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No peacocks, no jerks, no whiners

This is my first real blog post this year. I would like to wish everyone a very happy 2013, and hope that you had a relaxing and happy holidays.

Yesterday during the nomination of Jack Lew as the next treasury secretary, President Obama congratulated outgoing secretary Tim Geithner by saying, “When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest Secretaries of the Treasury”. The president stopped a long applause from the audience with the remark, “All right, don’t embarrass him. On a personal note, Tim has been a wonderful friend and a dependable advisor throughout these last four years. There’s an unofficial saying over at Treasury — no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. That would be a good saying for all of Washington — (laughter) — no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners. Few embody that ideal better than Tim Geithner.”

This brings me to two thoughts. First, was Tim Geithner really one of the finest secretaries of the treasury?

The president praises all his outgoing members of his cabinet, but this one for Geithner was extraordinary. We obviously should not take his words for granted. Most opinions on such an issue will be biased towards recent history. Felix Salmon has a blog post on Tim Geithner’s legacy. My personal opinion is not at all important here, since I have no knowledge of the performances of the 74 treasury secretaries that preceded Geithner.

I will still go ahead and say that I think he did a pretty decent job. Of course there has been a lot of criticism about his favors to the Wall Street. A particularly scathing criticism comes from an insider, former FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair, who thinks that the bank bailouts were staged to save Citigroup, and other banks did not require the capital injections, calling him “bailouter-in-chief“. I think there may be some truth to these assertions. There were philosophical differences between Bair and Geithner on what was the most effective way out of the crisis. It is very much possible that Geithner thought bank bailouts was truly the least evil of all alternatives in front of him at that time, and because such a strategy did not make sense to Sheila Bair owing to their philosophical differences, she thought there could be an ulterior motive to it. However, such accusations are particularly serious and should be examined closely because the criticisms are not so much on his competence as on his intentions. In my mind (and most others), allegations of mala fide intentions are much more serious than allegations of mere lack of competence. The burden of proof is higher for more serious allegations.

I am an outsider to the world of Washington and don’t pay really close attention to politics and therefore I do not have the tools to delve deeper into the above allegations. One bit of information that I do recall is the list of the biggest donations to the Obama and Romney campaign for the Nov. 2012 elections (see chart below). An examination of the list shows that the Wall Street was very much opposed to President Obama’s re-election.  Even though it was well known that Tim Geithner would not continue even if President Obama was re-elected, this antagonization of Wall street makes me believe that the that Geithner (or Obama’s team) did not favor Wall Street as much as the latter expected him to.   This is by no means the best or the only piece of evidence in this matter.  I hope we find out more about the truth.

Donations to president campaigns

Now, I move on to my second thought: I had some inkling about what “no peacocks, no jerks, no whiners” means, but checked out the Urban Dictionary (for slang definitions) just to be sure.

Peacock: A guy who acts normal around people he knows/is used to but gets loud and starts acting like a douche (similar to a peacock in mating season) when around, but not limited to, attractive women. This can also apply to women but that term would be defined as shecock.
Jerk: An insensitive, selfish, ignorant, cocky person who is inconsiderate.
Whiner: Someone who won’t stop complaining about everybody else, but yet gets mad when they hear other people complain. They usually pay more attention how other people make them feel than to what they are actually saying.

It’s a phrase I have come to love. I am not sure if I do embody these ideals (I hope I do), but I certainly expect people around me to :-). It’s coming to a wall near me.


The case for universal health care

I believe that free markets, with regulatory oversight, provide the best systems for most economic sectors. There are a few exceptions to that – and one such exception is healthcare. The reason, I think is that systems that allow maximizing profits for companies, are not necessarily the systems that are the best for the consumers. In most instances, the consumers can tolerate inadequacies of the systems – e.g. not all can afford to go to a spa, or a vacation to Hawaii, or a television at home. But as far as health of the individuals is concerned, consumers are in no position to tolerate inability to access healthcare. We ought to provide everyone access to health. I believe that healthcare is a right (as opposed to the US constitution), and as a society, we have a moral and ethical obligation to see that fellow human beings have access to healthcare at all times, regardless of their social or monetary status. The economist has a great post which showcases the almost universal health care coverage in Mexico.

An example of what happens without the safety net of healthcare is presented in the article, that I quote below:

“Julio Frenk, a former health secretary who oversaw the beginning of Seguro Popular and is now dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, recalls meeting a family in which the mother had needed a Caesarean section and the baby had spent a couple of weeks in intensive care. The child survived, but the medical bill cost his father his animals and tools and meant that his brother had to be taken out of school. “People liquidated their productive assets and their poverty was transmitted to the next generation,” says Mr Frenk.”

xkcd puts it simply

xkcd puts it simply

Political pundits should pay some attention to science and numbers, not to feelings.

Historic Day for Free Speech

The idea that expression of dissent should be tolerated and not punished is absolutely fundamental to the existence of democracy. A fellow blogger has posted about importance of John Milton’s Areopagitica, that was published on this day in 1644.

Historic Day for Free Speech.

Nate Silver and the academics crush the political pundits

More on election predictions: As far as states are concerned: Nate Silver was right on the money – he predicted all the 50 states accurately. There were others (Drew Linzer, Josh Putnam, Markos Moulitsas and many others) who did that too. Even I predicted 48 states correctly.

The pundits on conservative blogs and media (Jonah Goldberg, Karl Rove, Fox News commentators, etc.) need special mention here. Not because their absence from the list above is conspicuous – but because (1) they attacked anyone who used statistical models for their predictions and (2) they were so wrong, it was not even close!

Tarun Wadhwa sums it up here!

Predictions of political pundits

2016 elections will happen in 4 years. Everyone who is excited about the elections, will again depend on the ideas of political analysts. We will again have a hard time figuring out what is the truth and what is “a spin”.  A lot of predictions have been made for the 2012 elections and it is essential that we evaluate today’s analysts; who did the best this time? whose ideas were completely crazy? who were feeding us the wrong information because of their ideological biases or political leanings? who stuck to the math, irrespective of where they stand on the political spectrum? After tallying the predictions with what actually happens, it would not be easy to answer all the above questions objectively, but we can at least get a feel for it.

Political pundits depend on the same polls that we see; they may be privy to a little more information than us, but they are the pundits because they have a better insight than most of us. However, they are not immune to confirmation bias. Most would embrace polls readily if the findings are similar to their expectations, but on the other hand some may (subconsciously) dismiss polls and try to find methodological flaws with reports that are opposite to their expectations. Some analysts would even knowingly feed the wrong information to manipulate the outcome of the polls or to make political gains. It is for us to find out who is credible.

There is a consensus among most analysts about which states are blue and which are red and which states belong to the “swing state” category. There are 11 swing states with hectic campaigning activity pre-elections: CO, FL, IA, MI, NE, NH, NC, OH, PA, VA, WI. Yesterday, I predicted that Obama gets 290 electoral college votes and Romney 248 – that’s because I think that 3 states: FL, NC and VA will go republican.

Brad Plummer has a blog in the Washington Post that aggregates the positions of many well known political analysts. It is good to have this in one place, just in case the original predictions get taken down after the elections. That is a good list to start and I will try to update it here if I can. Here is the current list – and for some of the “sane” predictions, I have tried to add the list the “swing states” that were chosen to go republican.  For some, I have just added “too many” states – which I can revisit if Romney does win the elections to find out who did best.

Real clear politics has Obama up 303 – 235 and have FL and NC as the republican swing states.

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: Obama 303, Romney 235. Republican swing states: FL, NC. I think this was updated a few days ago because this morning I see that FL has swung blue. I give Nate Silver a lot of credit for taking a clear, unambiguous stance, over and over again, in spite of the risks involved.

Sam Wang, Princeton Election Consortium: Obama 303, Romney 235Republican swing states: FL, NC

Drew Linzer, Emory University: Obama 332, Romney 206Republican swing states: NC

Michael Barone, The Examiner: Obama 223, Romney 315. Republican swing states: NC, FL, OH, IA, CO, PA, VA, NH, WI

Ezra Klein, The Washington Post: Obama 290, Romney 248. Republican swing states: FL, NC, VA

Larry Sabato, UVA Center for Politics: Obama 290, Romney 248Republican swing states: FL, NC, VA

Josh Putnam, Davidson College: Obama 332, Romney 206. Republican swing states: NC

Jay Cost, Weekly Standard: Romney victory.

Philip Klein, The Examiner: Obama 277, Romney 261. Republican swing states: FL, NC, VA, CO, NH

Ross Douthat, New York Times: Obama 271, Romney 267Republican swing states: FL, NC, VA, CO, NH, IA

Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect: Obama 303, Romney 235Republican swing states: FL, NC

George Will, The Washington Post: Obama 217, Romney 321Republican swing states: NC, NV, FL, OH, IA, CO, PA, VA, NH, WI.

Ben Domenech, The Transom: Obama 260, Romney 278Republican swing states: FL, NC, VA, CO, NH, IA, OH (not sure)

Markos Moulitsas: Obama 332, Romney 206. Republican swing states: NC

Karl Rove: Romney 285, Obama 253.

James Pethokoukis: Romney 301, Obama 227. Too many.

Dick Morris, FoxNews: Romney 325, Obama 213. Too many.

Jim Cramer, CNBC: Obama 440, Romney 98. This guy is just insane. Who is going to believe his stock picks after such an outlandish electoral prediction? 

Dean Chambers, UnskewedPolls.com: Romney 311, Obama 227. Too many.

Predicting 2012 presidential elections

I am not going to be too different from most pollsters out there – of course, that’s because I get all information from what the web feeds me. Here is my electoral college prediction map – we’ll see tomorrow if the prediction is good at all. Click the image to see a larger version.