Friday, December 27, 2013

Talking to My Congressional Delegation on Unemployment Insurance

I live in Washington state, have been out of work for nearly ay year, and the unemployment extension will expire on my birthday. Thanks, Democrats.

I called both my Senators and my House Representative yesterday. Senator Murray's office, lead Democratic negotiator on the budget deal, is on holiday vacation. My rep's office expert on this subject has been furloughed. This leaves Senator Cantwell's office. I got to talk to a staffer who told me that an unemployment extension is not in the current budget, and the next budget will be written in two years. It is possible that there will be an amendment early next year. It doesn't sound like the Senate Democrats have the heart for another government shutdown, though it works in favor of the Democratic party. It appears to me, based on these two contacts, that the Republican budget blackmail has been successful. I await a callback from my Representative's office.

I may never vote for a Democrat in a national election again. If they're not going to stand for me, if they're going to cave—what's the point? And I will support a primary challenge to Senator Murray from the left.

[Added: My House Representative’s office called me back the day after I called. The staffer said that the issue will be raised, and that Pelosi and Obama will join in, though he’s not sure how much of a press Obama will mount. He says the outcome is far from certain. Myself, I think he underestimates Republican intransigence on this issue, and indeed on anything that ameliorates poverty, but I am not going to say anything to discourage him.]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"A depressed economy for workers, but not at all for corporations"

Notes on a Krugman post, "Why Corporations Might Not Mind Moderate Depression" (NYT paywall, Edited from my remarks over there.)

Are we perhaps in a bubble again? Military production, maintained by tax money worldwide, that is real production. But how much of the "good" economy for corporations is due to pushing money around, rather than making anything real—a bubble economy? Or is the appearance of a good economy perhaps the result of converting productive capital into the wealth of rich—the kind of anti-capitalism that made Mitt Romney wealthy?

I am not sure there is more to be looted from the former good economy of the West, but if there is, I am sure someone somewhere has figured out how to loot it.

[2014.01.07 Editorial cleanup. .08: "somewhere" added.]

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bitcoin and the unregulated economy or wtf, libertarians, again?

More from the Bitcoin discussion.

What is it with libertarians? We live in a world in unregulated trading has crashed the global economy and still libertarians ask for more data and more experiments. It is like climate denialism. Enough, already. Keynesian economics has passed numerous experimental tests. Time to accept it and move on.

I worry about (to misquote myself) an economy like a climate system, with arbitrary and unpredictable weather, vast storms, freezes, burns, droughts. This isn't a maybe thing; we know that without fiscal and monetary policy that is what we will get. And the very wealthy can work that system in their favor, so that only they will be able to save. And that is one possible future, and it ends with our civilization drowned.

Seriously, libertarians, wtf?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bitcoin—Troll's Gold

It's troll's gold—a curse to the holder, and to those who desire it. It's deflationary, which means it's an inherently poor currency to do business in; it comes with a built-in sales tax. It provides an incentive for employers and debtors to delay payment as long as possible. It's money that comes with a built-in discouragement to exchange, and half the work of money is as a medium of exchange.

Science fiction writer Charlie Stross brought this up on his blog, and the post jumped the science fiction ghetto wall—it got cited on /., and David Atkins over at Hullabaloo picked it up.

And, yes, Bitcoin could become a problem. It was intended, after all to implement both the crypto-anarchist and goldbug agenda. But, really, isn't this what the biggest global banks have already done? Finance, beyond the control of the most powerful governments, and corrupting those governments. I do not think Bitcoin could make matters much worse, in that regard. Yet…

There's a dark side to Keynesian economics. Keynes-Hicks models provide tools which hold out the promise of an economy without booms and busts, without bubbles and depressions, without a 1%. Conversely, though, Keynesian management can be used to enable an aristocracy, to insure that money will only be a store of value for people who are connected with the people who run the system. A new tool of class oppression, in other words.

But there's a deeper darkness. Without the "somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment" that Keynesian economic management requires, a money economy is like a climate system, with arbitrary and unpredictable weather, vast storms, freezes, booms and busts. And that is what crypto-anarchists want to make a permanent condition.

Well. I do not think that is too likely. But a new aristocracy? Is that not what a faction of the world's very wealthy are working to create?

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Budget Deal: Not Even A Fight

My unemployment insurance will expire on my birthday. The budget deal that I am hearing praised? The Democrats didn't even put up a fight on unemployment. Now, if it had been the Republicans losing on one of their policy goals, we'd have heard about it 24x7 on the news. There would have been a filibuster and hostage-taking. Instead, the Democrats just rolled over, letting the Republicans avoid doing something that would cost them hugely in public standing and perhaps even votes.

I feel like I'm living in an abusive family, where the violent alcoholic father beats us routinely, and the beaten-down mother doesn't even raise a protest, and the neighbors all complement the mother on keeping the peace. Abuse survivors will often tell you they hate the complicit parent as much as the openly abusive one. The Democrats could have the vast majority of the public on their side if they just stood up, but they never do.

And what is this stuff with parents anyway? The parties are supposed to be working for the people, not the other way around. They're supposed to be our sons and daughters, not our parents, not our rulers.

No. This is not what the Framers fought for, in that long-ago time when they created the first modem democracy. No.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On the Landrieu/Obama "keep your bad insurance" plan

Wouldn’t it be better to fix the PPACA cost issues? I don’t think there would be many objections if the cancelled plans were replaced with reasonable plans at similar costs. The problem is that many people are facing financial hardship because of the requirements of the PPACA, not that people want to keep their junk insurance.

(This is a retitled repost—sorry.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On the LAX Shootings, to a libertarian

Originally posted elsenet:
If the country is saturated with ideas like "Taking up arms against an authoritarian government is a moral thing" and "The US government is authoritarian," then sooner or later some crazy person is going to put the two together and do something crazy like bomb the Murrah building or shoot TSA agents.
Don't throw gasonline on the flames and then claim you didn't know there was a risk.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pooch, Screwed?

Have the ACA implementation problems and high costs for a minority of the public (perhaps nine five million) destroyed the chances of the Democrats in the 2014 and 2016 elections?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nucking Futz! Stark Staring Bonkers!

Did you know? Obama will start quartering soldiers in people's homes!

And a gnu group plans a gnu appreciation day on the anniversary of Newtown, which seems to me sort of like Jacobins planning guillotine appreciation day.

And, we have the leader of Heritage Action saying, "Look, Democrats usually win these fights because they do a better job of not cracking." Um, guy, never heard of "no organized party?"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thermodynamics and Microfoundations

"In a long discussion over on Brad Delong's blog, Robert Waldmann commented, "For years I have been trying to find a demonstrably empirically useful idea in macroeconomics introduced after 1937," and I responded:
I'm a dilettante bird, but it seems to me the hard question is "Why do the Keynes-Hicks models work?"  (If I understand correctly, this is another version of "What are the microfoundations?")   And no-one seems to know.  We already know how to devise laws, customs, and regulatory practices that work fairly well in maintaining a productive, equitable economy.  But if we could explain why they worked, we could make the case for those in language that everyone could understand, instead of just saying, "Do it this way.  We don't understand why, but it works."

That said, big insights don't come along that often; 50 or 100 years between discoveries of fundamental laws is pretty typical in the history of science.  I am somewhat reminded of the history of thermodynamics.  Between the first designs of workable heat engines in 1700 or so, through Carnot's famous 1824 paper, Maxwell's, Boltzmann's, and Gibbs work in the 1870s, is nearly 200 years.  Carnot, broadly, formulated the macroscopic theory of thermodynamics, and Maxwell, Boltzmann, and Gibbs who finally explained it in turns of what Gibbs called the statistical mechanics of molecules—microfoundations.  (Though Gibbs also made important contributions to the macro theory.)

So we wait for the next insight, and try to figure out how to make the politics work.
But that wasn't the end of the discussion. A few posts and days later, Brad Delong put up a post entitled, "You Don't Need a Rigorous Microfoundationeer to Know Which Way the—Well, to Know Much of Anything, Really," in which he pointed out that it is still not possible to derive chemistry from quantum mechanics, and this isn't important.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

“One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election."—President Barack Obama

"[Cruz] pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away"—Grover Norquist

(Both quotes from Ezra Klein's useful Washington Post article.)

My question is, what's the endgame? With huge amounts of money being spent to  propagandize Tea Party views and specifically attack opponents of the Tea Party Republicans and small turnouts in primary elections, the non-crazy House Republicans can't fight back; anyone who opposes the TP Republicans will be primaried from the right.

Now what?

I keep remembering how the South lost the Civil War yet the Southern white supremacists remained powerful.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The PPACA at the Edges

Thanks for losing the first version of this post, Blogger. In any event...

[Added: I think on the average the effects of the PPACA will be positive, but we do not live on the average, and there will be winners and losers. This post is an attempt to determine who the losers will be. If the law had been written to benefit people, rather than protect insurance companies, there would be no losers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us that the people hit hardest by the failure of the PPACA are overwhelmingly the poor in the states where Medicaid has not been expanded and that this group is heavily black and brown. Compared to their problems, the issues I summarize below are minor and I am ashamed of myself for not mentioning it in the original version of this article, though I did write about it last August, when I commented on Virgina v. Sibelius. Mea culpa.]

For some time now, I've been saying that the PPACA, aka Obamacare will be hard on families at the place where they come off Medicaid and go onto insurance, and where the tax credits give out, at 400% of the federal poverty level. I've only recently found specifics. So I can finally write this post. (Brief note: numbers in the thousands have been rounded for convenience; since all the numbers given are estimates, there seems no reason to be over-precise.)

Example one: joining the system at the bottom
My friend T. is a struggling artist and a low-wage worker at, yes, a thrift store. She makes not enough money to begin with, but it is just enough so that she doesn't qualify for Medicaid. Under the PPACA she will be required to buy into her employer's health plan, which will take $45 or perhaps more from her skimpy bi-weekly paychecks. She already has trouble making ends meet. What an additional $1,000 of expenses a year will do to her, I have no idea.

Example two: when the tax credits give out
A couple I know, who will be 57 and 58 in 2014, are currently relying on COBRA coverage from a good but lost job. Their annual health insurance cost under COBRA runs about $10,000 a year; without a subsidy, the Berkeley Labor Center health insurance estimator gives the cost for a silver plan under the PPACA at a whopping $17,000 a year. But wait! They get a tax credit, payable to their health insurance company. If their income is $62,000 a year their health insurance cost will be $6,000 a year. So far, so good. But if their income is $63,000 a year—they don't get a tax credit. So if they have a thousand-dollar windfall; if one of them gets a bonus or a nice big royalty payment, they are on the hook to the IRS for the whole of the tax credit; some $10,000 dollars. Hey-hey, let's hear it for a marginal tax rate of 1,000%! (No, that's not a typo.)

My sympathies to that couple, who is caught between a rock and a hard place; they can take the tax credit and the risk, or accept a $10,000 bite out of their family income during the year, in the hope of a possible reimbursement. They are not well-off; $60,000 a year is a lower middle class income these days. And if they don't fall below the level where reimbursement is offered, if they have, say, $65,000 a year income, they will be paying a full quarter of their pre-tax income for health insurance and nearly half of their income for taxes and health insurance. If they tighten their belts and reject the tax credit—I am not sure if they can accept only part of it—they will be reimbursed at the end of the year, but that is no help when a family needs to deal with a large, unexpected expense during the year. You can bet the Republicans will make sure the country knows about this one in time for the elections. Thanks, guys.

Tune in in 2018, when the "Cadillac Tax" kicks in, wrecking much good employer-provided and union health insurance.

They Bought Themselves a Revolution…

…and ended up against the wall.
Why [asked donors at a high-priced fundraising luncheon] did the GOP seem so in the thrall of its most extremist wing? The donors, banker types who occupy the upper reaches of Wall Street’s towers, couldn’t understand why the Republican Party—their party—seemed close to threatening the nation with a government shutdown, never mind a default if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later this month.
 Read the rest.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Saint Manning?

Perhaps one way to understand Manning is as a saint: someone who pursued a moral vision without regard to consequences.  Yes, he committed crimes.  Under the law, his conviction was reasonable. But in the end, I believe Manning's revelations made important differences and these were of enormous value to the United States, humanity, and justice.

Is Manning a saint? It is not usually possible to know in the saint's lifetime with any reliability. Recall, if you like, the great black leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who is now widely recognized as a liberator and claimed by some conservatives as one of their own. It was not so in his life! Conservatives reviled him and many white centrists objected to his activism. The FBI monitored King from 1963 to the end of his life, even sending him a tape full of blackmail material and a letter encouraging him to suicide. Ultimately, he was assassinated by a white supremacist. King was willing to sacrifice everything for his moral goals and he broke the power of the white supremacists in the southern states.  This is widely acknowledged as moral act. He did not care about the consequences, even to himself.

Is Manning a saint? He is like one in his disregard of consequences to himself, certainly. He has been tortured; sleep-deprived in solitary confinement for nine months. He is likely to be imprisoned for decades, and I doubt he will be well treated. What about consequences to other people? There do not appear to have been many. The national security state rolls on. In time, perhaps, some people will lose their jobs. Wikileaks has been conscientious in redacting names, still, some assets may be put at risk, but then were already at risk.

In my view, if the law were just, Bush II, Cheney, Obama, their Secretaries of State and Defense, and other high US government officials would all be on trial on the Hague for crimes against humanity.  Against that, does one life count?  Bradley Manning thought his own life was the lesser price than the need to tell the world what he had learned.

I once commented that in Aaron Swartz, the campaign for the internet as a tool of justice had its first martyr.  In Manning, I believe, the internet has come near to having its second, and perhaps Edward Snowden will be the third.

Does this matter? Will the acts of Swartz, Manning, and Snowden change the world? Perhaps. If the world's moral sense is stirred by their acts, which is how martyrdom gains its power, it will matter. Martyrdom is a sign that people are willing to give, literally, everything for some purpose. Now, this in itself proves nothing: people will give their lives for causes, and these causes may be "good" or "bad." But if power is wrong, and the martyrs right, there comes a point where the powerful get sick of killing saints to silence them, where revulsion against the killing stays their hands. And so they make changes.

Are we in such dire moral straits? I think so. Our rulers and leaders have put the entire future of humanity is at risk, both through wars with new and terrifying weapons and through environmental destruction. Laws of property and person that have stood for centuries are being abrogated. Mass killings of innocents have become routine.  New tools of oppression are being developed, and called tools of freedom and peace. In the language of the oppressors of the world, Orwell's cautionary vision has been realized: war is peace and freedom is slavery, and we can hear that lies are truth every day and night on the news. Vast evil is lose in the world, and so saints have arisen to speak to us of it, if we have the ears to hear.

And here's to the people who do the work!

And are doing more and more of it, for less and less.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Privacy and Pecadillos

“I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”—E. Snowden

Privacy is a requirement of freedom. I think maybe like freedom of speech and freedom of the press, privacy is a right we have to protect, even when it protects repulsive behavior. Do we want a world where a squeaky-clean ideal Protestant marriage is a requirement for public office? That shuts out a lot of people. I don't have a brief for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who seems to be a criminal masquerading as a humanitarian, and Anthony Wiener seems to have a sexual obsession. But why are these things taken more seriously than the war-mongering and all the multiple sorts of corruption we see in our politics? Is it necessary to dig through anyone's sex life to find out that they're doing their job badly? Really?

Why do we try to elect saints rather than politicians?

Oathbreakers 3

(This is the one I finally posted in comments.)

I think, in punishing Manning, the administration is punishing the messenger.

Would we even be having this debate if administration officials had not broken their oaths? Would Manning have had anything to leak? Does anyone here really believe that President George W. Bush, with his signing statements, his secret prisons, his torturers, was keeping his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?" And by continuing and extending many of Bush II's policies, President Obama has become a participant.

You argue that Manning could have gone through channels. But many people have already gone through channels, done it by the book. When we voted Bush II out by a popular landslide, we were were doing it by the book. But the surveillance state and the wars just kept rolling. We've done all the right things, all the by-the-book things--not just the general public, but many military and civilian officials. And the surveillance state and the wars still roll.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oathbreakers 2

(Another partial answer to Jim Wright on Bradley Manning. [Added] I didn't post this one there, either.)

All the US service oaths I know contain a paradox: they are oaths to uphold the constitution, some laws, and obey one's superiors. But how when one's superiors are corrupt, all the way to the top? Where does loyalty lie?

Do you really believe that going through channels would have worked for Manning? In a time when we have to defend the idea that torture is illegal? In a time when the Secretary of State of the United States stood up in front the United Nations General Assembly and lied to justify a war? None of the Bush administration officials who made the war, who have made torture policy, who argued that it was legal, have been disciplined in any way. There has been no action to set matters straight in any way by the Obama administration—the war criminals of the Bush administration keep their pensions, their private lives, their war profits—yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. Former Vice President.

You know this. What, exactly, could PFC Bradley Manning do against so much corruption? As far as I can see the only effective action he could take was the action he did take. We can argue the law and the merits of the law endlessly. But what is the point?  We need to step back and ask ourselves what we have become and why we have become it. And, if we feel very brave, we might ask ourselves why Bradley Manning faces decades in prison while the people who killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq, who are making the USA enemies worldwide with their dirty wars and their killings of civilians, go free and are lauded as great men.  What harm could Bradley's revelations do compared to that? 

I think we are like the extended family that is run by violent fathers and uncles, and who beats up the son who goes to the police, whose members say that everything was all right until someone blew the whistle.  No.  Everything was not all right.  Everything that went before is not irrelevant, is not to be ignored.  No-one lets bygones be bygones when someone has died, let alone the hundreds of thousands who have died.  And—the people you have rightly criticized for tearing the country apart—they are the ones who have done this, who are doing this.  Not Manning's defenders on the left.  Not the moderate conservatives like you.  The people who made the dirty wars, who looted the banks, who wrecked the global economy. 

Let us fight the real enemy, not the poor schmuck who cries out, "My god, what have we done?"

Oathbreakers 1

(A partial answer to Jim Wright on Bradley Manning. [Added] I didn't post it there; my wife thought it was too inflammatory.)

My impression, as an outsider, is that all the official channels Manning might have used to raise the issues he encountered were closed during the Bush II administration, and have not been re-opened. If this was to come out, it would have to have come out as a leak.

None of the warmongers of the Bush administration have so much as lost their pensions.  Instead, their abuses have become settled policy.  So, Manning embarrasses the USA, and possibly weakens some programs, and gets, probably, decades in jail.  But top Bush administration officials start a series of wars that make a huge number of enemies in Central Asia and the Middle East, inaugurate policies of torture and assassination that make even more enemies, go free and are lauded as great men.

They also took oaths.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Non-Lynching of George Zimmerman

(In response to a conservative claim that George Zimmerman is being "lynched" in the press.)

To be lynched, someone has to die. Someone did die. But it wasn't Zimmerman.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Do You Want To Conserve That?

Eugene Volokh, taking another jump over the shark, has defended the Zimmerman verdict. It was back in 2005 when he argued for torturing criminals before execution (commentary from Henry Quiggin Farrell.) I don't think this man's legal reasoning is sound.

OK, conservatism is about conserving what is worthwhile about the past. Racism? Torture? I think you guys are crazy!


A basic principle: the stalker does not get to claim they killed their victim in self-defense, even if the victim turns and fights. All Zimmerman had to do to avoid personal risk was go home.

Martin ran away from Zimmerman, who pursued in his automobile. By the account of Martin's girlfriend, who Martin called, he then stopped, breathing heavily. There was a bump and cell phone noise. Martin's girlfriend screamed. Then the phone was disconnected.

  1. Frederick Leatherman's law blog.
  2. Coverage of the case at Mother Jones.
  3. Ta-Nehisi Coates, arguing that the conclusion is in accord with Florida law.
  4. Trayvon Martin short biography (NPR), longer biography (Miami Herald)
  5. George Zimmerman short biography, longer biography (Sunshine State News.)
  6. The Onion: Nation Throws Hands Up, Tells Black Teenagers To Do Their Best Out There
I do not see a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed “the unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice," which is to say manslaughter under Florida law.

There is one ray of hope here: this is news. 50 years ago, this case would have sunk without a trace.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Libertarians: Pwnd By Peter Weiss

"Screaming in language that no-one understands / Of the rights that we grabbed with our own bleeding hands / When we wiped out the bosses and stormed through the wall / Of the prison they told us would outlast us all!"—Peter Weiss, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (defensively called Marat/Sade by just about everyone who writes about it.)

The play is about the failure of the French Revolution of 1793. But it occurs to me that the verse could equally apply to Tea Party Republicans or libertarians. Does anyone know what their leaders are talking about when they talk about "freedom?" How can freedom involve so much war, poverty, imprisonment, and pain?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Law is the Loser

Ta-Nehisi Coates, "On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin By George Zimmerman." He thinks that, by the law, this was a reasonable decision, however troubling. These are derived from my first thoughts in response to Coates in his comments.

Meanwhile in Florida, Marissa Alexander, black, with a stalker ex-husband, has been sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot at the man, who was violating a restraining order.

By the letter of law perhaps Coates is right. There will be time, later, to pour over the trial transcripts and the minutae of the law. I will be watching Frederick Leatherman's blog for more thoughts. Meantime, though, I think the popular intuitions about these two cases are more accurate than the measured legal thoughts. This is unjust, and there is little chance, in the short term, of seeing Florida law turned in the direction of justice.

I am struck by the inability of the US legal system to render justice. We see it constantly: in the failure to prosecute anyone for the looting of the banking system, in the abrogation of the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects," in the mainstreaming of torture, in the gutting, on narrow technical grounds, of the Voting Rights Act, in the sentencing of Alexander to 20 years while Zimmerman walks. We are in a legal regime as corrupt as that of 1856.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hansen On Tar Sands

Yes, the extraction process is dirty. But the real risk lies in the carbon emissions from the extraction process and eventual use of the extracted oil as fuel.
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)
After publishing that I somehow don't want to do anything at all.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Prop 8: The Law Is The Loser…again

The Supreme Court, not surprisingly, handed down a decision on California's Proposition 8 that leaves the matter a national conflict. So, for now, gay couples can marry in California but not in Oregon, and who knows what their rights are when they cross the border?

Thanks, Roberts Court.


5-4, swing vote Kennedy.

Not very surprisingly, the Court's conservatives are objecting on procedural grounds. When neither law nor ethics support your position, there is always procedure.

And Prop 8…?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Loser Is The Law

In the wake of the Roberts Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act, the effect of which, so far as can be told, will be to disenfranchise millions, I add the following observation: since 2000 we have seen multiple conservative Court decisions which, rather than outright outlawing such things laws designed to suppress the vote, instead make the laws technically impossible to enforce. Conservative jurists often speak of "bright lines," but the conservatives of the Supreme Court seem instead to prefer vast buckets of dull grey paint. This is judicial hypocrisy and enormously weakens the law.

So we have conservative political victories and losses for the law. The Court's conservatives, it seems, only support the rule of law when it supports the rule of conservatives. In such judgments, the law is the loser.

The Roberts Court: working on being the worst since Taney.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Paradox of Honor

All the US service oaths I know contain a paradox: they are oaths to uphold the constitution, some laws, and obey one's superiors. But how when one's superiors are corrupt, all the way to the top?

Who on the left does not know and fear the power of the surveillance state?

(An exasperated reply.)

The US left has been the target of it for a century, since the Bureau of Investigation was founded in 1908. This was followed by the Espionage Act of 1917, the Palmer raids of 1919, and the rise to power of J. Edgar Hoover.  1918 saw a President arrest the leader of his leftist political opposition under the Espionage Act: Democratic President Woodrow Wilson's administration arrested Socialist Eugene V. Debs for opposing World War I. Debs went on to run for President from prison in 1920, gathering 3.4% of the popular vote.

I hear a faint objection: this is in the past. Oh, but it is not. The USA has a long history of political panics against the left: the 1950s, 1980s, and 2000s all saw renewals of those panics, and the expansion of the national security state.

Honestly, where the hell have you people been?

(In answer to Jim Wright, who objects that there has been little opposition to the vast expansion of the surveillance state post 9/11.)

Scared to death and silenced by money, largely through the efforts of the same people who most strongly support the national security state. Our elected representatives scarcely notice us any more.

In part, this is the result of a propaganda campaign spanning decades. It began with the abrogation of the laws of media consolidation and balance starting in the 1980s, as documented by Ben Bagdikian. The 1990s we saw the emergence of a right-wing propaganda network, led by Fox News. During the same period, campaign finance laws were steadily weakened, with the result that increasingly elected officials responded not to the voters, but to the people who funded their campaigns.

The decade of the Big Zero saw the triumph of right-wing views in the media. By then there were so few media outlets, and they were so much under the influence of the fearmongers, that few voices in the major media were raised against the war in Iraq or the vast expansion of the national security state.  On January 16, 2003, perhaps 100,000 people demonstrated against the Iraq war on the National Mall in the DC. On the same day, over 150,000 people turned out in San Francisco. The demonstrations were scarcely reported, and made no difference to Congress.

If there was to be a national debate it had to be informed, and legislators had to be free to debate, and take public positions. Information was suppressed and legislators were forbidden to publicly discuss what they knew of the security state. The impossibility of discussion also made criticism from outside the closed circle of classified policy-making impossible.

In the period running up to the Big Zero, a few voices were raised from the margins. Bagdikian I've already mentioned. Also the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, moderate libertarians, and the cipherpunks, radical libertarians. But these did not persuade.

Russ Feingold, a moderate leftist and the only Senator who voted against the Patriot Act, was voted out in favor of a Tea Party Republican.

The Senate was aware of the extent of surveillance and the Senators who knew were forbidden to speak publicly. Markey and Udall came nearest to doing so. The US press is likely to turn any whistleblower over to the tender mercies of the Federal government, which has been cracking down on whistleblowers. The same government that maintains an illegal prison in Cuba and has replaced its network of overseas black prisons with a network of overseas prisons belonging to countries willing to torture. If this story was was going to be published, it would be the work of a whistleblower and the international press.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What We Are Fighting For

“I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”—Edward Snowden

Remember that.

An Angry Response At Balloon Juice

In response to a defense of Obama's conduct on national security at Balloon Juice.

He could, of course, have stood up to Congress. But he never does.

The King can do no wrong. He is above criticism.

I swear I never asked for any of this.

[typography changed a week after original publication]

Thursday, June 6, 2013

They Know Who Your Friends Are

In the wake of the Verizon court order leak, it seems worth pointing up what it is the security agencies want to do with this data: they want to draw up a social connection chart of the entire USA. They want to know who everyone's friends are.

  Talking Points Memo. Lots more there, just search for it.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Paul Krugman Sees Class Warfare, Digby Sees Fascists

Paul Krugman,  writing on Portugal:
How can it possibly make sense to “deal” with these problems by condemning vast numbers of willing workers to unemployment?
And on food stamps:
[…] supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis. But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. 
I often say that Republicans have retired the concept of hypocrisy and people titter politely, but I suspect they think it's a sort of glib slogan and not a serious observation. But I mean it literally. It goes far beyond double standards or duplicity or bad faith. There's an aggression to it, a boldness, that dares people to bring up the bald and obvious fact that the person making the charge is herself a far worse perpetrator of the thing she is decrying. There's an intellectual violence in it. […] We live in a world where the right wing ruthlessly and without mercy degrades and attacks by any means necessary what they perceive as the enemy, and then uses the great principles of democracy and fair play when the same is done to them. They leave the rest of us standing on the sidelines looking like fools for ever caring about anything but winning.
These gain all the more force because neither author appears to recognize the historical precedents of what they describe.

Monday, May 27, 2013

In Response to Paul Krugman's Cri de Coeur

On Portugal, whose free-market economy Paul Krugman helped design, Krugman writes:
While arguably Portugal’s are worse than those of some other countries, how can it possibly make sense to “deal” with these problems by condemning vast numbers of willing workers to unemployment?
I don't believe this is error or accident. Rather, it is a deliberate impoverishment, by policy, of the people of the developed world. It seems that the forms of democracy have become the masks of aristocratic power.

"Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”—Michel Foucault

"The toxic by-products of your own hate"

"War Is Merely the Continuation of Policy by Other Means"—Clausewitz

"Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”—Michel Foucault

"Don’t tell me that Portugal has had bad policies in the past and has deep structural problems. Of course it has; so does everyone, and while arguably Portugal’s are worse than those of some other countries, how can it possibly make sense to 'deal' with these problems by condemning vast numbers of willing workers to unemployment?"—Paul Krugman

"But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless."—Orwell

"If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite."—Gregory Bateson

Friday, May 24, 2013

To a Left-Wing Cryptoanarchist

Tell me again why unregulated banking is a good thing.

Nixon's Media Advisor Complains About Wiretapping the Press

Yes, today Fox News Roger Ailes is the arsonist calling for the fire brigade.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Politics of the Sequester and Hunger in America

(Edited from my remarks in comments at Ta-Nehisi Coates blog.)

This is not accident or weakness, but rather policy.
I will repeat myself and say that there are four main factions in Congress at this point. From right to left these are: Tea Party Republican, Wall Street Republican, Conservative Democratic, and Progressive Democratic. For some time now, the Democrats have been dominated by their conservative wing, which has formed a coalition with the Wall Street Republicans. This "centrist" coalition, centrist only in that it is the center of a political spectrum skewed heavily to the right, has little interest in social justice. The combination of deficit hysteria and the sequester provides a way for the centrist coalition to chip away at social programs and all the while claim that it is necessary while allowing both parties to escape blame. "It is no-one's fault," they say, "it is necessary to save the country from debt." Faugh! Such "logic" was heard in the English Parliament, as the Irish starved.

And it is coming to that. Outright starvation, at least, is so far rare, but hunger is common. In 2011, the USDA found that some 50 million Americans were malnourished due to poverty ("food insecure") at some point in the year and some 33 million went hungry ("low food security") at some time during the year. The Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), which provides food assistance to low-income pregnant women and children under five, is subject to the sequester. Outside of the sequester, in 2010, food stamps was converted to SNAP, and cut. The cuts are continuing.

Our elected representatives, seemingly, have gone mad.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Criminals in Charge

I recently responded to a conservative friend on the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties by pointing out that the Republicans ran a war off the books and cut taxes during that war. This blew up the national debt and then, having lost the Presidency, decided to blackmail the country by threatening to threatening to destroy its currency. Conservatives point to Bill Clinton's sex life as if this was somehow equivalent.

It seems to me this is part of a pattern of escalating criminality. We had Reagan with his tax cuts and his militarism, then Bush I with the first war in Iraq, then Bush II with his tax cuts and the second war in Iraq, and now the House Republicans with their debt and currency blackmail schemes. The conservative wing of the Democrats which, alas, includes Obama, has been complicit.

What now?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Evidence, Economic Policy, and the Future

(An earlier version of this was posted in comments to Paul Krugman's article.)

Paul Krugman writes:
Henry Blodget says that the economic debate is over; the austerians have lost and whatshisname has won. And it’s definitely true that in sheer intellectual terms, this is looking like an epic rout. The main economic studies that supposedly justified the austerian position have imploded; inflation has stayed low; the bond vigilantes have failed to make an appearance; the actual economic effects of austerity have tracked almost exactly what Keynesians predicted. But will any of this make a difference? […] The cynic in me therefore says that after a brief period of regrouping, the VSPs will be right back at it — they’ll find new studies to put on pedestals, new economists to tell them what they want to hear, and those who got it right will continue to be considered unsound and unserious.
I believe that US federal politics is returning to its usual state of deadlock, and there is no more need to make the case for austerity. In some years, due to changing demographics and perhaps emergencies, I expect the balance will shift, but for the moment, I do not anticipate change. The European Union seems to have arrived at a similar state.

There is perhaps something wrong with both US and European federalism. As George F. Kennan observed:
I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath—in fact you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could not have prevented some of these situations from arising
As I have written before, I suspect the long-term outcome is foregone; countries that do not adopt Keynesian policies will be out-competed in world markets. I do not expect these policies, however, to be adopted first in any developed country. Just as emergent capitalism developed most quickly in the USA rather than Europe, I expect emergent Keynesianism will most likely take root in some other place, perhaps Latin America.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chechens? Chechens?

Well, that was a surprise. And yet, looking at the past two centuries of Chechen history, I wonder why I am surprised at all. Conquered by the Russians in 1813, the Chechens revolted at every opportunity. They revolted in 1834. They revolved in 1877. They revolted in 1905, 1917, 1930, and the early 1940s. Chechnya was ethnically cleansed by Stalin in 1944. Chechens were allowed to return to Chechnya under Khrushchev in 1956, but under Soviet "Russification" policies intended to destroy Chechen culture. The Chechens revolted again in 1991. The most recent Chechen rebellion ended with a Russian assault on the Chechen capital of Grozny, with thousands of civilian casualties.

These are people who have never known peace. The motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers have yet to be studied, but I cannot see how the children of Chechnya could be anything war-traumatized. The surprise, perhaps, is that there have not been more international terrorists from Chechnya.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Party Watch: Howard Dean, Not Happy With the Obama Budget

Gov. Howard Dean, Democracy for America, on the new budget
If this is true I may have to become an independant.
More at Buzzfeed

It's as I foresaw; the left of the Democratic Party is thinking about tearing away. Now what?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On Courage in Politics

This in response to Jim Wright's excellent essay on fear in politics. It ends with an exhortation to courage, and I found myself wondering why it is that, when there are many brave Americans, fear is so powerful. The answer seems to be that it is widely promulgated in mass media, while little effort is made to promote courage, except to children.

I am reminded of a blog post of mine from 4½ years ago. The post was written in the context of the 2008 Presidential campaign and is more positive about Obama than I now am, but the remarks about the broader issues of fear, social cohesion, and the need for dramatic social transformation still seem relevant to me. I suppose it is because we stand on the threshold of such transformation that our fears have only intensified since I wrote this.

“A lot of effort has been spent on making people so concerned and scared about particular single issues that they forget the whole, like someone who lets their panic fear of falling lead them to die in a fire rather than making a safe jump from a window.

“The how of this is, I regret to say, very well understood—if you have mass media it is depressingly easy to create mass panic. If only we knew as well how to allay fears and give people courage!

“Focusing on panicking people and electing poor leaders is the nuclear option of civil society—it can take generations to pick up the pieces. The basis of this, apart from greed and power-lust, is intellectual rigidity. It is difficult for me to draw any conclusion other than that we are in need of vast transformations in our institutions and philosophies.”

And, at this late date, I'd add that if we wanted to use the mass media “to allay fears and give people courage” we probably could. But it would need the kind of resources that have been put into the vast right-wing mass media networks, and those are not easily come by.

(If you want to read the whole post, it is here.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Retirement Savings: A Note To The Help

If you think the money in your retirement accounts is safe, you're wrong. We've already seen the savings of the middle class drained once. There's no reason it can't be done again; the same people are in charge. You may soon be living on a steadily decreasing Social Security payment.

All you upper-middle class people with your retirement savings, you think you're so smart, you think your savings are safe, you don't care about the little people who rely on Social Security. But the wealthy predators who run the financial system think that anyone who works for a living is fair game. Yes, that means you, Mr. Well-Paid Pundit. You hang out with these people, you think you're one of them. No. To them you're the help, and to be made or broken at whim. You're not a member. Never will be.

The truth of the matter is that Social Security is more, not less, secure than private savings, and if Social Security isn't secure, your private savings are even more at risk. Fight for both, if you want to keep what you have earned.

"Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Grand Bargain and the Transformation of the Democrats into a Conservative Party

Josh Marshall, with the best explanation of Obama's loony centrism I've seen:
In conversations with the president’s key advisors and the President himself over the last three years one point that has always come out to me very clearly is that the President really believes in the importance of the Grand Bargain. He thinks it’s an important goal purely on its own terms. That’s something I don’t think a lot of his diehard supporters fully grasp. He thinks it’s important in long range fiscal terms (and there’s some reality to that). But he always believes it’s important for the country and even for the Democratic party to have a big global agreement that settles the big fiscal policy for a generation and let’s the country get on to other issues — social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy etc.
I think this is of a piece with the observation I made back in 2010; Obama "thinks that the jaw-jaw of politics is more real than the tangible results in the lives of the public." At the time, I wrote, "it is a deeply unpopular and undemocratic way to govern."

Obama is working to break the Republicans internal coalition. Cracks are appearing. But instead of doing so by offering the public a better deal, and getting Republican supporters to become Democratic, he's offering the Republican moneymen the cuts they want, and proposing enormously unpopular programs to do it. And being policy-deaf he doesn't grasp that this will lead voters to abandon his party.

I think it's too late for the Democrats to turn around—they've been on this course for years, and their captain has ordered full ahead. But what will the liberals, er, progressives, er, whatever they're calling themselves this week do? In the short term, I think, they will make common cause with the Tea Party Republicans, for whom Obama is not cutting enough. Since these cuts are so deeply unpopular, they may fail. But in the long term?

Government can never be cut enough to satisfy Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers. Emboldened by this huge victory, they will continue to drag the Democratic Party to the right. The other issues Mr. Marshall lists—"social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy" will continue to be ignored. The military and homeland security budgets, despite their near-total uselessness, will be protected with every ounce of energy the conservatives have, while social insurance, education, and research programs will have no strong protectors. The country will continue ambling through the depression to the next financial calamity. The Republican Party will continue its surge to irrelevance. I cannot imagine what the political response to the next environmental catastrophe will be; neither major party is capable of a response.

And then…?

Look to the 2020 elections. I expect the emergence of a coalition of progressives and tea party conservatives who figure out how to stand each other long enough to gather votes. Call it the Progressive Libertarian Party. This will not be the party that progressives have hoped for; it is going to contain strong anti-government elements, but it will support at some progressive policies, and it will be environmentalist. It may be enough.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The DFHs, right again

Well, we've only been telling you for four years that Obama was a conservative. Now will you believe us?

Doom! Or WtF Obama? Part 3

Obama To Propose Cuts To Social Security.

This, if the Administration follows through, completes the conversion of the Democrats into a conservative party. There's huge numbers of Democrats who are going to feel a piece of their identity ripped away. Great, just what we needed.

Shootings in Denver: Called That One

James Holmes’ Psychiatrist Warned School Of Threat Before Theater Massacre

Me, ten months ago: "It will turn out that Holmes had a history of violent fantasies [...] His problems were recognized. It is possible he sought help for them. [...] If he sought help, he did not get it."


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Impending Doom

There are three major pending crises, all of which have the potential to greatly alter the US and world political scene, and they are all coming to a head next month: (1) the impending decision on gay civil marriage, with its potential impact on the US legal system; (2) the Cyrpriot financial failure; (3) the sequester, with its pseudo-random destruction of the US government

The divisive potential of all three is enormous: I expect: (1) a poor decision on the Court's part that will in some way bear on states' rights and weaken civil marriage; (2) the weakening of the Euro and the weakening of the entire European Union project; (3) a reaction by the US conservative right, as they discover what Rome Washington does for them. All three have the potential for vast human pain, even violence.

I simply cannot imagine what, say, Alabama will do if required to recognize gay marriage. A reprise of the violence that burst out during the struggle for racial equality seems not impossible. But the other two have the potential for explosive reactions as well.

I'm not going to make a "food for corvids" joke here — this is just too bitter. I hope for the best, but I do not believe it is possible, and even the good seems unlikely.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The 0.01% and the Global Climate

The world's wealthy seem to believe they can buy their way out of any problem, so that as the seas rise and world burns, they can pay someone to fix it all. If not, if a substantial fraction of the very wealthy believed that climate change was an important problem, we'd have seen some action by now.

They're wrong.


Recent Reading on Climate Change

Today brought the the news that the past year has seen the second biggest rise in atmospheric CO2 since record keeping began. This seems a good time to post this commentary.

I decided to update my climate change reading a few weeks ago. After some consideration, I chose to read scientist James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren and and activist Bill McKibben's Eaarth.

James Hansen is the man who has been right about (almost) everything on climate change, and before everyone else. Google Scholar shows some 690 citations of his 1981 paper Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Hansen is the person who worked out the 350 ppm CO2 concentration goal, and in this book he explains the how and why of that figure.

Hansen brings excellent knowledge and exposition of the science. Since I last studied this, there has been a revolution in paleoclimate research, and we now have data on the history of the earth's climate that provides data on how various “forcings”—that is, things that warm and cool the planet—affect the planet's climate. The evidence is, as we keep hearing, overwhelming. It turns out that it is has been known since 1976 what causes ice ages: in 1976 Hays, Imbrie, and Shackleton published a paper validating Milanković’s early 20th century celestial mechanics hypothesis. This is fascinating, and it also shows that earth's climate is, in fact, responsive to small changes in solar irradiation (insolation.)

Hansen explains how we are moving towards tipping points, after which climate change will become self-sustaining. He talks about likely tipping points—ice sheet collapse and methane clathrate upwellings. He also offers stories of the governmental decision making processes—Dick Cheney does not come out looking good. And it turns out that Lindzen, now the only major figure in climatology who argues against global climate change, also argues against a link between tobacco use and lung cancer. He claims to doubt the statistical evidence though it is overwhelming, just as the industry-funded flacks claimed, decades ago. It seems he has swallowed the deceptions of the tobacco industry and now the fossil fuel industries, and so destroyed his scientific credibility.

Then we come to Hansen's proposed political and technological solutions. First, he advocates quickly abandoning the use of coal as the only feasible way of meeting the 350 ppm goal, pointing out that it is not likely that the world will leave the oil in the ground for some years yet. He points out that solar power has not taken off as hoped, and so, he argues for nuclear power and, in fact, for fast neutron breeder reactors on the grounds of long-term availability of fuel and the relatively short half-lives of waste products—centuries rather than millenia. He argues for a carbon tax, rather than an emissions trading system.

So, Hansen.

Now I turn to activist Bill McKibben's Eaarth. The first part of the work reiterates some of the evidence for climate change and cites Hansen's 350 ppm goal. He also makes the point that we no longer live in the world we took for granted, but instead a harsher world, hence the title of the book: Eaarth. In his solutions he turns in a different direction than Hansen, arguing for a rebirth of village life, and in his final section has expresses doubts of such a system, pointing out that it has historically been parochial and sexist, and hopes to preserve the internet to leaven it.

What do I think?

  1. The scientific evidence for anthropgenic global climate change is overwhelming. I was not aware that planetology had come so far, and this is not simply a matter of debatable models but concrete paleoclimatological data.
  2. I like McKibben's way of thinking about the changes: that we no longer live on the Earth of history and legend, but instead on the new world, Eaarth. (“We are now leaving the Holocene. Please put your seatbacks up and return your tray-tables to the upright and locked position.”)
  3. I consider that the people running Hansen's fast-neutron reactors will be the same people who now run the oil companies. There is also a genuine risk in the production of so much weapons-grade fissionables. That's worrisome. My thought on the need for concentrated energy is that we might do well to start funding research on multiple alternatives: large-scale solar like the StratoSolar proposal as well as nuclear, but most importantly we need to get started.
  4. I am unconvinced by McKibben's village life model. Humans are naturally nomadic apes, and village life is an outgrowth (so far as is known) of limited resources and authoritarian impulses. I would prefer we avoid recreating subsistence lifestyles and instead seek new social forms.
  5. My overall intution is that we can—if we control our population—actually have a pretty comfortable lifestyle if we want it. We can have airships, wind-powered ocean-going ships that only occasionally run their engines, solar-electric rail, and so on. What we can't keep doing is basing personal transportation on personal automobiles and fast air travel as a matter of routine; we will have to find some other way to scratch the itches those things satisfy.
So now, what do you think?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Droning on and on and on…

[Based on comments written in response to Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station. This is outside of my usual ambit, and I am not very happy with these remarks, but the issue seems important enough to say some things about it.]

Congress didn't as much grant this authority as legitimized abuses already in progress. The USA has had assassination programs since the 1970s at least, probably since the 1950s. Both the CIA and the FBI undertook political operations within the USA as far back as the 1960s. They were theoretically shut down in the early 1980s, but there were still rumblings and the rumblings kept getting louder. (An introduction, here.) So it was all ready to go on 9/11.

It is worth remembering whose appointment, and to what office, Paul was filibustering. John Brennan, now confirmed as CIA director, was one of the architects of the expansion of the national security state under Bush II, and now Obama. In particular he is the man making drone assassination decisions. And he has a history. Marcy Wheeler, interviewed on Democracy Now in January:
[...] he was George Tenet’s chief of staff and then went on to be kind of the precursor to what’s now called the National Counterterrorism Center. And in that role, he touched the early moments of the torture program and, I think more importantly, was involved in the targeting for Cheney’s illegal wireless—warrantless wiretapping program, when it was working without any legal sanction at all. So, as you said at the top of this story, Brennan was considered unacceptable four years ago to lead the CIA. Since then, we’ve learned about his role in the illegal wiretapping program. We’ve learned about his role in drone strikes. And yet, now he’s supposed to be an acceptable candidate? I don’t understand how—I mean, I guess that’s a testament to what kind of hard-nosed person Barack Obama has become and the degree to which his policies really are just a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. 
When Attorney General Holder uses the word "American" in talking about Fifth Amendment rights, rather than "person," that is a matter of concern. Surveillance drones are already being used on the Mexican border and in Colombia. The idea of deploying armed drones in Latin America, based outside of the USA, and therefore under no restrictions of US domestic law, has surely already been floated in Washington; for all I know it has already begun. The potential for atrocities, the sorts of things which go down in history as things to wonder at in horror, is enormous. We need foreign policy and, eventually, international law to prevent this, and I can only hope that sanity will break out, and turn the USA away from further abuses of armed drones.

I worry that no leader now will start the international debate. For the moment, the administration, through Holder, has renounced the use of armed drones against US citizens in the USA, and I think this will be made law (but when has the CIA ever been respectful of law?) This is not enough. What has been done with drones in Gaza and Pakistan ought to be banned by international treaty, and with Brennan as Director of the CIA, the USA is not likely to take the lead on this.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


During his filibuster of Brennan's nomination for head of the CIA, Ron Paul read from the posts of a number of leftist bloggers who have never been heard before on major national media: Charles Pierce, Kevin Gostzola, and Glenn Greenwald, among others. And because this is the age where being known is more important than knowing anything, these people have now gotten more attention than they ever dreamed possible.

And, as Josh Marshall pointed out, "Rejoining just before midnight, what is most amazing to me, refreshing, is that at this moment — 12:24 AM on the East Coast — you actually have a real debate about domestic security and war powers on the floor of the Senate. Not the normal staged nonsense but an actual debate, which got underway when Dick Durbin joined the exchange."

It may be a brief flare of reason before the final descent into madness, but I'd like to hope that sanity is at last breaking out.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The big fish ate up all the little fish, and now complain there is no food

“Have you ever had one of those weeks where your best- prepared plans weren’t good enough to accomplish everything you set out to do? Well, we just had one of those weeks here at Walmart U.S. Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”—Cameron Geiger, Wal-Mart senior VP, quoted in Bloomberg.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Master of Assassins

This is mostly a gloss on Charles P. Pierce's commentary on the confirmation hearings of John Brennan for Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, which is starkly horrifying.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a persistent critic of the administration's drone program, asked Brennan point-blank whether the president could order a drone strike on an American citizen inside the United States and Brennan didn't — or couldn't — give him an answer.
Read the whole thing.

"He also couldn't answer straight out whether waterboarding is torture."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In Centrist Times

So, all right, we won the election. Pluralism won out over ROWGs (Rich Old White Guys) and Mr. One Percent isn't President.

But what have we won?
  • Huge numbers of people have lost their homes.
  • Unemployment, though improving, is still high, and most new jobs pay less than the jobs they replace.
  • The degradation of the environment of human culture and of the earth's ecosystem continues.
  • The wars and the expansion of the national security state continue.
So now we have the administration floating cuts Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as trial balloons. We have the PPACA, which will funnel vast amounts of money to the hated health insurance firms. And we have an organized attempt to stack the electoral college in favor of Republicans.

What have we won?

Gay rights, black rights, women's rights. The right to have our votes counted, though the Republicans are still trying to take that away. Not small things, no, but these rights will not return any people to their homes, or get people jobs. In these things, we have won only the right to keep fighting.

What remains to be won?

The security of elections from big money
After two billion spent on the Presidential election, about a billion from both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans fought to a standstill, or perhaps the Obama campaign's superior computer campaigning won the day. But in state and local elections, it's entirely another story. A sufficiently well-heeled outsider can buy most state and local elections.

A non-partisan judiciary
On Friday, the DC Circuit rendered a ruling that invalidates not just many of Obama's recess appointments. The immediate results are that the National Labor Relations Board is shut down, probably indefinitely, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may never begin operations. But the decision is very broad, and probably nothing like the original intent of the Framers. Reasoning like Christian fundamentalists, the Court rendered a decision which invalidates executive and judicial appointments throughout the 20th century. Stare decisis much? The willingness of "conservatives" to tear down long-standing governmental structures to achieve short-term political goals is an awesome thing.

At this point, I'm finding ideas coming faster than I have time to flesh them out. So I'm going to outline them, and maybe I'll return to them later.

A representative government
Reform the Senate, the Electoral College, and the campaign finance system. We don't have representative democracy any more; we have something else, something run by money and media, and it's killing us.

Environmental action

Reality-based economic policy
Keynes was right, Hayek was wrong. It's time to admit it and act on it.

Health care for all

Labor rights
The right to negotiate working conditions and wages as equals with management.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Did Keynesian Economics Win the Cold War?

(This began under another name, in defense of Keynesian economics.)

The policies of the past 30 years have not been Keynesian, no. Keynes advocated a particular type of government intervention — heavy regulation of investment and finance based on a particular understanding of macroeconomics — rather than government intervention in general. I think we can agree that we do not have heavy regulation of investment and finance.

The other side of that is that Keynes did say that the right kind of government regulation can produce positive results. And that, of course, is the problem with Keynesian policies for libertarians. We are in the process of deciding if we are willing to accept that role for government. But I suspect the long-term outcome is foregone; countries that do not adopt Keynesian policies will be out-competed in world markets.

One could imagine a country clinging to pre-Keynesian policies. It would be subject to boom and bust economics. Poorer than its neighbors, it would have to erect trade barriers to keep out the consumer goods of its healthier neighbors. Now—this reminded me of the Soviet Union. During the period 1950-1980, when Western Keynesianism was at its peak, the Soviet Union did erect trade barriers, and its citizens did envy the West.
Could it be that Keynesian economics won the Cold War?

[2012.02.02: On reflection, probably not. It probably had more to do with the corruption or lack of of the respective economic systems. But the rest of the article stands.]

Friday, January 4, 2013


(Inspired by the John Quiggin article, "The big issues in macroeconomics: the fiscal multiplier.")

It strikes me that the neo-classical school is once again arguing with the data, which is unproductive in science. No, not just unproductive. Unethical. OK, sure, maybe if the discussion of multipliers was a new thing there might be reasons to argue for measurement error. But there is decades, perhaps even centuries, of data, and to deny well-substantiated data is unethical in science—it strikes at the very heart of the scientific enterprise.

A year and a half before I wrote the article which Krugman quoted, I wrote: “This is ideological, rather than rational, opposition. [...] The field of economics, I think, needs ethics to keep it track, so that it is a scholarly discipline rather than one that produces extensively rationalized propaganda. [...] Yet it seems to me that without ethics, scientific research is not possible. Without basic honesty, without the ability to admit error, without the tools of criticism and review, there is no way to arrive at scientific truth. I believe that economics went off-track partly because of highly-rewarded status-seeking behavior on the part of many economists.”

Say I, read the whole thing. :-)

It is wholly unscientific to argue that multipliers are zero or less, just as it was unscientific for Wegener’s critics to reject his case for continental drift, despite the well-organized evidence he presented. There is another parallel with Wegener: his data was rejected because geologists of his times could not see a mechanism by which the data were possible. This is parallel to the demand for microfoundations. It would be much easier to make the case for Keynesian economics if a clear explanation for the behavior of labor markets could be found in economic data. But that is not required for it to be true; thermodynamics, the understanding of heat in bulk materials, began to emerge centuries before statistical mechanics, the understanding of energy of molecules in large numbers, was invented to explain it.

Perhaps economists have been looking to the wrong physical sciences for their models.

Valid microfoundations, it seems to me, would require the ability to take models and measurements of individual psychology and translate them into valid explanations of macro-economic behavior, and so far, the effort to do this has not been successful on any large scale. Molecules, it has emerged, obey simple physical laws, and no-one expects a molecule to suddenly decide that, oh, instead of going this way, it will go that way. But people produce unexpected behavior all the time. The only time human economic behavior is strongly constrained is when basic needs are involved: we expect hungry people to eat if they can, for instance. Even then, we can be surprised: people do sometimes fast, cannot eat due to health difficulties, or even die, which is another thing that molecules do not do.

It is only in subsistence economies that microfoundations are so far accessible. In the economies people prefer, they are not constrained by basic needs; people eat to live rather than live to eat. We understand some of human needs, but valid microfoundations, it seems to me, require an understanding of human desire, and this so far does not exist.

On Rehabilitating Economics

Continuing the discussion, Australian economist John Quiggin is leading a seminar on bringing Keynesian economics back into the mainstream. I've made some comments there, and I'm going to gather them up here, but wander by Crooked Timber and read the articles, or read them on Quiggin's own blog.

Wile E. Coyote moment
Having glanced at some of Smith’s links, my impression is that academic macroeconomics is creeping up on its Wile E. Coyote moment. It’s just to the point where it is standing on air and is starting to look down…

The Trolls of Galbraith
I think Galbraith’s focus on corruption may be part of the solution; I don’t think one can do internet sociology without recognizing the existence and influence of trolls, and perhaps this is also true of economics.

An Attitude Towards Macro
I think what has been discovered is another version of the intractability of the calculation problem: it is not, so far, possible to predict economic behavior at the level of a whole society because human wants and needs, beyond some basics, are incalculable. It is like user interface design rather than software engineering: beyond some rules of thumb, there is no way of predicting how users will interact with an interface. Instead, interface designers design, test, and refine solutions.

Which suggests a different attitude towards macroeconomics: that it be treated as the study of the economic reaction to public and private organizations and mass consciousness, rather than as an attempt to predict economic behavior independent of these things. Look for responses, rather than assuming they can be predicted. It also suggests an inversion of the usual economic model of individual and society: rather than assuming that each individual solves the problems of economic decision making independently, assume that a major part of economic decision-making is undertaken by group and organizational processes and proceed from there.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In Which Only Centrists and the Rich Get What They Want

Obama gets, probably, his coalition of conservatives.

The rest of us? Well…

The deficit remains a problem, just to keep deficit hawks unhappy. Cuts in social programs are likely, just to keep liberals unhappy. And the military and the national security state just go on and on.

[Added:] The economy gets a beat-down from austerity policies. The long-term debt gets pumped.

Thanks, guys.

So Who Won the Fiscal Cliff Fight?

Economist Andrew Samwick comments, "Obviously, former President George W. Bush....the Congress and the President yesterday decided to ratify almost all of his tax policy agenda..." (via Mark Thoma.)

And all the social programs are on the table, and none of the military programs or the national security state.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bad Deal Passes

85 Republicans broke ranks to vote for the budget deal. Looks like Obama has his coalition.