Austan Goolsbee, one of the president's top economic advisers, explains why the White House wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire:
Goolsbee is a very good communicator (especially for an economist) but if the Dems were as good at political language as the the Republicans they'd have branded it by now: how about "the Millionaires' Tax Break"? Or even better, "The Bankers' Tax Break"?
Ed Miliband's delivery wasn't bad at all, I didn't think, but a public speaking expert has some tips on how he can improve:
Use voice inflection - you're not a robot. Try in future to project enthusiasm or show empathy. Use the pause to add drama to your delivery or flag key points. Don't go as far as your brother might but do pause to help your audience reflect on what you are telling them.
You also need to look the part. That may come in time. You need to reduce the stare and try to bring some life to your features. Public speaking can be nerve inducing but if you smile you'll find it will help you to relax. You need to learn some new gestures. The thumb on fore-finger point is seen to be over-used by politicians. Perhaps try and look at the audience a little - it might help you to connect with them quicker next time.
So after the leadership result was announced there was, inevitably and understandably, some grumbling around conference about the manner in which Ed had won. You might expect a former leader to throw oil on these mildly troubled waters, and suggest that everyone calms down. But instead, what we got were the snarls of a kind of Welsh Tony Soprano:
"We'll track the bastards down," swore an exasperated Neil Kinnock, found patrolling the hotel foyers incensed that dissent had broken out yet again less than 48 hours into a new leadership. "And we'll stamp on them." One of the briefers had described the result as a "gothic tragedy", and Kinnock's eyes gleamed as he seized on the clue. "I'll be looking and listening out for someone who likes to use the word 'gothic'," he said, rolling the word over his tongue thoughtfully like a detective, as if the culprit could be conjured from the syllables right there and then.
A typically brilliant column by Vaughan Bell on the profoundly social nature of murder:
If you want a demonstration that we are governed by society even when breaking its rules, homicide is one of the best and grimmest examples. Studies show that victim and offender tend to resemble each other to a striking degree – the young murder the young and the old murder the old, rich and poor rarely kill each other, gang bangers prey on other gang members, and you are likely to be personally acquainted with the person who later ends your life. Socially conservative it may be, but homicide remains a deeply social act. In a remarkable 2010 study published in the American Journal of Sociology, academic Andrew Papachristos took these findings to their logical conclusion and conceptualised each murder over a three-year period in Chicago as a social interaction between groups. Surprisingly, the pattern of homicides resembled an exchange of gifts.
(Column originally published in The Psychologist)
That shirt would go well with a banana.
So he's stepping down from the frontline. But he's not leaving; he was surprisingly eager to make it clear he's staying on as an MP. This didn't sound - to me - like a man who has his sights set on a job at the IMF or in Brussels. I think he's still focused on the only game he's ever known: British politics. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he's already thinking about taking another crack at this, after his brother loses an election.
Now, of course, that may change; he doesn't know how he's going to feel in a year's time. But here's the thing: the soap opera ain't over; it's just had a plot twist. From now on, Miliband, D will be the prince across the water, the spectre at the feast, the palely loitering knight-at-arms (excuse me, I'm getting carried away here). On every controversial issue facing the party and its leader, his views will be sought out, his every statement parsed for subtext, and without the screen of collective responsibility, he'll be a little freer to speak his mind.
And when there are twelve months to go before the election, and the Labour Party is seven points behind, there will be a growing clamour for the younger brother to make way for the man whom all will agree should have been king (And I bet you Polly Toynbee leads the charge). He'll demur, of course. And wait.
Neil Kinnock, in the course of effusively praising Ed M's speech:
A trade union delegate leaned over and said: 'Neil, we've got our party back'. I thought that was so accurate as an instantaneous response to the leader's speech.
I suspect that a period of silence on Neil's part might be welcomed by the new leader.
Is there any way Ed Miliband could have dealt with the issue of Iraq in his speech without pissing off the senior members of the last cabinet who were there when the decision was made, including and most conspicuously, his brother?
Maybe it was unavoidable. After all, he had to raise the issue and declare it a mistake, just as he'd been arguing during the campaign. He needed to draw a line under the debate, for the party and the country. Indeed, his ability to do so was a central reason for his victory (even it seems disingenuous of him to say he was against it when there's no evidence that he was).
But I think he could have handled it better - he could have showed his colleagues, and supporters of the war generally, a little more respect. He could have said something like:
There is no doubt that we ruptured our relationship with the voters over Iraq. I don't condemn those who made the decision. It was a terrible decision to make. There were, frankly, no easy answers or solutions; those on both sides of the debate had powerful arguments. My judgement was, and continues to be, that it was wrong. However, I respect those who took the opposite view. I know the decision was not taken lightly, and was made in good faith. But wherever you stand on this issue, I think we can all agree it's time to draw a line under it, to move on, and to begin rebuilding some of the trust we have lost.
Or something like that. As it is, it came off as "We all knew it a terrible idea, and those idiots did it anyway." Hence the stony faces in the front rows, and DM's minor apoplexy.
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And that something is, we're optimists. OK, so how do you think the economy's going to do over the next few years?
I don't really want or need to add to the acres of verbiage generated by today's speech. I mean, it was a decent effort, but didn't really tell us much about the central question (though that may come later).
But I will say this: it's very hard to present yourself as a shining optimist when your core message is we're all doomed.
This follows yesterday’s moment when the brothers spoke after David’s triumphant speech. A lip-reader employed by Channel 4 (again) is sure that the younger brother said it was a very good speech: “I’ll be honest I thought it would be three or four minutes,” Ed said.
I did wonder, when watching David's speech, if the eloquence he displayed wasn't itself a minor act of revenge. His smiles are concealing real anger - not necessarily with Ed, but certainly with the party, and his colleagues.
He's gone back to London. There will only be one Miliband in the cabinet.
Obama's account of his meeting with Dylan at the White House - recounted in the course of a long Rolling Stone interview - reaffirms my affection and admiration for both men:
You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?
Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little sceptical about the whole enterprise.
There's a lot of research into embodied cognition at the moment, investigating the extent to which our loftiest thoughts are unconsciously influenced by whatever our body is doing as we think them; thus holding a warm mug of coffee makes you feel emotionally warmer; sitting in a clean-smelling room makes you more ethical; we judge people to be more serious if we happen to be holding a heavy object at the time.
A new study, reported in the NY Times, suggests that the direction you're physically leaning in can affect your political judgements: "people who are physically leaning left are more likely to report more liberal political beliefs, and people who are physically leaning right are more likely to espouse more conservative beliefs."
The researchers asked people about their political beliefs whilst getting them to sit in a chair that was purposely slanted one way or the other, like the one above. They found:
In three studies we observed that spatially orienting people towards their left or their right correspondingly influenced their political attitudes. These results lend support to the notion that metaphor influences the way we represent and reason about abstract domains.
So the best way to influence Ed Miliband's leadership might be to fix the chair he's sitting in during Shadow Cabinet discussions.
The sci-fi author has created a delightful, witty almanack of neologisms for the NYT (actually most of them apply to the present). Here's a small selection:
AIRPORT-INDUCED IDENTITY DYSPHORIA Describes the extent to which modern travel strips the traveler of just enough sense of identity so as to create a need to purchase stickers and gift knick-knacks that bolster their sense of slightly eroded personhood: flags of the world, family crests, school and university merchandise.
DIMANCHOPHOBIA Fear of Sundays, a condition that reflects fear of unstructured time. Also known as acalendrical anxiety. Not to be confused with didominicaphobia or kyriakephobia, fear of the Lord’s Day.
GRIM TRUTH You’re smarter than TV. So what?
INTRAVINCULAR FAMILIAL SILENCE We need to be around our families not because we have so many shared experiences to talk about, but because they know precisely which subjects to avoid.
ME GOGGLES The inability to accurately perceive oneself as others do.
SITUATIONAL DISINHIBITION Social contrivances within which one is allowed to become disinhibited, that is, moments of culturally approved disinhibition: when speaking with fortunetellers, to dogs and other pets, to strangers and bartenders in bars, or with Ouija boards.
ZOOSOMNIAL BLURRING The notion that animals probably don’t see much difference between dreaming and being awake.
You can read the rest here.
The IMF has applauded the government's deficit-reduction plan and is predicting that Britain's growth rate will increase next year.
Now, the IMF may be wrong, of course. But this news highlights the risk the Labour Party is taking by constantly predicting a double-dip recession. This is the central thrust of their attack on the Coalition's economic strategy. But it can't be wise to base your economic message on something that can be empirically disproven. In the short term, they risk looking like whining Cassandras, almost begging for bad news, and in the long term, if there's no double-dip, they're going to look like idiots. If they're right, of course, they'll appear prescient and wise. But the question is, is this a sensible risk?
The risk pertains with particular force to the most vocal articulator of this critique, Ed Balls. The press seem to have bought into his view of himself as an economic savant. But serious economists don't make predictions with the kind of certainty he has been making this one - they know that all macro-economic predictions are inherently fallible.
Ed Miliband would be smart to take this risk into account when he's picking his shadow cabinet. Does he really want a shadow chancellor whom George Osborne might be able to taunt every week with year-old predictions that turned out to be utterly wrong?