Monday, December 10, 2012

Hey Michigan!

Solidarity!

The voices in your head are calling
Stop wasting your time, there's nothing coming
Only a fool would think someone could save you
The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin'
It's the best years of your life they want to steal!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The War on Saturnalia!

Just a reminder that Christmas is a relative late-comer to the holiday season…
Saturnalia is the Roman agricultural festival that strongly influenced early Christian celebrations we now call Christmas. Traditionally celebrated between December 17th and the 23rd, Saturnalia was an overturning of traditional Roman norms and customs.
The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves.[1] The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.”[2]
In this we can see many traditions which continue to today: gift giving, parties, masters serving slaves (Boxing Day in the UK and Canada).

Combined with Germanic pagan traditions of solstice festivals, the Christians co-opted Saturnalia for their own purposes and called it Christmas.

Frankly, I’m offended by this usurpation of this important Roman festival.

I say, let’s put the Saturn back into Saturnalia.

Originally published on BloggingBlue when my presence was tolerated if not particularly appreciated...

James K. Galbraith on Why the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam


Friday, November 23, 2012

The Primary Culprit: Global Economic Failure Edition

Economist John Quiggin:

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent depression, and the Bush Administration deserves only a small share. Bush’s main contribution was to introduce unfunded tax cuts at a time when the budget should have been in surplus, thereby reducing the fiscal space available for stimulus when the crisis came. But, given the weakness of the stimulus and the ferocity of the political response, it’s not clear that was a binding constraint in any case. 
The primary culprit is market liberal economics, which may be considered both as a set of ideas with its own internal logic and as an expression of the class interests of those who benefit from the finance-dominated form of capitalism that produced the crisis and has prevented any recovery. My book Zombie Economics is a critique of market liberalism considered as an economic theory, showing how market liberalism produced the crisis.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"You Might be a Keynesian if..."

If you believe that the looming cuts in government spending will drag us down into another recession.  

That, my friends, is exactly what Keynes is talking about when he describes his Grand Experiment: The coming war with Germany will produce a massive government expenditure on arms and armaments which in turn will have a big impact on the unemployed, by providing them with jobs, and on others by the rising demand for goods and services throughout the economy.
When I hear Republicans, politicians who have espoused the failed policies of Reagan and the supply siders, talk about the perils of the "Fiscal Cliff," I can't help but laugh...

We are, indeed, all Keynesians now.

Mittens Gonna' Pump It!

How the mighty have fallen.
Totally brought this to mind!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Paul Krugman FTOW! (For The OBVIOUS Win!)

Reflecting on Ross Douthat's column today, Paul Krugman observes

Every time you read someone extolling the dynamism of the modern economy, the virtues of risk-taking, declaring that everyone has to expect to have multiple jobs in his or her life and that you can never stop learning, etc,, etc., bear in mind that this is a portrait of an economy with no stability, no guarantees that hard work will provide a consistent living, and a constant possibility of being thrown aside simply because you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
And nothing people can do in their personal lives or behavior can change this. Your church and your traditional marriage won’t guarantee the value of your 401(k), or make insurance affordable on the individual market. 
So here’s the question: isn’t this exactly the kind of economy that should have a strong welfare state? Isn’t it much better to have guaranteed health care and a basic pension from Social Security rather than simply hanker for the corporate safety net that no longer exists? Might one not even argue that a bit of basic economic security would make our dynamic economy work better, by reducing the fear factor?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ZOMG KARL ROVE TRIED TO STEAL TEH ELECTION!!!1! -or- The Left has Loonies Too!

Yes, my fellow lefties, we have loonies in our camp as well.  Not nearly as many as our colleagues on the right, mind you, but we do have our share.  The current incarnation of the left-wing version of "FEMA death camps" is the "Anonymous thwarted Karl Rove from stealing the election."  Yes, that's right.  Sites and people that I respect are actually spreading this tripe far and wide.  It all stems from a video and letter supposedly released by Anonymous claiming to have thwarted the Turd Blossom's minions from changing election results (by magic, I suppose...).
And that, along with a video, represents the sum of the evidence that is being presented to "prove" that Rove and the GOP attempted to perpetrate electoral fraud.  If you believe this, then you're as dumb as the wingnuts who believed in "death panels."  Read the inferences some are making:
The skeptics among us might be quick to dismiss this story, but I say not so fast.  We do know that Anonymous exists, and they have been adept at penetrating servers.  They have revealed gaping security holes, disabled websites in the name of a free and open internet, and even launched cyber attacks against the Pentagon. They stole NYPD surveillance video of OWS protesters. Though unconfirmed, they claim to have stolen one million Apple UDIDs from an FBI laptop.  There is no doubt that Anonymous, however ambiguous or loosely affiliated it may be, is real. And frankly they have proven themselves to be less bullshit prone than our politicians and broadcast media outlets.
I'll bet an advanced civilization from Alpha Centauri could manage the task too.  Why not just attribute it to them?  It's just as possible.  This is a classic example of an Appeal to Probability fallacy.  Just because something could happen means it must happen.

Even Thom Hartman gets in on the act.
Pending further "evidence," this will remain in the loony bucket.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lee Atwater's Southern Strategy: NEW AUDIO

From the man who brought you Mitt Romney's "47%" comments, James Carter IV, comes the actual audio track of Lee Atwater's famous Southern Strategy interview.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
It's chilling to hear Atwater describe the transformation and obfuscation of the use of racism to ensure electoral victory for the Republican party.  Win at any cost.

The full 42 minute interview is available from The Nation.

Luke, I AM Your Father! And I am PISSED OFF!!!

Why, oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Listen as rumored "journalist" Luke Russert, son of the late (and most excellent) Tim Russert, asks Nancy Pelosi if she's too old to be Minority Leader of the House.
It's appalling.  I'm appalled.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Grand Bargain Barn!

Hilarious!

The Electoral College Must Die

The electoral college does nothing but distort electoral outcomes.
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota have 16 votes for 4.6 million people, and New York State has 20 votes for 19.4 million people. It takes 287,500 people in the aforementioned red states to get one electoral vote, whereas in New York State it takes 668, 965 people to get one electoral vote — that’s more than double the amount of New Yorkers needed for a single vote in the Electoral College.
That's seriously screwed up.  When these tiny western-state tails continue to wag the big-state dog, we're not living in a real democracy*.



*The first person who opines "We don't live in a democracy, we live in a republic" get's punched in the nose.
 

Who's Ready for 2016???

Kill me... Kill me now...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

God Help Me but I Agree with S.E. Cupp

At about the 5:40 mark, S.E. Cupp, irritating and shrill conservative commentator from MSNBC, makes the very legitimate point that the distance between the Bush foreign policy and the Obama foreign policy is not much and that the left have not held Obama to account for the drone war that's killed thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fox News has a Moment of Clarity

It was remarkable that, on election night, Fox News actually acted like a real news organization.

[O]n Tuesday night, the people in charge of Fox News were confronted with a stark choice after it became clear that Mr. Romney had fallen short: was Fox, first and foremost, a place for advocacy or a place for news? 
In this moment, at least, Fox chose news.
Despite Karl Rove's tantrum, the journalistic instincts of the Fox team broke through the bubble that Fox itself had such a big hand in creating and they reported that, indeed, Ohio had gone to President Obama.
The best journalistic instincts of Fox’s news people kicked in and the hard reality of Mr. Obama’s triumph was allowed to land as it occurred. In doing so, the network avoided marginalizing itself and ended, at least for a night, its war on the president.
So while the GOP goes through it's internal convulsions, perhaps Fox can take a good, hard look at their strategy and help the Republicans break out of their bubble.
 

Friday, November 9, 2012

PSA: The Universal Conservative Translator

This is a public service announcement:  When conservatives say "We have to save Social Security," what they really mean is this:
Big Money has been gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for decades – since the beginning of Social Security in 1935. The motives are partly financial: As one scholar once put it to me, the payroll tax is the “Mississippi of cash flows.” Anything that diverts part of it into private funds and insurance premiums is a meal ticket for the elite of the predator state
And the campaign is also partly political. The fact is, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the main way ordinary Americans connect to their federal government, except in wars and disasters.  They have made a vast change in family life, unburdening the young of their parents and ensuring that every working person contributes whether they have parents, dependents, survivors or disabled of their own to look after. These programs do this work seamlessly, for next to nothing; their managers earn civil service salaries and the checks arrive on time. For the private competition, this is intolerable; the model is a threat to free markets and must be destroyed.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.

Double-Dutch Double-Down at RedState

Erick Erickson at RedState calls for a double-double-down on GOP strategy.  After running the list of the now-official excuses for why Romney did poorly,

  1. Romney was a "deeply flawed" candidate (that our own primary process created)
  2. It's not demographics but the GOTV efforts of Republicans (because there are more angry white men out there we just didn't reach)
  3. Wait, it is a demographics problem but the Democrats have one too (because, after all, hispanics are just yearning to vote for "self deportation")
Erickson notes that recent arrivals to America have not ben sufficiently indoctrinated.
Frankly, as I noted yesterday, if you are going out to speak to the unconverted, you don’t talk about the trinity, communion, and what not. You speak in language the unconverted understand. Immigrants to this country know they are here for freedom and opportunity they did not have in their native land. But they may not really understand what “free markets” mean.
Of course, Erick, it could be that they know exactly what your ideology of the "free market" is all about and they simply reject it.  I know that that's hard to accept, but if you ignore this possibility, you're always and forever going to lose.

But that's clearly beyond Erickson's cognitive reckoning.  Instead, he goes for the full-double-double-down, a universe where he and his friends are ever and always right if only "you people" could see it.
So what should Republicans do? Fight on. Don’t listen to those who say we must moderate, we must abandon values, we must abandon principles, etc. They are wrong. We must reach out, but that does not mean surrender. 
For those of you who think we’ve lost the country, well then you have nothing left to lose. If I’m right and Obama’s base won’t turn out in 2014 like it did not turn out in 2010, you might as well swing for the fences because you’ll either get all or nothing. Right now all you’ve got is nothing. 
So fight on, my friends, fight on. When the Democrats mock us for not changing, remind them we did the same to them after 2004 and then 2006 showed up. And let’s start finding candidates now and prepare them to primary those Republicans who go wobbly. Heck, those groups who keep score cards should score the GOP leadership votes and score against anybody who supports McConnell or Boehner, just to drive the point home we aim to fight — even them.
Carry on.  I'm sure this strategy will work out well for you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Twilight of the Romneverse


That fateful night Romney lost...
Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked. 
"Fiscally conservative," sighed one aide the next day.

Your Moment of Victory

This victory dance brought to you by Minnesota Marriage Equality!

Ignorance is a Competitive Disadvantage

I believe the phrase you're looking for here is... NO DUH!

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses. What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election. 
Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense. WorldNetDaily brought you birtherism. Forbes brought you Kenyan anti-colonialism. National Review obsessed about an imaginary rejection of American exceptionalism, misrepresenting an Obama quote in the process, and Andy McCarthy was interviewed widely about his theory that Obama, aka the Drone Warrior in Chief, allied himself with our Islamist enemies in a "Grand Jihad" against America. Seriously? 
Conservatives were at a disadvantage because their information elites pandered in the most cynical, self-defeating ways, treating would-be candidates like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain as if they were plausible presidents rather than national jokes who'd lose worse than George McGovern.
The left does this occasionally, but rarely to this degree.  Nobody on the left would mistake ThinkProgress for The New York Times.  But conservatives frequently cite opinion sites like breitbart.com or Hot Air as if they were "news."  They're not.  Until you figure that out, your competitive disadvantage will endure.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Anthropology of Modern Conservatives

French sociologist Émile Durkheim
Paul Krugman articulates my thoughts about conservative rage better than I can so I'll just outsource it to him.
[W]hat we’ve just seen [in the recent Rage Against the Pollsters] is a peek into the modern right-wing psyche, which is obsessed — more than anything else — with power. Policy is one thing; but equally or even more important is the sense of being with the winners, of being part of the team that will stamp its boots on the faces of the other guys. And while conservatives of that ilk would probably concede if pressed on it that there’s a difference between the perception of being on top and the reality determined in an election, emotionally they can’t separate the two: they perceive anyone suggesting that maybe they aren’t going to smash their opponents as a threat.
Krugman's paraphrase of O'Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.  
is entirely appropriate.  The world for modern conservatives is made entirely of winners and losers (makers and takers).  There is nothing better than being a winner and nothing worse than being a loser.  And as the captain of the German bobsled team is rumored to have said,
Second place is just first loser!
There is no compromise, there is only victory.  And that human face under the iron boot?  Well, it's the generic face of all liberals and apostate conservatives (now, apparently, including Chris Christie).

It's all about that fleeting thrill of being a winner... That momentary high of Durkheimian "collective effervescence" that being on the winning team brings to the individual participant is a powerful drug.  But it becomes pathological to the modern conservative.

As Durkeim wrote in his masterwork The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, a Study in Religious Sociology, the transcendent emotions brought forth by the collective feeling (in this case, of winning) are very, very strong especially when you consider the context of that feeling as a religious one.

Feeling himself dominated and carried away by some sort of an external power which makes him think and act differently than in normal times, he naturally has the impression of being himself no longer.  It seems to him that he has become a new being: the decorations  he puts on and the masks that cover his face figure materially in this interior transformation, and to a still greater extent, they aid in determining its nature. And as at the same time all  his companions feel themselves transformed in the same way and express this sentiment by their cries, their gestures and their general attitude, everything is just as though he really were transported into a special world, entirely different from the one where he ordinarily lives, and into an environment filled with exceptionally intense forces that take hold of him and metamorphose him. How could such experiences as these, especially when they are repeated every day for weeks, fail to leave in him the conviction that there really exist two heterogeneous and mutually incomparable worlds? One is that where his daily life drags wearily along; but he cannot penetrate into the other without at once entering into relations with extraordinary powers that excite him to the point of frenzy.  The first is the profane world, the second, that of sacred things.
While all political systems, like religious systems, embody this form to one degree or another, it is particularly strong and overtly pathological in American conservatism these days.  We crave that collective feeling of power, of frenzy and, ultimately for the political conservative, of winning.  Take that away and you've literally taken away a powerful force that their psyche craves.

The Real Winner Last Night?

This guy...  Oh, and statistics...  My dad would be so happy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A George Plimpton Documentary

As a long-time reader of The Paris Review, I'm really looking forward to this film about the life of one of America's most interesting literary figures.  He was an "experiential journalist" who participated in sports just to be able to write about it.  He also founded and edited America's premier literary journal and published such giants as Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Let Them Eat Private Security Services!"

Detroit's Fictional Answer to Police Budget Cutbacks
A disturbing piece in today's New York Times describes the chaotic decay of the Sacramento Police Department under intense budget pressures.
In 2011, faced with the biggest budget cuts yet — $12.2 million — Chief Rick Braziel was forced to take drastic action: he laid off sworn officers and civilian employees; eliminated the vice, narcotics, financial crimes and undercover gang squads, sending many detectives back to patrol; and thinned the auto theft, forensics and canine units. Police officers no longer responded to burglaries, misdemeanors or minor traffic accidents.
It would be interesting to see the socioeconomic distribution of these non-responses and how much more unresponsive the department is to poor and minority neighborhoods than it is to affluent "taxpayer" neighborhoods.

In 2011, Chief Braziel said, the cuts, in his opinion, went past the tipping point. While homicides have remained steady, shootings — a more reliable indicator of gun violence — are up 48 percent this year. Rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and vehicle thefts have also increased, though in smaller increments. 
Complicating matters, the cutbacks have coincided with a flow of convicted offenders back into the city as California, heeding a Supreme Court ruling, has reduced its prison population. Once released, former inmates have less supervision — the county’s probation department also suffered cuts.

Much like the obscene growth in the prison-industrial complex, how much do you want to bet that the private security firms in Sacramento will soon be prospering in response to these cutbacks as wealthy citizens ensure that they remain safe in their gated havens while the rest of the city decays into anarchy?  I'm willing to wager that it's already underway.

This is all, of course, the plot of the film RoboCop... Another win for America!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I'll Take James Bond Theme Songs for $200, Alex!


Sure he's a tool of British imperialism.  But he's sooooo cool...

A few days ago, my niece posted on her Facebook page how much she liked the theme for the latest James Bond film, Skyfall by the flash-in-the-pan Adele.  I listened to the song and it's alright, certainly not the best (or even nearly the best) Bond theme.  So I figured I'd create a quick post of my 5 favorite James Bond themes (none of which are by Adele).  A complete list is available here.

#5:Carley Simon: The Spy who Loved Me

#4: Tina Turner: Goldeneye (Music and Lyrics by Bono & The Edge)

#3: Duran Duran: A View to a Kill

#2: Paul McCartney & Wings: Live and Let Die

#1: Shirley Bassey: Goldfinger

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editor Kicks the Paper in the Nuts

Wow...
I strongly objected to Journal Sentinel's endorsement of Gov. Scott Walker in the recent recall election, the flimsiest reason given for which being that recall shouldn't be favored because of a governor's policy positions. Considering the radical changes rammed through by Walker - the most radical of which were unvoiced by him in his original election campaign - Wisconsin citizens deserved this potential remedy of recall. For the Editorial Board to support retention of Walker despite the radical, hidden agenda he eventually implemented was a disgusting cop-out.

Same goes for ducking the most important contests on this Nov. 6 ballot for president and U.S. senator. I'm aware of the huge workload imposed by the endorsement process in the lead-up to elections, exacerbated at a time of staff shrinkage, but that can hardly justify ducking the very most important contests.

David Behrendt
Edmonds, Wash.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Private, NOT Public Debt Destroyed the Greek Economy

It's a shame to destroy such a popular conservative narrative, but once again, those pesky "fact-things" keep getting in the way!
Greece’s government expenditures were basically stable through the ’90s and most of the 2000s, increasing rapidly only as a result of the 2008 recession (until the austerity programs began to take effect in 2010).  Moreover, Greece was not a massive outlier in terms of government spending levels.  Prior to the crisis, Greek public spending as a percentage of GDP was on the lower end compared to France, Italy, and Germany:
The problem with the Greek economy lies not in the public, but in the private sector.
But as with most of the other troubled eurozone economies, the major problem for Greece, the authors conclude, can be found in the private sector financial balances: 
[G]rowth in Greece during the 2000s—similar to the United States—was fueled by consumption financed by running down households’ financial assets, and/or by net borrowing. It was this unsustainable process, rather than an excessive government deficit, that put Greece on an unsustainable path.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Financial Times Economist Martin Wolf goes Full Krugman


Witness the intellectual turnaround:
In sum, we have no reason to regard the performance of the US economy under President Obama as poor, given the conditions he inherited. But this does not mean that recovery could not have been far stronger. Policy was insufficiently supportive of a stronger recovery. That is partly because the administration underestimated the forces for contraction. It is still more because of the opposition of the Republicans to any stimulus. In an economy afflicted by the implosion of a huge credit boom, the forces for contraction were bound to be both strong and enduring. With interest rates at zero, the effectiveness of monetary policy was limited. Given this, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which amounted to an average of a little under 2 per cent of GDP in the years it was effective, was plainly too small.

"Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit outta' my hat!"

Magic tricks for would-be fiscal conservatives.

...Aspiring fiscal conservatives ... might be interested in learning four tricks that American politicians commonly use when promising to cut taxes while simultaneously reducing budget deficits. ... 
The first ... was coined by Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman..., because the numbers in the 1981 budget plan did not add up. “We invented the ‘magic asterisk,’” ... Ever since, the magic asterisk has become a familiar American device. ... 
[Second,]... the conjurer ... resorts to the rosy scenario: since he cannot find enough tax loopholes to eliminate, he must claim that ... stronger economic growth will bring in the additional revenue. .. 
Right on cue, it is time for the famous Laffer hypothesis – the proposition ... that reductions in tax rates ... so stimulate economic growth that total tax revenue ... goes up... One might think that the Romney campaign would not resurrect so discredited a trick. ... 
The final trick, “starve the beast,” typically comes later, if and when the president has enacted his tax cuts and discovers ... tax revenues have not grown... The audience is now told that losing tax revenue and widening the budget deficit was the plan all along. The performer explains that the deficit is all the fault of congress for not cutting spending and that ... “Congress can’t spend money it doesn’t have.” This trick never works... 
By the time the crowd realizes that it has been conned, the magician has already pulled off the greatest trick of all: yet another audience that came to see the deficit shrink leaves the theater with the deficit bigger than before.
Or, in the immortal words of Rocky Squirrel... "That trick never works!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Republicans Suck: Reason #442783

Paul Krugman FTW.
Why is recovery from a financial crisis slow? Financial crises are preceded by credit bubbles; when those bubbles burst, many families and/or companies are left with high levels of debt, which force them to slash their spending. This slashed spending, in turn, depresses the economy as a whole.

And the usual response to recession, cutting interest rates to encourage spending, isn’t adequate. Many families simply can’t spend more, and interest rates can be cut only so far — namely, to zero but not below.

Does this mean that nothing can be done to avoid a protracted slump after a financial crisis? No, it just means that you have to do more than just cut interest rates. In particular, what the economy really needs after a financial crisis is a temporary increase in government spending, to sustain employment while the private sector repairs its balance sheet. And the Obama administration did some of that, blunting the severity of the financial crisis. Unfortunately, the stimulus was both too small and too short-lived, partly because of administration errors but mainly because of scorched-earth Republican obstruction.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Do You Remember Where You Were The Day Microsoft Died?


Remember this day, kids.  Today is the day Microsoft died.
Windows 8 is a renovation gone wrong, one that will needlessly force people to relearn how they use a device every bit as common as a microwave oven.

“I don’t think any user was asking for that,” said John Ludwig, a former Microsoft executive who worked on Windows and is now a venture capitalist in the Seattle area. “They just want the current user interface, but better.”

Mr. Ludwig said Microsoft’s strategy was risky, but it had to do something to improve its chances in the mobile business: “Doing nothing was a strategy that was sure to fail.”

Little about the new Windows will look familiar to those who have used older versions. The Start screen, a kind of main menu, is dominated by a colorful grid of rectangles and squares that users can tap with a finger or click with a mouse to start applications. Many of these so-called live tiles constantly flicker with new information piped in from the Internet, like news headlines and Facebook photos.

What is harder to find are many of the conventions that have been a part of PCs since most people began using them, like the strip of icons at the bottom of the screen for jumping between applications. The mail and calendar programs are starkly minimalist. It is as if an automaker hid the speedometer, turn signals and gear shift in its cars, and told drivers to tap their dashboards to reveal those functions. There is a more conventional “desktop” mode for running Microsoft Office and older programs, though there is no way to permanently switch to it.
Because when you design your user interface based on the movie Idiocracy,
you clearly hold your users in utter contempt.  The worst part?  This horrid interface will be on all Microsoft platforms, from PCs to tablets to phones.  There will be no escaping it.

Of course, there are a few alternatives out there to chose from.

Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook quipped
You can converge a toaster and refrigerator, but these things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

1 in 5 Americans Select "None" as their Religion

Do you realize that 20% of Americans are atheists, agnostics or "nothing in particular?"  20%  That's 62,318,383 Americans that reject, or who do not consider important, the magical thinking of religion!  Amazing!

These data from a Pew poll are startling.  The population of "Religiously Unaffiliated" has grown 5% since 2007.  And the largest growth has been among young people.
Of those who indicated "Nothing in particular," only 10% indicated that they were looking for a new religion.  88% said they were not.

Most of the erosion is coming from the Protestant denominations.  Catholics remain a solid 25% of the population, virtually unchanged since 1972.  But the various Protestant churches have lost more than 10% in the same time.  And that 10% has shifted to the unaffiliated category.

There is a ton of juicy data to paw through.  Far more than I can digest and summarize here.

Unchecked Executive Power is Unchecked

On national security and civil rights, Obama = George W. Bush... And he may be much worse.
As the name suggests, the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 is intended to punish those who commit acts of treason, whether for personal gain or out of ideological conviction. The Obama administration, however, seems to have abandoned all caution in wielding this extraordinary power. 
A new Bloomberg News investigation shows that Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department has indicted six government workers under the act for leaking information. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that until President Barack Obama took office, there had been only three such cases in U.S. history.
 Hope and Change?  This President's track record of persecuting whistleblowers is a national disgrace.
Among the more disturbing examples of the administration’s overreach is the case of Thomas Drake, a senior National Security Agency employee who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act in 2010. Drake says he contacted a reporter after his superiors at the NSA failed to respond to his concerns about waste of funds in program development, along with intrusions into the lives of law-abiding American citizens. He is adamant that he didn’t disclose classified information and, indeed, the case against him collapsed.

[...]

These ill-advised prosecutions are a blatant violation of Obama’s promise to “usher in a new era of open government.”
The full article at Bloomberg is an expose of an executive branch run amok and hiding from accountability.
The president’s openness pledge is also undermined by a recent Bloomberg News analysis, which showed that 19 of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the Freedom of Information Act requiring the disclosure of public documents. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s FOIA requests for top officials’ travel costs within the 20-day window required by the Act.
Make no mistake.  This is clearly a 'both sides do it" case.  George W. Bush and his administration of thugs stole our freedoms from us and Obama has done little, if anything to restore them

A McCain presidency (or, heaven forbid, a Romney one) would be as bad or worse than the Obama presidency has been, but what does it mean when the party who is supposed to represent "we the people" is as captivated by the notion of secrecy as the party of the oligarchs?  Could it be because they're both parties of the oligarchs?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Obviation of Free Will?

Wow. Here's one radical opinion about the moral basis for wealth. Basically, economist Richard Posner argues that the Randian fantasies of the wealthy are just that. Fantasies.
In short, I do not believe in free will. I think that everything that a person does is caused by something. It is true, and is the basis of belief in free will, that often we are conscious of considering pros and cons in deciding on a course of action; “we” are deciding, rather than having the decision made by something outside “us.” But calculation and decisionmaking are different. Deciding may just mean calculating the balance of utility and disutility; the result of the balance determines the decision. No doubt when a cat pounces on a mouse, it has decided to do so; but the decision was compelled by circumstances—the feline diet, the presence of the mouse, etc. A complete description of the incident would not require positing free will.

If this is right, a brilliant wealthy person like Bill Gates is not “entitled” to his wealth in some moral, Ayn Randian sense.
Luck, chance and randomness (i.e. chaos) are responsible for a far larger part of our personal "destiny" than we might be comfortable in admitting.  Especially if one uses one's position to exert one's will over others.

One must question the moral foundations of capitalism if this is, indeed, the case.

Binder of Massachusetts Women

While the meme is, to me, hilarious.

The truth behind it is not so funny.  In 2003, Romney dismantled the Massachusetts state Office of Affirmative Action that protected women and minorities during the hiring process for government employment.
Romney signed his executive order, which simultaneously repealed seven orders by previous governors, on June 17 -- Bunker Hill Day, a Suffolk County holiday when state and city offices were closed. Romney's order received little attention at the time, but black and Hispanic leaders say its full impact became clear over the ensuing weeks, in conversations among political activists and elected officials. "In a very quiet and [seemingly] innocuous act, Governor Romney undid through that executive order about 25 years of work," said state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, a Roxbury Democrat and the only black member of the state Senate. "It's much, much more far-reaching than has been acknowledged by the administration. Symbolically, it could be a death blow to affirmative action. The scary thing is that there's never been a conversation about it." 
[...] 
But [Boston City Councilor Chuck] Turner said Romney gutted the previously existing affirmative action initiatives, and replaced them with a vague set of guidelines that could be flouted by state managers with no consequences. The new guidelines, he said, lack teeth. 
Under the old executive orders, if the state's director of affirmative action found an agency manager to be "not in compliance" with hiring and promotion goals, he or she could impose "a hiring freeze on any or all positions of the agency." Romney's order outlines no repercussions for state managers who don't comply with affirmative action rules, Turner said. 
"There are no consequences if they don't comply, and no guidelines to follow," Turner said. "So right now, there are no principles in place to use in terms of implementing it."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Elder Romney Aide Disowns Mitt

A former aide to Mitt Romney's father issued a stern smackdown of Mitt today.

Mr. De Vries said he was annoyed by Mr. Romney’s repeated references recently to his father as inspiration and influence on him. 
“I just don’t see it,” he said. “Where is it? Is it on issues, no? On the way he campaigns? No.” 
Mr. De Vries continued, “George would never have been seen with the likes of Sheldon Adelson or Donald Trump.”
Part of me sincerely believes that Mitt is quite embarrassed at the turn his party has taken since 2001 when the entire Republican party took a dive off The Crazy Cliffs and landed in Lake Lunacy.  But then he's been doubling-down on Republican lunacy since 2008 so it's probably too late to stop now.

Mitt Romney: Like George Bush only Worse?

It's hard to believe that any candidate has the potential to be as bad a President as George W. Bush, but Mitt is looking like he just might be that guy.

Running in 2000, George W. Bush insisted that his proposed tax cut would be a boon to the middle class. Experts demurred, arguing that the top 1 percent of income earners would reap a windfall. Like Romney, Bush declined to show his math. In the end, his 2001 tax cut delivered almost half of its benefits to the top 1 percent and initiated Bush’s march toward a trillion-dollar deficit. 
At his debate with Vice President Joseph Biden last week, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said the campaign wouldn’t release definitive numbers because they would only be finalized in bipartisan negotiations with Congress. Tax and spending legislation must work its way through Congress, of course. But it’s hard to give Romney and Ryan the benefit of the doubt when they trumpet big tax cuts while steadfastly refusing to disclose who will pay for them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Maximum Chickenhawk Smackdown!

Nation magazine security writer Jeremy Scahill opens a can of Twitter whoop-ass on chickenhawk CFR think-tanker Max Boot following the later's disparaging tweet about Vice-President Biden's Afghanistan remarks.

(It's Twitter, so start reading at the bottom and work your way up)


BREAKING: Secret Paul Ryan Video!

Paul Ryan advises the Masters of the Universe on matters economic!

"There will be growth in the Spring..."
Paul Ryan is Chauncey Gardner...

Fighting Fascism -or- "Albanian" is Greek for "Nigger"

The flag of Golden Dawn, the Greek fascist party... That logo looks familiar...

Unbelievable.

“Go away, you fucking commie!”
“Why did you come? To see the fags? What are you, a lesbian?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“She's a lesbian, don't you see? You have no man with you, no children, no grandchildren, you're a lesbian!”
“Look at the t-shirt, she's an atheist! Get the hell outta here!”
“I want to see the play.”
“You want to see the faggots? They're faggots! Perverts!”
“They swear against our Christ, our Virgin Mary!”
“How do you know? Have you seen it?”
“No, but so they told me. They told me it swears against our Christ. It must be banned!”
“If you don't want to see the play, don't. Why shouldn't I?”
“They blaspheme against our God! We have the one true God!”
“He'll strike you down with lightning and burn you! You’ll see what God will do to you!”
“Since God will do it, why are you worrying about it? Go home, rest, and trust in God.”
“You’ll go to Hell!”
“There is no God, nor is there a Hell.”
“There isn't? Then I won't talk to you, you're not worth it.”
“I want to talk to you. I believe you are worth it.”
“Hey, don’t waste your time on her, she’s not worth it.  She’s trash.”
“Get out of here, Albanian!”
“I'm Greek.”
“Greek? True Greeks don't do such things! You're Albanian!”
“You're trash! May God have mercy on you.”
“Is this the religion of love?”
“Christ threw out the merchants from his house with a whip!  That’s how we’re going to throw you out!”
“This isn’t a church, this is a theater. You are stopping us, not the other way around.”
“Christ said, “I did not come to bring love, but a sword”. He said, “Bring me my enemies, and slay them before me!””
“In other words, you want to slay me?”
“Listen here, bitch, we are Greek Christian fascists! 90% of Greeks are Christian fascists, understand?  As a fascist, i have the right to tell you to get out of here.”
“As a fascist, you have the strength, but not the right.” 
More  shouting, more insults, more irrationality. Blind rage and hate, hate speech full of bile.  
You need to get laid, you're not properly laid, you’re a woman and you need a spanking, would that Papadopoulos were back... The women seemed to be more fanatic.  Most were middle aged, but there were both older and younger women there.  The woman with the scarf on her head, near the MPs, was one of the most angry ones. When she spoke to me, she stood so close to me that I could feel her saliva on my face. I told her many times, very calmly: 
“Please step back a little. Please, speak more slowly, so that I can hear you better.”
It was no use, nor could I reason with the gentleman who claimed that we are "90% Christian fascists."
“Speak more slowly, please. I can’t hear well like this.”
“I have a strong voice!” 
I wish I could tell them: I am not a lesbian, but even if I were, what would it matter? I have a husband and a child, but even if I didn’t, what would it matter? I'm not Albanian, but even if I was, what would it matter? I’m not a communist, but even if I was, what would it matter? I don’t believe in God, but what does it matter? Some people have a different opinion about God and Christ and the Virgin Mary -- what does it matter? You demand respect for your right to believe in God as you like, why don’t you respect others’ rights to believe in a different way, or not to believe at all?  
In the meantime, the ring of police had loosened.  I tried to approach the theater again.  Through the gate, I saw a man coming toward us. I assumed it was someone involved with the play that had come to open up to let the audience in. I started to speak to him, but a tall, fat, bulky man -- someone told me later that he was Ilias Panayotaros, a Golden Dawn MP -- came toward me and told me to leave. 

‘I don't want to leave, I want to see the play.”
“Get outta here, you fuckin' lesbian, you fuckin' commie, or I'll smack you!” 
It was impossible to go around him.  He pushed me with his body, stepping towards me, forcing me to retreat.  Another man who was with him and approached me and he pushed me as well, both physically and verbally.  He leaned over me and pushed me with his body. People around me encouraged me to leave. 
“Get out of here, now, or you'll get beat up, don't you see what's going on here?”
“I don't want to leave. I won't submit to violence. I have a right to be here. I have a right to see the play.”

Both Sides Can't Do It

Because ‘Americans are philosophical conservatives but operational liberals,' the Romney/Ryan bullshit plays well with the electorate.
Romney/Ryan get a bottomless stack of Get Out Of Budget Nonsense Jail Free Cards because the 2 + 2 = 5 stuff resonates with – feeds into – a certain kind of utopian conservative fantasy. It’s aspirational, rugged individualism stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all just stood on our own two feet! Since saying this sort of stuff amounts to signaling to the base ‘I’m one of you!’, it is easily discounted as rhetoric – because that is, in fact, what it is. This produces a kind of feedback loop. The more you use this stuff just to signal you’ve got the right attitude, the more it becomes noise for any other signaling purpose. You are no longer able to talk about the budget, because talking about the budget is just a proxy way of expressing a personal virtue ethics. By contrast, if Obama were to advocate expansions as radical as the cuts Romney/Ryan are advocating, everyone would take it seriously – literally. And well they should. Democrats would never advocate sweeping expansions unless they wanted them, and meant to try to get them. Because it’s not as though there are significant portions of the electorate who fantasize, vaguely, about the government being vastly vaster – but who would balk at any any attempt actually to do it – who can be pandered to, philosophically. 
Making government bigger, for embiggening’s sake, is no one’s hazy dream of personal virtue; cutting the government, for cutting’s sake, is.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jason Thompson Makes a Funny

Jason Thompson, son of US Senate candidate Tommy Thompson made a funny at a fund raiser today for his dad.  I'm sure his dad was SO proud!
This pathological inability to keep these racist comments to themselves when they should know that everyone in the audience has a video camera (even my 76 year old mom has a video camera on her phone and she knows how to use it!) is going to be their undoing.

For the record, both Tommy and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus were in attendance.  No indication that they thought what Jason said was anything surprising.

American Politics Inaction In Action

Ezra Klein FTW.
Romney can tell you exactly what he wants to do, but barely a word about how he’ll do it. Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done. It’s a campaign without real policies against a campaign lacking a clear vision.

Why Mitt Romney and the Modern GOP Should be Barred From Government Forever

Simply because of this and this.  Nobody should have to die because of a "moral hazard."  Ever.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Expansionary Austerity REDUX -or- Contracting Contractionary Contraction

Fucked by the Very Serious People yet again! 
We're all Ned Beatty now.

Back when austerity was all the rage (and for many of our more "intellectually challenged" politicians it still is), there was serious debate about how much damage a policy of austerity could cause to an economy already in recession.  The Very Serious People maintained that it was important to "get our fiscal house in order," and to cut, cut, cut, or... BOND VIGILANTES... and also HYPERINFLATION!!1!!1!

This cutting, in turn, would lead to a new era of growth and prosperity.  Because we all know that cutting taxes increases revenue, right?  So cutting government spending in a recession will cause unlimited GDP growth.

Others, like economist Paul Krugman, argued that the act of cutting government spending during a recession would only make things worse.  "Tut, tut," said the Very Serious People.  "We must tighten our belts."

So how's that workin' out?  Not to fucking well according to the IMF...
With many economies in fiscal consolidation mode, a debate has been raging about the size of fiscal multipliers. The smaller the multipliers, the less costly the fiscal consolidation. At the same time, activity has disappointed in a number of economies undertaking fiscal consolidation. So a natural question is whether the negative short-term effects of fiscal cutbacks have been larger than expected because fiscal multipliers were underestimated.
So what is a fiscal multiplier you ask?  Let's see what Wikipedia has to say.
In economics, the fiscal multiplier is the ratio of a change in national income to the change in government spending that causes it... When this multiplier exceeds one, the enhanced effect on national income is called the multiplier effect. The mechanism that can give rise to a multiplier effect is that an initial incremental amount of spending can lead to increased consumption spending, increasing income further and hence further increasing consumption, etc., resulting in an overall increase in national income greater than the initial incremental amount of spending. In other words, an initial change in aggregate demand may cause a change in aggregate output (and hence the aggregate income that it generates) that is a multiple of the initial change. 
Conversely, the multiplier can operate in the negative.  This happens when the government cuts spending instead of increasing it.  The multiplier amplifies the cut through the economy making a $1 cause potentially more that $1 worth of contraction.  How much more?
The main finding, based on data for 28 economies, is that the multipliers used in generating growth forecasts have been systematically too low since the start of the Great Recession, by 0.4 to 1.2, depending on the forecast source and the specifics of the estimation approach. Informal evidence suggests that the multipliers implicitly used to generate these forecasts are about 0.5. So actual multipliers may be higher, in the range of 0.9 to 1.7.
So that $1 can now cost somewhere between $0.90 and $1.70.  That's a really bad investment.

So cutting government spending is a pathway to growth exactly how?

We should be spending like drunken sailors on shore leave.  Interest rates are 0% and millions are out of work.  What the fuck are we doing???

How's that austerity plan looking now?

Monday, October 8, 2012

We Still Haven't Fixed our Shocks!

The global economy is headed for another rough stretch, how long a stretch is not yet known.

The [IMF] foresees global growth of 3.3 percent in 2012 and 3.6 percent in 2013, down from the outlook in July, which forecast growth of 3.5 percent this year and 3.9 percent next year. The forecasts are periodic updates the fund’s World Economic Outlook report, released four times a year. 
The fund called the risks of a growth slowdown “alarmingly high,” primarily because of policy uncertainty in the United States and Europe. New estimates suggest a 15 percent chance of recession in the United States next year, 25 percent in Japan and “above” 80 percent in the euro area.
The IMF report dovetails nicely with what I wrote about yesterday.  The world is headed for another round of economic malaise and probable recession as the Third Industrial Revolution peters out.

Welcome to the new normal.

The Nightmare of Empire


So much horror... So much misery...
Over the gates of Auschwitz were the words “Work Makes You Free”. Over the gates of the Solovetsky camp in Lenin’s gulag: “Through Labour – Freedom!”. Over the gates of the Ngenya detention camp, run by the British in Kenya: “Labour and Freedom”. Dehumanisation appears to follow an almost inexorable course. 
[...] 
Little distinguishes the British imperial project from any other. In all cases the purpose of empire was loot, land and labour. When people resisted (as some of the Kikuyu did during the Mau Mau rebellion), the response everywhere was the same: extreme and indiscriminate brutality, hidden from public view by distance and official lies.
The justification for these imperial horrors which occurred in the 1950s (Mitt & the Republican Party's Golden Years!) stretches back to the first years of the 19th century when British theorists developed a language of moral justification for genocide.
In common with most of the political class, W.Winwood Reade, Alfred Russell Wallace, Herbert Spencer, Frederick Farrar, Francis Galton, Benjamin Kidd, even Charles Darwin saw the extermination of dark-skinned people as an inevitable law of nature. Some of them argued that Europeans had a duty to speed it up: both to save the integrity of the species and to put the inferior “races” out of their misery.
In America, this terrible scourge has turned inward to the poor, the black and the undocumented immigrant.  We characterize them as the Other.  The brown people, the black people, the homeless and wretched people.  We treat them with the same callous, cavalier disregard our imperial forebears did.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Albert Einstein Calls the Bible "pretty childish"

Next time some religious cretin tries to tell you about how Einstein was a religious guy, just send him to this letter from Old Albert to Eric B. Gutkind, a philosopher and theologian in response to Gutkind's book Choose Life.
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text.

The End of Growth?

Growth of business is an assumed reality of our time.  All companies are expected to grow without limit.  But how realistic is this assumption?  Has it always been this way?

During the recent unpleasantness brought on by Governor Scott Walker's unprovoked attack on labor rights, my friend Heather asked me, in the course of a long discussion on economics, why do companies have to grow?  The question caught me by surprise and I did not, as I recall, have a good answer at the time beyond "Uhhh, because they can?"

Well, it turns out that Heather's question was quite prescient.  A new paper, Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds by Robert J. Gordon asks and answers this question from a macroeconomic perspective.
The analysis links periods of slow and rapid growth to the timing of the three industrial revolutions (IR’s), that is, IR #1 (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830; IR #2 (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and IR #3 (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present. It provides evidence that IR #2 was more important than the others and was largely responsible for 80 years of relatively rapid productivity growth between 1890 and 1972. Once the spin-off inventions from IR #2 (airplanes, air conditioning, interstate highways) had run their course, productivity growth during 1972-96 was much slower than before. In contrast, IR #3 created only a short-lived growth revival between 1996 and 2004. Many of the original and spin-off inventions of IR #2 could happen only once – urbanization, transportation speed, the freedom of females from the drudgery of carrying tons of water per year, and the role of central heating and air conditioning in achieving a year-round constant temperature.
Are we now at the end of the Third Industrial Revolution?  Have we expanded to the maximum efficiency limits of the existing technology?

If you look at global GDP growth since 1700, the last 100 years certainly appear aberrant.

So how do we know that we're approaching some kind of plateau?  Well, that's the core of Gordon's paper.  IR#2 was a one-off and #3 has had limited impact on the real growth of global GDP.  And now what?

Economist Michael Feller puts it another way.

Who, for instance, would trade Facebook or an iPhone for indoor heating or a flushing toilet? What economic gains could broadband have over the original subsea telegraph? Could the benefits of green energy really compare to the discovery of alternating current or the invention of the turbine? 
These are questions others have asked as well, ranging from the longue durée historians of the Sorbonne, who are attempting to pinpoint capitalism’s demise by 2100 (economic systems, like those of feudal Europe or the Roman Empire, apparently last 600 years), to UBS strategist Andy Lees, who last year provocatively claimed the world had hit its innovation peak in the 1840s.
As an archaeologist, the work on the longue durée has always fascinated me since one of the key methods to discover these patters in the historical record is archaeology.  But when you look at the economic history of capitalism in the west, it does seem that we are approaching a tipping point.

Financial Times economics editor Martin Wolf also wrote a piece about Gordon's research in which he sees the end of growth as an historic inevitability.
[U]nlimited growth is a heroic assumption. For most of history, next to no measurable growth in output per person occurred. What growth did occur came from rising population....
What we are now living through is an intense, but narrow, set of innovations in one important area of technology. Does it matter? Yes. We can, after all, see that a decade or two from now every human being will have access to all of the world’s information. But the view that overall innovation is now slower than a century ago is compelling.
So the days of wine and roses for capitalism may be drawing to a close.  Perhaps not for us, but for our children and our children's children, they will need to learn from our mistakes and find a better way to organize the global economy.  I don't know, but if I had to guess, they're going to need to turn to the works of a long-dead political philosopher for some of those answers.



Friday, October 5, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust


Yes... Another Republican Voter Suppression effort is struck down.  This is getting downright embarrassing for the GOP.  All that effort to implement the ALEC agenda seems to be in vain.
Early voting in Ohio for all residents was restored on Friday by the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, giving President Obama’s campaign another victory in its legal battles with Republicans over voting issues. 
“Across the country, the hard work to protect Americans’ right to vote has paid off,” said Bob Bauer, general counsel for the Obama campaign. “We feel that every voter, regardless of party affiliation, that has the right to vote should be able to. We are now focused on making sure that voters across the country fully understand their rights, know exactly what their voting laws require of them, and clarify when they can cast their ballot.”