Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Democratic Party FAIL

Matt Taibbi for the win.

The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and just tried a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned the entire population to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99-1 ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.
Of course, that presumes that there is much difference between Romney and Obama.  As  Lance Selfa pointed out in an article (from ISR 85, not available online) entitled From "hope" to hopeless: The Democrats in the Obama era:
Throughout most of the period of unified Democratic control of the government, Obama baffled and demoralized his main supporters, including the millions who were moved to political action during his campaign, by the fact that most of his problems appeared to be self-inflicted.  Clinton's "triangulation" appeared to be a defensive adaptation to an unfavorable environment....  But armed with a strong public mandate and a large Democratic majority, Obama continued on the "centrist" path that Clinton charted. The question is why. 
The explanation has everything to do with the profile of the Democratic Party in the neoliberal era.  While the Democrats have always been a big-business party, they are more openly so today than in the heyday of the "labor-liberal-civil rights" era of the 1940s through the 1960s.  Commenting on the seeming inability of the Democratic congressional majority to push through fundamental reforms, Harvard University social policy expert Theda Skocpol explained: "Even in the majority, Democrats still have many ties to business interests and quietly look for excuses to avoid doing things that offend them.  Not being able to act without 60 votes is a ready excuse." 
Obama tried to straddle this contradiction [between the reliance on labor for votes and finance capitalism for funding] with a stance that appealed to "bipartisanship" and a reasonable approach to national problems.  While this may soothe elements of the Washington establishment, it's exactly the opposite of what the climate of economic and political polarization demanded.  The attempt to hew to a "centrist" course in the midst of a crisis that demanded radical solutions ended up pleasing no one.
This fundamental contradiction may explain why Romney and Obama are so close in the polls.  In a system with no choices, what difference does it make which you chose?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bubba Rips Romney a New One

Wow... It's amazing what you can do when you have the facts at your fingertips.

Coffee Time!

Got a new shipment of Kona from the Mom... Thanks, Mom!
Ahhhhh... Coffee....

Shit You Can't Make Up

It's like a fucking Twilight Zone episode...

Meet the Romney 47%!

Where do the most of the 47% live?  Oh look!  In the conservative states!
How is this possible???

As indicated by the state-by-state breakdown above, nonpayer states were more likely to vote for McCain than Obama in the last presidential election. The percentage of nonpayers by states is positively correlated with McCain voters (.40) and negatively with Obama (-.38). 
The percentage of nonpayers is even more highly correlated with the percent of people identifying as conservative (.63). It was negatively associated with the percentages identifying as moderate (-.60) as well as liberal (-.53).

The more conservative you are, the more likely you are to be a non-payer.  The more liberal you are, the less likely you are to be a non-payer.

Welcome to Bizzaro World, America, where the poor wage a class war on themselves!

Screaming Into the Economic Void

I'm glad I'm not the only one...

The nation doesn’t actually face difficult economic choices. Many problems will be expensive to solve, yet we can solve them without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. 
Disrupting the status quo won’t appeal to many lobbyists and some ideologues. But bear with me. These remedies rest on solid evidence and common sense. 
Let’s begin with unemployment. Millions of Americans remain out of work only because employers can already produce more than enough to meet depressed demand. The obvious remedy is to increase total spending. Although economic stimulus has become a controversial topic in the abstract, a few simple observations should persuade every sensible legislator — perhaps even a majority! — to support a specific type of higher spending: accelerated refurbishment of our crumbling infrastructure. 
Some in Congress have consistently opposed the president’s infrastructure proposals, citing the huge national debt. But that’s an incoherent objection. If repairs to the Capitol dome or a tattered stretch of interstate highway are postponed, they will just become more costly. Many job seekers have the skills for this work. If we wait, we’ll have to bid them away from other tasks. The required materials are cheaper now than they will ever be. And interest rates are at record lows.
We should be spending like drunken sailors on shore leave in Shanghai.  The cost of money is zero and the number of idle workers is vast.  Why are we fretting needlessly over the debt and deficit that will, ultimately self-correct as GDP grows?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where Does Money Come From?

Hint: It's not the Job Creators!
"Thinking is hard, that's why we rarely do it..."

"Fast and Furious" Makes Conservative Squawkers Appear "Limp and Ridiculous!"

So the whole gun-walking-OMFG-the-Kenyan-Socialist-Nazi-Marxist-Negro-is-coming-for-my-guns meme ginned up by the whack-a-doodles on the right has come down to this.  Nothing.  Not one of their absurd government conspiracy theories has come to fruition.  There was no secret plan to somehow convince Americans to give up their gun rights.  Remember this?
Wayne LaPierre is a complete nutcase...  But then that's how he makes his living.  Spreading fear and dissent among Americans.  Divide and conquer.

Fast and Furious was, as reported months ago, a rogue group of agents in a single ATF office who were responsible, nothing more.

[On September 19th], the Department of Justice Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, released his long awaited report on the scandal, meticulously detailing responsibility for the operation and the cause of false statements made to Congressional investigators by members of the administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder. 
Horowitz managed to impress the House GOP in briefings over the past week, and the report itself was met with support from all quarters. GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah complimented Horowitz at a House Oversight hearing Thursday for his “tenacity” and his “wonderful report.” Issa himself called Horowitz and his report “courageous.” 
What none on the right are admitting is that Horowitz’s report systematically reveals how irresponsible and speculative the accusations from their side have been.

Horowitz destroys the conspiracy theories on both sides of the aisle over 471-pages, but it’s the right wing screamers who come out looking worst. Horowitz shows definitively that the Arizona ATF agents and prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office there were responsible for the operation, not the White House or the Justice Department in Washington and that the primary source of the inaccurate testimony given to Congress was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

David Brooks Awakens!

Welcome, David.  It took you long enough.
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own. 
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency. 
But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills. 
People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

Monday, September 17, 2012

David Frum Continues to (Pleasantly) Surprise Me

Well said, Mr. Frum.

This AM's Politico story about Stuart Stevens being to blame for Romney campaign's troubles utterly misses the point. The Romney campaign has a messaging problem because it has a policy problem. The policy problem is that the Romney campaign offers nothing but bad news to hard-pressed Americans and the broader middle class. 
How do you message: I'm doing away w Medicaid over the next 10 yrs, Medicare after that, to finance a cut in the top rate of tax to 28%? I don't care if you hire the people who produce the ATT ads that make my wife cry, there's no lipsticking that pig. The problem isn't the campaign leadership; it's the party's followership. 
Over course of campaign, Romney has changed from a pragmatic, capable manager into a dog-whistling culture warrior. Candidate cd have and shd have resisted that pressure - but it's rich for ppl who demanded the change to complain about consequences. 
I thought Stevens' - drafted Tampa speech did good job of humanizing the man, Mitt Romney. But voters do care about the q: what will this presidency do for me? And "dick you over" is not a winning answer.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How Conservatives Think

The Stupidest Thing Spotted on Facebook in Months
This nonsensical piece of offal was spotted in my Facebook news feed, posted by a conservative friend.  He thought it was terribly clever and telling.  It fits the narrative they hear in the bubble: Reagan was strong and attacks, Obama is weak and apologizes.  Never mind that the facts contradict both points.  Never let the facts stand in the way of a good myth.

Needless to say, I took it upon myself to correct him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Your Moment of Spacey

Because someone needs to say these exact words to Mitt Romney.  Immediately.

Manchurian Mitt?

In all honesty, I beginning to believe seriously that Mitt Romney is a Democratic Party Manchurian candidate foisted upon the hapless GOP by the 12-dimensional chess player, Barrack Obama.  Could any Presidential candidate of one of the two major parties in the most powerful nation on Earth be this catastrophically maladroit?

Hey... It's possible...  Has any candidate been this inept in recent memory?  Ok, maybe Michael Dukakis back in '84.  He was obviously a GOP Manchurian candidate...  And a bumbler of near-equal proportions to Mitt. Although I don't recall him ramming his own foot down his throat quite as often as Mitt, is it any coincidence that both were Governors of Massachusetts?  It kind of makes you wonder.  What's in the water up there?
Michael "Manchurian Candidate" Dukakis

It's Not The Unions We Hate...

Corey Robin weighs in on why "we" (i.e. "liberals and pseudo-liberals in the chattering classes") hate teacher's unions... Hint: It's because we really hate teachers.
In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and fuck-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.
Remember kids... Greed is good.

Information Inequality: Bain Capital Edition

One of the foundations of neo-classical economics is the existence of "perfect information" by all parties.  This "Perfect Information" model is the basis by which activities are measured in the real world.  The model presumes:

  • Infinite buyers and sellers – Infinite consumers with the willingness and ability to buy the product at a certain price, and infinite producers with the willingness and ability to supply the product at a certain price.
  • Zero entry and exit barriers – It is relatively easy for a business to enter or exit in a perfectly competitive market.
  • Perfect factor mobility – In the long run factors of production are perfectly mobile allowing free long term adjustments to changing market conditions.
  • Perfect information – Prices and quality of products are assumed to be known to all consumers and producers.
  • Zero transaction costs – Buyers and sellers incur no costs in making an exchange (perfect mobility).
  • Profit maximization – Firms aim to sell where marginal costs meet marginal revenue, where they generate the most profit.
  • Homogeneous products – The characteristics of any given market good or service do not vary across suppliers.
  • Non-increasing returns to scale – Non-increasing returns to scale ensure that there are sufficient firms in the industry.
  • Property rights – Well-defined property rights determine what may be sold as well as what rights are conferred on the buyer.
Those of us who've worked in the real world know that these are completely spurious concepts.  None of these, with the possible exception of the last one (property rights) exists, ever existed or will ever exist.  So using these as a model for economic behavior is preposterous.  Yet when you hear the "free marketeers" spouting off, this is exactly the model they're basing their utterances upon.

In Bain’s biggest acquisition, the $32.1 billion purchase of the hospital giant HCA in 2006, competitors agreed privately to “stand down” and not bid on the company as part of an understanding with Bain to divvy up companies targeted for leveraged buyouts, according to internal e-mails. 
The documents have become part of a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Boston brought against Bain and other firms by shareholders who say the firms’ bid-rigging artificially deflated the sales price of more than two dozen companies and cost them billions of dollars.
Bain and other private equity firms were colluding, forming an illegal cartel, to fix the price of assets they were seeking to buy.  In other words, they were manipulating the system to deprive the seller of access to the "perfect information" the model requires and now they've been caught red-handed doing it.  But of course, that's always and ever how these systems operate.  So in one fell swoop, the neoclassical model collapses and Bain Capital is revealed as the manipulative vultures they really are.  The system is thoroughly rigged and corrupt.
Documents filed in the lawsuit this week show that many of Bain’s takeovers last decade did exceedingly well for the company — a result, the lawsuit charges, of buying the businesses at deflated prices because of collusion with other equity firms. Plaintiffs in the case are former shareholders of the acquired companies.
I'm shocked, shocked to find that collusion is going on in here!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Scariest Chart You'll See This Year

Complex systems theorists predict that August 2013 will be a tipping point in civil unrest as the world is swept up in global food riots.
Black dots are the food prices, red lines are the riots. In other words, whenever the UN’s food price index, which measures the monthly change in the price of a basket of food commodities, climbs above 210, the conditions ripen for social unrest around the world.
All of this is, of course, exacerbated by global climate change.  The drought in the US, the ongoing famines in east Africa, also caused by drought, rising sea levels, etc. will all contribute to the rising price of food.
This all goes to say that as long as climate change continues to advance—it seems that nothing can stop that now—and we maintain a global food system perennially subject to volatile price spikes and exploitation from speculators, without reform, our world will be an increasingly restive one. Hunger is coming, and so are the riots.
The original 2011 paper, The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East can be found here.  In it, the authors argue that high food prices do not necessarily cause riots, but that the create a climate whereby riots are much more likely.  A tinderbox, if you will.

This is yet another small piece of evidence that we are very nearly arrived at the world of Soylent Green.

Remembering 9/11: The Attack That Should Not Have Been

In a devastating OpEd in today's New York Times, Kurt Eichenwald reveals for the first time that more than just the infamous August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing memo indicated that there were immanent attacks coming, but a whole litany of documents presented to the Bush White House indicated the 9/11 attack was immanent.
While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it. 
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
What follows is a summary of several documents that appeared before the August 6th PDB memo all of which warn of the immanence of an attack on US soil, all of which Bush and his senior administration officials (like Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) dismissed as a disinformation campaign designed to obscure the true enemy: Saddam Hussain.
On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief.
Distracted by the neocon fetish to finish Daddy's War in Iraq and utterly incompetent to manage the actual threat, George W. Bush and his cronies have left our nation battered and broken, riven by divisions and guided by fear.  Our liberties diminished and our faith in government forever damaged, we can only look back with the lens of history and realize that it did not have to be this way.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Two Bits Really Means Two Bits

Two bits of bacon that is!  Oscar Meyer is promoting its new thick cut bacon by proposing it be used as currency.  Indeed, bacon-based currency is an intriguing idea.  Unlike worthless gold, bacon is... well... BACON!
Mr. Sankey’s trailer will be filled by Oscar Mayer with a ton and a half of its new Butcher Thick Cut bacon, which he is to trade for food, fuel, a place to spend the night and anything else he might need during his trip from the New York area to Los Angeles, by way of a route that is to include what Oscar Mayer executives describe as bacon-loving locales like Charleston, W.Va.; Louisville, Ky.; Chicago; and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Oscar Meyer recognizes the value of their new high-end bacon.
The new product “is the new gold standard in bacon,” Mr. Bick said, and “we think it’s worth its weight in gold” – thereby inspiring the cross-country barter binge. 
Gold standard!  Get it?  These marketing guys crack me up!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fabius Maximus on Gold Buggery

Excellent two-part essay on Gold Buggery.

Part 1 - Summary: Periods of economic stress tend to bring forth quack simplistic economic theories, like during the 1930s. We will see more of these if this slow period continues, more so if we have another recession before a recovery.   Not just gold, but other fringe ideas such as Ayn Rand and her mutant version of Marx’s labor theory of value (with “going Galt” as their form of collective labor action).

Part 2 - Summary:  The history of gold-based currencies, from Newton to the Great Depression, warns us that they are no panacea. If not carefully structured they can destroy an economy in extremis by preventing radical monetary easing.  This is part two of two looking at gold-based monetary systems, the theory and the history.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Inconvenient Political Truths

Actor John Cusack interviewed Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley and discovers some very uncomfortable truths.  This passage summarizes quite nicely why I'm not voting for Obama and why Jill Stein will get my vote this election.

Well, first of all, there's a great desire of many people to relieve themselves of the obligation to vote on principle. It's a classic rationalization that liberals have been known to use recently, but not just liberals. The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They've convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy
Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that's not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate. 
This is nothing new, of course for civil libertarians who have always been left behind at the altar in elections. We've always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. We're used to politicians lying to us. And President Obama lied to us. There's no way around that. He promised various things and promptly abandoned those principles. 
So the argument that Romney is no better or worse does not excuse the obligation of a voter. With President Obama they have a president who went to the CIA soon after he was elected and promised CIA employees that they would not be investigated or prosecuted for torture, even though he admitted that waterboarding was torture.
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves...

Perhaps George Carlin was, in the end, right.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kafka: The Wisconsin Experience

Unbelievable...  There is no way this will hold up in court.  I trust the ACLU of Wisconsin is all over this.

Germany Slides Into Recession

Not with a bang, but with a wimper...

German services collapsed in August to their worst reading since July 2009 and the composite index for the country moved deeper in contraction at 46.3. It now has become clear that the slow-down in economic activity in the Eurozone is biting the export giant.
So much talk in the US about growing through exports, we need to look at how well that's working out for Germany.  You can't export if your trading partners have no money and no stomach for debt.  The entire Eurozone is swirling the bowl, Germany's just closest to the rim at this point.  But the rotation is picking up speed...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Embarrassing Moment at the DNC

At the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union The Democratic National Convention, an embarrassing voice vote on a platform amendment goes awry until the chairman simply ignores the 2/3rds rule and decides it's good enough.

Some conservatives are arguing that the Democrats are booing the insertion of Dog into the platform, but I suspect that that was not nearly as offensive as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel...

Runner's World Really, Really, Really Dislikes Paul Ryan

And with good reason.

According to Running USA, last year some 518,000 runners finished U.S. marathons. About 2 percent of them ran under 3 hours. 
Two percent. 
And those 2 percent busted their asses to get there, I promise you, every last one of them. 
They also were fortunate. Because even after all the miles, all the speedwork, the hills, the drills, the long runs, the pain... Even after all of that, a sub-3:00 marathon can be elusive. 
During his interview, Mr. Ryan casually told a national audience that he, too, is a member of this club. He isn't. He isn't even in the same solar system. 
("He wasn’t within a cannon shot of two-fifty," Robert Gauthier, the man who finished just ahead of Ryan in the marathon in question, told The New Yorker yesterday.) (And yes, Gauthier recalled his time there as "four-hour-ish," right away, without prompting.)
The polite word for that is "hubris."
That's a very good word to describe Paul Ryan.  Another good one is "liar."

Blame Clinton!

If you thought that creating a Federal budget surplus was a good thing, think again.  Government surplus is private debt, and the data bear this out.

The private sector cannot survive in negative territory.  It cannot go on, year after year, spending more than its income.  It is not like the US government.  It cannot support rising indebtedness in perpetuity.  It is not a currency issuer.  Eventually, something will give.  And when it does, the private sector will retrench, the economy will contract, and the government's budget will move back into deficit.
It's remarkable how Democrats praise Clinton for his handling of the economy.  Trouble is, he actually fucked us in the end by giving us mortgage backed securities when there were no treasury bills to buy.

How Clinton Destroyed The Economy 
The bottom line is that the signature achievement of the Clinton years (the surplus) turns out to have been a deep negative. For this drag on GDP was being counterbalanced by low household savings, high household debt, and the real revving up of the Fannie and Freddie debt boom that had a major hand in fueling the boom that ultimately led to the downfall of the economy. 
And that brings up a broader question that people who advocate balanced budgets must answer. 
What's the point of it?
Indeed, what is the point?  A balanced budget means that growth in the private sector is perfectly stagnant.

Why do we let people like Paul Ryan who know nothing about macroeconomics determine our macroeconomic policies?

America Is Not What She Once Was

America is the land of the socially ossified.
Despite the widespread belief that the U.S. provides exceptional opportunities for upward mobility, these data show that parental wealth has an important role in shielding offspring from downward mobility and sustaining their upward mobility in the U.S. no less than in countries like Germany and Sweden, where parental wealth also serves as a private safety net that not even the more generous European public programs and social services seem to provide.
"Well that is surprising," said no one ever.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Charlie Pierce is Smarter Than Me

Take it from me, Charlie Pierce over at Esquire is the smartest political writer working today.
There is no question in my mind anymore that the Republican Party has reconfigured itself as a Confederate party. Not because it is so largely white, though it is. Not because it is largely Southern, though it is that, too. And not because it fights so hard for vestigial accoutrements like the Confederate battle flag. The Republican Party is a Confederate party, I think, because that is its view of what the government of the United States should be. It is written quite clearly in the party's platform that the Republicans adopted last week in Tampa: "The Republican party... stands for the rights of individuals, families, faith communities. institutions — and of the States which are their instruments of self-government." 
Or, as John C. Calhoun put it, years earlier: "The error is in the assumption that the General Government is a party to the constitutional compact. The States ... formed the compact, acting as sovereign and independent communities." 
(Writing from his retirement in Virginia, no less an authority than James Madison called bullshit on Calhoun. "The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater fight to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it."
We are not a union of states. That argument lost in Philadelphia in 1789. The Constitution is a covenant between We, the People, not We, the States. The national government is every bit the "instrument of our self-government" as any state is. Nevertheless, the Republican Party has gone full Tenther. Now a lot of it is couched in arguments against the tyranny of EPA regulations and the jackboots of the individual health-care mandate, but there is no question that the driving force of this theory of government is resistance to full African-American citizenship just the way it was in 1860, in 1879, in 1957, and in 1965. And the most obvious manifestation of that resistance today is the staggering welter of voter-suppression laws that have emerged in the years since the president was elected. Almost all of them are being defended on Tenther grounds; Texas is directly challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So-called States Rights is and always has been a cover for racism in America.  The Constitution is a pact between The People, not between The States.