Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Mixed greens, sauteed onion and apple, pine nuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese

What he said

I was going to write on this but I see Media Matters is just up on the issue. Regarding the federal pay "freeze" (cut, really), the Washington Post today can't seem to figure out whether federal employees make more or less than the equivalent private sector workers. They print soundbites from both sides without actually investigating it one ounce. Jamison Foser has the story.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Obama's federal worker pay "freeze": because unilateral giveaways to the GOP have a great track record

The White House today announced a 2-year pay "freeze" for federal employees. This is what Republicans have been calling for.

The announcement is a sign than the post-Rahm White House still doesn't get it. Obama has tried over and over again to unilaterally give something away to the other side -- without anything in exchange -- as a negotiating tactic. Sure enough, it has failed, over and over again. A great example is on climate change: before the BP disaster, the administration announced they were moving to expand offshore drilling. It would have been one thing if they had done this as part of a grand bargain to get a climate bill, but it was nothing of the sort, just a pure giveaway. Not surprisingly, it didn't make Republican senators suddenly want to vote for a climate bill.

The story today is the same. Some people in the White House, including the president, don't get certain aspects of Politics 101. Nothing more to it.

Krugman, among others, had warned about this problem back in Dec 2007.

Update: I added quotes around "freeze" in this post. Pay "freeze" is the term everyone uses, but I think that's really the other side's terminology and shouldn't be ours. There's this thing called inflation, after all. It amounts to a pay cut.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Severson takes the Atlanta beat, emphasis on food

Seems the NYT's Kim Severson hasn't fully transitioned to her new beat yet, or something. When she announced in July that she was moving from the food section (sad!) to becoming the Atlanta bureau chief, she said: "I'll still be writing about food. I'm just adding murder, natural disasters and politics to the mix."

Indeed. Of her last four articles, three have been on food (two in the food section, one in national). We've seen: Cult ATL burger joint wants to sell, sweet potatoes are increasingly popular, School of Americas demonstration smaller than in previous years and Yo, you should eat the local specialty when you go travel somewhere.

The sweet potatoes article was good but I'm not sure I get the other two.

Anyway, does she actually have a special arrangement where she gets to do this, different from other national desk bureau chiefs?

About that NYT front-pager on school photos being retouched

Debunking via NYTPicker.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opt-out day

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the "opt out" day at airports today isn't going to amount to much.

There's been an awful lot of hype in the media, but it's unclear if very many people are actually going to participate (and demand a pat-down rather than the full body scan).

It's true that if a lot of people participated, it would cause a mess, because the pat down takes longer. But probably only a tiny fraction of travelers will demand the pat down.

Also, note that there's bad weather today in a decent swath of the middle of the country. In other words, those images you see on TV of a lot of people waiting in airports may have little to do with the opt-out day.

Midday Update: CNN finds Airport security moving smoothly despite 'Opt-Out Day'. NYT checked a few airports and found no news. The Post checked the local airports and found no delays so far. NBC has found no major delays.

Evening Update: Reports that backscatter machines not being used at some checkpoints, or not very much. Is TSA simply stopping the demonstration by making there be nothing to opt out of? Hard to know how much the machines are normally used and to what extent today's policies were different from normal.

Otherwise, the news reports are pretty consistent that there weren't delays at security.

11/30 update: Nate Silver has a good post on these last questions. TSA has reported total number of people who opted out of the scanner machines, and we know about how many total passed through security, but we don't know how many the TSA pulled aside to scan.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CNN off by a factor of at least 10,000 on execution costs

CNN.com had this bit at the end of a story last week:
Texas, which has executed more prisoners since 1976 than any other state, pays $86.08 to execute a death row inmate, or the cost of drugs used in a lethal injection, the state's Division of Criminal Justice reports. That compares to the $17,338, on average, that it costs to jail a Texas inmate for 12 months, according to 2009 data from the National Institute of Corrections, which is below the national yearly average of $28,689.
Of course, executions actually cost a lot of money, primarily because of the legal process involved in a capital case. There's a fair amount of state-level research on this. It's reviewed in a 2009 report by the Death Penalty Information Center, Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis. It's hard to put an exact number on it, but executions cost millions, if not tens of millions, each. (The numbers get particularly high in the states that have executed few people.)

Texas is likely at the low end, if not the lowest, for cost per execution. But even there, execution is almost certainly more expensive than life in prison.

WashPost News Pages Still Undettered by Deficit Polling Reality; Montgomery Serves up New A1 Whopper

The front page of Monday's Washington Post had what purported to be the latest on deficit politics, starting with this:
After an election dominated by vague demands for less debt and smaller government, the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals are coming into sharp focus.
If you got all your news from the Post and its deficit beat reporter Lori Montgomery, this might sound about right. In June, she wrote that the deficit issue was resonating "more powerfully" among voters than jobs or the economy generally. In May, she wrote of "voters up in arms over the mounting federal debt."

Back in the real world, the election, of course, was not dominated by the issue of the debt. Yes, many pundits talked about it a lot, and a fair number of candidates talked about it. But it didn't "dominate" the election because elections are about real voters, not about what pundits think about voters. And the voters told pollsters, over and over again, that the deficit was a low priority compared to jobs and the economy generally.

Will the Post ever learn, or will they keep getting this one wrong?

Monday, November 22, 2010

George Will's special little world

George Will had this to say in his WashPost column Sunday:
The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points - the IRS, the post office and the TSA.
In George Will's neighborhood, sure. In most of the country -- the "average American" -- um, no.

There are about 700-800 million airline boardings in the U.S. each year, but mostly that's from a small group who ride planes really often. Fortunately, Gallup periodically asks a question on how much people fly, to get a sense of the distribution. Here's what they've found:

Sorry, George, most Americans do not have "regular contact" with the the TSA.

How about social security, medicare and medicaid? Oh wait, those would be examples of government things people mostly like.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Washington Post, This Seems Familiar

The Wahsington Post has an op-ed today by Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith arguing that rather than military tribunals or civilian trials for Gitmo detainees, they should just be held indefinitely without any kind of trial.


But isn't this all kind of familiar?

Yes. That's because the Post printed Wittes and Goldsmith making the same argument in March.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sad day

The Washington Independent, signing off

Latest deficit polling

Via TPM the other day, new CBS poll data on "Of all the problems facing this country today, which one do you most want the new Congress to concentrate on first when it begins in January?" 56% went with economy and jobs. Deficit only got 4%.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Historic deal for Immokalee farm workers

Happened this morning. From AP:
The growers who produce the bulk of the country's winter tomatoes have reached a major deal with farmworkers on better pay and conditions, ending more than a decade-long battle between the groups.

The new deal finally activates agreements with food chains such as McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King, which have been on hold for years because the farmers who supply the tomatos to the chains have refused to implement them.

Analysis at Politics of the Plate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Will NYT, WSJ fix deficit panel headlines?

The NYT and WSJ both featured giant headlines on Thursday announcing that the deficit "panel" had made dramatic recommendations. But no such thing had happened -- it was an announcement from the two co-chairs of the panel, and in fact several of the members of the panel criticized it. There's a pretty big difference between Simpson/Bowles and the whole panel, or the needed 14 votes on the panel to issue a recommendation.

Ryan Chittum at CJR has the story.

Will the NYT and WSJ correct their surprisingly wrong headlines?

The tax cuts

Jonathan Chait explains the tax cut situation, and Democrats' true insanity.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Guess those were just the cards we had

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good start for new CJR deficit beat reporter

I realize this probably reads like beat-sweetening, but I thought it worth noting that CJR's new Peterson Fellow, Felix Salmon, had a good post on the announcement yesterday from the 'deficit' commission co-chairs. And how un-serious it is.

Others have previously noted that it's a bit sketchy that Peterson (yes, that Peterson) funds someone at CJR to cover the coverage of deficit issues (Salmon's predecessor, Holly Yeager, who did great work, wrote about those tricky issues herself). But good work is good work.

WashPost Notes Public Misconception that Obama Created TARP -- But Still Hasn't Corrected Its Own Error on the Matter

From Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch column this morning:
A poll this summer by the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of Americans hold the false belief that TARP was passed under President Obama, while only 34 percent know it originated under Bush.
That's right.

The misconception goes beyond 47% of the public, though -- it's also one that stands today in the record of the Washington Post. The paper has still not corrected it's own error on the issue, a September 26 article by Amy Gardner that attributed the bank bailout to the Obama Administration. The Post even printed a letter noting the error, but didn't do anything about it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the end of ACORN

During the election last week, ACORN quietly came to an official end. John Atlas looks back through the group's proud history.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Verlyn Klinkenborg, In Summary

This is one of my favorite blogs.

("I summarize Verlyn Klinkenborg's columns so you don't have to read them.")

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stewart met with Geithner

Reporters and government officials have off-the-record meetings all the time, but Jon Stewart sells himself as entertainer and not journalist or politician. All of that's to say it's interesting that Stewart had an off-the-record meeting with Tim Geithner earlier this year, according to recently released schedule info for the secretary. Nothing shocking, but just a sign of how influential Stewart is seen to be.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Much-Touted National Exit Poll Data on Deficits was Based on Bullshit Question

The polling has bopped around a bit here or there over the last year, but no matter how the pollsters ask the question -- and no matter how much deficit hyping there is in the press -- people rank the economy and jobs as higher concerns than the deficit. There was actually a new wave of polling on this just before the election, in fact, asking people for their top priorities:
  • USA Today / Gallup: "passing new stimulus bill" (38%), "cutting federal spending" (24%), "repealing health care law" (23%), "extending all income tax cuts (8%)
  • Reuters / Ipsos: 72% say jobs are "crucial" focus, 25% say they are "important"; 57% say the budget deficit is "crucial" focus, 38% say "important"
  • CNN / Opinion Research: "economy" (58%), "the federal budget deficit" (8%), "education" (8%), "health care" (8%), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (8%), "illegal immigration" (8%) -- and other topics get smaller amounts
  • Pew: "the job situation" (39%), "health care" (25%), "the deficit" (17%), and it drops off to 6% and below after that
But now in the past day and a half there's been some attention to a stunning outlier on the question, from the national exit polling data from Tuesday. The exit poll seems to say that 39% see the deficit as the top priority for the new Congress, while only 37% said spending to create jobs is most important.

It's gotten some attention. See, for example: Liz Sidoti of AP, Jackie Calmes and Megan Thee-Brenan of the NYT, Kyle Dropp of the Washington Post, Gerald Seib of WSJ, Elizabeth Williamson of the WSJ, ABCNews.com, Jill Lawrence of Politics Daily, Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour and John Dickerson of Slate.

But what did the exit poll actually ask? I mean, did public opinion on the importance of deficit vs. jobs and the economy really make a huge, historic shift in a matter of days?

The national exit polling asked two 'priorities' questions.

"Most Important Issue Facing Country Today" got:
Economy (62%)
Health Care (18%)
War in Afghanistan (8%)
Illegal Immigration (8%)
It appears those were the only options, which makes it not very useful.

Then there was the "Highest Priority for Next Congress" question, which got:
Reducing Deficit (39%)
Spending to Create Jobs (37%)
Cutting Taxes (19%)
This time, only three choices!

It seems the "Jobs" option was saddled with "spending to create." Yet "Reducing Deficit" was not saddled with "by increasing taxes to raise money" or "by cutting spending on government programs."

I see I'm not the first to note the questionable setup of this question. The WSJ's David Wessel explains: "One inelegantly phrased exit poll Tuesday found 45% favored tax cuts or spending increases to help the economy while 39% made reducing the deficit a higher priority (which, except to some economic alchemists, means tax increases and spending cuts.)"

Also, Ed Kilgore at TNR notes the "rather limited choice" presented in the question and Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic seems to be tweaking the setup a bit as well.

In sum, it's rather doubtful that a massive shift -- in under a week-- of public opinion occurred on the importance of the deficit. But that's what any news organization that hyped the national exit poll's 39% figure implicitly conveys.

These news organization should go back and look at the wording of the questions, do some hard thinking about how appropriate the setup was, and tell their audiences about the findings of the four polls in the week before the election that weren't saddled with a non-nonsensical option list.


Coda: in related deficit news --
  • Dean Baker catches the Washington Post misrepresenting its own poll.
  • Paul Krugman shows that the public has no idea how the deficit has changed over the years, so no matter how it changes in the future, voters will likely be voting based on wrong assumptions. I mean, if they care about the deficit at all.
UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that I need to address a point about who was being surveyed in the national exit poll. It's a somewhat different subset, of course, than the overall population being sampled in the regular opinion polls. Given the 'enthusiasm gap' stats, this was clearly an electorate that was somewhat more conservative than the overall population. The exit poll data had voters reporting their party ID as: Democrat (36%), Republican (36%) and Independent (28%). For ideology, people reported Conservative (41%), Moderate (39%) and Liberal (20%). So it's indeed possible and likely the voters would have slightly different opinions on deficits than the general population pool. That doesn't change, of course, that the choices given in the exit poll questions were absurd, completely not parallel with what was asked in other polls.

Update 11/6: Thank you Andrew Gelman for the link.

Update 11/6: In a Washington Post forum in Sunday's paper, Scott Keeter, the Pew Research Center's director of survey research, writes: "And the deficit, while a key issue for Republicans, was the top priority for only 37 percent of voters in the exit poll." Oy, he doesn't get it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


The Village Voice's "50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City" is alright, not quite as clever as I hoped, but cute. My favorite:
7. Subway "prewalking," in which you walk to the exact right spot on the platform to board the train car that will save you the most time upon exit, exists and has a name. Gotta respect.
There's even an app for it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Assessing Saturday's Metro meltdown

The Post's Dr. Gridlock looks at the Metro meltdown on the day of the rally:

Metro has plenty of experience planning for big events, and transit officials did what they've often done quite successfully. They routinely survey the D.C. scene to figure out what's coming up that could create extra demands on transit service. They talked to the Stewart-Colbert rally planners. They were figuring on a crowd about the size of the one for the Glenn Beck rally on Aug. 28. That day, about 200,000 more trips were taken on Metrorail than on a typical summer Saturday.


Metro did as it usually does and asked the sponsors if they would like to pay for an early opening or extra train service. The rally sponsors didn't do that. That's not at all unusual. The sponsors didn't know what size crowd would show up. People didn't have to register to attend, and they didn't have to pay a fee that could have gone toward paying the extra transportation costs.

To say Metro didn't prepare isn't right. Based on its anticipation of a Beck-sized rally, the transit authority had 20 additional trains ready and eventually placed them in service throughout the system. Also, it had 31 administrative employees spread throughout the system to help first-time riders buy their fares and navigate the system.


Metrorail wound up providing about 475,000 more trips than on a typical Saturday.

So who's fault is it?

Certainly it sounds pretty awful if Comedy Central indeed didn't contribute a penny toward extra train service (most folks won't hear that part, and rather just be angry at Metro). This area needs further reporting. Did Comedy Central end up at least paying some later?

I don't have a ton of sympathy for Metro, but I recognize that their situation is also tricky. Anticipating attendance at a one-time event (as opposed to, say, the annual cherry blossoms) is hard.

Metro could try extensive survey research before events to try to predict the crowd, but that would cost a lot of money; I wonder if putting on more trains is just cheaper. But if you put on more trains than are used, who pays for it? There's no easy answer. Putting on more trains than are used may be needed in the long run, though. The risk of meltdowns like Saturday's is a major one, not only because it leads to a range of problems that day but because of the further risk of a cycle of loss of public confidence in Metro (next time people might just try to drive).

Making the event sponsor preemptively pay for trains that may or may not be used is not a great solution, in part because it will make political rallies harder to hold. Usually you don't have Viacom to pay for it. (Update: or, not pay for it, I should say, as it sounds like was the case).

The only step I'd recommend, and it's a bit drastic, is to end bus parking for these events at the far-out metro stops and RFK stadium. That's just more people on the metro who don't really need to be. Have the buses drive right into town and park (this is what was done, very successfully, for the inauguration). Problem is, you have to close a good chunk of Southwest DC and/or Downtown to fit the buses, which is a pain. But maybe necessary. Again though, you have the problem that you may have taken this drastic step for an event that doesn't end up having as big a turnout as you thought.