Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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

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...


“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.”

Friday Music Party

Frankie Say Relax
The number one song that was banned by the BBC!

Digging for Gold in Romney's Tax Plan

And guess who gets all that gold?
This looks like a pretty standard tax reform — cut rates and preferences, blah, blah, blah — but look again. Romney only cuts preferences in the second step. The first step is not paid for. This is not a mistake; this is the plan. At least according to his advisers. Setting aside one-time costs like the repatriation tax holiday, the Tax Policy Center figures Romney’s initial rate cut would reduce revenues by $96 billion in 2015 alone — or nearly a trillion dollars over a decade. Who are the lucky flesh and blood people who would benefit from this 13-digit tax cut? That’s a tricky question to answer, but the latest figures from the Tax Policy Center estimate that 53 percent of the corporate income tax falls on the top 1 percent. In other words, this $96 billion corporate tax cut would be a $51 billion tax cut for the top 1 percent. That’s good for an average cut of $43,440 for each household in the top 1 percent, going by these 2015 Tax Policy Center distributional tables.
Of course that is how "trickle-down" economics is supposed to "work."  Give the money to the rich and then... magic... and we get jobs!  Voila!  I'm just amazed that anyone in the 99% would actually vote for this shit.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Watching The Debate From The Shores of Walden Pond

I know that most men think differently from myself; but those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects, content me as little as any. Statesmen and legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency....
No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations. 
Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama's NDAA

The suspension of an injunction against the detention clause of The National Defense Authorization Act was upheld by a Federal court yesterday.

Charlie Pierce sums up the civil rights situation up well.
The fact is that we don't know how this power is being used right now. The fact is that, if someone were to come forward and anonymously provide proof that this power is being abused, history says that this White House would move heaven and earth to run that whistleblower to ground and toss him in the clink if it so desired. This is a very extensive redefinition of the president's power. Hell, it's a very extensive redefinition of the United States of America, and it is worthy of extensive public discussion. However, I still do not expect any of it to come up in the critically important, game-changing, do-or-die debate in Denver this evening.
America... Fuck yeah.

American Preeminence and the Danger of Republican Hubris

Economist Simon Johnson points out that the Republican obsession with debt and shrinking the size of the state could have long-term negative consequences for The United States as the preeminent global economic power.
Threatening to shut down the government or refusing to budge on taxes is seen by many Republicans as a legitimate maneuver in their campaign to shrink the state, rather than as something that could undermine the United States’ economic recovery and destabilize the world. This approach is more than unfortunate, because the perception of our indefinite preeminence – irrespective of how we act – is at completely odds with the historical record. In his widely acclaimed book, “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance,” Arvind Subramanian places the rise of the dollar in its historical context and documents how economic policy mistakes, World War II and the collapse of empire undermined the British pound and created space for the United States dollar to take over as the world’s leading currency.
Indeed, while the risk of China's rise to the level of the US in terms of gross economic output is a distant problem, perception is often reality in finance.  If the world believes that America is no longer able to govern herself through the machinations of the know-nothing Republican Party, then we may very well face this crisis sooner than expected.

The point is not to make precipitate adjustments but rather to increase revenue and limit spending in a reasonable manner over the next two decades
But this is not going to happen. Congressional Republicans will refuse to consider anything they regard as a tax increase, and the fiscal cliff is likely to become a repeat of the debt-ceiling fight last summer, which ended up making everyone in Washington look bad.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Econ (What is it Good For?)

With apologies to Edwin Starr...

Econ, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y'all
Econ, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Ohhh, econ, I despise
Because it means destruction
Of innocent lives
Econ means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to jobs
And lose their lives
I said, econ, huh
Good God, y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
Econ, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Econ, it ain't nothing
But a heartbreaker
Econ, friend only to the big banker
Ooooh, econ
It's an enemy to all mankind
The point of econ blows my mind
Econ has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, econ-huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
Econ, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Econ, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Econ, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y'all
Econ, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Econ, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
Econ, it's got one friend
That's the big banker
Ooooh, econ, has shattered
Many a young mans dreams
Made him poor, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting banks these days
Econ can't give buck
It can only take it away
Ooooh, econ, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
Econ, whoa, Lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Econ, it ain't nothing but a heartbreaker
War, friend only to the big banker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there's got to be a better way
Ooooooh, econ, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
You tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
Econ, huh
Good God y'all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it