood girls when I was 12 who told me to pretend I didn’t know them when alpha boys were around.

Of course, it isn’t that most bloggers feel this way. I suspect that very few of them even know what the “nofollow” attribute is, much less that they are using it. But most blogging software adds this attribute by default. Thankfully, the software I use (Nucleus) does not do it by default. But when I added BB-Code, it added “nofollow” by default.

I have two points in writing this. First: you should know about “nofollow” and remove it from your blog if you have no reason to use it. Sometimes there is a reason to use it. Earlier today, I added a “nofollow” attribute to the link to TeaParty.org, because they annoyed me so much. But if you are automatically adding it to all comments on your site, you might want to give this some thought. This is especially true if you approve all comments.

My second point? You are welcome to comment here; we won’t treat you like a trespasser. (At least, not after we approve your comment!)

Global Warming and Expansionary Austerity

Reinhart and RogoffWhen I was doing research in global warming, it was very annoying. The theory was all laid out. And that was most of what we had. At that time, the evidence for global warming was weak. So an iconoclast like me naturally looked for ways that the theory was wrong: negative feedbacks and stuff like that. Because here’s the thing: the basic theory was right. It is simple energy transfer, and thus about as controversial gravitation theory. If it was wrong, it was because there was some other energy forcing that we just didn’t see.

Over time, the data got better. Now, the data alone indicate that the earth is warming, although you need some theory to explain that humans are causing it. But note what the global warming deniers do: they attack the data and the data alone. They can do that because there is a lot of data. But the process is clear: first they decide global warming is bunk, then they search the data trying to disprove it.

The situation is little different when it comes to economics. Mike Konczal wrote an excellent article over at Wonk Blog today, Reinhart/Rogoff-Gate Isn’t the First Time Austerians Have Used Bad Data. In it, he provided a history of conservative efforts to justify the idea of expansionary austerity. This is the idea that if the government cuts its budget to the bone, the private sector will have “confidence” that will get the economy booming. If this sounds like magical thinking, you’re right.

The story Konczal tells is of economists running from data set to data set looking for something that would reinforce their kooky theory. And in each case, the data they seized on turned out to be wrong. But that isn’t because they had bad luck. It is because only bad data would have made the case for expansionary austerity because expansionary austerity is wrong.

In any scientific pursuit, you have to start with a theory. But it can’t just be any old theory; you need to start with the basics of your field. In global warming you need to start with energy transfer and so on. In expansionary austerity you need to start with demand and all that jazz. But in each case (global warming denial and expansionary austerity advocacy), those involved didn’t start with a theory. They just rejected the default, sensible, traditional theory. Then they went out in search of data to confirm—data that didn’t exist because their “theories” were wrong. And that’s not science, it’s politics.

People involved in these pseudo-scientific political campaigns are not honest brokers. They use one of the best aspects of science against itself: the ability of a new theory to destroy an existing paradigm. So they point to Einstein and note how he, for example, revolutionized Galilean relativity. But they never mention that Einsteinian relativity is Galilean relativity at slow speeds. They never mention that Einstein was solving problems that were well known at the time. They never mention that Einstein had a theory whereas they have only “not what everyone in the field believes.”

Whether in global warming or economics, it is shameful.

Why Dems Aren’t Economically Liberal

Steve KornackiI just came upon this short segment from Up with Steve Kornacki. In it, he admits what I’ve long said: the Democratic Party (at the national level anyway) is just liberal on social issues; when it comes to economic issues, they are as conservative as Republicans were during the Reagan administration.

After this segment, there is a group discussion of the issue, although it is much too much about how great all this social progress is and not enough about why the Democratic Party has abandoned economic liberalism. Jerry Nadler mentions that the Democrats have been much more liberal socially but that they are more conservative economically than they were 30 years ago. Eliot Spitzer notes that a lot of problems stem from taking the wrong lessons from the Clinton administration and the fact that the economic constituents are not well organized. I don’t really agree about this last part. Unions are very organized. It is just that the Democratic Party has decided they can ignore them. Maya Wiley notes the recent research that shows that politicians greatly over-estimate how conservative their constituencies are. And Neera Tanden (who I really like) just acts as the Obama administration apologist.

In the sequence after this, Kornacki makes an excellent point. The reason that the Democrats are in favor of these social policies is that a large part of the donor class is socially liberal. No one on the show will come out and say it, but I will: we get policies that the rich support. The rich don’t support liberal economic policies. So the Democratic Party is only willing to work around the edges. A good example of this is the minimum wage. It doesn’t hurt the banking class. Even Walmart is for it. But other liberal policies—like raising the payroll tax cut, raising corporate taxes, and reforming intellectual property rights—can’t even be discussed.

Anyway, Kornacki is right in this clip even if I disagree with the causes he later discusses:

Afterword

In yet another segment, Neera Tanden notes that the first thing Obama did was raise taxes on the wealthy, even though he got a lot of money from wealthy donors. This is silly. Taxes were going up. Obama raised taxes about as little as he could possibly get away with. She is totally wrong to think that Obama showed any courage regarding the Fiscal Cliff deal.

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Common Sense or Nonsense

Mark BlythMeet Mark Blyth. He is a political scientist who seems to study mostly economics. He has a new book coming out next week, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, which I’ve already ordered.

In the following video, he explains that the economy is not like a family. If the public and private sectors both try to pay down debt, it will just cause a depression in which no one effectively pays down debt. We’ve seen this in southern Europe where intense austerity has so depressed the economy that debt-to-GDP ratios have actually gone up in some countries. But his main point is that austerity is just another way to make the poor pay for the mistakes of the rich. As he notes: first the poor paid for the bank bailouts and then they paid again by the austerity cuts in programs.

Check out the video. It’s only five minutes, but you might want to watch it a few times:

Wanted: Serious Right Wing

Tea PartyThere are fundamental differences between MSNBC and Fox News, but most of them have to do with degrees. For example, to some extent, MSNBC has become a media arm of the Democratic Party; Fox News is nothing but a media arm of the Republican Party. The biggest and most consequential difference has nothing to do with degrees. MSNBC viewers know that they are getting partisan news and Fox News viewers don’t. They think they are just getting The Truth™, and this is no accident: it is what Fox News tells them before and after every commercial break.

I thought about this earlier when I came upon an ad on (of all places) Crooks & Liars. It asked the question, “Is Obama the Worst President in History?” As always, when I see an ad that really offends me, I clicked over. I want these people to pay for the privilege of offending me. And I came upon this page for TeaParty.org. It is basically just an opportunity to sign up for their newsletter. But I was really struck by their two question form.

It starts with a wholly prejudicial introduction:

From some viewpoints, Obama has failed in a great many of his endeavors, but is he worse than, for example, Jimmy Carter? Tell us what you think!

But then they ask the question: do you believe Obama is the Worst President in History? The choices are: (1) yes, Obamacare put him there; (2) yes, his handling of the economy was devastating; (3) yes, his increases in the welfare state are tragic; and (4) no, he is not worse than Jimmy Carter. The assumption is that the worst president in history is either Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama. I’m not sure how I would answer that question but there is a decent chance I would say that Obama is worse than Carter but not nearly the worst president in history. (For the record, the second question is just whether liberals or conservatives are better solving our nation’s problems.)

What I find interesting about this is not its utter cluelessness. Rather, I’ll bet that the people who wrote this questionnaire think it is totally reasonable. They ran it by all of the people they know and no one suggested any changes. I doubt that they giggled to themselves, “See how we put Obama in a no win situation!” Rather, it is just self-evident that Obama or Carter is the worst president ever. And that is a big problem.

In a normal political environment, we need to understand that both sides of the political spectrum are honest brokers and have good ideas. The problem in modern American, however, is that clueless people like those at TeaParty.org have taken over most of the Republican Party. And now serious conservative thinkers like Ross Douthat, David Frum, and Josh Barro come off as moderates. A right wing that offers two of the last three Democratic presidents as the only answer to the question of who is the worst president in history is not an honest broker and does not have much in the way of good ideas. We need to confront this fact head on.

Afterword

Note also that in 10-15 years, these same people will claim, “When I look back, Obama wasn’t a bad president!” Of course, they will be screaming about some new Democrat who they claim is worse than Stalin.

Safety Last

Harold LloydOn this day in 1840, French symbolist painter Odilon Redon was born. Sculpter Daniel Chester French, who created Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, was born 1850. Adolf Hitler who played some part in European history was born in 1889. Lionel Hampton was born in 1908. And Tito Puente was born in 1923.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is 93 today. George Takei is 76. Ryan O’Neal is 72. Veronica Cartwright and Jessica Lange are 64. Clint Howard is 54. And King Kong stand in Andy Serkis is 49.

But the day belongs to Harold Lloyd who was born in 1893. There are two reasons for this. First, I sure wasn’t going to give the day to Hitler—not so much because he was evil but because I’m just so tired of him. Second, I still get nervous watching Lloyd. He is also very funny.

Happy birthday Harold Lloyd!