The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Costs and benefits of anti-terror spending

Gulliver this afternoon examines whether we might want to examine them:

A new academic paper [PDF] from John Mueller (of The Ohio State University) and Mark Stewart (of the University of Newcastle in Australia) attempts to determine whether the return on investment justified those huge expenditures. ... [T]he findings in this paper are truly remarkable. By 2008, according to the authors, America's spending on counterterrorism outpaced all anti-crime spending by some $15 billion. Messrs Mueller and Stewart do not even include things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which they call "certainly terrorism-determined") in their trillion-plus tally.

"[A] most common misjudgment has been to embrace extreme events as harbingers presaging a dire departure from historical patterns. In the months and then years after 9/11, as noted at the outset, it was almost universally assumed that the terrorist event was a harbinger rather than an aberration. There were similar reactions to Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack in Oklahoma City as concerns about a repetition soared. And in 1996, shortly after the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo set off deadly gas in a Tokyo subway station, one of terrorism studies' top gurus, Walter Laqueur, assured the world that some terrorist groups 'almost certainly' will use weapons of mass destruction 'in the foreseeable future.' Presumably any future foreseeable in 1996 is now history, and Laqueur’s near 'certainty' has yet to occur."

The paper also found that anti-terror spending has outpaced anti-crime spending by some $15 bn, despite crime costing society significantly more. The paper doesn't go into the politics of why this might be so, but I'll hazard a guess that cutting crime benefits more people a little while spending on anti-terror measures benefits a few people quite a bit. Lowering the likelihood that my car will suffer $300 in damage from a break-in has less immediacy than a $30m contract for a new security gadget would were I in that line of business.

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky

Today's gloomy morning makes it official: April 2011 was the gloomiest and wettest April in recorded Chicago history:

Going into the last day of the month, this April has received only 32 percent of possible sunshine. Even with some morning sunshine, thickening cloudiness should cut out a significant amount of Saturday's sun - probably enough to hold this April's total sunshine number under what looks to be the old record low of 34 percent possible sunshine back in 1953.

State climatologist Jim Angel reports the Illinois state-wide average rainfall of 7.45 inches broke the old record of 7.13 inches set back in 1957. There was a wide range in average rainfall from 4 to 6 inches in the north to 10-15 inches in the south. Anna reported the highest total in the state, 20.01 inches.

The weekend forecast?

Today: A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 19°C. Breezy, with a south southeast wind around 35 km/h, with gusts as high as 50 km/h.

Tonight: Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly between 10pm and 1am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11°C. Southwest wind between 15-30 km/h, with gusts as high as 45 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between 1 to 2.5 mm, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 15°C. West wind between 15-25 km/h, with gusts as high as 36 km/h.

Sunday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 6°C. West northwest wind between 10-15 km/h, with gusts as high as 25 km/h.

Better walk Parker before 1pm, then.

Morning round-up

In the mythical Land of Uk this morning, millions fled drunken mobs surrounding the palace as an evil magic spell cast by the House of Saxe-Coburg melted brains across the Uk Empire's former colonies.

Moving on. As much as I like the United Kingdom, and might even live there given the chance, I am a committed, small-r republican, who thinks any monarchy more ostentatious than, say, The Netherlands', seems like an inappropriate use of public funds. Sure, separate the ceremonial functions from the political by having a head of state apart from a head of government, but upwards of £40 million per year plus another £60 million for the wedding (not counting lost productivity from the public holiday) seems like a steep price tag.

Speaking of costs, The New Republic makes the case this morning that Donald Trump's ridiculous candidacy reveals the worst of our traits in a way the Republican Party really ought to condemn:

What Trump actually stands for is an exaggerated sense of victimhood. This is the theme that unites his personal style with the political views he has thus far expressed. Are you tired of being pushed around? Are you tired of our country being pushed around? Trump’s political acuity lies in his ability to take these grievances and turn them into politics. His foreign policy views in essence consist of a pledge to bully other nations.

America is currently engaged in three wars. The country faces major economic challenges. Global warming is continuing apace. There is no chance any of these issues can be solved by yelling at foreign countries, or stirring up anger at Iraqis or Libyans or minority applicants to elite colleges. Donald Trump has appointed himself spokesman for some of the nastiest impulses in American politics, and he seems to have a following. The sooner the Republican mainstream rejects him, the better.

This dovetails with an article in this month's Mother Jones about the psychology of belief and denial:

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

... Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment (PDF), pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies—and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more "convincing."

Add to that the profitability of telling people what they want to hear (I'm looking at you, Murdoch) and we are going to Hell in a handbasket. Then again, every generation has thought that, and we haven't seen the handbasket yet. So maybe wishing their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge well is worth a having a party for.

What you're searching for

Every day a few minutes past midnight UTC (7pm CDT), I get a report from The Daily Parker about its health, wealth, and wisdom. And every day, someone hits the blog from somewhere through a search I never thought about before. In the last day, for example, people have hit the blog looking for:

I'm glad I could help.

Obama on the Birthers

Via Fallows, the President today took a few minutes to remind the press that we have serious issues to look at:

Fallows is pessimistic this will change anything: "if 'actual knowledge' mattered, the number of people who thought Obama was foreign-born would approach zero by next week -- with exceptions for illiterates, the mentally disabled, paranoid schizophrenics, etc. My guess is that the figures will barely change."

Will Bernanke actually answer questions?

With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke becoming the first in his office ever to hold a press conference, I wonder whether he'll actually say anything. As I mentioned yesterday, and as Krugman has said for years, Very Serious People worry about inflation even though elementary economics shows there isn't anything to worry about.

Fortunately, other reporters are catching on:

One question more than any than other is crying out for an answer: Why has Mr. Bernanke decided to accept widespread unemployment for years on end, even though he believes he has the power to reduce it?

The Fed’s own forecasts suggest that the unemployment rate won’t fall below 5 percent for perhaps another five or six years. Mr. Bernanke believes the Fed “retains considerable power” to reduce unemployment faster, despite the fact that its benchmark interest rate is zero, as he’s said before. Yet he has been hesitant to use that power.

As he has explained many times, the Fed has alternatives. It could announce that it would keep its benchmark rate at zero for a few years, which would probably hold down long-term rates. It could say that it was comfortable with higher inflation for a limited period of time, given how low inflation has been since 2007 and how high unemployment is. Above all, Mr. Bernanke could make clear that he considers years of widespread unemployment to be unacceptable.

He has not done so, and he has yet to offer a satisfying rationale.

So, later today, will he explain?

My junior senator wants to keep you out of work

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) doesn't seem like a Tea Partier on the surface, but he's started to experiment with right-wing populism. Today his office sent out an email suggesting inflation will destroy us all climb in the near future and hurt Illinois businesses. He even shows a chart from the St. Louis Fed showing how the monetary base spiked during the 2009 recession. Only, the chart doesn't have anything to do with inflation except to show how (but not why) we didn't spiral into deflation during the crisis.

You have to remember three things about inflation: first, we haven't got any right now; second, inflation hurts lenders more than it hurts debtors in the long run; and third, deflation—the danger of which has not yet passed—is a lot worse.

Here's my note to the senator's office in response:

The Senator's office recently sent an email to constituents on the dangers of inflation. Only, the data show that core inflation remains below historical levels, and certainly below the Fed's target. If inflation were really a worry, we'd see the bond markets react, as they usually lead other indications of inflation. However, bond yields are at historically low levels.

What we need right now are jobs. Decreasing the money supply during a period of low inflation and high unemployment will not only hurt our already anemic job supply, but also possibly plunge us into *deflation,* which is far worse. Just ask Japan. Or look back at President Jackson's disastrous policy of paying off the national debt in full.

Senator, it's disingenuous of you to argue in favor of policies that hurt average people while claiming it's in their interest. The current policy of quantitative easing, far from hurting the economy, doesn't go far enough to help it. I'm in favor of weakinging the dollar even further, to help exports, boost jobs, and--here's the part your banker friends hate--reducing the real debt burden on families.

For more on how wrong Kirk is, see Krugman on austerity from a couple weeks ago.

NTSB releases report on Michelle Obama's incident

(Via Gulliver.) All right, when I said Michelle Obama was not in any danger, I was right, though the National Transportation Safety Board has more information. Apparently the First Lady's plane came within 2.94 miles of the C-17, which is a loss of separation warranting disciplinary action.

Now, should the FAA have fired the controllers? No, that seems like an overreaction. Instead, the FAA has changed the rules slightly so that all flights carrying the First Lady will be handled by a supervisor. Well, that's Doing Something, anyway.