Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

In 1975, New York City was bailed out by President Gerald Ford.  Ford committed $2,300,000,000.00 in loans to the troubled city, an amount that today would be worth around $10,600,000,000.00.

In 1978, President Carter signed the New York City Loan Guarantee Act adding an additional $1,650,000,000.00 of funding (approximately $5,940,000,000.00 in 2013 dollars) to help New York recover.

In 2013, the city of Detroit goes bankrupt and President Obama offers nothing.

Can we call him a failure now?

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sad State of The Academy

Neoliberalism is destroying the value of our public universities.
Central to this neoliberal view of higher education in the United States and United Kingdom is a market-driven paradigm that seeks to eliminate tenure, turn the humanities into a job preparation service, and transform most faculty into an army of temporary subaltern labor. For instance, in the United States out of 1.5 million faculty members, 1 million are “adjuncts who are earning, on average, $20,000 a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work.”[11]  The indentured service status of such faculty is put on full display as some colleges have resorted to using “temporary service agencies to do their formal hiring.”[12]
...[M]any of the problems in higher education can be linked to diminished funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state, and the diminished role of faculty in governing the university, all of which both contradict the culture and democratic value of higher education and makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. 
The picture seems quite bleak.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Behaving Like a Grown-Up

Pundits don't like being wrong, they often don't want to admit being wrong.  Niall Ferguson is a classic case of a public figure unable to admit his analytical errors.  But Niall's arch-nemesis, Paul Krugman, is a great example of what a grown-up does when they're wrong: He admits it and explains how he arrived at his erroneous conclusions.
After all, if you write about current affairs and you’re never wrong, you just aren’t sticking your neck out enough. Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s not the stuff you thought would happen. 
So what do you do then? Do you claim that you never said what you said? Do you lash out at your critics and play victim? Or do you try to figure out what you got wrong and why, and revise your thinking accordingly? 
I’ve been wrong many times over the years, usually on minor things but sometimes on big ones. Before 1998 I didn’t think the liquidity trap was a serious concern; the example of Japan suggested that I was wrong, and I eventually concluded that it was a big concern indeed. In 2003 I thought the US was potentially vulnerable to an Asian-crisis-style loss of confidence; when it didn’t happen I rethought my models, realized that foreign-currency debt was crucial, and changed my view. 
The case of the euro is a bit different: I was very pessimistic about the strategy of austerity and internal devaluation, which I thought would have a terrible cost — and I was completely right about that. I also guessed that this cost would prove politically unsustainable, leading to a crisis for the euro itself; so far, at least, I have been wrong. My economic model worked fine, my implicit political model didn’t; OK, so it goes.

Wise Words from a Wise Man

Those of you who know me know I am not only not religious, I'm rather anti-religious in my views.  That goes doubly for Christianity since, during my lifetime, Christianity in America has morphed from something benign into a tumor that has metastasized onto our civic life.  Worst of all, Christianity's adherents use their faith as a cudgel to beat perceived outsiders (minorities, LGBT citizens, people of minority faiths like muslims) and as a device to enforce the racist white patriarchy.

But now comes a Pope who is saying all the right things and is presenting an original version of Christianity that is all about love, compassion and care for the less fortunate.  I only hope this Papal vaccine can reverse the cancerous Christian tumor that has infested the body politic in America.  These are excerpts of an interview the Pope did with an Italian paper that the Vatican press office is attempting to censor.
The most serious evils currently afflicting the world are unemployment among the young and the solitude in which the elderly are left. The elderly need care and companionship; the young need work and hope. However, they have neither the one nor the other, and the trouble is that they are no longer seeking for them. They have been crushed by the present.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOOKS TO READ: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Adding this one to the stack of books to read: The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel.  The book was reviewed in 2002 in the New York Times Book Review by David Cay Johnston.

Johnston writes,
[Murphy & Nagel] assert that a na├»ve philosophy of ''everyday libertarianism'' infects American politics with a ''robust and compelling fantasy that we earn our income and the government takes some of it away from us.'' This popular myth ''results in widespread hostility to taxes, and a political advantage to those who campaign against them and attack the I.R.S.'' 
This fantasy grows from the acceptance by all sides in the tax debate that gross, or pretax, incomes are presumptively just and therefore the proper moral base line to begin debate. The authors say pretax incomes are morally insignificant, an idea they confess is hard to sell. They argue that ''individual citizens don't own anything except through laws that are enacted and enforced by the state,'' because without government there would be anarchy, an endless war of all-against-one that would diminish incomes and wealth, not to mention life itself. Thus it is after-tax incomes that people are entitled to own. These ideas will encounter a hostile reception from partisans in the debate of the past quarter-century, in which the prevailing political rhetoric characterizes taxes as sheer waste, an unfair drag on the most productive people and an evil.
Sounds about right.  If not for the state, there would be no enforcement of property rights except through the barrel of a gun.  Anarchy would indeed be the only "rule of law" left.

Would you prefer red or white wine with your subsidized meal?

Supported by your supplemental nutrition tax dollars?
In the face of a hunger crisis in the US exacerbated by Republican cruelty in the form of supplemental nutrition funding cuts, it's important to realize that not all supplemental nutrition funding is being cut.
Let’s remember that the government already subsidizes lots of food. When wealthy executives dine at fancy French restaurants, part of the bill is likely to be deducted from taxes, which amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers. How is it that food subsidies to anemic children are more controversial than food subsidies to executives enjoying coq au vin?

Stacey Keach FTW!

Words Fail Me

And yet I'm still surprised by the hypocrisy of this woman.  Speaking in Canada, vocal opponent of any form of government-sponsored healthcare for Americans, Palin admitted her reliance on Canada's single-payer healthcare system.
The vocal opponent of health-care reform in the U.S. steered largely clear of the topic except to reveal a tidbit about her life growing up not far from Whitehorse. 
"We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada," she said. "And I think now, isn't that ironic?"
Yes, Sarah, it's the very definition of ironic.  Oh, and hypocrisy.  That too.

If anyone deserved to be punched in the throat, it's got to be Sarah Palin.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obamacare's Upstairs / Downstairs Problem


The BBC program "Upstairs / Downstairs" was a look at ossified class society in Edwardian England.  America's healthcare system recapitulates this "insider / outsider" dichotomy by pitting those with healthcare against those without (or with inadequate).  A recent post at the Economist spells this out nicely.
Obamacare was always going to be a hard sell because it is an attempt to fix an insider-outsider problem. At root, its supporters do not think it right for a country as rich as America to be home to tens of millions of people who do not have health cover, or who have such skimpy insurance that they risk financial ruin if they fall gravely ill. 
... 
But ... Republicans have focused on appeals to today’s insiders: warning them that they will be worse off once Obamacare is in force. Those appeals work, because there is something to them. The future of health care in America inevitably involves more rationing and less consumer choice. Indeed it has to. Whether or not you believe Obamacare has a decent chance of putting health care on a more sustainable footing, something has to give. But it is going to hurt. If Obamacare is going to offer affordable coverage to sicker, poorer people without bankrupting the private insurers, then it will have to stick others with the bill. Some will pay more, some will get less, and lots of young, healthy Americans will have to buy insurance for the first time.
The fear of triage, of "rationing," is a winning argument in the Constituency of Fear.  Rather than couching the argument in the framework of "care for all" a la Medicare, the Obama administration has created the ultimate muddle, mixing insiders and outsiders and pissing everybody off.

A better solution, single-payer, Medicare-for-all, would provide a foundation upon which private insurers could build enhanced coverage akin to the enhancements provided through Medicare Advantage.  Instead we have this ridiculous farce.

Know Your Rights!

These are your rights under the legal framework of conservatism as represented by the Roberts court:
Speech that might well be protected under the First Amendment can now be included in criminal charges and submitted to the jury alongside other evidence of material support [for terrorism]. That is a serious blow to traditional principles of free speech. Although the 1st Circuit did not say so, arguably, coordination could now be inferred just from the nature of the speech and the fact that it was posted online in a forum visited by terrorist-friendly users. 
The real culprit here is not the 1st Circuit but the Supreme Court in the Holder decision. By allowing Congress to outlaw nonviolent speech made within the U.S. by U.S. citizens, it drastically reduced the scope of free speech from the traditional Brandenburg standard.
Once again, conservatism leads the charge in fear over reason, control over freedom and irrationality over rationality.

We'll let The Clash sort this out for us.