Monday, January 30, 2012


I just baked this low-effort, low-skill-needed Whole Wheat Peasant Bread. Aside from playing whack-a-mole with the smoke detectors around my apartment, the results are delicious.

New Format

Having created a new WordPress blog for a class I'm teaching, I realized how long I've had the same format at GlobalReview. It was time for something fresh, which meant updating to the newfangled gadgetry of Google circa 2012. Like it? Anything that should be changed (back)?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Responding to John & Andrew

My friend John asked me what I thought about Andrew Sullivan's paean to Obama's first term. Since I wrote so much, I can't help but post it here.

Andrew Sullivan doesn't understand economics. He calls the missed predictions on the recession "miscalculations". You can't miscalculate a guess at the future - it's a guess. And what's more, recessions aren't purely exogenous, like (say) hurricanes. They are ameliorated or exacerbated by gov't policies. He also gives Obama too much credit on unemployment. Sullivan writes:
The right claims the stimulus failed because it didn’t bring unemployment down to 8 percent in its first year, as predicted by Obama’s transition economic team.
In fact, the projection/promise of Obama's team (Romer & Bernstein) was that unemployment would not even *reach* 8% without the stimulus (1). Since there is no conclusive economic evidence that stimulus spending helps an economy in recession (2), it's not unfair for critics of the administration to hold them accountable for economic policies that saw unemployment rise from 7% to 10% under his watch (3). The Obama team's main defense is "we didn't know how severe it was going to be". But if you want to play doctor with the economy, being capable of making accurate diagnoses is pretty important!

Back to Sullivan. His defense of the Obama economic record is an imaginary counterfactual - without the "floor" put under the recession by the stimulus package, we could have ended up in the second Great Depression. Well, given that economists already refer to this period as the "Great Recession", and unemployment is still at 8.5%, it's pretty much the worst economic period since the Great Depression, and there's no guarantee that it's over. More to the point, Sullivan is relying on his imagination to construct the counterfactual. But there have been many recessions since 1940, and all of them have ended faster than this one. So, if you arbitrarily compare this downturn to a previous one, chances are the previous one will look less painful, mostly because the economy usually has bounced back rapidly, not hung around in the doldrums for 3 years.

Also, the whole tone of Sullivan's piece is a little funny. Republicans are wrong because Obama is a moderate, pragmatist at heart. But liberals are wrong because Obama is really a leftist. They can't both be wrong!

I guess Sullivan is writing press releases for the Obama administration. He glibly quotes the presidents own spin: "To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem" ... and then goes on to say, "If I sound biased, that’s because I am. Biased toward the actual record, not the spin". Um, ok.

That characterization certainly fails the smell test in, for instance, the battle over the debt ceiling. The president wanted to raise the debt ceiling; freshmen Republicans had been elected by promising not to do so, and senior GOP members wouldn't sign on without real concessions. When it became clear that a simple solution was not going to arise, the GOP offered to sign a short-term bill that would raise the ceiling for about 6 months more spending in exchange for concomitant concessions. The President said absolutely not - and refused to even consider any compromise that would allow the issue to arise again before his reelection. Obama has shown a consistent and uncompromising willingness to push off hard decisions to the other side of the election. He's willing to lower taxes, but only for the election year. He's willing to make a final decision on Keystone XL, but only in 2013 (the GOP forced his hand on that one). From the NYTimes:
The move is the latest in a series of administration decisions pushing back thorny environmental matters beyond next November’s presidential election to try to avoid the heat from opposing interests — business lobbies or environmental and health advocates — and to find a political middle ground. President Obama delayed a review of the nation’s smog standard until 2013, pushed back offshore oil lease sales in the Arctic until at least 2015 and blocked new regulations for coal ash from power plants.
Of course, this doesn't contradict Sullivan - the president is indeed playing a sort of "Long Game", but that long game is mainly about retaining power. To do that, he's willing to mortgage the future (with short-run tax policy, e.g.) in exchange for an electoral boost now. This isn't new behavior. Look at the ends of the last few 8-year administrations. Bush fils' 8 years ended with a 2007 recession. Clinton's 8 years ended with the burst of the dot-com bubble. By contrast Bush pere raised taxes, governed responsibly, and saw a mild recession under his watch - and lost his re-election campaign. The lesson? If you want the country to serve you for 8 years, shift consumption to the present - boom now, bust later.

Every indication is that Obama is following this pattern. That's not a long game, that's a shell game.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keep the soup in SOPA and the bum in PIPA

Email your representative today to let him or her know that internet users don't yearn for censorship or content control by the Federal government and a few powerful corporations. If we wanted to live in a world like that, we would've moved gone into lobbying.

If you don't know what all this is about, read this very informative interview of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the internet's knight in shining pixels. For a quicker take, see XKCD. In any case, you can't look up SOPA and PIPA on Wikipedia, because it's been taken down today in anticipation of the consequences of those bills.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fire the Army

It's time for small-government conservatives to rally around the president. Mr Obama has proposed downsizing the Army to a leaner, meaner, more mobile force. Implicit in the cuts to classical combat forces is the promise that we will not again attempt a decade of conquest and pacification of distant, restive countries, as we did in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The president's proposed cuts would offset the perpetual growth of the military and the military-industrial complex, which is as strong and as corrupt as ever. It would shrink the size of government and lower the permanent tax burden on American taxpayers. It would underscore the vital Constitutional principle of civilian control of the military.

The general change in strategy would seem sound coming from a Republican president, right? We need a more mobile, responsive military. We can't waste lives and treasure trying to force democracy on people at the point of a gun. Of course, a Republican (other than Ron Paul) wouldn't dare decrease total military spending. Is that because of a real concern for national security? Or is it because the GOP depends as heavily on military and military-industrial donations and votes as the Democrats do on dependents of the rest of government.

Conservatives, don't let your party loyalty confuse you: President Obama is right on this issue, and it will strengthen - not weaken - the conservative cause to rally behind him and stand up against interests whose real goal is to dip as deeply as they can into the public fisc.

Write your GOP congressman or senator and let him know that you are conservative first and Republican second. And shrinking the size of government - including wasteful military spending - is fundamentally conservative.

Burying the lede?

In a front-page story today, the Washington Post discusses Mitt Romney's role with Bain Capital, specifically as it relates to Staples, Dominos, and the Sports Authority:
In 2006, [Staples] revenue outside North America accounted for 13 percent of revenue. In 2010, the share was 21 percent... from $4.7 million in 2006 to $10.8 million in 2010... During the depths of the recent recession, it laid off about 140 employees... In 2004, Staples bought a small company called Hartford Office Supply...

In March 2008, Domino’s announced that it was cutting roughly 50 employees...

Sports Authority in 2003 merged with Gart Sports...
While some of these numbers seem quite trivial (a 50-employee cut for a megabusiness in the depths of the Great Recession is not bad at all), the story buries the lede: Mitt Romney has secretly remained a Bain Capital director throughout his time as 2002 Olympics CEO (1999-2002) and Massachusetts governor (2003-2007), and even during his two presidential candidacies (2007-present)! This is big news: Mitt Romney is still the puppetmaster behind layoffs at Dominos, sets executive wages and global strategy for Staples, and is trolling for Sports Authority takeovers.

Alternately, it could be that the Jia Lynn Yang just wrote a really lazy article, didn't bother doing the research to learn how these businesses changed during the years when Romney was actually involved.