Archive for March, 2010


Bad Government, No Snack

March 27, 2010

Libertarians amuse me. Particularly fascinating is their insistence that government can’t get anything right, and that somehow, miraculously, the free market will handle all manner of goods — market and non-market, exchange and non-exchange — with greater efficiency and better quality than any other possible social coordination mechanism. Most of the time, the insanity of libertarians is simply an amusing aside, too stupid to bother with. Sometimes, however, it’s a fabulous parody of itself, as in this humble video screed from Reason [sic]. Read the written article, watch the video below, and see how many logical fallacies you can spot.

I’ll play along too by commenting on the video. More after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry ?


Warmest on Record

March 26, 2010

The Washington Post’s Post Carbon reports today that the World Meteorological Association has also found that the past decade was the warmest on record. Bundle down, kiddos.

The United Nations’ agency findings echo the recent findings of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which concluded the period from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest since modern temperature record keeping began in the 1850s.

Also from Post Carbon is this overview of a recent video by Greenpeace:

The PolluterHarmony video, a takeoff on a popular dating service, shows an oil executive named “Rex” (with an ExxonMobile mug by his side) discussing being matched with his multiple love interests–including dictators from the Mideast and Latin America, and a guy named “Bob McD” from Virginia.

“Bob pops up and winks at me and I said, ‘No way, this guy’s way too clean cut for me,'” Rex recounts.

Alluding to the fact that oil companies are just as interested in getting oil from overseas as from offshore of the U.S., the video includes a line from Rex in which he says of Bob, “He’s OK with open relationships, no problem. Right now it’s hot and heavy and things are really flowing.”

Chase that down with Jim Hoggan’s link to Greenpeace’s 20 year history of Climate Denial.

The new report succinctly explains how fossil fuel interests used the tobacco industry’s playbook and an extensive arsenal of lobbyists and “experts” for hire in order to manufacture disinformation designed to confuse the public and stifle action to address climate change.

In the report, titled “Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science,”Greenpeace provides a brief history of the attacks waged by polluting industries against climate science, the IPCC and individual scientists.



March 25, 2010

Damn. Congress is on a roll! Unreal stuff is happening all of a sudden. What is going on???

A massive overhaul of the student loan program was just approved. It’ll now be easier to pay back your loans, money will be redirected back into higher education, and the government saves money. Everybody wins. Oh, except the banks, who will have a smaller pool of suckers to fleece.

The Congressional Budget Office said the direct-lending approach would save taxpayers about $61 billion over 10 years. Roughly $40 billion of the savings will be redirected to higher education. Education programs will get an additional $10 billion from the health care package.

The bill includes some landmark changes, like automatic increases, tied to inflation, in the maximum Pell grant award. But for individual students, the increase in the maximum Pell grant — to $5,900 in 2019-20 from $5,550 for the 2010-11 school year — is minuscule, compared with the steep, inexorable rise in tuition for public and private colleges alike.

That last bit’s a bummer, but overall it looks like an improvement to me.


Taxes with a Capital Tea

March 25, 2010

I’ve just stumbled on this informative analysis of activists in the Tea Party Movement, written by economist Bruce Bartlett and published in Forbes magazine. He and former Bush speech-writer David Frum — just today ousted by the American Enterprise Institute for suggesting on Sunday that health care was the GOP’s waterloo — conducted a survey of a recent Tea Party event. I recommend reading the whole article, but here are a few interesting excerpts:

The first question that was asked concerned the size of government. Tea Partyers were asked how much the federal government gets in taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product. According to Congressional Budget Office data, acceptable answers would be 6.4%, which is the percentage for federal income taxes; 12.7%, which would be for both income taxes and Social Security payroll taxes; or 14.8%, which would represent all federal taxes as a share of GDP in 2009.

Tuesday’s Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.

So this group, at least, has an inflated sense of how “socialistic” the US government is.

To follow up, Tea Partyers were asked how much they think a typical family making $50,000 per year pays in federal income taxes. The average response was $12,710, the median $10,000. In percentage terms this means a tax burden of between 20% and 25% of income.


According to calculations by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional committee, tax filers with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 have an average federal income tax burden of just 1.7%. Those with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have an average burden of 4.2%.

I find these numbers a little startling myself, but I believe they’re accurate. Apparently even I am susceptible to populist libertarianism. Finally, there’s this:

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.


As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it’s hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama’s stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.

According to the JCT, last year’s $787 billion stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group, estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. For those making between $40,000 and $50,000, the average tax cut was $472; for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, the tax cut averaged $522. No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama’s policies.



March 24, 2010

Cribbing this announcement from Roger. Here are some earlier posts and thoughts on geoengineering (12345), as well as some more formal articles (6789). I should probably re-read them to figure out what the hell I’m gonna say.



With a certain amount of anthropogenic climate change now “built in” to the system, the potential for rapid, irreversible outcomes, and doubts about the speed with which we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists and governments are beginning to contemplate deliberately engineering the earth’s climate system. Opinions among the scientific community span the spectrum from “it’s our responsibility to provide this tool for the toolbox” to revulsion at the hubris of the idea, and concerns that it could reduce pressure for greenhouse gas reductions. A flurry of reports and conferences have considered the feasibility of developing and deploying geoengineering, potential unintended consequences, and the difficulty of governing the technology in which some options may be unilaterally undertaken. This panel seeks to illuminate the many questions surrounding research on geoengineering, and the technology’s political and ethical dimensions; how does it compare with other solutions to global warming? Should we research it, much less seek to implement it? Is geoengineering acceptable because it addresses harms already done? How would we know when to use it? And who decides?


– Max Boykoff, CU Environmental Studies and Geography
– Lisa Dilling, CU Environmental Studies
– Benjamin Hale, CU Environmental Studies and Philosophy
– Roger Pielke, Jr., CU Environmental Studies
– Bill Travis, CU Environmental Studies and Geography

A reception will start at 3:00 pm in the CIRES auditorium (338), with the talk beginning at 3:30 PM. This event is being co-sponsored by the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, the CU Environmental Studies Program, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), and the Institute of Behavioral Science, Environment and Society Program.


That Sinking Feeling

March 24, 2010

Okay, this is a little unnerving. Strike one small island from the map of the globe. Climate change? Hard to say… could be a lot of things. Even still, relatively unfortunate, I’d say.

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in theBay of Bengal. Now rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island’s gone.

New Moore Island in the Sunderbans has been completely submerged, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Calcutta. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery andsea patrols, he said.


To Your Health

March 23, 2010

Two nights ago, like many in the US, I opened a bottle of wine to celebrate our embarrassing milestone of having finally joined the rest of the industrialized world in passing healthcare reform. Today it’s law. Yay us.

FWIW, I likely would’ve opened the wine anyway, but passage of healthcare reform somehow made that wine twice as enjoyable. Plus, that I would’ve opened the bottle of wine anyway lends all the more credibility to my reported elation, as I wasn’t in it for the wine. (Or something to that effect.)

As anybody who has been following this issue knows, getting here has been no easy undertaking. Even as you read this, the nattering naybobs of nincompoopitude are donning their tri-cornered hats and reenacting a fantasy era in American mythology, albeit this time with beer guts and bulging Lloyd Marcus (?) t-shirts. Now that challenges to the new law are coming out of the woodwork, it raises the important question: what does this terrible, awful, no good, very bad healthcare bill do?

If, for some reason you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a list of the “Top 10 immediate benefits” from Representative John B Larson. And here’s a nice, slightly harder to read, overview of some of the immediate benefits.

  1. Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;
  2. Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;
  3. Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;
  4. Lower seniors’ prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;
  5. Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;
  6. Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;
  7. Require plans to cover an enrollee’s dependent children until age 26;
  8. Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;
  9. Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;
  10. Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

Now what about any of these is so hard to understand? Let’s go through a few of them…

Read the rest of this entry ?


Academic Blogs

March 22, 2010

Here’s an interesting piece on journalism and academic blogs. The essay includes profiles of several bloggers including Brad DeLong and the philosopher John Holbo, who blogs over at Crooked Timber. There’s quite a bit of interest there, but I’ll crib a few quotes:

For Holbo, blogging was a way to open a conversation beyond the ivory tower about his esoteric interests. “Academic blogging is not very pure academics,” he says. “Half the commentators on my blogs are not academics. It feels very healthy that way. Almost everyone who does it seriously does it without mixed motives.”


Like DeLong, Holbo thrives on that public sparring. He finds the virtual salon a perfect antidote to the insulation of the ivory tower and the glacial pace of conventional scholarship. “I have a split intellectual life: these ant-like projects that evolve over months and years, and then this by-the-moment blogging life,” he says. “Blog posts take an hour, while an academic paper can take four years.” Yet even though the blogs reach a huge and influential audience compared to that of scholarly journals, the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.

Holbo admits he and his fellow pioneers have lost the “revolutionary fervor” of blogging’s early days. “I’m fortunate to be at the top of the food chain, to have these bully pulpits where I can stand up and know thousands of people will hear me,” he says. “But we all thought blogging was going to transform academic life, and that didn’t really happen.”

Holbo now believes his best hope for revolutionizing academia is to organize “book events,” online seminars where a dozen or so academics review the same book. The existing book-for-tenure convention forces far too many books into publication, Holbo says, and people need a better system for figuring out what to read. Crooked Timber has group-reviewed such bestsellers as Freakonomics, as well as scholarly tomes on politics, law, and economics. Holbo got two dozen high-profile intellectuals, including DeLong and Burke, to weigh in on Theory’s Empire at The Valve, then turned their posts into a book in 2007. He hopes to do this regularly.

Whether blogs are bringing anyone closer to the truth, Holbo’s not sure. “People aren’t nearly as blunt in academic writing as they often are in the blog space. Even so, when academics argue with other academics on a blog, it’s generally pretty well-mannered—sarcastic, but well- mannered,” he says.


New Blog

March 22, 2010

Reader Prajwal Kulkarni has started a new blog on science, policy, and politics. Unlike me, he’s chosen a straightforward name for his blog, which should spare him the now standard S&M jokes. Check it out. I think you’ll like what you see.

And apologies for the slack posting of late. We’re on spring break and I’m playing catch up.


A Thirsty World

March 21, 2010

Screw intrinsic value and enlightened self-interest arguments, it’s beer on the line.