Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dementia: the Reagan Administration and Right-wing Policies

President Reagan had Alzhemier's disease (a form of senile dementia) during his second term (1984-1988.) Some people reported symptoms earlier.

Let's look at this for a minute: for at least half of Reagan's term, the chief executive was incompetent to be President, though perhaps only at times. The country was rudderless. And there were plenty of people in the government who liked it just fine. They could do whatever they wanted and know that they would never be called to account for it.

When the histories are written, perhaps Reagan will be the mad president. I am put in mind of the history of mad kings and emperors. A quick consult with my wife, something of an expert, gives me the names of Henry VIII and George III. And, yes, the people around them were quick to take advantage, implementing self-serving, often disastrous policies.

On Reagan's dementia:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Conservatives, when you say there's no difference between the parties…

…what I hear is that your side f—d up real bad, and you don't want to admit it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"And it's one, two, three, …

… what are we fighting for?"

So in that speech which, as usual, no-one seems to have listened to, Obama asked for an expansion of Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to Da'esh. He also asked for an expansion of surveillance and to add firearms ownership to the secret terrorist watch list (the "no-fly" list), thereby expanding secret extra-judicial federal authority.

This is the leader of the good guys?

Juan Cole, slightly more optimistic than this cranky old bird, nonetheless comments:
What Obama did not say is that these various measures aren’t all that effective and will only have an impact over several years. Bombing a territory from the air with no ground force to take advantage of it is about as close to useless and a military tactic can get. US training programs have not been effective. Daesh’s kind of terrorism is hard to disrupt, since they attempt to appeal to lone wolves rather than running direct agents. As for peace in Syria, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Whether this message of patience and steadfastness will be enough to assuage anxieties is not clear. And more important than anxieties are the war lobbies, fueled by campaign cash to hawks in Congress, which demand really big wars that are good for their business.
Me, I've got that 1914 feeling. There is so much desire for a war, or rather there are so many factions that each their own little wars. Da'esh, of course. Assad. We have our own home-grown warmongers. China wants oil and the South China Sea. Putin wants more. The fascists are rising in the USA and Western Europe. Now, all these factions want different "little" wars, but take all those "little" wars and put them together, and maybe we get one big war.

"And it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates, …" — Joe McDonald, "I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

General Clinton

(A cranky comment I made over at Crooked Timber.)

It occurs to me that, if we could get Hillary Clinton on our side, even a bit, she might just be tough enough to take on the people who are destroying the USA. I love Sanders’ vision, and he is a skillful politician, but the wheels are coming off US democracy. Perhaps, after all, we need General Clinton.

Could Hillary Clinton’s feminism be brought into conflict with her corporatism?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On the Uses of Political Leadership, a Critique of Division on the Left

You're out of power, you're being treated horribly, you're angry, and you can't reach your real enemies. So you attack the allies that are in easy reach.

It is cowardly. It makes it easy for your enemies to divide and destroy you.

The conservatives are right. We are undisciplined. Faced with a challenge, we turn to fighting among ourselves.

This election looks like it is the Democrats and the progressives to lose, and we may lose it because we can't direct our anger at our real enemies.

Book Review: Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice

Benforado, Adam. Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice. New York: Crown, 2015. 379 pages.
Unfair is a broad survey of current psychological research relevant to the US criminal justice system. Underpinning it is a terrifying reality: the criminal justice system, as it has grown since the foundation of the USA, is not founded in reality, but rather in a series of guesses about human thought and behavior. Life and death issues are being decided by unchecked, often invalid, methods. I have read other books that cover some of this material, but I have not seen any other book that brings together so much of it.
The book is twelve chapters grouped into four major sections: Investigation, with chapters on victims, detectives, and suspects; Adjudication, on lawyers, juries, eyewitnesses, experts, and judges; Punishment, on public attitudes and prisons; and Reform, broken into “The Challenge” and “The Future.” Each chapter is a monograph, addressing a single aspect of the problem.
The chapters are written more-or-less as legal arguments addressed to the court of public opinion, and therefore in plain, easily accessible English, with striking examples — I bet Professor Benforado is a kickass trial lawyer — but there is a huge amount of research behind them. The printed bibliography, which is abbreviated, is 75 pages long, and the full bibliography, available online, runs 304 PDF pages.
The book goes from evaluation of victims, through interrogation and the idea of criminality, and on through the system of trials and sentencing, giving horrifying examples of failure at each stage. For instance, we have this on parole board judging:
An analysis of more than a thousand rulings [of two Israeli parole boards] showed that the judges were significantly more likely to grant prisoners parole at the beginning of the workday or after one of the two food breaks — ruling in favor of prisoners about 65% of the time — than they were at the end of the day or right before a break, when favorable rulings dropped almost to zero. Moreover, factors like the severity of the crime and the amount of time the prisoner had already served — which should influence the judges’ decisions — tended not to have an impact on rulings. The time of day seemed to be the important thing.
I have only two quibbles with the book: (1) the very accessibility of the language and the design of the book conceals the erudition behind it and (2) the reform suggestions are very thin. There are no footnotes for the reader who wants to follow up on particular examples, though a search of the online bibliography will bring them up. There are not even running chapter heads, which makes it more difficult to refer back to particular arguments. This probably explains why the book has gotten few editorial reviews; it is not taken seriously enough.
The final chapter of suggestions for reform is a scant 29 pages, and very thin. Problems without solutions make many readers uncomfortable, and any courtroom case wraps up with an argument for action, but I wish, nonetheless, for a different conclusion. That chapter could easily be another book, and perhaps it should be.
These quibbles notwithstanding, this is an important and well-researched book: go read it.

Links:
·      Buy the book at Powells.com, which treats its workers decently.
·      NPR interview with Benforado
·      Book page at Benforado’s own site

Monday, November 9, 2015

Grebacle, Three Months On: Failing at Court Politics

Grebacle = Greek debacle

So Syriza caved in, the Eurocrats are looting Greece, and the Greeks are in a for a generation of poverty.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Finance Minister at the time, “I was warning the Cabinet this was going to happen [the ECB shut our banks] for a month, in order to drag us into a humiliating agreement. When it happened – and many of my colleagues couldn’t believe it happened – my recommendation for responding ‘energetically,’ let’s say, was voted down. […] out of six people we were in a minority of two.”

Looks to me like the Syriza leadership got cold feet. They also seem to me to have lacked imagination: they couldn’t imagine that the Germans would cut them off, even after it happened. I also think Syriza didn’t understand what a high-stakes negotiation would be like, and the ways the party with the upper hand acts to wear down the opposing side. Rulers need courtiers, so that they can maintain their energy and self-confidence in hard dealings. Even with good friends around me and adequate sleep, I would have trouble staying on track when faced with 14 hostile opponents. There apparently were only six members of the Greek negotiating team, which wasn’t enough. Add to that, the Eurocrats set a grueling schedule. Varoufakis comments: “I no longer have to live through this hectic timetable, which was absolutely inhuman, just unbelievable. I was on 2 hours sleep every day for five months.” After a few days of that the Greek team must have been negotiating like a crew of drunks—it is no wonder they brought back a poor agreement.

As to future Euro exits, I think that unless the Eurocrats adopt Keynesian policies, they are inevitable. Other countries will study the Greek debacle and learn from it.

The Greeks lost to their own failed leadership. We have the Greek public both wanting to stay in the Eurozone and wanting the austerity eased, and there was no way Germnay would every accede to that, but apparently no-one bothered to tell the Greek public, to present the choice and say, "We can have the Euro or control of our own economy, not both." And so Greece was sold.

Months down the road: in Portugal a coalition with a 62% majority has not been allowed to form a government. Who is in charge in the Eurozone? Apparently German bankers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Politics and Science: Hard to Be a Moderate

It used to be that anti-science blither mostly came from the right. Now we've got anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO'ers, back-to-the-landers, and gods-know-what-else. It makes it hard to adopt positions critical of the pharmaceutical industry, agribusiness, or some of the more righteous environmentalists without accusations.

Why is moderation so hard? Saying "Both sides are wrong" gets you slammed by fanatics faster than anything. "Yes, the pharmaceutical industry commits many abuses, and vaccination saves lives?" "Yes, the seed sellers are greedy and manipulative and want to own your seed corn and most GMOs are not a hazard to human health, nor is glyphosate (Round-Up) toxic to humans, though it may be an ecological problem." "Climate change is a real and alarming problem and we do not know how to sustain our current population with alternative energy yet." "No, there is no radiation danger to the North American west coast from the Fukushima disaster and there is a very serious danger to the land around Fukushima, which may be arriving in that half-alive state of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where half the leaves do not rot."

To ask the question is to know the answer: people are in fear of their lives, which breeds madness, and people are attached to their fears. I suppose also there is a difference between a fantasy fear, which can be comforting (consider horror novels) and a well-documented real fear: people would so very much like to believe that these very real dangers are fantasies.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Failure of the Right and Questions for the Left

(Mostly to a conservative on hard questions asked during the Republican debate.)

Hard questions are part of the job of moderators. And, frankly, crazy ideas deserve hard questions. We want those exploded, because otherwise they become crazy policies.

And my side needs hard questions, too. If one wants to select good leaders, it is necessary to, as economist Brad Delong says, "Mark your beliefs to market" — find out if the results were as claimed and get explanations of why one thinks a policy might produce a given result.

As a young man I was much more conservative and sympathetic to libertarian views. But since Reagan we had 30 years of increasing conservatism and policies called libertarian. Nothing has worked out as promised, nothing. The tax cuts blew up the national debt. The wars and militarism made enemies without promoting democracy. The freedom libertarian economics promised turned out to be freedom for the rich only, and subservience to corporations for everyone else. Deregulation enabled extensive corruption, rather than releasing creativity and economic growth. Even neo-liberal economics, with an impeccable intellectual pedigree, failed the acid test of the collapse of 2007-8.

The hard questions I'd like to see my side asked?
1. What are you doing about the environment?
2. No, really, what are you doing about the environment?
3. We told the world that protest by people of good will would be enough to secure freedom and democracy. This has failed. What are you going to put in its place?
4. Why did you wait so long to act on these matters?
5. Why is institutionalized racism still an issue in the USA, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act and 150 years after the Civil War?

There are times when I feel like we are governed by Wile E. Coyote, or perhaps Sylvester the cat.

One answer, I think, may be found in LBJ's famous remark on racism:
If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.
We are much to wedded to supremacism — the idea that humans can be ranked, top to bottom, and people will fight, rightly so, not to be on the bottom. So people who realized they were not at the top of the pyramid are plotting to overturn the whole thing. These, surely, are Donald Trump's followers. Perhaps, as feminists have suggested, we would be better off to think about centrality rather than verticality. If people on the fringes struggle to move towards the center, this is better than people who struggle to put other people below themselves.

I also want to expand on my point (3) above: the popular idea that getting out in the street will be enough has, got a lot of people killed. We need to stop that. You need to go somewhere once you get out there. You need to organize and take power. Or...look at how Occupy was dissolved from within by its rigorous anarchism. Or the brutal treatment of the democratic movements of the Arab Spring. People ought to study Gandhi more: he was stern and shrewd, a lawgiver willing to die but not kill for his cause. If Westerners knew his thought better (I have only read a little) he would be less popular, but perhaps we would have more victories and more peace.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Despair From the Third Republican Debate

The responses to the third Republican debate range from “Meh, more crazy” to “These Fuckin’ People” to “It was an abomination, and it was sickening.”

I think P. M. Carpenter hit this one out of the park:
I’m plenty used to it, but there was something about tonight’s government-bashing — it’s bad, government is all bad, it’s wicked and malicious and a deliberate torment — that was indescribably disturbing and, as previously noted, deeply depressing. […] It was an abomination, and it was sickening.—P. M. Carpenter, #CNBCGOPDebate - in 25 words
Jim Wright on Facebook:
Jesus Christ, did, did he just say ... Vince Foster? Seriously? EVERYBODY SHOTGUN A FIFTH! […] I, uh, what? You know what? Fuck it, I’m calling it good. DRINK!—Jim Wright on his own Facebook open thread
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo slips in the shiv with relative calm: The Six Worst Moments From CNBC's Very Bad Debate Night.

Crooks and Liars, CNBC Debate: It Pays To Bash The Media.

“Take demagogues seriously. Voters love them. And they’re only a joke until they win.”
Rick Perlstein

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tinfoil: Conservatopia

(an outline, perhaps to be replaced by a more complete post)

A few days ago, I tweeted: "The Republicans and conservative Democrats seem to want another Great Depression the way they want another war in the Middle East." And it's true! So I got to wondering what else they wanted that was totally insane. Here's the list I came up with:

  1. War
  2. Depression.
  3. Widespread debt servitude
  4. Privatization of education.
  5. The constant threat of lethal force in public life, both from the police and private citizens
  6. Arbitrary deportations
  7. Abrogation and repeal of the reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, 15th) to the constitution.
  8. The reduction of Federal government authority to pre-Civil War levels
And there is nothing in that list that I haven't seen one or another Republican official advocating, sometimes from the halls of Congress.

These would lead to:

  1. The return of the segregated South.
  2. Permanent non-citizen status for the children of non-citizens.
  3. Social insurance at the state level only
  4. The restriction of education to the wealthy.
  5. A resurgence of diseases long controlled.
  6. The collapse of Federal regulatory authority
  7. The emergence of multiple currencies.
  8. No effective law enforcement on very wealth individuals and businesses
  9. No effective regulation of the business cycle.
  10. The collapse of interstate and international trade, as products of unknown provenance can no longer be trusted
  11. National economic collapse.
This makes no sense, unless I imagine the there is a faction in the Republicans that is willing to see the USA destroyed, rather than continue as a powerful and prosperous Republic.

F—, what? I mean, really, what?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Not Tinfoil: the names of our betters

And then along comes this article from the New York Times:
Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the [Presidential] campaign.
And, as RH Reality Check points out, two of the biggest are anti-abortion.

Thanks. We needed that.

Tinfoil: Biden His Time

Why is it that Obama is weakly criticizing Hillary Clinton and, apparently, supporting Joseph Biden?

Maybe I know. Maybe…

It's the same faction which kept the administration from prosecuting the banksters, back when. I do not know what hold the financial services industry has over Obama, but it is profound. Biden, long-time senator from Delaware, is also the banks' man, who has to his name some of the nastiest consumer banking law "reforms." Perhaps this shadowy faction prefers their old friend Biden to Hilary Clinton who, although fiscally conservative, is perhaps not entirely their woman.

Perhaps, perhaps…

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tinfoil Hat: The Edge of Collapse

How is it that the United States, a once-prosperous and still powerful nation, is teetering on the edge of internal collapse?

The economy is, and remains, in trouble, with employment low and salaries dropping. (Read Brad Delong's Macro Situation: Things Are Profoundly Different Today from What 10 Years Ago We Thought Would Be.) The wealth of the broad middle of the US population has been looted, leaving an impoverished majority and an extremely wealthy minority. Equally the country has been looted of industrial capital—the organizations, property, and financial systems that made the USA in its time an industrial powerhouse. Extensive propaganda has persuaded a substantial minority of the USA that all the achievements of the past 50 years are of no value, and increasingly incites terrorism. Given the opportunity, this minority would secede.

It is hard for me to believe that this is accidental. The very rich are tearing the economic system apart, and much of that can be ascribed to simple greed. But that the tearing works to impoverish the whole system? The reactionary politics? The paralysis of all the  systems that might hold things together? That all this occurs at the same time?

So let us posit, for a moment, that this is not coincidence but conspiracy. The goal of the conspiracy would be to establish a new aristocracy; a society in which all the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Who are the conspirators? Multiple, I would expect, and with conflicting goals. Oh, they are united in their goal of aristocracy, to be sure. But they all want to rule. No democracy here! Each family for itself and conflict even within families.

And the outcome? Failure and social dissolution. The industrial capitalism that made the 20th century wealthy depends on involving vast numbers of people as designers, makers, and consumers. With the majority impoverished, that fails and the wealth goes. It may be possible to maintain a wealthy technologically-advanced society with many fewer people than are currently required, but no-one knows how, and I see no indication that the very-wealthy have such a secret; they fantasize only.

Ah, well. It is also possible to believe in coincidence. And even if there is no coincidence, this plot may fail. It will, certainly, lead to unpredictable consequences. It is fiction, after all, that has to make sense; real life is much wilder.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn - Not a Radical

"OMG - he's read Karl Marx.  He even says that Labour owes a debt to Karl Marx.  He must be a Commie."

Not even close, honey.  The real Communists are all screaming he's not remotely radical enough.

Radical left?  Faugh!  I will believe radical left when I see Chris Marsden elected to head Labour.

Fuck nuance.  Corbyn's no radical; he's a moderate democratic socialist.  "Pragmatic" political responses from the Democratic Party has left the USA on the verge of fascism (what else is Trump?) and with the Democrats  so weak that even their supporters have trouble voting for them.  It was the same with New Labour.  Concession after concession was made to the Tories, and in the end Labour was a center-right party.  Unsurprisingly, their leadership has finally got booted.  Why, one might begin to suspect that pragmatism and nuance are just political covers for something darker.

Now, with Murdoch media and the crappy voting systems in both countries—worse in the UK, where an entire party hated by a huge majority can come to power—this may fail.  But he's no dangerous radical. You're looking for David Cameron.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

On the topic of the day: guns, guns, guns, guns, guns

Briefly

Political response

A few facts, in case anyone actually cares about them

Things that might actually help

And th-th-that's all folks!

Excuse me, I'm going to go wash my brain.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage) and Democracy

(This was written just after Obergefell was released. The predictions, rather than the commentary, seem to so far be valid.)

This is a beginning, not an end. Already some counties are threatening to stop issuing marriage licenses for all couples. That probably will not stand, since it weighs so heavily against fathers—the religious right is nothing if not patriarchal—but there will be continued, possibly violent, resistance at the state and local level. We may also see further attacks on the 14th amendment, which, if successful, would be deeply destructive of human rights in the United States.

Gay marriage, even before it achieved majority acceptance, was popular, yet could not even be debated before most state legislatures or the national Congress. Reactionaries with a sufficiently motivated group of voters behind them can block almost anything in any US legislature. At the state level, it is not hard for a determined faction to destroy the career of most legislators; at the Federal level, it is easy for any faction to make sure that a measure without overwhelming popular support fails in the Senate. So this is not political cowardice, but political reason; how the system works. That, like Roe, this decision had to be achieved judicially in most states and at the federal level, is an indictment of our democracy. The US legislative process is not merely conservative, as might be reasonable, but actively reactionary and the various legislatures reflect our fears, yet not our aspirations. Undemocratically, a change in law may be delayed indefinitely by minority pressure to keep the various legislative bodies from acting on it. Because the legislatures did not act in this matter, despite much pressure, gay rights activists brought the issue to the Courts.

Obergefell hinges on the 14th amendment, the law that affirmed, once and for all, that African-Americans were citizens and entitled to the same legal rights as all US citizens. Gay rights weren't even on the agenda when the 14th amendment was passed. It's a stretch, though a well-argued one, to make it to cover gay marriage. This practice of stretching the law in default of, and sometimes in contradiction to, legislative action, reduces debate to debate among the Supreme Court Justices. Instead of a debate over the law by elected officials, it is only the unelected Justices and lawyers who hold the debate, and make the decision. This is not even remotely democratic, and apt to favor the party which appointed the Justices. Citizens United, which has legalized unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns, is another such stretch.

Stretching the law at need is a poor substitute for public debate and legislative process. It is not, to be sure, a new thing. Supreme Court decisions both famous and infamous have shaped the United States, from Dred Scott to Brown v the Board of Education and now Obergefell. That we have come to rely on this because our legislative system is fear-dominated and tends to stagnation is cause for great concern.

Germany:Syrians now <=> America:Jews 1930s

Germany has closed its border to Syrian refugees, possibly leaving them to death at the hands of the Islamic State. And my mind drifted back…
In the 1930s, the United States turned away Jewish refugees from Germany. The world is still reeling from consequences. One of those consequences was the swelling of the ranks of Zionist settlers which contributed to the formation of the state of Israel which, through a series of unfortunate consequences, contributed to the emergence of the IS. I think Europe had better take those refugees in. It is the just and compassionate thing to do, and might even prevent a future disaster.

(update, Oct 14) And the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights sees it, with examples and historical citations of language. I did not know of the 1938 Evian conference, when countries including the US, the UK and Australia refused to take in substantial numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s annexation of Austria on the grounds that they would destabilize their societies and strain their economies."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TISA and the Grebacle (from the notebook)

TISA = Trade in Services Agreement, Grebacle = Greek debacle, a subject I've been too discouraged to write about so far. (I would happily have given a headline link to the US government's page on TISA, but there is almost nothing there, so in protest I'm linking Wikileaks instead.)

On July 6th, I had been writing about Greece for a week or so, and one evening I was reminded by David Dayen that the capital controls the Bank of Greece used to survive would be outlawed under the proposed TISA agreement. If Dayen is correct, most effective consumer banking regulation would be outlawed under TISA, leading to a situation where hoarding cash might again become reasonable. Are we all to be made into Greece? Or what?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Yemen: Saudi Arabia has turned hawkish

This one is a "what Juan Cole said" post. From two months ago:
Watching Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia nowadays, is like Kremlin-watching in the old days of the Cold War. It is not as if most Western journalists have a really good idea of the maneuverings inside the Saudi palace or know why exactly things happen. Since King Salman succeeded the late Abdullah this winter, Saudi Arabia has become a different country with regard to foreign policy. Abdullah was known for being cautious and diplomatic.[…] Since Salman came to power, it is as though Bruce Banner got angry and turned into the Incredible Hulk. […] And then without telling the US it was going to do so until the last minute, the Saudi Air Force began a massive bombing campaign on Yemen in a bid to destroy the rebel Houthi movement of Zaidi Shiites

And, the point:
I think we may conclude that something has changed. The hawks have taken over Saudi Arabia and it is newly militarily assertive and the long-standing paranoia about Iran has spun out of control.
Go read the damn thing. We're in still more trouble, if that is possible.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thomas Piketty Totally Pwns the German Austerians

My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.
The fine upstanding German state, I'm sure, deserved its debt relief.

(The German newspaper Die Zeit (The Times) posted this interview in German. An authorized English translation is available at the Indian site, The Wire. Google's mechanical translation is here.)

(Updated July 17, 2015, to include the English translation.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Grisis 7/5

The Troika lost the referendum. If the Troika hadn't overplayed their hand by forcing a Greek bank shutdown, they might have won: two weeks ago polling showed the Greeks were evenly split on the Troika's position.

The Greeks are dancing in the streets. I am left feeling, though, that little has been won. It is hard for me to see the Germans backing down. It is just possible the Troika will split internally; the leaked (unofficially released?) IMF report indicates that the IMF staff, at least, wants debt reduction for Greece. But for the Greeks, more hard times. And there are terrible risks. The Greek fascist Golden Dawn party also sees this as a victory, and if conditions do not improve in Greece quickly, they will have a chance at power. It is hard for me to imagine any EU nation going to war to collect their Greek debt, but tensions could increase.

Still, at least austerity has taken a hit in the eyes of the world. I think other European counties whose hard times have been made harder by poor decisions of the European Central Bank will fight harder, even if the Troika ultimately prevails in Greece.

Yemen: and now for something completely different

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) writes:
Since the violence in Yemen escalated in March over 3,083 people have been killed and 14,324 have been injured, while over one million people have had to flee their homes. Three months into the conflict escalation, more than 21.1 million people – 4 in 5 Yemenis – now need some form of humanitarian assistance.—OCHA Press Release, 1 July 2015 
 OCHA overview

F—, F—, F'ity F—.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Grisis 7/3: but there is commentary

And it's totally appropriate for Independence Day in the USA, so here's a few links:
  1. Enough about Greece, let's talk about Finland: "Finland is a model European citizen; it has honest government, sound finances and a solid credit rating, which lets it borrow money at incredibly low interest rates. It’s also in the eighth year of a slump that has cut real gross domestic product per capita by 10 percent and shows no sign of ending."—Paul Krugman, Europe’s Many Economic Disasters, "What all of these economies have in common, however, is that by joining the eurozone they put themselves into an economic straitjacket."
  2.  Jamie Galbraith, advisor to Syriza. Greece: Only the 'No' Can Save the Euro and 9 myths about the Greek crisis.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Grisis 7/2

And now:
According to the IMF, Greece should have a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and that final payments should not take place until 2055.—Guardian link
So now, the IMF admits Greece's debt is unsustainable, after putting the Greeks through five years of misery.

I'm going to put this series of posts on hold, pending the referendum. The various parties have staked out their positions and it does not seem like much will change until it is held.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Something Completely Different: Tar Sands

(This is something a friend asked me to boost the signal on. It's not my usual ambit, but it is important, so I'm doing something on it, rather late.)

The climate activist group 350.org is leading various protests against the development of tar sands oil. My friend, who lives in BC, tipped me to the opposition of Prof. Lynne Quarmby, department head of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry department of Simon Fraser University. Prof Quarmby went to jail in opposition to pipeline construction in BC. She was later released. But that is only the Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion. Efforts are being made to ship oil tar sands from the tar sands fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan to, literally, all four points of the compass. So there is the Energy East project, leading east to New Brunswick, the Keystone XL Pipeline, running south through the USA to Houston, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline running west to Vancouver, and even a proposal for an Arctic Gateway Pipeline (PDF), that would take advantage of the warming climate the ship oil through Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea, and thence through the newly opened Northwest Passage through the Arctic Sea.

I wrote about this two years ago, quoting James Hansen, but here's his remarks on the tar sands oil again:
The truth is that the tar sands gook contains more than twice the carbon from all the oil burned in human history. If infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, is built to transport tar sands gook, ways will be developed to extract more and more. When full accounting is done of emissions from tar sands oil, its use is equivalent to burning coal to power your automobile. This is on top of the grotesque regional tar sands destruction.—Hansen: Norway, Canada, the United States, and the Tar Sands (PDF)
We badly need to leave this in the ground, and we badly need to start relying on other sorts of energy.

Grisis 7/1

German political leaders saying inexcusable things about Greece, Guardian link.

Merkel: "'The door to talks with the Greek government has always been, and remains, open,' she said, but added that talks could not take place before Sunday’s poll."

Translation: "You're not getting any supper. Go to your room and think about it."

Schäuble: "Greece is in a difficult situation, but purely because of the behaviour of the Greek government…It’s all very sad."

Translation: "It makes me really sad that I have to hit you."

The Greeks are not children to disciplined, and no-one is to be abused at whim. Adult Greeks are in the streets, starving and dying.

There is huge condemnation of the Greeks for profligacy—why is there no condemnation of the Germans for miserliness?

BTW, Guardian editors, Syriza is not radical left. KKE, the Greek Communist Party, is radical left. Know the difference.

Postscript: Jared Bernstein offers a measured overview of the problems of Greece and the risks of financial contagion, MSNBC link."[The Greeks] have long suffered … far more from their treatment by others [than from their own mistakes.] If they decide to put a stop to that, we should not blame them." (Dr. Bernstein, I love your posts, but I wish you'd kill the weasel words. It's hard to pull short quotes when half the words are equivocal.)

Update: The Guardian, as the lede of an sympathetic article generally sympathetic to Germany and the Eurocrats, writes: "Berlin has delivered a blistering attack on Greece’s beleaguered radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accusing him of lying to his own people and seeking scapegoats for the country’s misery everywhere but in his own ranks." Translation, I think: "You made me hit you. Don't make me hit you again."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Grisis 6/30

Anil KashyapGreece has not paid its IMF loans, which (the reporting says) is technically being in arrears, not in default. Reuters link.

Reading the mainstream reporting, I am struck by the total focus on finance and overwhelming sympathy to the interests of the Greece's creditors, to the exclusion of the suffering of the Greek people. It's very odd when one considers how widely-hated the banksters are in the West. I had to go to the Trotskyist World Socialist web site to find any recent coverage of that, and that doesn't even show up in Google News. WSWS link. I tried looking on the far right, but the Greek fascist Golden Dawn web site (find 'em yourself) has nothing—I suppose the fascist superman is strong and silent in the face of adversity. Likewise Stormfront (neo-Nazi) and Free Republic (fascist.) The Free Republic more-or-less supports the ECB position of further Greek austerity, not that they'll ever admit it.

Tsirpas and Syriza are between a rock and a hard place. So far as the reporting I've seen shows, the Greek public both wants Greece to stay in the Euro and wants an end to austerity, and that isn't a deal that the masters of the Euro are willing to make. Tsirpas and Syriza have failed in persuading a majority of the Greek public that Greece can have one or the other, but not both. As in the USA, the connection between policy and personal lives is hard to communicate. So the vote is (reportedly) balanced on a knife edge.

Postscript: "A Primer on the Greek Crisis: the things you need to know from the start until now." (PDF) A historical analysis of the Greek financial problems from Anil Kashyap of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

Postscript 2: "The Greek Crisis: Grandparents on the Table?" Laura Shannon. Coverage of the human cost. I believe some of the policy specifics are wrong.

The TPP: Making the Crazy Real

(An old note, from my files.)

A few weeks ago, I had a reminder from last March's New York Times that the Trans-Pacific Partnership allows companies and investors sue governments for loss of expected future profits. Does an environmental or safety regulation cost money? We're sued.

Congratulations, major parties. You've managed to make the Tea Party claims of loss of US sovereignity seem reasonable. Obama and most Senate Democrats are working hard to make them come true. And, no, I won't believe the laws you say will prevent this will do so, unless you show it to me in the text of the treaty…which you won't do.

What a gift to the crazies. What a loss for the Democrats.

NYT Article: "Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S" by Jonathan Weisman, March 25, 2015.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Grisis: 6/29

Krugman:
Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power — the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.—NYT link, paywalled, Economists View link, open w. discussion.
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras interview at 10pm EEST (noon PDT)
EU has issued an ultimatum: accept our terms or you’re out of the Euro (The Guardian.)

The terms are very bad. Joseph Stiglitz:
We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece. Guardian link.
In the old days, following Stiglitz and Krugman’s advice would lead to an invasion of Greece. Now, who knows?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Breaking News: Pray for Hellas

“I never discuss economic policy with Germans, because for them it’s not about economics, it’s religion.”—anonymous senior Eurozone official, quoted in the Guardian

My previous articles on the Greek fiscal disaster:
So it has come to the breaking point, and in less than 45 minutes, the hour at which Greek banks open will pass, and the banks will not open. Numerous possibilities follow on this, most of them bad. Here's a few links before the storm:
  • The Guardian: Greece crisis deepens as banks close for a week after weekend that shook euro. An overview. Also contains the most clueless remark of the week so far: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, was “perplexed and depressed” by developments.
  • How Eurocrats, Greeks, Germans, and Eastern Europeans View the Greek Crisis. Possibly the best English-language commentary on the mass politics that have lead to this pass.
  • Paul Krugman: Grisis. "The troika clearly did a reverse Corleone — they made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept, and presumably did this knowingly. So the ultimatum was, in effect, a move to replace the Greek government. And even if you don’t like Syriza, that has to be disturbing for anyone who believes in European [democratic] ideals."
  • Where is My European Union? Commentary by Greek Alex Andreou, on democracy in the European Union and the disaster austerity has made of Greek life.
  • (Added 6/29) "Tsipras had only two red lines it would and it could not cross […] What the past week made clear is that this, and only this was the objective of the creditors.—Francesco Saracen, It's the Politics, Stupid.
Now less than ½ hour.

We are fighting wars in these cradles of Western civilization: Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Greece. How can this be? Why?

I am left wondering whether a unified currency is appropriate for a multi-national, multi-cultural federation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

In Which We Suspect That Police in the Carolinas Approve of Mass Murder

We now have the confirmed report that "Cops Bought Charleston Suspect Burger King After Arresting Him." I am left wondering if, had North Carolina florist Debbie Dills not pursued Roof, and made sure he was apprehended, the police would have let him escape.

I now add my blog's alternate tag line for this year, because "Well, that was unpleasant" isn't strong enough for some situations: "F—, F—, F'ity F—."

Friday, May 29, 2015

Hastert, Hastert, Has—hunh?

The response of the blogosphere (except for the crazy right wing) has been similar to mine. Josh Marshall reminds us of the 2006 Mark Foley scandal, harasser of young male pages in the House, and Hastert's lukewarm response. Digby also recalls Foley, and wonders what Rahm Emmanuel knew. And Buzzfeed reports hints that there were other victims.

For myself, I've had a day to react and think it over. My bottom-line conclusion is that our organizational forms and customs in some way ease the road of molesters. Let change come soon!

Reforms: Electoral and Media

So in the UK, the Tories, the Conservatives of the much-hated British austerity, have won again. As Brad Delong observed, "So Britain now shifts from a 59%-supported government to a 37%-supported government? And this is supposed to be a good system?" How is this possible? First: the Tories slacked off on the austerity for the last six months, and none of the other parties have called them on it, second, Scottish National Party split the Labour vote, third, Labour has become moderately conservative, and bleeds energy and enthusiasm to the Greens of various shades.

Above all is the British plurality ("first past the post") voting system and the British media, heavily influenced by the radical-right Rupert Murdoch, which has been talking up austerity and spreading deficit hysteria. If a family followed the debt-panic model of the right-wing media, it would pay down its credit card debt before paying its rent.

Which leads to a reform program:

  1. Media reform. We have known since the 1930s that politically-dominated mass media can enormously and quickly swing public opinion. In the wake of World War II, laws were written to reduce this domination, and these have been steadily weakened, until a single person, Rupert Murdoch, has created major radical right media organizations in the USA and UK. How can one have any meaningful political dialogue when the only major political media voice is right wing? The mind cannot soar on one wing!
  2. Electoral reform. It's become very obvious that democracy in the UK and the USA both are in dire need of electoral reforms, including: (1) Instant-runoff, ranked-choice, or some similar system (2) mandatory citizenship voting (3) "none of the above" as a choice.

Where are the radicals?

And why aren't they out in the streets? Because things are very bad. Why isn't every bank office, every legislature, occupied?

I wish I knew. Occupy fell apart. The trolls took over the Assemblies. Without overarching organization, there was nothing to hold it together after the initial enthusiasm.

It is not enough to gather in the street. Once you are there and gathered, you must go somewhere, there must be a destination. Which is where? Adam Smith's liberalism, which we would now call conservatism, provided a framework for capitalism which proved ultimately inhuman, which I rather suspect the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments would have rejected. Marx's Communism provided a framework for a society based on sharing, which has so far proven beyond implementation. It equally is not possible to believe that Marx and Engels would have the defended the brutalities of authoritarian Communism.

I can imagine a humane technocratic democratic socialism, rooted in Keynes and Enlightenment political values, but I cannot see how it can possibly be something people would march for, sacrifice for, even to death. A long explanation cannot be a rallying point!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hastert, Hastert, Has—aaargh

Former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been indicted for concealing banking transactions. He was being blackmailed, and, as Brad Delong puts it:
That Dennis Hastert was a high-school teacher and wrestling coach from 1965-1981 is material to this money-laundering indictment. That and the fact that Hastert's conduct between 34 and 50 years ago is material, is the source of the aggrieved party's believing they deserve $3.5 million, and leads Hastert to think he should pay up tells us more than I think we need to know
In other words, Hastert was probably molesting students in his care. There have been rumors about this going back to 2006, at least.

This, coming on top of the Duggar media shitstorm, leads me to despair. How could— How could anyone not see through those pious hypocrites? How can they still not see? How could we have put this— this— this molester at the head of the lower House of the Congress of the world's greatest power, third in line from its Presidency? Why has there been no housekeeping of the conservative leadership?

Because there hasn't been, you know. And, probably, there won't be.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”—Matthew 7:15-23

F—, F—, F—, F'ity F—!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The USA Backs Both Sides in Yemen

The USA is now supporting the Saudis against Iran in Yemen at the same time it is trying to make a nuclear disarmament treaty with Iran.

The Guardian: Yemen conflict: air strikes on rebel arms depot kill 19 as US warship approaches.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Civil War In Yemen Spreads

Saudi Arabia and Iran are supporting opposing sides in the civil war in Yemen. Somalia has come in on the side of Saudi Arabia; Turkey has begun criticizing Iran for its support of the other side. I don't have time for a long analytical piece right now, but here's the Guardian coverage.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Medical Costs in the USA

(In which I discover what most health care economists knew all along.)

The basic reason we have a cost problem, as far as I can see, is insurance companies, which are financial companies whose whole business is maximizing profit, make a profit from providing care. There are therefore enormous incentives to overtreat and treat in the most expensive ways. This spreads through the whole system. All the health care providers: the doctors, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies, come to expect high returns from their work, and expensive practices drive out frugal.

I am haunted by this article: Why I Had to Close My Preventive Healthcare Clinic. There was a lot that went wrong for Dr. Charlap, but this concluding remark stands out: "It takes a very long time to get a thorough history and do a good exam and almost no time to prescribe a medication for a presumed illness. I chose the former. Insurance pays for the latter." And makes more money from it. Keeping people healthy does not pay as much as keeping them chronically ill.

All the cost control efforts I am aware of focus on getting doctors to accept less for treatment, and do nothing to resolve the perverse incentives in the rest of the system and, especially, the conflict between insurance company profits and cost-effective health care.

Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin, … Greece?

Every now and again we hear that "The United States will turn into Greece," a country with massive debts it is unable to pay. Well, how did Greece get there?
  1. Massive tax evasion by its rich.
  2. Government spending without regard to debt.
  3. Losing control of its currency.
  4. Punitive economic policies by the coalition of the European Committee, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—the infamous troika.
Is the USA subject to any of this? No, actually, though tax evasion by wealth is a thing and may get to be a bigger thing. But the states of Oklahoma, Michigan, and Wisconsin are. Oklahoma, thanks to tax-cutting without comparable spending cuts, is insolvent, and Michigan and Wisconsin are headed there and no US state has its own currency. The national Republican Party supports cuts in the national social insurance programs, without those programs, matters would be much worse in all of those states; there is I suppose, a parallel with the Euroausterians.

So there's the story: the right wing of the Republican Party wants to turn the USA, or at least as many states it can control, into Greece.

Croak!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Euroaustery: Maybe Some Progress

“It is better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, for while there is life there is hope.” And so there is still hope here. The big news here, I think, is that both sides seem want to reach some sort of not-disastrous deal.

Personalities and realpolitik, I think, are the questions here. I don’t believe that the IMF has suddenly turned wholeheartedly Keynesian, personally; my impression is that it’s more a matter of it being easier to vote for things one knows is not going to pass. It is also hard for me to believe that someone as authoritarian as Schäuble has in fact turned over a new leaf. Still, with luck, the members of the troika will end up pointing at each other, providing the plausible deniability for an easing of austerity.

(Originally posted in comments at Crooked Timber.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Euroausterity in Greece

The Eurozone leadership isn't moving an inch. Why, what could possibly go wrong?
(Cue cheesy music…)
The stupid! It burns!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Great Depression in Germany…

…ended in Naziism, not in a New Deal. I wonder if this shapes their attitude towards economic policy. The Depression seems to have been erased from their cultural memory, replaced by the hyperinflation the German leaders imposed on the country. They have no cultural memory of the New Deal working, no WPA, no CCC.

Kraw?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Guardian's Ian Traynor on Austerity and Greece

She may be more associated with its horrors than any other politician in Europe, but Angela Merkel hates austerity. The word, that is. The crisis gave German the ugly term Austerität. When the German chancellor pronounces it, she wrinkles her nose in distaste, affects incomprehension, seeks distance from it. Sparsamkeit, or thrift, is more her thing. Merkel sees that as an old-fashioned household virtue, which she has elevated into national and European policy. But when it comes to the formula that Europe needs most of all, Merkel’s magic word is “competitiveness”. The belt-tightening, in Greece as almost everywhere else, is but a means to that end…

The results in Greece are a society traumatised, elites untouched and taking their money out of the country, no jobs for the young, national output shrunk by a quarter, national debt soaring to levels where it can only be serviced by sacrificing any prospect of recovery. Five years into what in Brussels is dubbed “the programme”, Greece is not competitive. It has the EU’s first government of hard-left rebels and rightwing antisemitic nationalists…

“I never discuss economic policy with Germans,” jokes a senior eurozone official in Brussels, “because for them it’s not about economics, it’s religion.”—The Guardian

By this account, it appears that Germany is the leader in European austerity; they are persuaded by Lutheranism and the prophets of the profits. But, also, the German position is not a bluff and it is popular in Germany. They might be willing to destroy the European Union, rather than give Greece a bailout.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Greece: German Religious Fanatics and No Revolution

"History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes." - (?) There's lots of rhymes here. I am reminded of the mid-19th Tories, who starved the Irish. Merkel and the Euro-austerians are the same kind of inhuman fanatics, just as much fanatics as any pulpit pounding Fundamentalist. The morality of the Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is grounded in the same Lutheranism (NYT article, worth a read) so influential on the US right. Angela Merkel is herself the daughter of a Lutheran convert pastor, a man so devout he moved his family to East Berlin to evangelize the Communists. Because of this childhood, she is likely to personally dislike any socialist faction. In 2012, Merkel said, “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world." (Link to Christian site that agrees.)

Now, the Lutheran ideal of charity is a curious thing. Martin Luther advocated giving the poor loans from a chest of contributions to get them back on their feet. Good, as far as it goes, but how when the poor cannot repay? How when everyone is poor and cannot contribute enough? This is apparently how Merkel and Germany regard Greece. Merkel and her austerians know that Greece could not repay, that indeed no nation of the European Union, including Germany itself, can repay its loans, without bringing in money from outside. Hence the statement of a German official that every country in Europe must run a positive balance of trade, like Germany. Only who are they to trade with? Every nation cannot run a positive balance of trade!

Merkel's combination of "grew up in East Berlin" and devout Lutheranism makes it unlikely that the German Christian Democratic Union party will accept any deal with Greek leftists, no matter how much sense such a deal makes. The atheism of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may also weigh against the Greeks, as its majority Eastern Orthodox church. For this reason, I believe, the Greeks will have no success in their negotiations until the German government falls and a government more in touch with reality comes to power. This will be very hard. The Germans have internalized false beliefs about economics, and will not easily set them aside. Syriza also faces hard opposition in its own country: neither wealthy Greeks nor the Church of Greece will be easily persuaded to pay their fair share of taxes.

…and what of Spain and Italy? It is striking how much this is a conflict of Southern and Northern European Christian morality, despite the atheism of the Syriza leadership. I worry that the atheists of Syriza's leadership may not realize they are facing fanatics, and try to negotiate when this is not possible. It does seem to me that there is a real possibility that the austerians will win.

(Revised to add information on Merkel's family background and speculations about her likely attitudes towards Greece and Syriza.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Northern Europe vs. Greece

As a result of punitive measures on the part of the so-called troika—European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB)—a socialist party, Syriza, has come to power in Greece. Syriza is limited in its ability to act against the troika; it can persuade, but has little leverage.

To the Northern European bankers and public it's a morality play; the Greeks must be made to do their duty, and punishment will change the ways of the irresponsible, childish, not-Protestant Greeks. It is no play to the Greeks, whose health care system has collapsed under the harsh measures already pressed on Greece.

I believe that Greece is, in fact, developing a more disciplined attitude towards finance and spending. The troika wants to rush the matter, and they probably have the power to do it. It would be a shame. The misery would be intense and go on for years, and the Greeks would probably end up hating northern Europeans. The easygoing Greek culture would be hardened. Much would be lost, and the northerners would come to regret that, as well as the loss of their relief valve and one of their favorite vacation spots.

The best compromise would be something like: the troika makes concessions, the Greek debt is reduced, some sort of stimulus measures are offered to the Greeks, and the Syriza government commits to and implements long-term measures to reduce the real corruption of the Greek system. If, instead, there is no deal, there is the risk that the fascist Golden Dawn party will come to power in Greece. They probably will not last more than a generation, but those years would be hard indeed.

I am left wondering whether a unified currency is appropriate for a multi-national, multi-cultural federation. It seems to me that it tends to grind all cultures into uniform economic forms, and this is a shame.

Paul Krugman on the matter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Things We Can't Say

Charles Pierce, over at Esquire: "You can't call something an anti-poverty program an anti-poverty program any more."

The things we can't say, or can't say without a fight, are a pretty good guide to the things that have been removed from the domain of rational discourse. Other examples include abortion, feminism (though this was never in that domain), regulation, trade policy, taxes.

Commentator Joseph Goodfriend points out that "race" belongs in that list, though, like feminism, it is one of the subjects that was never part of rational discussion.

[2015.02.05] And economist Jared Bernstein points out that the distribution of income is another.

Any more to add to the list?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Right Wing Propaganda: Turning Rational Debate to Incoherent Fights

So it was Virtually Speaking yesterday, and one commentator was explaining how it was important to engage conservative Democrats without disagreement, and how they could be persuaded if one did this. There is lots wrong with this; for one thing it makes it the fault of liberals for losing arguments against one of the biggest and best-funded propaganda campaigns in history. For another, if attack politics were such a bad thing, well, why has it worked so well for the radical right? And, finally, it isn’t realistic: most conservatives I’ve encountered treat even the mildest disagreement as an attack, so the only way to make progress is slowly and carefully, and Fox News churns out propaganda very quickly, so one is always playing catch-up.

And then it was the Second Life dance afterward—really an excuse to hang out with your friends while your avatars dance—and another friend explained how he knew someone who would be a Democrat but…abortion. His friend is a Baptist. Now, what is strange about that is that Protestants mostly didn’t care about abortion until the 1980s, when it was worked up as an issue by to replace racism. Prior to that it was a Roman Catholic issue.

By mass-media propaganda, abortion was taken from an issue that could be debated rationally and had been settled on the evidence for most people to an issue of terror (killing babies! Holocaust!) and identity. And this, it seems is the case with all the issues of the radical right. Government regulation of business was not once un-American (except to very wealthy businessmen), maintaining a giant standing army was not once thought necessary to national defense, it was not necessary to believe that the Second Amendment was an unlimited firearms license, it was not once necessary to believe that Muslims were enemies of civilization. One once could talk about these things without all argument degenerating into angry defensiveness. No more.

The circle of rational debate has narrowed. At the same time, a kind of pseudo-rational debate has moved in, so that now we hear calm but not rational arguments about the need for torture and rightness of brutal policing. Misogynists defend rape and rapists and are not treated with the ridicule they deserve.

If we are to win this fight, we have to begin to reverse this trend. I have before advocated restoring anti-fascist media law and regulation and I continue to do so: this madness would not be possible without mass-media propaganda. But to the broader issue I call on everyone to work to widen the circle of rational discourse and to work to keep it honest and compassionate.

As to the issue of political persuasion… The Enlightenment view of political debate is that society will come together and debate the issues rationally and with the good of the whole in mind. Well…not, actually. There is too much fear in politics, too much at stake. I think there is a trap for people who wholeheartedly embrace the illusions that are a necessary part of politics: one can come to believe them.

2015.01.20 corrected; the commentator I responding to is not someone I know personally. Sorry, Avedon & Ms. Madrak.

2015.01.20 Title changed for the sake of clarity; the original title was "Moderation," which I intended in the philosophical sense, but it confused people.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Medieval Punishment in Arabia

Wow, that's unpleasant. Amnesty International and the Guardian report that Raif Badawi, a liberal Arabian web publisher, was given 50 lashes with a staff today in Jeddah, the first of 20 lashings he has been sentenced to. His crime was operating a liberal web site. My wife is of the opinion that this will probably kill him. Even if it does not, I do not see how he can avoid crippling disability.

The indispensable Digby reminds us that the House of Saud is a close ally of the USA, personal friends with the Bush family, and that Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is the second largest voting stock holder in the radical right international publisher News Corp.

More and more extensive coverage from Human Rights Watch. Via Juan Cole, who really ought to be advising Presidents.